Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
My compatriot and I took this week to travel to a – gasp! – sex toy shop in New York City. To protect their identity (and mine!) they will be known as Riley.
We were greeted by a rather lovely lady at the door. She was overweight, middle-aged and exceedingly happy; we were shy and skittish even though we’d both been to places like this before. We checked our bags at the counter and she offered continual assistance. We headed toward the back.
A center island displayed row upon row of dildos. I focused on one roughly the size of a baseball bat. “How does that even fit?” I asked Riley in a whisper. “I think it’s bigger than my entire torso.” We giggled, blushed, picked up the giant thing and compared it to my torso. The wall of dildos reminded us of a crayon box; phallic objects in enough colors to turn the Skittles slogan into an entirely different creature.
It was strange. As a staunch member of the BDSM community, I’d rarely spent time around the more vanilla sex toys. Dildos were much more foreign to me than a leather whip, despite them making appearances in my play times. Riley, whom I had labeled a vanilla companion, was far more familiar with this side of the store. Lesson learned: never judge a truffle by the color of its coat.
Riley and I called over the store assistant and were given a short lesson in the other toys on the first island. We explained to her that we were researching – we giggled here – and asked her to give us the most detailed descriptions she could. Dildos, objects made to replicate the shape of the male sex organ/the inside of the female sex organ (depending on who you ask), come in an assortment of shapes, textures, and colors. They can be made of a variety of materials, from pretty glass that looks like a sculpture, to brightly-colored gel that feels both hard and soft to the touch, to über-realistic treated silicone in a variety of fleshtones. Some of them have anatomical features specific to the male organ; others are smooth and cylindrical. Some have a wide flat base for insertion to a harness, others feature a suction cup, and others still seem to be built to fit into the user’s hand.
The shop attendant, who introduced herself as Beth, then moved onto vibrators. Vibrators come in two varieties: vibrating dildos, and personal massagers. Vibrating dildos had the same features as the static dildos, though some of them were made of shiny, colored metal. Personal massagers looked like microphones with slim handles and giant heads. Beth let us know, with a wink and a smile, that those gave the most powerful vibrations. By this point, I was beet red. Riley, on the other hand, seemed cool as a cucumber. I couldn’t wait until we got to the back half of the store, when I’d get to be the knowledgeable one!
Beth, likely exhausted from her lecture on penetrative toys, began to walk back to the front desk when another curious item caught my eye. I’d heard of them before but never tried them and, having found Beth to be a useful resource in my quest, I turned to face her. “Hey, Beth?” She turned around and shot us a smile. “What can you tell us about Ben Wa balls?” She grinned in a completely different way. “They’re balls, about this big,” – she pinched her fingers into a circle about the size of a 25¢ bouncy-ball – “that go up inside of the vagina. They’re hollow and have tiny weights in them that roll around, so they shake, and you really have to work your pelvic floor muscles to keep them in. I like them; they nestle right up against my g-spot.” Apparently, the store’s widening selection of Ben Wa balls was an effect of the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, where they make a featured appearance. “They’re lovely,” Beth added as she headed back to the front desk.
Riley and I walked around to the other side of the first island, and my eyes lit up. Finally, some things I was familiar with! This side of the wall was decorated with, among other things, nipple clamps. Nipple clamps are clamps that, when applied to erect nipples, cause pain by exerting enough pressure to limit blood-flow. Nipple clamps, in my experience, don’t hurt at first. It is only after a while that a dull throbbing pleasure is replaced by dull, throbbing pain and, when they are removed, that dull pain is replaced by sharp pangs. I pulled the different types off their hooks and showed Riley the difference between them all. Tweezer clamps, the most common (and best for first-timers!) are metal V’s with plastic ends. The ends fit over the nipple and then a small ring is pushed down over the arms of the V so that they tighten. Clover clamps are much more heavy-duty: so named for the clover design at their base, they clip on and don’t adjust the way tweezer clamps do. Alligator clamps look like alligator jaws and have sharp metal teeth that bite into flesh – these are best saved for experienced users. Barbell clamps work similarly to tweezer clamps but are shaped like an H instead of a V.
We moved from nipple clamps to cockrings, a toy I’d seen in action when my Domme brought home a male sub playmate. This toy is a circular object that, placed at the base of the erect penis, hinders bloodflow to help maintain an erection and inhibit orgasm. CBT (cock & ball torture) cages, labeled Gates of Hell, were displayed alongside these rings. A series of rings connected by a strap, this device is used for male containment and adornment. They have a shared purpose as cockrings, but are also meant to cause pain (hence their role in CBT).
The last items on the wall were butt plugs. Some of the offerings had Riley and I fighting to hold back giggles, adorned as they were with fluffy bunny tails, curlique pig tails, and lengths of horsehair. Others shone malevolently, boasting a size that struck fear into my heart. Butt plugs, which are often shaped with a wider middle and slimmer ends, are meant for insertion into the rectum. They can be used to stretch this muscle to increase the pleasure of anal sex, to take up space and give the illusion of a smaller vaginal canal during intercourse, or for the pleasure they bring on their own. They, like the dildos and vibrators, come in an assortment of finishes, sizes, and colors: there was even a set of them in slightly increasing sizes marketed for beginners.
Riley and I, holding a shared basket of intriguing items, looked at each other. “Ready to check out my side of the store?” I asked grinning. Riley nodded. We stepped into the back of the store for further exploration.
Tune in next week to hear more about my adventure with Riley! Next week, I’ll also include a short review of a sex store in Philadelphia worth checking out. You won’t be disappointed!