I rarely feel inspired to masturbate in spaces that aren't my bedroom. Aziz Ansari has a bit on Master of None about how it's sort of sad that the dude jacking off on the subway was born with that, something illegal and bad, as his thing, and when I heard it I wondered what my thing was. Could I ever get off on masturbating in a place where the governing principle is that people are not masturbating? Role reversal, rule-breaking, straight-up illegality—this is all standard fantasy stuff I feel lame for not wanting. My latest "sex" dream was just me sitting upright in a bed with Chrissy Teigen, both of us fully clothed and looking at opposite walls.
After growing more comfortable with mobile vibrators—ones that jam up in you and stay put, so you can attend to household tasks or get fucked while wearing one—I wanted to cut out the figurative middle man that is insertion. Because at the end of the day, the clitoris is the main thing.
I recently came into a pair of OhMiBod vibrating underwear called blueMotion Nex|1, which is something you might name a robot in the 90s. Vibrating underwear could solve a problem that's never really existed for me—the desire to masturbate and engage in the labor that is moving—but I found myself strangely turned on by the image on the package: A man, slouched in a purple chaise, holds a remote control in his right hand as his left flops limply on the armrest. He's staring at a woman who is upright yet squatting, presumably because of all the pleasure. I wanted that. The man, he could go. But I wanted to be so overcome with clitoral stimulation that I would be inspired to push out my butt, arch my back, and grimace as if possessed. And I wanted to do it in a place so desexualized that only I would know what was going on.
The vibrating underwear comes in two parts and was almost too easy to set up. After testing the remote, I wedged part one, a slim, curved vibrating device, into the pocket on the vagina area of part two, a "One Size Fits Most" thong. I slipped into the underwear and my running clothes, holding the mini-remote control in my hand. I pressed the power button.
It felt good. I got back in bed. Five minutes later, I geared up again and grabbed a bag of trash to take outside.
What follows are the activities I did while wearing vibrating panties, each ranked on a scale from one (bad) to ten (good) that takes into account both the amount of pleasure I experienced doing the activity wearing vibrating underwear and my desire to do the activity wearing vibrating underwear again.
TAKING OUT THE TRASH: 9/10
On my way down the stairs, I used the first vibrator setting, a steady, forceful buzz. It felt… very nice. No one was around to hear the faint DZZZ sound, but I felt exhilarated by the possibility of running into someone and the bonus naughtiness of having put one recyclable item in my non-recyclable items trash bag. (I'm really sorry.) I was aroused again. What's the word for, like, a sapiosexual, but for garbage? Maybe I was that. I wanted to sit down on the steps to finish what I started, but I had a run to go on.
GOING ON A RUN: 1/10
If you're wearing super-tight leggings or another slim-fit athleisure pant with your vibrating underwear, a tiny bulge of vibrator pops out around your bathing-suit area. (The device you slip into the underwear pouch is not as flat as it could be.) You can't see it buzzing, but you can hear it, faintly. As I began my jog towards McCarren Park, I pressed the remote to alternate the vibrations, and my crotch hummed at the volume of a motorized scooter two blocks away. The sound was noticeable, yes, but I reasoned that it was only truly noticeable if you were listening for it, or had positioned your head next to it. I reminded myself that people are so wrapped up in themselves that it wouldn't even occur to them that the bystander they just brushed past was wearing vibrating underwear, even if she kept touching herself to reposition it.
Did I feel any pleasure? Running is so awful that masturbating could not improve it. The underwear runs a little big, so the vibrator kept flopping around, making it hard to secure the device and get an effective buzz, as it were. After two minutes of trying to make it work, I decided to take it out for the rest of my workout. I was completely turned off, and not just because my shuffle began to play the Ed Sheeran song with the lyric about a woman supposedly asking him "to put that body" on her. Removing the device required putting my hand fully inside the front of my pants and digging around for the pocket opening. That, I think, people noticed.
My crotch hummed at the volume of a motorized scooter two blocks away.
GETTING MY PASSPORT PHOTO TAKEN: 5/10
Next thing on my schedule for that day was a bit of worldly housekeeping. The lite-pop playing in CVS was just loud enough that when I pressed the remote to turn on my vibrator, no sound was audible. I buzzed at my leisure, experimenting with different pulse settings until I had to hide in the diaper aisle to rejigger the vibrator (under my pants) because it had slipped away from my clit. Once everything was re-arranged, I found the passport photo-taking man, turned on the undulating duh duh duh duh duh duh setting, and positioned myself in front of the white backdrop. The first photo was unusable. "Too much teeth," the CVS employee said. I hadn't even known my teeth were visible, but this is what passion will do to you.
For the next shot, I zoned out, pushed my lips together to fully obscure my teeth, and let myself focus on the feeling of the vibrations. The photo wasn't great—my friend said I looked like "a hella determined non-violent criminal"—but I got some satisfaction out of knowing that every border control officer and TSA agent for the next ten years would have to look into the eyes of a masturbating woman. Was this my fetish, my thing? Also, was it illegal? Perhaps the prospect of subverting the airport security apparatus—in a non-violent but hella determined way—was sexually stimulating to me.
WRITING THIS ARTICLE: 8/10
After my stimulating day of running errands and a cool-down evening of watching contouring tutorials and eating sheep's milk cheese, I slipped on the underwear again. It's buzzing right now, as I write these words in bed. I've switched it to what I call a "tha clubz" setting, where the vibrator synchs up with whatever music you're listening to and buzzes to the beat. Another effect is that, for example, if you were to scream, "JEB!" the vibrator would respond with a DZZZ that goes off at (almost) the exact same time.
When I first started working on this piece, I was listening to Lorde's "Liability," a devastating lament about being "too much" that feels like it's pulled from the diary I don't have the discipline to keep. Really bleak masturbating material. In an effort to switch up the vibe, I'm turning on Drake's More Life for my first listen, repositioning the device, and closing my laptop.
I don't think getting off in public—not on a plane, not in a train, not in a USPS sending my passport renewal application the State Department—is my thing. But I do like a vibrator that stays close to you when you move and doesn't require much hand supervision. My hands have a lot of other places to be.
Sex Machina is a new and very personal column exploring the intersections of sex, romance, and technology.