Fucking Art: Toward being more mindful of what sex toys go inside you

“Do you respect wood?” -Larry David

What makes an object sexy lies somewhere in between the eye, the mind, and the hoo-ha of the beholder.

Even sex toys are not just arousing because of what they can do to us. When they’re more considerate of the tenets of design and aesthetics, they can inspire a deeper intimate connection between object and user that goes beyond functionality even when, in this case, that function is getting off.

The sex-toy industry, mind you, isn’t regulated—there is a compelling argument that the FDA should get involved—and there are very few considerations of your safety or pleasure, really. Aesthetics are often entirely besides the point and many of the things that make you come are poorly made and made out of materials that might actually make you sick if you use them (many cheap sex toys are made of unstable materials that release gaseous toxins and break down over time). Even popular drugstore lubricants such as KY and Astroglide use ingredients shown to cause vaginal infections and increase the risk of sexually transmitted infections. These companies are very good at making you feel as if there’s something wrong with you just because your body doesn’t like the crappy, insensitive products that capitalism and the patriarchy foists upon it, and that’s all bullshit.

Beyond basic safety, the clunky sex toys made of translucent purple goop found in most skeezy, misogynistic, and heteronormative-catering sex shops offer little for those with a discerning eye toward what kinds of materials they’d like to go inside their bodies—and by all means, be discerning about that.

The impossible-to-open, plastic blister packs with busty, pouting ladies on the outside that smell like a sporting-goods store when you do finally open them are not the only way. There is, increasingly, a market for sex toys made with consideration. Sex toys that might be closer to art, even.

“Pleasure product manufacturer” OVO’s boxes have the same, vacuum-breaking feel to opening their packaging as Apple, and some of their toys even have an old-school iPod-looking click-wheel-type control mechanism. For the most part, these sleek, ubiquitous designs nod to streamlined uniformity. Opening those firmly sealed, perfectly nestled objects seems like destroying a utopia—which is pretty hot, right?—where all the pieces already achieved their purpose before human hands intervene.

This Apple-informed sleekness of many sex toys is preferable to the cumbersome functionality of inexpensive, chintzy sex toys, but then again, it’s rather easy to project desire onto a blank slate. Eighteenth-century German art historian Johan Joaquim Winckelmann hailed the “nobel simplicity and quiet grandeur” of the smooth white idealized bodies of Greek statues, because he lacked the knowledge we have today that Greek statues were actually covered in bright pigments. This tradition of projecting beauty in a universalizing white void has become the new standard thanks to Apple, numerous copycat designers, and the sex-toy producers that have followed Steve Jobs’ lead.

But fuck all that perfection. The human body isn’t “user-friendly” or “uniform” and it’s the delight found in imperfection and the specific interactions with it that allow us to have uniquely sensory experiences. That goes for many objects as well, not just sex toys. For example, I prefer the girth of an early-aughts cellphone to the slim, wide-screen phones of today. Wrapping my fingers around that cool, hefty little machine felt good: It fit well in the palm of my hand, it was easily concealable in a pocket but substantial enough to know it was there—and it was the first device that really opened up my ability to be a promiscuous teen long before “sexting.” Plus, duh, it vibrated.

And when I walk by Baltimore’s marble-stepped rowhouses, I have an impulse to run my fingers across the steps (or maybe even kneel down and lick them). Something about that ragged smoothness just gets to me. The bulky shape of that old-school cellphone, the gentle grit of marble steps, hit the same pleasure centers as touching someone (or even, say, watching “amateur” porn full of “imperfect” bodies)—we feel more engaged and therefore, more aroused due to contact and wear and tear. These are all palpable signs of life.

The rise of sex toys made of natural materials such as stone, crystal, and wood are appealing for similar reasons and evidence growing numbers that see their sexuality as more in tune with the natural world than the ideal: Fucking Sculptures make hand-sculpted glass sex toys that sometimes recall the playful delicacy of a balloon animal and other times the harsh creatures found in H.R. Giger’s work; they describe their toys on their website as “contrastingly playful and heavy, genderless and gendered, beautiful and crude”; Chakrub hand-carves dildos out of crystal to help balance your energies while you’re masturbating, and it also makes yoni eggs, which is a fancy way of saying crystal Kegel exercisers; NobEssence makes a variety of multipurpose curves and bulbs (including wooden cock rings) out of several different types of hardwood.

Nineteenth-century Victorian art critic and all-around crazy-pants John Ruskin said, “the demand for perfection is always a sign of misunderstanding the ends of art,” and because our bodies are constantly in flux as they grow and decay, believed that imperfection is an essential part of life. Imperfection should unite us rather than serve to distance us further from each other and ourselves—especially when we’re trying one to rub out.

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