The toy was pink. Sticky pink in that way only a boiled sweet mistakenly left in the sun on the dashboard of your car can be. Hard, molded, Chinese factory pink. The cockhead-shaped tip was only translucent, but beneath it, the plastic was transparent; the metal capsule of the motor and the brutalist ball-bearings showed through as if to counteract the coyness of the pink. There to remind her that, as pink as this thing was, it had a job to do and was capable of doing it. Nestled against the shaft like a parasite was the clit stimulator. A fat, pink cockroach with bunny ears, slightly splayed, designed to nestle on either side of the mad node of nerves while the toy was inside her. Sandra brought it up to her face, smeared the smooth, seamless plastic over her lips. Inhaled the acrid ghost of hot, taffy-soft, extruded petrochemical. The nostalgic scent of almost instant orgasm.
There must be, Sandra thought, a perfect woman, who lies on a gynecological examination couch, legs spread and braced in stirrups, in a design lab somewhere. White-coated and disinterested technicians measure the distance between her clitoris and her vaginal passage, and construct the toy according to her perfect golden-meaned cunt. Once they make their prototype, which is probably not pink, they call her back in. Once again she drapes her perfect body on the table, raises and rests her legs on stirrups, padded for her comfort, and they try the toy out on her. Or, perhaps, in order to more closely approximate use case, they ask her to use the toy, to test the design.
Sandra wonders whether they dim the lights and withdraw to a polite distance before the woman uses the toy. She wonders whether the woman is completely naked, or just pulls her underwear off and bunches her skirt around her waist. The latter, she figures. After all, this isn’t romance. This is technology. This is science. What if the prototype-testing woman doesn’t get off on the toy, but orgasms because of the sterility of the environment she’s masturbating in? Wouldn’t that make the whole process invalid? Or do they interview prospective testers to screen for that kind of perversion?
No, she thinks, it’s probably not like that at all. There are probably five Eastern European women, none of whom are undressed or beautiful, and they are paid to try out the prototypes on grungy, second-hand waiting room furniture in a second floor office with marked up drywall, with a laminate coffee table and a vase full of dusty, artificial chrysanthemums. If three of them reach orgasm before the battery runs out, that’s chalked up as a design success and the toy goes into mass production in Zhejiang Province.
Little do the designers know that the three women who come are getting off on watching and hearing each other plunge ugly, unwieldy prototypes into their variously shaped vaginas. The other two have done this longer. They know they’ll get paid whether they orgasm or not, so they don’t put much effort into it.
The thought is both depressing and vaguely arousing. Sandra puts the new pink toy back into its exuberantly designed box and places it in the closet along with the other countless sex toys she keeps there.
Her friend Marissa calls it her ‘cupboard of love’. It’s a testament to something, for sure. Sandra’s not sure to what anymore. When her collection first began to grow and she had fitted the space with clever organizer structures to accommodate the toys, it made her feel brazen and proud. When her female friends came to visit, she’d pull the doors wide open, and say, ‘behold!’ They were impressed. They were jealous. For a while, it felt like a statement of feminist rebellion and sexual independence. That was back when the toys still possessed the capacity to bring her any pleasure.
Now the cupboard seemed larger, like a stern, cream-coloured, semi-gloss maternal admonition. Opening it made her feel worse. The slick boxes were so countable. Now each one was an enumeration of her failure to achieve what the devices had been designed to offer her.
Sandra could clearly remember her first experience with a vibrator. The toy, carefully preserved in the box it had come in, sat in a place of pride in the top left pigeonhole in the cupboard. Long dead, its battery no longer capable of holding a charge, it was a small, tastefully designed oblong covered in white and purple soft-touch silicone.
The first time she’d used it, she had treated it like a lover. After bringing it home from the shop in a discreet carrier bag, on a bright Saturday morning, she’d removed all her clothes, pulled the curtains of her bedroom closed, and slipped into bed with it.
For all its built-in innocuousness, it had intimidated her when she pressed the button and turned it on. Sandra had expected it would probably require charging, but the manufacturer had been thoughtful and pre-charged it before packaging. The vibrations, even on the lowest setting, seemed disturbingly strong, so that it was with some trepidation, lying on her back, entirely naked, with her legs bent and parted, she directed the buzzing little object to the cleft of her labia and pressed it there.
The sensation had made her entire body jerk. She fumbled with the smooth, unlabelled controls, trying to dial down the strength of the vibrations, only to discover it was already on the lowest setting.
After a lifetime of using nothing but her fingers to masturbate, the device seemed sinister. It sat in the palm of her hand, purring with a monstrous efficiency. It took her ten minutes to persuade herself that there was nothing to be frightened of, and less than twenty seconds to come.
Although she knew she’d had an orgasm, it was unlike anything she’d had before. Sandra had always been fairly orgasmic, but getting herself off with her fingers took a little time and a mind full of fantasy scenarios. Sequences of lovingly nourished and embellished images, sensations, scents and sounds partially constructed of real sexual experience and things she’d seen or on the Internet. Sometimes she’d just turn a perfectly good movie dirty, inserting unwritten, unfilmed scenes where the actors finally fulfilled the erotic promises they had made in the commercial release. Sometimes it was just one tiny lived moment, replayed over and over again until her fingers found the charm of orientation and rhythm and persuaded her body to pleasure.
Always there was a slow, concerted labour of mind and body that had to be done to achieve orgasm. Always there were early minutes of mental unreadiness, where she coaxed herself to relax and then feel. Her cunt moistened and she’d reach a place where the sensations were pleasant and almost aimless in which something akin to comfort wandered through her core and traipsed over her skin. Depending on how much time she had apportioned to the task, she might stay in that zone for as little as a few minutes or as long as an hour. Like a shower, taken in haste or enjoyed in slow luxury. At some point, though, she’d remind herself of the goal to be achieved. She’d concentrate on the fantasies, create them, slide into them, drink them back into herself recursively, converting the images into a language her body could consume, converting the idea into motion and sensation with the dexterity of her fingers, pushing each primed package down her spinal column and into her pelvis. There was always a moment when suddenly she knew that her orgasm was inevitable. Like the grooved lines on a ziplock bag, there was a silent snapping into place of rightness, a smooth, linear passage towards completion. All the fantasies fragmented into nonsense, melted into moment, and her fingers would work, undirected but for muscle-memory, toward the nameless, formless abyss.
That first little toy had made all of that unnecessary. The first orgasm it afforded had felt like a curious, electrified theft of her body’s responses. It took her a while to get over the shock. Sandra lay there trembling, panting, and feeling the dying spasms of a hijacked climax, holding the little oblong machine, still buzzing away in her humid, trembling hand.
But it wasn’t long before she was curious as to whether the little device could do the trick twice. And a third time. And a fourth. Each time it took a little longer, but not much. That fateful Saturday, she’d spent the entire afternoon in bed with her new, amazing friend. The masturbatory marathon had only ended when, to her disappointment, the complimentary bonus charge had run out.
Reluctantly, she’d showered, dressed and read the manual. After setting up the induction charger, she’d perched the vibe in the correct position and slept while it charged. Sunday, she hadn’t bothered to get out of bed, but reached for the toy, switched it on, and spent the day producing more orgasms than she could have possibly counted.
How was it, she had wondered, that she’d ever lived without this? This tiny little thing, costing less than $50, was the answer to all her erotic prayers. Who needed a lover if you had this? What was the point in all the social stress, all the angst, all the tamping down of raging insecurities that congress with another human being involved? There was all that dreaded crap, and then there was her little toy. Her life had been changed forever.
It hadn’t been long before Sandra became curious as to what other sex toys in other shapes and sizes and with other functions could do for her. That was the birth of her collection. Each one had promised something a little different. Some did what they said on the package, and others fell short of their marketing hype. She could not remember when she had decided to dedicate the cupboard in her hallway to them, but the collection grew. Some items enjoyed a long sojourn on her bedside table before being exiled to the cupboard. Others ended up there almost immediately. These days, Sandra rarely bothered to liberate them from their increasingly alluring packaging. She bought them, mostly over the Internet, disposed of the wrapping they’d been shipped in, and placed them in the cupboard.
She’d opened the box on the pink rabbit vibrator just to look at the strange, outlandish design. It was not rechargeable and, although it had shipped with two complimentary double A batteries, she didn’t bother loading them into the device. Sandra had long since learned that it was unwise to store sex toys with the batteries in them. Inevitably they’d burst and leak and cause all sorts of mischief.
Hours of pleasure, it said on the box. Lie of lies. It wasn’t that the toys no longer brought her to orgasm—they still made her come, although it took significantly longer and the lowest setting no longer registered.
Sandra had discovered something most of the world, if one were to believe all the advertising, the romance novels and the porn on offer, seemed completely unaware of: pleasure and an orgasm were, in fact, not precisely the same thing.
She’d reluctantly resigned herself to masturbating only with her fingers. It hadn’t been easy to resist the addictive lure of the instant, and she’d disappointed herself by relapsing a few times. Harder still had been learning how to generate fantasies again. It was, apparently, a muscle that required exercise. These days her orgasms were infrequent, and hard-won.