Erotic Review Magazine

Let's do it, let's get a vibrator

by Max Fletcher / 28th January 2013

Ever thought of replacing a man with a hunk of plastic? Look no further than Sh!

For a man, masturbation is quite a prosaic activity[1]. The action is mechanical, you pretty much know what you’re getting, and if you’re good about it, it’ll only take around one and a half to two minutes. When you’re done you’ll probably feel OK for a couple of seconds, but that’ll soon be replaced by the same low level sense of boredom and low self-esteem that you were trying to dispel in the first place. You’ll zip yourself up, sling the tissue on the heap, and get back to whatever similarly pointless task you were engaged in before[2]. It’s about as romantic and about as rewarding as making a slice of toast. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Toast is good. I like toast. It’s not great, but it’s fine. Equally, no-one’s going to make a song and dance about a casual wank[3]. Having visited the women only sex shop Sh!, I’ve come to believe that female masturbation is infinitely more worthwhile.

The sheer variety of dildos and vibrators on offer (tools made from silicone, glass, brushed chrome, with boundlessly diverse combinations of bumps, ridges, swoops and curves) bespeak an organ that is considerably more complex and subtle than your average Johnson. In KD Grace’s story The Collection[4] the female narrator is literally engaged in researching the variety of pleasure she can get whilst masturbating with a dildo. I know; researching. What could a man ever hope to get out of researching his Doinker[5]? There’s science to back up this disparity between the two organs: there are around 8000 nerve endings in the clitoris alone. That’s the same as in a whole penis. Oy gevalt!

When I talked to her, Sh! co-founder Kathryn Hoyle, says that part of the store’s purpose is to encourage women to take advantage of this sexual potential. Founded in 1992 when the sex industry was, as Hoyle notes, tacky, sleazy and directed almost exclusively at men, Sh! has in its twenty year history managed to carve out a niche in a market place that was once hostile territory for women. According to Hoyle, back in ’92, even toys for women were designed with an androcentric perspective. The only vibrators or dildos on offer, she says, were modelled after huge, veiny phalluses, as if a) they’re the best thing for the job, and b) the sole fixation of a woman’s desire is a penis.[6] Sh! has played its part in re-designing the dildo as a less threatening, more sensitive, more capable kind of object. Really, they’re like pieces of precision engineering, expertly moulded into rewarding shapes, fashioned out of materials like silicone[7], fitted with vibrating mechanisms that are alterable and can be remote controlled[8]. In other words; meticulously designed to exploit the potential of that most complicated and subtle of body parts, It’s amazing to me that any woman would want a penis.

It’s perhaps a shame that the advantages of these products will remain unknown to many, because of the awkwardness of actually going out and buying them. But Sh! does good work making the whole process comfortable and anxiety free. Every customer is given a cup of tea and invited to consult with their sympathetic, sharp and well informed staff[9]. Hoyle is full of stories of women who have plucked up the courage to tell a shop assistant that they’ve become aware of certain anxieties towards sex, or that they have problems orgasming[10], and who have left the store with re-newed confidence, or an object that can remedy their problem. So encouraging this kind of purchase serves a very important purpose. It isn’t simply about self indulgence. It is tied up with the most personal aspects of people’s bodies. It has a bearing on the respect they’re willing to give to certain bodily functions, and the value they’re willing to attach to certain desires. The products they’re selling are luxury items, OK, but it goes further than that. It’s also probably worth pointing out that Sh! collaborates with-and provides products for-NHS trusts.

For a woman then, owning a vibrator need no longer suggest loneliness, and desperation.  In fact, if you have one, you’re in pretty good company. They’ve become more and more fashionable since in 1998 Sex in the City introducd the public to the Jessica Rabbit vibrator[11], and since 1999 when Cosmopolitan ran an article on female masturbation. The female erotic market has come to be worth $250 million, and is estimated to rise to $1bn in the next five years. Apparently you’d be lonlier if you didn’t have one.

So it seems like there’s never been a better time to be a sexually aware woman with a disposible income. For us men on the other hand, how can we ever compete with these sleek, hi-tech, late model members? Charlotte in Sex in the City argues that ‘a vibrator does not call you on your birthday, a vibrator does not send you flowers the next day, you cannot take a vibrator home to meet your mother’. But on the other hand, a penis doesn’t vibrate. And broadly speaking, they’re incredibly ugly[12]. Ladies, you can do better.

Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium: 57 Hoxton Square, London, N1 6HD. www.sh-womenstore.com.

NB: Sh! is open 12-8 every day. This is a women- and/or mixed couples-only store.
However there is a men’s evening between 6 and 8 pm every Tuesday.

[1] A horrifying exception is the video on YouTube of a chimp masturbating with a frog.

[2] It seems odd to me that there are number of obvious phrases to do with practical, no-nonsense, efficient sex, like ‘a quickie’ for instance, but nothing really springs to mind to describe the same for masturbation. The reason this is so weird is because sex is usually such a beaurocratic procedure, tangled up with negotiation, red tape, and compromise. But maybe it’s because efficiency is not already implicit in sex that there’s a need for these kinds of phrases. Maybe associations of speed and practicality are already implicit in words like ‘wank’ and ‘jimmy’. Is it therefore semantically impossible for male masturbation ever to be sensual and luxurious? Are we trapped in a glass cage of banality that we can see out of, but never escape? If only the answer to that was as easily achievable as a male orgasm…

[3] Said for effect, but not at all true. C.f. Matt Parker and Trey Stone’s Jacking it in San Diego

[4] Published in Sh!’s promotional booklet Sex: The Bible

[5] Another amusing nickname I’ve come across whilst researching this article is ‘Cornholer’

[6] Talking about the advantages of vibrators over penises, the female friend who accompanied me to the shop remarked ‘they’re just so much more ergonomic’, making me feel completely ashamed of my masculinity.

[7] According to Sex: The Bible, silicone is so good because it ‘warms quickly to body temperature…never feels cold or clammy…is hypoallergenic, phthalate free and very easy to clean, even to sterilise’. I also want to mention a vibrator sold by a company called Lelo which is made out of 24 carat gold and costs £10000.

[8] Hoyle tells a story about a couple she once saw on the London Underground: a man cheekily plugging away at a remote control sat next to a woman desperately trying to conceal her delight.

[9] One staff member said to me that it’s a great idea to go to work with ‘love beads’ in your vagina, so that when you get home you’re ‘absolutely gagging for it’. Hearing this made me very happy: when was the last time a sales assistant in a shop talked to you as if the product they were selling gave them genuine joy?

[10] Fact: as many as one in ten women find orgasm impossible to achieve, either alone, or with a partner. And Marilyn Monroe had her first orgasm at 36.

[11] Sh! was in fact the first company to market these in the UK, back in 1993.

[12] For a bit of historical precedent on the impossibility of the lowly penis keeping up with these lithe contraptions, see the last three verses of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester’s Signor Dildo. Esp. ‘The good Lady Sandys burst into a laughter/ To see how the ballocks came wobbling after…’

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Ever thought of replacing a man with a hunk of plastic? Look no further than Sh!

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