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Break the Binary: What Sex Toys Say about the Industry and Ourselves

Does subpar gender diversity show a lack of imagination—or courage?

Popular sex toys are shown in this photo.

If this is an exaggeration, it’s sad to say that it isn’t much of one: the current state of sex toy design, manufacturing, and marketing is sorely limited.

This becomes especially apparent when it comes to sex and gender.

It’s a binary world out there

True, there are some great exceptions, toys like Buck Angel’s Buck-Off, which is designed and built for the pleasure of trans men. But for the most part, toys are still created and pitched for either cis men or women.

You’d think that, in this day and age, with so many folks working to show that gender is not a one-or-the-other condition, that sex toy developers could at least make an effort to expand the range of their designs and target market.

Even a cursory glance at some of the so-called ultra-modern interactive and Bluetooth-enabled devices reveals the narrow scope. The toys marketed toward men are mostly sleeves or strokers meant for penile insertion. On the other hand, the ones listed for women have a greater variety of shapes. Still, those are mostly intended for clitoral or internal stimulation.

Being inclusive is being smart

Now it could be argued that these developers are giving the public what it wants; that they are only following in a long line of sex toys launched, with just a few Internet-of-Things features thrown in for the technophiles.

But this sadly doesn’t explain their unwillingness to at least expand their marketing. If they don’t want to take a risk with a totally unique and experimental product, they could try and reach out to other demographics. Copy, after all, costs a whole lot less than a brand-new device.

That being said, we do have to tip our hat to the companies that do work at being gay-friendly in their marketing and product descriptions, and not always assume their phallic sex toys are only for women.

Glittery silicone phallic sex toys with a batman utility belt.

However, the number of companies that go beyond heteronormative brand messaging pales in comparison to those that don’t. Peruse online sex shops yourself and you’ll see “For Him” or “For Her” tags as the go-to for so many vendors.

That, however, is an easy fix, and one that customers can and should be pressing for. Again, changing a description of a product to be gay and trans inclusive doesn’t take a lot of work. So there’s really no excuse for it not to be done, especially when enough people point it out.

Besides being respectful it’s also just good marketing sense: the more people who look at your product and go “that’s something for me” the better.

More than tab A, slot B

Then there’s the actual design of toys. It might be a tad obvious but it’s something that so many sex toy makers seemed to have forgotten. Just as there are more than two genders, there are a myriad of ways that people find sexual pleasure that aren’t restricted to just penetrating or being penetrated.

It is like the sex tech industry is laser focused on what only happens below the belt, and then only on penises and vaginas.

It’s a sorry state of affairs that we have to tell sex toy makers this long-known truth about human sexuality: it’s not always about genitals!

The toys we want and need

It would be so refreshing—and best of all, exciting—to see a sex toy appear for people who like not only to receive but give oral pleasure.

We have penis-shaped ones, but they are primarily designed for vaginal insertion. Why not a toy that tastes as close to real as possible, with lovely little details like bristly hairs and realistic pulsing, and even, perhaps, ejaculation?

Conversely, for cunnilingus aficionados why not a toy that could not just look and feel realistic but also be a learning tool, allowing people to perfect their skills?

A purple sex toy with a loop and bumps.

And where are the nipple and breast toys, especially ones with nipples that could mimic arousal?

Let’s see toys designed specifically anal play, perhaps with oil reservoirs that would automatically maintain lubrication?

And all of these could even be coupled via Bluetooth or the Internet for lovers to share, in addition to long-distance intercourse, all sorts of other erotic activities.

Looking beyond anatomy

But these are just parts of the body that sex toy manufacturers have been mostly neglecting. What we also need to see are toys that push the limits, not just technologically but with the whole idea of what a sex toy can be.

We have some of these: dildoes shaped like everything from corn cobs to dolphins. Yet what really needs to happen is more of what the aforementioned Buck Angel has done: to create toys that with non-binary sexuality in mind.

We certainly have the technology, so what we clearly need is some designers and manufacturers to shake up the status quo.

Change begins with us

Even though a lot here has been leveled at sex toy vendors and developers, much of the responsibility for sparking change lies with consumers and the general public. There have been some great steps lately, such as progressive work on expanding and accepting non-binary gender and a wide range of sexual orientations, but more clearly needs to happen.

We have truly amazing tools that have allowed us to create sex toys that heat, oscillate, share their data with others, record what they see, and network with other devices. What we, as consumers, need is to do step up and tell sex toy designers to be as innovative in their marketing as they have been with their technology: to being respectful and inclusive.

It’s time to expand our own horizons. It’s a brave new sexual world out there just waiting to be explored.

Image sources: Rachel Kramer Bussel,Naked Bee, Stux

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  • CyborgDicks

    This is a really good article, but there’s some awkward wording at one point, with unfortunate implications.

    “But for the most part, toys are still created and pitched for either men or women” implies that trans men or women aren’t men or women. The Buck-Off, for example, is also created for men. Just for trans ones.

    Rewording this to say “either cis men or women” would make a lot more sense, be far more accurate, and not have unfortunate implications about trans people’s genders.

    • Jenna Owsianik

      Thanks for the feedback! You make a good point there and appreciate the input. I’ve now revised that sentence.