When a man enlists in the military, he accepts the risk of losing an arm, a leg, or even his life. But what does a soldier do when he's sent home from combat, still young and lascivious, but no longer able to feel his dick? Does that mean his sex life is over forever?
Tom Stewart says no. The founder of California-based sex toy company Sportsheets has developed a line of customised harnesses, straps, and strap-ons for wounded veterans who have lost feeling in their lower body or have difficulty doing it doggy-style because of combat injuries.
"Dealing with an injured spouse is stressful enough," Stewart said. "When it comes to the effect it has on their sex lives it can be devastating for couples. To get a small piece of their former sex life back is a huge gain for these couples that had thought that they would never be able to have intercourse – or be in an intimate position like the missionary position – again."
Stewart's thoughts on the subject developed in the 1980s, when he spent his days flying helicopters for the Marine Corps and thinking about sex. One night, his friends turned on the TV and saw David Letterman stuck to a wall wearing a suit of Velcro. Cool, they thought, but it would be better if you could stick your girlfriend to that wall – and then stick it to her.
Stewart's friends were kidding, but he took the joke seriously. The idea evolved from a Velcro wall to Velcro bed sheets; what began as a sex-sheet startup became a full-blown sex-toy company. Today, Stewart and his wife, Kimberly, are shifting their focus toward customised contraptions that allow wounded veterans to get it on.
Interested in learning more about how Stewart plans to help veterans, I called the 59-year-old to discuss his new devices, masculinity, and why he likes Velcro so much.
VICE: When you first created the sex sheet, how did you test the device?
Tom Stewart: We had a bunch of people come over to our house, and somebody volunteered to try it. They're all standing around the bed, and we're all looking at each other, and one girl went, "All right, I will." So she got down and we put the cuffs around her wrists and ankles and spread her out - with clothes on - and it stuck, and she couldn't get out. It was kind of tense, like, What's she gonna do? And she just started cracking up, and then she peeled up one of the corners, and she just ripped the anchor pad right off the Velcro sheet. Within 60 seconds it was confirmed that this thing totally worked like we had envisioned it.
Isn't Velcro a little scratchy?
Most people think so, but I got together with the guy from Velcro, and he showed me these two different materials. Velcro's a hook-and-loop system, and this loop stuff is kind of softer. If you touch the ceiling of your car, the headliner, it's fuzzy like that. That's how the sheet feels.
Originally, the BDSM and swinger communities used the device. How did you go from producing a sheet for those people to creating toys for disabled veterans?
One of the products we came up with was what's called a thigh harness, and it's like a neoprene knee brace. If you slide that up your thigh with a dildo inside the little hole, all of a sudden you've got a dildo mounted on your thigh.I took this thigh harness and other strap-ons to a [retail sex] show in Canada, and there was a guy in a wheelchair who came up and said, "Hey, I want to try this." We put this thigh harness on him, and we put this dildo on his right leg.
I said to his girlfriend, "Come over here. Squat down on this thing - imagine you're naked and this dildo's going inside of you". So, she was kind of grinding on his thigh - you know, simulating - and she's going, "Oh my God, this is phenomenal. We can have intercourse like this!" This was really the beginning of products for people who have disabilities.
Was the disabled man a veteran?
No, he was just in a wheelchair, but as I've grown up in the industry, I've met a lot of sex therapists, and they introduced me to a woman named Linda Mona, who works with a lot of wounded vets. She said, "Y'know, some of these products might work for my clients". And then, five years ago, they had a Coalition to Salute America's Heroes Road to Recovery conference. I got invited to come and just hand out my sex toys. I had all these different products, and I handed them out at the end of the thing, and I almost got run over. It was very positive.
Why do you custom-make most the sex toys you now sell to veterans?
Cause everybody's got a different capability or incapability. Linda introduced me to a couple about four or five years ago. This guy was a quadriplegic. He'd taken a bullet in the neck, and he could only move his neck. They can have intercourse - he can take a shot right into the base of his penis and he gets an erection. He can't feel it, but he can have an erection. But the wife was always on top, because she can't roll the guy over.
For a young guy who's in the military, you know, man on top, dominate my female - that's pretty typical. And that's how this particular guy identified sexually: "I want to be on top of my wife". So I talked to them, and I came up with a sling that he can lie in, and we hoist him up. We worked on it together for about a day. It puts the guy face down, flying like Superman. So he takes an injection and gets an erection. She rolls him over into this thing face down, hits a button, hoists him up, scoots underneath him, and he can penetrate her - and they can look at each other in the eye. That intimacy - when you're nose to nose with your lover - those are some of the most intimate times. This guy can't feel anything below his neck. So when they're touching noses or kissing, when he's on top, it's like, Oh my God, it's not that great, but it's certainly a lot better than what I had.
So what are you developing for veterans now?
Something we've started developing is a hollow dildo strap-on harness for guys who are having erectile difficulties - you know, paraplegics or quadriplegics. It helps create the connection. We can't give a guy the feeling back in his penis, but we can stimulate the mental connection between the spouses.
A lot of these guys can't do doggy style anymore because they have to bend over. They can't hunch. So we say, "OK. Bring your partner to end of the bed, put this doggy strap around her, and now you can hang on and stabilise yourself, and bring her to you - and you don't have to hump, and you don't have to hunch".
That's so sad, though: You're already disabled, and then you can't even have sex.
I know. When these guys get injured, the first thing they say to their buddies is "Check my junk. I don't care if my legs are gone - check my junk". A young twentysomething, man, the masculinity is translated and identified through the penis. You get goosebumps when you see people [able to have sex again]. When you go to one of these conferences, and you see these burned guys with no ears, no nose - you can't even imagine. I want to work with these guys and do whatever I can.
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