Sex Aids

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Sex Aids

Sex Aids are objects that are used in sexual activity to produce sexual titillation and stimulation, lend variety to sexual expression, make sex more fun, and help produce a diversity of sexual behaviors and sexual expression. Sex aids used to be called marital aids and included vibrators, penis extension sleeves, pillows, and aphrodisiacs. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, sex aids range from dildos and butt plugs to sex furniture, restraints, bondage and domination/sadism masochism (BDSM) paraphernalia, pornography, mood-enhancing drugs, vibrators, sex dolls, and genital jewelry. The name change says it all: Where once inanimate objects were supposed to assist married couples in achieving heterosexual sexual intercourse, were secret and slightly shameful, and had to be ordered from medical catalogs or purchased in sleazy sex shops, in the early twenty-first century sex aids are readily available, are commonly used for masturbation and casual sex, and are considered fun and playful sexual accessories. Beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s, sex-toy shops opened in the toniest urban neighborhoods and were considered respectable businesses by the end of the twentieth century. Most U.S., Canadian, European, and Australian women who are not strictly religious own at least a vibrator, and many own dildos as well. Many sexual subcultures define themselves by the sex aids they use, including leathermen; straight, gay, bisexual, and transgender BDSM people; and lesbians.


The most common sex toy, and the first to come to mind for most people, is the dildo. Dildos are phallic and can be made of silicone, latex, cyberskin (silicone and PVC), glass, leather, bone, stone, jade, horn, or pottery. Dildo-like objects have been around for at least 6,000 years and have been found in archaeological sites around the world. Whereas the origins of the word dildo are not precisely known, it may trace to the Italian diletto (delight).

Dildos are generally used to produce the pleasurable sensations associated with penetrating erogenous zones, such as the vagina. Dildos come in all shapes, sizes, lengths, and diameters. They are usually shaped like penises, but can look like animals, which allows them to subvert obscenity laws and be sold as toys in countries such as Japan and certain U.S. states, such as Texas and Alabama, where the sale of dildos for sexual use is restricted or illegal. Dildos can also vibrate, though many people consider vibrators to be a separate class of sex aids. Dildos can be used in the vagina or anus; double-ended dildos can be used by two people at the same time. Some dildos can be worn in harnesses and can be used by women on women or men, and men on men or women.


As with dildos vibrators come in all shapes and sizes. They are often sold as massagers, which can be used—depending on the shape—for clitoral, vaginal, and anal stimulation. Some vibrators fit on the hand or fingers; others rotate and flutter. They can plug in to an electrical outlet or be battery operated. When used on or around the genitals and other erogenous zones, vibrators are a source of constant stimulation.


Penis sleeves can be used for masturbation or worn on the penis to stimulate the clitoris or anus of a partner. Some have ridges or nubs on the outside for this purpose.


Butt plugs are thicker and usually shorter than dildos and are designed to stimulate and stretch the anus. They can be used in a manner similar to a dildo or inserted and worn. They are similar to dildos in that they can be made of a variety of materials. There are vibrating butt plugs as well as simple rubber or silicone ones, and they can be long and smooth; short and ridged; thin, fat, and any combination of these. Butt plugs are generally used to produce the pleasurable sensations associated with penetrating the anal region.


Ben Wa balls are thought to have originated in Japan and consist of two balls, usually metal, that are hollow inside or sometimes filled with mercury or some other liquid. They are inserted into the vagina or anus and stimulate the wearer when that person rocks back and forth.


Harnesses can be worn as restraint devices, fetish wear, costume, or to facilitate being suspended in a sling or on a rack. They are also useful for grabbing onto and holding a person during sexual activity. Torso harnesses are usually made of leather and favored by leathermen and women who practice BDSM. Dildo harnesses fit around the waist and abdomen and can be worn by men or women to hold one or more dildos in place for penetrative sex with another or with one's self.

Leather and latex are the preferred materials of BDSM people, so leather harnesses, chaps, boots, vests, hoods, and jackets are often associated with the leather community for this reason. Leather is strong, which makes it good for sturdier uses such as restraint, suspension, and dildo harnesses. Latex is not strong for hanging, but it can be sturdy for restraint, for blindfolding and enclosing, and for general wear. Latex stretches, which makes it better suited than leather for garments that enclose a person very tightly.

Restraining devices such as masks, cuffs, harnesses, and gags are meant to control a partner, to render her or him helpless or make her or him feel as a safely held prisoner. Restraining devices range from elaborate harnesses, racks, and slings to simple handcuffs. Handcuffs, like vibrators and dildos, are fairly ubiquitous, and are often used by people who would never consider themselves BDSM. More elaborate devices such as fisting slings are used mostly by gay men and lesbians who practice some form of slight, moderate, or heavy BDSM, though heterosexual BDSM people also use them. Other restraining devices include cages in which submissive sexual partners may be held to furniture used for sex such as tables with cages in the middle or chairs with straps.


Cock rings are worn around the base of the penis to impede blood flow and make erections last longer or make the penis look bigger and more erect in clothes. Some cock rings fit around the testicles as well and act as restraining devices.

Nipple clamps range from wooden or plastic clothespins to metal clamps that use a spring or screw to tighten pressure when worn on the nipples. These are use to pinch the nipples and stimulate them, and often they have chains on them. Sometimes they can also run an electrical current.

Whips of varying shapes and sizes can be used for stimulation and discipline during sexual activity. Contrary to popular belief, whips are often used more in BDSM for stimulation than to draw blood or beat someone up; working over a sensitive part of a person's body with a leather whip increases blood flow to the skin and results in heightened sensitivity to that area.

Piercings on the genitals, tongue, and nipples are for stimulation, restraint, and general ornamentation. Jewelry of various sizes can be worn on the genitals and used much as any sex toy would for self-stimulation and stimulation of a partner. Tongue piercings stimulate the clitoris and penis during oral sex. Nipple piercings can function much as nipple clamps do, and chains can be run through rings in the nipples or on the genitals for added stimulation. Genital piercings also create heightened stimulation and friction for both the person with the piercing and for his or her sexual partner.


Some people enjoy engaging sexually with a replica or doll. These can be life-sized, realistic, and very expensive works of rubber, latex, and silicone; or the cheaper, blowup doll version. These figures are made to resemble a person, usually a woman, and are given orifices for the insertion of the penis. One brand of high-end sex dolls offers dolls that are customized to fit the preferences of their owners. Many owners use these dolls for sex and companionship, though some owners buy them because they consider them to be art. Items such as these adult dolls truly illustrate a playful, pleasurable, and sometimes over-invested fascination with sex aids.

see also Foreplay; Performance Enhancers.


Califia, Pat. 1993. Sensuous Magic: A Guide for Adventurous Couples. New York: Masquerade Books.

Kennedy, Elizabeth Lapovsky, and Madeline D. Davis. 1993. Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community. New York: Penguin.

Venning, Rachel, and Claire Cavanah. 2003. Sex Toys 101: A Playfully Uninhibited Guide. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Weinberg, Thomas S., ed. 1995. S & M: Studies in Dominance and Submission. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

                                    Jaime Hovey