Thoughts on Sex Toys, Aging, and Disability

Some of you might know that I’m currently enrolled in a Master’s degree program for Human Sexuality Education. If you didn’t know…

I am currently enrolled in a Master’s degree program for Human Sexuality Education!

It’s been a fantastic step for my career, it’s helped create invaluable connections with fellow educators and given me the opportunity to improve my teaching skills. On top of that, I get to take some really cool classes you can’t find anywhere else!
This summer I am taking a class on Sex and Aging, and it has given me so much to think about. Specifically, how age affects the ways in which we have sex, how we see ourselves as sexual beings, and how we see the sexuality of others. I was recently in my first weekend of class, and we did an activity that became more emotional for me than I could have possibly imagined. We were asked to use different materials to limit ourselves in the ways that older adults are often limited.

We put ear plugs in our ears so we couldn’t hear. We wrapped our joints with ace bandages to decrease mobility. We put dry beans in our shoes to make walking difficult and painful. We put on gloves, with popsicle sticks in their fingers and cotton balls on their tips, to limit movement and sensation. We put on strong glasses (or in my case, took them off) to impair sight.

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At first, it was kind of entertaining to see each other with all of these devices on, but then it got interesting. We were asked to walk around and do daily tasks such as walking up and down stairs, using the restroom, laying down and getting back up, reading newspapers, using our phones, etc. As someone with invisible disabilities, the added difficulty really hit home.

There was one station that I left for last because I wanted to spend time with it; the table covered in sex toys. I work in a sex toy store by day, so I have a lot of time to think about what types of toys can best serve different types of people for different types of activities. I think a lot about ways toys can be used outside of their marketed uses. So I wanted to take this opportunity to really engage with toys in ways I hadn’t been able to before. I walked up to the table (slowly!), and picked up a hard plastic, pink, slimline-style vibrator. This may in fact be the most common type of toy I see purchased by people who are new to toys (it makes sense because of their versatility and low price point).

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I twisted the base to turn on the toy with minimal problems, but it was when I tried to open the toy that things got complicated. I stood there for several minutes just trying to grip the toy firmly enough to loosen it, but to no avail. It was at that moment, one of my two professors, the brilliant Dr. Melanie Davis, came up behind me and said, “Try putting the little watch batteries into that bullet.”

I’m sure you can already imagine what that was like.

I couldn’t even hold on to the batteries long enough to get them close to the toy, let alone inside it. I felt defeated and downright disempowered. I felt guilty knowing that some of my customers and clients have left with one of these toys, and probably had similar difficulties rendering their brand new toy useless.

This activity has given me so much to think about. Now I feel driven to find toys that are more accessible, and alternative ways of using toys to make them more adaptable for aging populations and people with other disabilities. Expect a follow up post soon with my findings. This is far from over!

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