Growing up in a small Pennsylvania town with a conservative family, musician Von would get looks for wearing short shorts and dramatic hairstyles. “I was like eight years old when that was pinned on me,” she remembers. “Before I had any control or understanding of what sexuality even meant, I was hyper-sexualized as a kid.”
As she got older and lived in more sexually permissive cities like New York and Berlin, Von used her music, which she dubs “sex-positive synth pop,” to reclaim her sexuality and express it in ways that couldn’t be objectified. She also became fascinated with vibrators.
The idea of merging her love of vibrators and music came to Von, who prefers not to disclose her full name, during a conversation with a friend. “I was like, ‘I think me and vibrators have a lot in common. We prioritize efficiency and productivity,’” the 21-year-old remembers. “I’m like, ‘I’m gonna make music out of vibrators one day.’” To this end, Von called sex toy companies and asked for their software codes, with the aim of creating sounds inspired by their vibration patterns. But none of them wanted to give away their trade secrets. Then, Von read about Lioness.
The Lioness is a smart vibrator that measures users’ vaginal contractions and displays their orgasms on charts via an app. These data are presented as waves that represent the force of vaginal movements at various points in time. From her windowless, WIFI-less Manhattan basement apartment, Von dragged the Lioness waves into the wavetable operator Serum and treated them like sound waves, manipulating them to craft music. Orgasm contraction data was directly mapped onto instrument sounds, with the amplitude of the sound wave reflecting the strength of contractions, and the wavelength of the sound wave reflecting the rhythm of the contractions.
Watch: The History of the Vibrator
One of the songs she created using this method was “Action,” the ode to masturbation that she’s now releasing as her debut single. Currently entering her last year at New York University's Clive Davis Institute of Record Music, Von's work is reminiscent of Grimes, Peaches, and Charli XCX, a comparison she welcomes.
And that bass sound you hear on "Action"? It's Von's orgasm. With lyrics like “don’t need you to make it happen / one-woman show with the action” set to flirty, fast-paced vocals and a percussion-heavy backdrop, "Action" is about having “a very intimate sexual relationship with yourself and not needing another person to fulfill those needs,” Von says. “So it was a nice experiment of using a vibrator and my own orgasm patterns—I didn't need anyone else to make that happen for me."
In a culture where depictions of female orgasm often focus on the appeal of a woman’s face, voice, or body to an outside observer, “Action” represents what it feels like for the woman herself. Since you can’t even tell the sounds are based on an orgasm, Von hopes people can enjoy the products of her sexual openness whether or not they’re sexually open themselves.
“It sounds like in the song you have a buildup into a chorus—it’s a bass oscillation that’s kind of what my orgasm sounds like, because my orgasm pattern is very stagnant and then a lot of activity,” she says. “An orgasm is so intimate and singular to the person. That specific wave had not existed until I literally created it with my own body.” Her next goal? To convert the force and time of her orgasm waves into frames per second, and turn that into a music video so that the speed at which images flash on the screen matches the rhythm of the orgasm.
Masturbation, Von believes, can help women understand their sexual capacity so that they’ll expect the same pleasure from a partner. “Knowing that you are enough to give that to yourself, you don’t have to settle when you come into contact with sexual partners that don’t listen to your needs and provide them,” she says. “If I had prioritized knowing my own body in the way that I do now, I would’ve avoided so many toxic and lacking sexual partners.”
Von hopes her music will help women view masturbation as a way to promote physical health, mental health, and healthy relationships. Although she's encountered a backlash from family and friends in her Pennsylvania hometown, she believes that her music can help spread a valuable sex education message that's worth the hate.
“If you want your children to grow up empowered, self-assured, and self-sufficient members of society, then you should teach them or allow them to be taught the importance of knowing their bodies,” she says. “If more people start to learn that from a young age, it becomes less taboo.”
As a result, Von welcomes the discomfort people may have around her work. “If my family members have to talk about what I’m doing, they have to say the word ‘orgasm,’” she explains. “If what you take away from this is a feeling of intense discomfort, that’s a sign you have a lot more learning to do and a lot of room for growth, and that’s exciting.”
But Von’s orgasm-inspired music is also for her own benefit, she says. “It really feels almost therapeutic to watch something that, in certain aspects of my life, has been really shamed, like being so sexually open and sex-positive, and then to use that to make a product I’m proud of.”