Sunday, April 29, 2018

Vibrator Nation by Lynn Comella

I wonder if there are two types of seniors: those who love their sex-toy shops, and those who haven't discovered yet how wonderful these stores are.

If you're in the second camp because you imagine (or remember from your youth) a dark, seedy, sticky-floored space with leering salespeople, customers wrapped in raincoats, and gaping orifices on the shelves, you're in for a delightful surprise.

In Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure, Lynn Comella, Ph.D. has accomplished a rarity: a peppy, sex-positive history book chronicling the emergence and evolution of feminist sex-toy shops. Written by a researcher, it's far from dry -- well lubricated, rather, by lively interviews with sex-toy shop owners and workers. We learn how the business of pleasure toys evolved to include sex education, inclusivity, and a feminist mission, not just sales.

This is a book about feminist invention, intervention, and contradiction, a world where sex-positive retailers double as social activists, commodities are framed as tools of liberation, and consumers are willing to pay for the promise of better living through orgasms.

Eavesdrop on the conversations and struggles about what a feminist sex-toy store should stand for, what the politics should be, whether or not to sell porn, and if so, how to choose it, how to be education-based and still sell products.

Smitten Kitten, Minneapolis
Learn Jennifer Pritchett's "sweaty sex toy" story. In 2003, the owner of Minneapolis's first feminist sex shop, Smitten Kitten, opened a shipment of toys that degraded and leached greasy, noxious chemicals. This led Pritchett to spearhead the anti-toxic-sex-toy movement. "That's when Smitten Kitten's mission changed from being just another sex-positive, educationally focused feminist sex shop to becoming a business committed to environmental justice and personal health"

  Photo by Krystal Ramirez
Lynn Comella is an associate professor of gender and sexuality studies, a researcher and expert on the adult entertainment industry, a writer on sex and culture. She immersed herself in sex-toy retail culture while researching Vibrator Nation, including selling sex toys at Babeland to get the inside experience. I've had the pleasure of hearing her speak several times, and she's smart and sassy, a delight. This attitude and liveliness is as strong in her writing as in her public speaking.

You'll not only learn about sex-toy stores, you'll also get some cool sex-education quotes. For example:

"A sex-positive person appreciates that human sexuality is endlessly diverse -- there is no right way to have sex and no singular definition of normal." - Lynn Comella

"In those days, when we were discussing vaginal and clitoral orgasms, we used to say that the only people who reliably have vaginal orgasms are men." - Joani Blank, founder of Good Vibrations.

"When women talk about sex, it changes the culture." - Carol Queen 

"Doing what 'comes naturally' for us is to be sexually inhibited. Sex is like any other skill -- it has to be learned and practiced. When a woman masturbates, she learns to like her own genitals, to enjoy sex and orgasm, and furthermore, to become proficient and independent about it." - Betty Dodson

 "The worst sexual problem we have -- our worst sexual dysfunction... [is] our inability to talk about sex." - Joani Blank

I love today's feminist sex-toy shops. They curate their products carefully for our health and pleasure. They provide sex education to their customers. They believe that sexual pleasure is everyone's right, whatever the age, gender, sexual identity, orientation, kink, needs, desires, abilities, relationship structure, and whatever else should be in this list.

Some of these stores hire me to speak, proving that they agree with my assertion that sex has no expiration date. They advertise on this blog, voting with their wallets to support my educational mission. Please support them in return! You'll find them in the right-hand column of this blog, and yes, you can purchase from them online.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

I Asked, You Answered, Part 1

In a recent newsletter, I asked my subscribers these seven questions:

1. If you're in a long-term relationship, what tips or wisdom can you share that help you keep a relationship sexy and spicy after decades together?

2. If you're in a relationship that's less than satisfying, what do you wish you could tell or ask your partner to bring the sexiness back?

3. If you're single or non-monogamous and dating, what is your safer sex policy? How do you discuss this with a new partner?

4. In what ways have you changed your ideas about the kind of relationship you'd like to have now? For example, would you be happy in a non-monogamous relationship? Friends with benefits? Marriage only? Living together without marriage? Sexually exclusive but not living together? Intimacy without sex?

5. What's the worst thing a date or mate ever said to you? I ask this after a friend told me that a recent sex date said to him, "You're the kind of person I want to go to bed with -- but not the kind of person I want to wake up with."

6. What would you like to learn about sex and aging this year?

7. What else should I have asked?

I got such a huge response to Question #1 that I'm devoting the rest of this post to excerpts from your answers. A later post will address the other 6 questions. (You're welcome to add your answers to questions 2-7 in the comments or by emailing me here.)

* My wife and I married in 1968. I believe that sexual satisfaction comes from sexual growth through constant trial and error experimentation. This leads to a constantly evolving sex life. We must be willing to try new things as long as no one is being hurt. Some will be good experiences and some bad. Keep the good and discard the bad. If we're afraid of making a mistake and have a high aversion to risk, we automatically limit our chances of succeeding or improving.

* At 55, we've been married almost 33 years. Both partners need to actively choose to keep their relationship spicy and active. Both have to be honest and frank about their desires. Don’t be freaked out if you disagree on what you’d like to do. Just treat it like every other issue you’ve disagreed on through the years: listen, suggest, compromise, and give it time.

* I am 70 and my wife is 66, married for over 50 years. Somewhere we lost the spark. I had been taking meds that affected my erection or lack of. Intercourse was impossible. Then I got a penis pump that Medicare paid for. The thing looked unromantic and embarrassing to use, but with the help of "Sucker Sam," I got an erection that I could maintain and have intercourse. Now my wife really wants sex with me! She wears sexy outfits, we turn on mood lighting and music, smoke some medical herb, and break out the massage cream. We are having the best sex of our lives. I think the real key to all this is the extreme intimacy we both experience. As we put it, "Our souls touch."

* Schedule sexual intimacy, and persistently but gently keep to the schedule, because at our age our hormones are no longer adequate to propel us spontaneously towards sexual activity.

* We're 74, and for the last 15-20 years we have not felt the need to spice things up to maintain our sexual interest. Sex for us is about celebrating our being together, being alive with each other, and our deep caring and love for each other. We have a ritual that involves perhaps 20 minutes of foreplay leading to a few minutes up to 10 or so of intercourse, with strong orgasms for both of us. At the end it's less about physical pleasure  and more the elation of saying we are still here, we can still express our love physically, and isn't that incredible?

* We are in our early 70s, married for over 50 years. Despite our many physical limitations, we have found ways to have an active and fulfilling sex life by using advice we have read in our sex library: sex toys, positioning pillows, timing taking of meds, and planning early morning encounters before meals interfere and energy sags. Two years ago we decided to focus on improving our sex lives from mediocre to more active, frequent and satisfying. We found a saying, "A better sex life does take some work. Couples who put effort into their sex lives have stronger relationships." We assembled a library of sex related books (we have all of yours!) and spent much time studying and discussing them. There is so much information available today that was not just a few years ago.

* We began using sex toys (I like that you call them "tools" which is really what they are) and Liberator positioning pillows. We decorated our bedroom to provide a better romantic atmosphere. We found that the more you have sex, the more you want it and your body will adjust to enable it. We learned from our reading  that when physical problems develop (sexual or otherwise), there are methods to help overcome and improve the deficiencies and this gives us confidence, which helps to keep the sexual union relaxed and enjoyable. Also exercise and diet and general good health habits are important. We are having the best time and only regret that we did not make sex more of a priority before.

* At 60, I have found that the best thing is to continue to put the other partner first. In every matter, not just the sensual. I know that if I put my woman's needs, wants, and desires before my own, that I will be well rewarded by a partner who feels the same way.

* I am a T2 diabetic, and neuropathy is robbing me of my sensitivity "down there." We talked about the Pulse you reviewed -- this opened the lines of communication. Push the limits of your sex life outside the box. Keep pushing your comfort zone. Don't let 'age' stop you from experimenting and exploring. You'll be surprised at what you can do, and feel, even at our age.

* Ask your partner if they would like to try new things, like toys or role playing. For instance, I asked my wife if she would like to spank me. This thought had never occurred to her. She considered spanking as a punishment, not as playful foreplay. We discussed how hard to strike (sensual spanking should sting a little, not leave welts), what areas of the body to spank (only the buttocks and upper thighs), and how long before the safe word came out (I always quit right after the orgasm). After a couple of trial and error sessions, she found that she enjoys playfully spanking me, as I enjoy spanking her. There is no punishment meant on either side; this is meant for playful pleasure.

* As my husband and I worked to overcome a crisis in our marriage, one thing that truly helped me ease off all the pressure I was putting on him was your writings, Joan, on Facebook and your newsletter. To read an expert telling me that masturbation was REAL sex; oral sex was REAL sex; sex with sex toys to enable us to orgasm was REAL sex? Holy shit. I realized I was having quite a bit of REAL sex, and I didn’t recognize it. I thought that because I couldn’t orgasm with intercourse anymore (it was never easy), or because sometimes I had to finish myself off alone, after 20 minutes of my husband doing everything in his power to make me come, that our sex life was deficient and substandard. How sad is that?! Two people who love the hell out of each other, are utterly compatible and fit together like puzzle pieces, thinking that they’re defective because their sex life didn’t fit the old notion of what “sex” was. I thought we were all wrong. You said we were right. In doing so, you freed me from feeling inadequate, broken, defective and damaged. My mental state, my physical state, and above all, my husband and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Do you want to join in the discussion? I welcome your comments!

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Iroha Zen and Tori: Cushy, Cute Vibrators

Iroha makes adorable, squishy sex toys for people who want sex toys that don't look like sex toys. I was delighted to receive the Iroha+ Tori from the wonderful folks at Good Vibrations, along with the Iroha Zen, a pleated, mild vibrator that comes in 3 colors. Both are silicone and look more like art objects than vibrators.

Iroha+ Tori 

The Iroha+ Tori is a sweet, cushy, pretty vibrator. With its curved, birdlike shape, it doesn't scream "vibrator!" to a visitor who might see it drying on your sink counter or nesting on the side of your bathtub. Yes, bathtub -- it's waterproof.

I wanted to love this because it's so pretty and I love to squeeze soft, squishy objects. The vibrations, though, are only mild to moderately strong, despite 5 intensity levels and two pulse modes. For me, it's a nice warm-up, but it doesn't pack the punch I need to get more than pleasantly aroused.

However, I've read several other reviewers (younger than I am) who find it perfect for a leisurely ride to an orgasm. So if you prefer vibrations that are less earth-shaking than the turbo power my 74-year-old body requires, it might be just right for you. Or -- and I recommend this often -- use it for sweet arousal for as long as you like. Then finish with a more powerful vibrator, or a partner, or a partner and a vibrator.

Besides being pretty, the Tori's shape is ergonomic and easy to hold. However, the vibrations transmit through the vibrator and into your hand as you hold it, which may aggravate an arthritic wrist.

A  problem led to frustration: although the control buttons are easy to use with dry fingers, I couldn't seem to make the controls advance with lube-slick fingers. So if I started with level 2, I was stuck there unless I stopped the action, wiped my hands and the control buttons, and tried again. Buzz kill. The best solution I found was to turn it up all the way to intensity 5 before starting. (Don't worry, the power won't startle you the way an all-the-way-up Magic Wand would startle you -- the vibrations are never blast-off strong.)

Although Iroha advertises the Iroha+ vibrators  as "redefining pleasure for women," a testing assistant reported enjoying the curved shape vibrating over penis and testicles. If you have a partner with a penis, don't be selfish -- let the vibrating bird flutter over your partner's erogenous zones, as well as your own.

Besides Tori that looks like a bird, the new Iroha+ line offers Yoru that looks like a whale and Kushi that looks like a seashell or hedgehog. All of these are rechargeable using an attractive, clear plastic charging case, which doubles as a storage case.

Although this official video is absurdly delicate, you can see the  models and features here:

I reviewed earlier Iroha models: Iroha: Cutest Vibrators Ever and Iroha Mikazuki and Minamo: soft, slender, gentle vibrators, all from Good Vibrations. The new Iroha+ products, such as the Tori reviewed here, are stronger than the originals and completely waterproof.

Iroha Zen

The Iroha Zen is a cute, swirly-ridged vibrator modeled after the bamboo tea whisk used in Japanese tea ceremonies. It's not rechargeable -- it uses two AAA batteries. Despite this, it's waterproof! I'm not sure how to interpret this warning on the FAQ page, though: "Use in water can expose your body to the water you are using it in. Please ensure that you are using the item in a hygienic environment." Isn't that true anytime you're in water, whether or not you're using a vibrator?

At first I was baffled when I tried to figure out the battery placement with no "+" or "-" label to guide me. The instructions in the box were in Japanese. I foolishly didn't peruse the website for help until after I tried to insert the batteries by squinting at the minuscule diagram, and it took me three tries. Not my proudest moment. You don't have to go through that. Fortunately, the Iroha website has the manual in English as well as FAQ in English

Using the Zen is as simple as pressing the button at the end. Unfortunately, the placement and ease of pressing led frequently to pressing the button accidentally and turning it off. I tried to train myself not to touch the end-cap button, but that made it awkward to hold. It can be used externally or for shallow vaginal insertion. (There's no flared base, so don't use it anally.)

Although the Zen claims to have these four modes -- low/ medium/ high/ pulse -- the "high" is no stronger than medium, and a gentle medium at that. I like the pillowy feel, but I'd love to have more power, much more power. If you prefer gentle, give it a try. It comes in three lovely colors: green, yellow, and coral.

Iroha is a line of sex toys from Tenga, best known for its penis toys: see our reviews of the Tenga Egg and the Tenga Flip Hole and 3-D Sculpted Ecstasy.


Thank you, Good Vibrations, for sending me Tori and Zen in return for an honest review. Check out the special deals from Good Vibrations here.