This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Claire Cavanah and Rachel Venning are the founders of Babeland, a sex shop based in Seattle; this year, they said the We-Vibe Sync became their best selling vibrator. The toy—which looks more like a video game controller than a vibrator—is designed to provide simultaneous G-spot and clitorial stimulation to female users, and thus maximum potential that they reach orgasm. It comes in just two colors (aqua and purple), it can sync its vibrations to the beat of your music, it costs about $200, and it looks absolutely nothing like a penis.
The We-Vibe isn't the only one. Take the Hitachi Magic Wand—perhaps one of the most famous female sex toys in the world, a massager that looks more like an oversized drumstick than a clitorial stimulator. Scroll down a list by Cosmopolitan Magazine of the 14 best sex toys for women and you'll encounter futurist creations like the smooth, oval Mimi Soft or the necklace-like Picobong Transformer before finding the list's sole realistic dildo, the Morning Wood, which comes in at number ten. Other toys on the list are more likely to look like a "blooming flower" or "a paperweight from the MOMA store," as its writers had it, than a dick.
When you compare popular toys for women versus men, a clear theme emerges: With notable exceptions, female sex toys look absolutely nothing like a penis, whereas men's toys aim to mimic the look and feel of a vagina as accurately as possible. Why? The answer lies in differing biology and psychology between the sexes. And, possibly, old-hat assumptions about what we really want from our most private of purchases.
The male equivalent of the Magic Wand might be the Fleshlight, whose name betrays its goal: to accurately imitate human flesh. In addition to the company's more esoteric offerings, the original Fleshlight—"the Pink Lady Original," as branded on the site, which "started it all"—has three options: sleeves that look like a vagina, an anus, or a mouth.
There's also the Fleshlight Girl line, one of the company's top sellers. It's not all that different from the flagship product, except that these orifices are molded after actual individuals—specifically, pornstars. Stoya has been featured, as has Asia Akira, Nikki Benz, Joanna Angel, Jenna Haze and other major names in the business.
"It's an intricate process that enables us to recreate [the model's] most intimate areas for fans to enjoy while being confident that it is the closest thing to the real thing they may ever get," said Kristen Kaye, the company's PR representative. "Aesthetics, feeling, quality and fantasy are extremely important to us, and that attention to detail has served us quite well."
Brian Sloan came out with the Autoblow, "the world's first blowjob robot," back in 2008. "My selling point for the men's toys is how realistic is," said Sloan. Like the FleshLight, the Autoblow is molded after the anatomy of an actual woman. Unlike Fleshlight, he decided to stick with amateur models in place of porn stars. Today, Sloan has sent out over 100,000 orders to 30 different countries.
According to Dr. Michael Aaron, a New York-based sex therapist and author of Modern Sexuality: The Truth about Sex and Relationships, an emphasis on realism among male-oriented toys isn't entirely surprising. "In my clinical practice, I've found that my male clients are more likely to fantasize during sex and that the visual element is essential," he said. Women, on the other hand, tend to focus on feeling when chasing their orgasm. "My female clients have been more likely to focus on physical sensations," he continued. "They might need a toy that gives them the specific kind of physical sensation they're seeking."
Earlier this year, the Womanizer became Babeland's second best-selling toy among women. At first glance, it looks more a weapon you'd find on Planet Tatooine than something you'd want hanging around your genitals—probably because it uses air pressure to stimulate the clitoris in place of more traditional vibration.
But as most women will eventually learn, looks aren't everything. Out of the 200 women who initially tested the product, 50 percent were able to achieve orgasm in 60 seconds or less, according to a company spokesperson. 80 percent got there somewhere between two and three minutes of use. Three-fourths said they were able to experience multiple orgasms.
What it all boils down to is that for women's sex toys, function trumps form. Plenty of research has shown that an orgasm gap exists between men and women; research has also shown that women are more likely to orgasm when masturbating rather than during intercourse. It would follow that while men may want their masturbatory experience to mimic sex, chances are women are looking to get something out of toys that sex itself doesn't always deliver: an orgasm.
But there are those in the industry who have different ideas as to why realistic-looking toys continue to dominate the male market. "The male sex toy market is quite unsophisticated," said Stuart Nugent, brand communications manager of LELO, a luxury sex toy manufacturer. "It's dominated by anatomical products because sex toy designers don't care as much about male sex toys as much as they do about female sex toys, which means the market itself looks like it's driven by demand for anatomical devices, but in truth, the market is driven by the makers, not by the customers."
Unlike other manufacturers, LELO doesn't offer any "realistic" designs. In fact, some of their top sellers are designed to stimulate areas other than the penis—areas that the heterosexual community has traditionally considered "off limits." The HUGO, the company's premiere prostate massager, has actually outsold some of the companies more classic designs.
"It proves what we already knew: if you show male sex toys some respect, men will respond positively," said Nugent. And hopefully, in due time, they'll begin to look less like genitalia in a tube—and more like the well-designed, pleasure-filled future that both of the sexes deserve.
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