The Science of Sex is a new column from Broadly exploring the tech behind the complicated and fantastic ways we get off—because sex is sexy, but science is sexier. This week, sex writer S. Nicole Lane plunges deep into the electrifying world of electro-play sex toys.
“Brunettes are full of electricity,” wrote Villiers de L’Isle Adam in the science fiction love story Tomorrow’s Eve. But I, a brunette, am full of suspicion.
I would consider myself baseline kinky—what with being a full-time sex journalist and all—but even I had not thought of electrocuting myself for sexual reward. But when I stumbled across the wonderful world of electro-sensation sex toys, I thought I’d try to shock myself to orgasm. (I’m a Virgo, after all. I need to know more than everyone else.)
Electro-sensation toys work by stimulating the genitals, or other erogenous zones, with low levels of electrical energy. As the human body is made mostly of water, it conducts electricity well. When electricity passes through nerve cells, it creates a vibrating sensation that some find uncomfortable, but others, erotic.
But why might some people get off on the sensation of electrical currents passing through their skin? According to clinical sexologist Dr. Patsy Evans, also known as Dr. Harmony, electro-play activity creates sexual pleasure in a similar way to BDSM play. While some people may enjoy being slapped, others enjoy being zapped.
When using electro-sensation play toys, the pleasure hormone dopamine and adrenaline are triggered, Dr. Harmony explains: “Dopamine, specifically, is known to trigger the pleasure responses in the brain that contribute to an altered state."
Electro-sensation play falls under the umbrella of sensation play, she adds. “It’s a type of play that focuses on engaging or deprivation of senses.”
Electro-sensation play can create an intense experience, particularly if you enjoy being submissive sexually, but it’s important to note that electro-play shouldn't cause unbearable pain. The sensation is similar to intense exfoliation during a facial, or gentle slap on the ass—it hurts so good.
Electro-stimulation was first pioneered in the 1950s, with the invention of a Relax-A-Cizor, a device which stimulated muscles as the individual relaxed. The electric currents were supposed to be a form of exercise, making people thin as they slept (the device was eventually banned by the FDA, being linked to miscarriages, paralysis, and hernias, amongst other maladies). In the 1970s, medical TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) was developed to help relieve chronic pain by passing electrical impulses through the affected area.
These early devices paved the way for the today’s electro-play toys. Now you can buy vaginal dilators, dilos, anal plugs, cock rings, catheters, cock and ball torture, and nipple clamps—all with added electrical currents—to literally add some electricity to your bedroom activities.There are so many electro-sensation play items to fill up your sex toy box!
It’s time to be shocked: I decided to delve into the tantalizing world of electro-sensation play, one toy at a time. (For clarification, the toys I reviewed were not meant for internal play, but were meant to contribute to sensations and arousal outside of the body.)
KinkLab’s Neon Wand
Generally speaking, there are two types of devices that people can utilize in their electrosex experience: wands and TENS units. Wands come with attachments and are used externally on the surface of the skin, while TENS penetrate deep tissue and are used internally. Since I’m a beginner, I decided to try a Neon Wand from Kinklab through SheVibe.
The wand comes with four, rounded glass attachments that discharge static electricity. Tool Shed Toys, a Milwaukee-based educational sex shop, also sent me a Neon Wand Curved Y attachment which is great for exploring areas of skin.
I felt nervous setting everything up. I've previously joked that, if I was to die, I'd want to die wearing electro nipple clamps, like erotic novelist Terence Charles Wakelin. But as the electro wand approached my flesh, I mostly tried to put thoughts of death out of my mind. (To be on the safe side, my partner and I put the wand on the lowest setting.)
The wand made a loud, not-terribly-sexy, humming noise when an attachment was inserted and turned on. There was an obvious smell that could have been burning hair, though we never quite figured that out, and electricity crackled with each movement. That sounds kind of awful, but it actually felt surprisingly great. The sensations varied, depending on which attachment you used.
Sometimes, it felt like small pin-pricks across your body; other times, like a sharpened pencil pricking your skin. The more you dialled up the device to a higher setting, the more intense and deeply the sensation penetrated.
My partner and I both favored the comb attachment, because it distributed the electricity evenly. (He willingly let me try it on his balls and penis. Pro tip: get a partner who is fucking awesome.) For me, my personal preference was having my ass shocked.
Before testing each attachment, we would apply a small amount of Electro Stimulation Conductive Gel from LoveHoney, a British sex toy retailer, on to my upper thigh before introducing the attachments. (Electrodes don’t work well on dry skin. Gel helps to spread the current evenly, rather than the painful, sharp shocks that occur without it.)
In between switching toys, and sort of feeling bored with electrocuting ourselves, we went old school-romantic and had sex. So while I didn’t find the toys overwhelmingly stimulating, it did lead to intercourse. That has to count for something, right?
KinkLab’s Electro Whip
The flogger connects to the Neon Wand, and the overall experience is disconcerting. I find that I can't differentiate between the electricity versus the flogging. At one point, I'm writhing on the bed and grab my partner's hand, sending a shock through both of us. We both freaked out and, in that moment, I remembered that we were dealing with electricity. (You shouldn’t play with electro toys if you’re pregnant, have cardiac problems, electrical implants, open wounds, or irritated skin, manufacturers advise. To which I would add: Don't use if you’re fucking in a rainstorm.)
I couldn’t decided if I hated the electro-whip or loved it. The look of the whip is hot, but the mix of being flogged and electrically stimulated was a sensory overload that my body couldn’t process. While I loved that my ass was being ravaged, I didn’t want it ravaged in this particular way any more.
Power for me is a turn on, but I felt pretty powerless under the confines of an electrical machine. That said, I did enjoy pushing my body’s boundaries in new, unexpected ways. I wanted to love the whip because it’s sexy, but I’ve never been one to fake my satisfaction.
KinkLab’s Power Tripper
I consider my partner and I switches, meaning that we alternate between being the dominant and the submissive. During sex we may switch mid-blowjob, or mid-position—it works for us. With electro-sensation play, one individual has to be in the dominant role, as they're the ones administering the electrical current. Because of this, I wasn’t able to switch my role as quickly as I would have liked, mostly a shock would travel through us every time we touched. Ass cheeks, thigh, and even your pinky finger could cause miniature lighting storms under the sheets.
The Power Tripper from SheVibe is quite the trip. With a ergonomic body contact (a curved rectangular piece), you and your partner become human electrodes. As I read the instructions, I thought to myself, Oh, god.
The Power Tripper must be tightly secured and sit flush against you or your partner’s skin. The manufacturers recommend wearing it in your underwear, socks, or stockings so that it remains in contact. Once turned on, the individual wearing the tripper in effect becomes the human conductor: able to administer electrical currents using only their fingertips.
Although the Power Tripper is not attractive and resembles something used to jump-start cars, it is surprisingly extremely hot. Let me shout it from my clitoral hood: The Power Tripper jump-started every inch of my body.
My partner wore the tripper while I lay on the bed. You could visibly see the electricity between fingers and skin, and I began to nerd the fuck out. The pure excitement of my partner emitting electricity from his fingertips got me keyed up. At one point, my speakers near the bed started humming. The room was electrified, by us. Yes, I decided, I love my job. It was, by far, my favorite toy.
KinkLab’s Flex Capacitor
For me, pain—like choking, or spanking—is an adrenaline rush. However, The Flex Capacitor, from The Stockroom, is just pain. That’s it. It hurts badly.
The manufacturers aren't lying when they advertise this as one of the most intense electrosex toys out there. It radiates and shocks along the surface of your body, like fucking somebody in a sandpaper-lined bed.
After I gave my partner a few ass-clenching shocks while laughing maniacally, he vehemently announced that he hated the Capacitor. We retired it into its case, where it will probably remain (unless someone pisses me off.)
Coming out of my electro-romp, I'm not fried, but I do feel jolted. I can see why being electrified is shockingly hot. It’s worth experimenting with being tied up or blindfolded when trying the toys out—they definitely build suspense and stimulation. (For obvious reasons, only one of you should be blindfolded.)
And even though having to read sex toy instruction manuals is a mood-killer, the experience brought me closer to my partner. Trying something new together added an intimacy we weren't expecting. For now, though, my relationship doesn't need any extra sparks—but I might keep the Power Tripper near my bed for the next time I feel like some electrifying cunnilingus.