Just the name "sex toy" sounds dirty, doesn't it? It sounds perverse, like a thing nobody should ever talk about. Something to relegate to the dark adult stores of K'Rd and Cuba St; never to see the light of day.
If you've ever been to one of these adult stores you'll know that they're not dark and dingy at all. They're bright, light, approachable spaces, and they're full of the friendliest staff I think you'll find in retail.
Sex toys, naturally, are abound in these stores and nobody's kink is judged. It doesn't matter what you're into, there will be a toy in there for you, and the range is even bigger online if you're too shy to hand over your Eftpos card in exchange for a bit of flesh-coloured fun.
Yet sex toys remain taboo in modern society. We are taught to keep them buried in bedside drawers and never speak of them in public, even among friends. This is also a situation where I think the stigma is worse for men than it is for women – TV shows like Sex and The City made it okay to talk about female vibrators 20 years ago, yet for a man to own some kind of realistic sex toy is still seen as unsavoury. A double standard, no doubt, that goes without acknowledgement.
Why do we societally stigmatise sex toys so? Mostly it's because of the stereotype that any person that uses a sex toy does so because they "can't get it" elsewhere. As if owning such a tool is one's last resort because real life sexual encounters are not in their reality: they're loners and losers; too unattractive for real-life sexual interaction.
This couldn't be further from the truth. Sex toys are designed to be used both with couples, and alone. Rather than insinuate you cannot "get laid" elsewhere, they signify a heightened level of sexual maturity based on your own individual complexities of what allows you to feel pleasure.
Sex toys are also stigmatised because we have given them "creep" connotations. That meaning, people – specifically guys – who have these toys are seen as deviants. Like their values are at odds with those of "regular" society.
We also attach shame to sex toys because they are perceived to make us less of a man, or less of a woman. Possession of one means you are somehow unworthy or unjust as a human being, as if you're a traitor.
I probably need not remind everybody of the 2016 incident when Steven Joyce had a dildo thrown at him. In this act of protest, I believe the offending item used was chosen for maximum embarrassment to the victim because, apparently, nothing's worse than a man getting smacked in the face by another man's penis.
Particularly when it comes to men and sex toys, we're yet again presented with the issues between toxic masculinity and sex. Typically masculine ideals – some of those being strong, powerful men that don't need help, they can get whatever they want, etc – underpin the stigma in sex toy ownership here. Both other men and women perceive a man who has a sex toy as being weak and somehow not as good as other men. Even women who themselves use sex toys can be horrified to learn that their male partners would consider doing the same – as if it's a slight on the quality of their sexual relationship, or their partner is some sort of "weirdo".
Promising, however, is a 2010 study from the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy which found 43.8 per cent of heterosexual men have used vibrators. Ninety-four per cent of those men had done so during foreplay with their partner, and 82 per cent had done so as part of sexual intercourse. As for non-heterosexual men, 49.8 per cent have used sex toys. All this would illustrate that many see them as something to bring a couple closer together, not further apart.
Even more interesting is the fact from Statistic Brain Research Centre that New Zealand has the highest percentage of vibrator ownership in the world. Thirty-eight per cent of Kiwis, irrespective of gender, have them.
So why is now the time to de-stigmatise sex toys and get into them? For one, everybody else is clearly already doing it; it's just that nobody's talking about it. Sex toys are tools that promote body awareness and even sexual health – not only are they safe to use, but those who use them are more likely to participate in sexual health-promoting activities like getting STI checkups, according to the University of Indiana.
If those aren't reason enough to go and buy yourself a sex toy – if you're not one of the half of us that already has one – I don't know what is.
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