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Does the Industry Need a Better Term Than ‘Sex Toy’ to Be Taken Seriously?

Perhaps it’s time to change our sex tech vocabulary.

A row of colorful vibrators,

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”—Robin Williams

Speaking recently to Techcrunch, Cindy Gallop—the founder of MakeLoveNotPorn [NSFW]—raised some great, and at times disparaging, points about the current state of sex tech.

Bad for business, bad for people

In particular, she talked about how the uncomfortable social atmosphere surrounding sex hinders investors from seeing the industry’s immense financial opportunities.

Even more importantly, she pointed a finger at the inability to openly discuss the sex has led to a culture of selfish and immature sexuality.

We highly recommend you listen to the podcast as she touches on some fascinating and thought-provoking subjects. But one that particularly resonated is the idea that the language of sex tech thwarts the industry in its push for acceptance.

We really need new words

Looking at our current sexual vocabulary, it’s clear something needs to be done to upgrade the language, especially when it comes to the technology involved.

Just take teledildonics for a start: a word that screams 80’s neon-lit cyberpunk silliness—and this is coming from someone who was a huge fan of the genre.

It’s embarrassingly outdated, far from euphonious, and is pure geek-speak. It’s not a word that anyone really likes using, yet we don’t have a ready replacement for “internet-connected sexual devices.”

Then there’s gynoid: yet another shoulder-pad wearing holdover from the 80s. While being easier to say, it still has a lingering taste of misogyny.

Putting these aside for later, the big thing that really needs a change—and one that Cindy Gallop agrees should be rethought—is the idea of a “sex toy.”

“Sex toy” has got to go

While far older than teledildonics and gynoid, and thus far more entrenched, “sex toy” has really one thing going for it: it’s easy to say.

On the surface, it sounds playful enough—conjuring laughter and exuberance—but it does so at the cost of dismissing a more expansive attitude toward sex.

Part of that is its feeling of being separate and less that sex: toys might be fun to play with but they aren’t something that grown up people use.

Gallop has said she’s created a new name to replace “sex toys,” but that it won’t be released until a later date. In the meantime, let’s do some brainstorming of our own!

So what do we replace “sex toy” with? Here’s where things get tricky. For starters there’s that entrenchment that’s already pretty firmly in place. Beyond that, there’s also the problem of creating a term that is clear, easy to use, and won’t date itself in a few years.

Portmanteaus anyone?

With that in mind, and hopefully not diminishing the seriousness of the subject, let’s play for a bit with some possible new ways of describing what we are, for the moment at least, calling a “sex toy.”

Being the cyberpunk aficionado that I am, the first thing that come to mind is creating portmanteaus of some of the more evocative terms in the genre: mod, aug, enhance, upgrade, amp, and so forth with obvious words for sex.

Thus, we have sexamp, pleasurehance, and sexaug; though, of all the ones that came from this game the only one that comes close to “sort of” working is erosmod. The big drawback is that all of these sound less like something erotically enjoyable and more of a surgical procedure (shudder).

Working backwards from “sex toy,” how about keeping what works and getting rid of what doesn’t: instead of “toy” how about a less childish word?

With this in mind comes sexgear, desiredevice (okay, that one is awful), and erostech. This last also has some potential, though it still sounds a bit heavy industry and less fun.

There are other words instead of tech, of course. This leads to sexboost and, a personal favorite, erosboom. Sadly, these come far too close to sounding like cheap energy drinks.

Using another language

Another possibility is to adapt a word from another language. The trick here deciding which tongue to work with. No insult to German speakers but the word for “sexual technology” comes out as “sexuelle technik”—a bit of a mouthful.

In French, meanwhile, it is “technologie sexuelle” and—just to be silly—in Esperanto it’s “seksa teknologio.”

Come to think of it, Seksa-tek does have an interesting ring to it, though while fun to say it needs far too much thinking to be readily useful.

Japan has given us English speakers some great words for erotic pleasure, while it is not linguistically accurate—hentai being a prime example. Unfortunately “sex device” roughly translates into “Sekkusudebaisu,” which suffers from the same problem as Esperanto. “Otona no omocha,” the slang for “sex toy” is equally fun to say but equally too cryptic.

Words can change the world

While this has been fun, the underlying point is extremely serious. Completely agreeing with Cindy Gallop, things don’t just need to change they have to change: right now far too many people lack the ability to discuss sex openly and maturely.

Financially, this social discomfort is keeping sex tech from achieving its true business potential.But more importantly, it’s also adding to a culture of selfishness, toxic masculinity, and sexual ignorance.

Fortunately, there are projects out there like Gallop’s own MakeLoveNotPorn, with its goal of “—making it easier to talk about sex by building a whole new category online—social sex—to normalize sex; promote good sexual values and behavior; help drive better relationships and better lives; and ultimately make the world a better and happier place.”

And another part of the solution could very well be by changing the very way we think about sex tech: by finding better ways of saying what we need to say about physical pleasure, erotic devices, and being a thoughtful and responsible sexual person.

We just need to find the right word—or words—to do it.

What do you think of our new words for “sex toys”? Please feel free to share your top picks or offer your own ideas in the comments below!

Image Sources: Ged Carroll, Morderska

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  • Brendan Reeves

    Doesn’t the term sex toy link to the idea that sex is supposed to be fun?

    • Marshein

      I’ve always thought the term trivializes sex.

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