Why Is the New Guard of Sex Toys So Damn Complicated?

High-tech isn’t always big fun

complicated sex toys: a drawing of a woman in bed surrounded by sex toys
Illustration by Paula Boudes: CSA-Printstock-Getty Images. Products: We-Vibe,Lelo,Pinkcherry

In the past few years, there’s been a secret invasion that’s threatening us all. It’s coming into our homes through our mail slots, and to the tune of an insistent hum, has the power to threaten our health and sanity. I’m here to blow the lid off this scourge which I call the rise of the machines. Forget AI—the real existential threat facing us all is the Complicated Sex Toy.

Allow me a three-sentence montage of how we arrived here: Thanks to the internet, sex toys went from exclusively available at shops you wouldn’t want your mom seeing you walk out of to discreet, often niche or even women- or queer-owned, online sites. (Win.) Next, due to coronavirus lockdowns, people shut in their homes experimented with sex toys to pass the time, and sales boomed. (Win.) At the same time, public discourse (i.e. marketers) repositioned sex toys as a part of sexual wellness, a term that further dilutes skeevy associations and promotes them as tools to help you feel and look your best. (Win.) Girlbossing, meditating, exercising and masturbating—it’s all about the balance.

Now then, here is the rub. With the global sex toy market booming (from $27.17 billion in 2017 to a projected $62.32 billion by 2023), market penetration (yes, that's right, penetration) is reaching critical mass. So what’s a company to do in order to keep expanding? Why, innovate.

But having covered this market for years now and tested scores of these gadgets in the name of hands-on journalism, I’m here to suggest that enough may well be enough. Lately a number of toys have crossed my desk that seem intriguing from their sales pitch, dangling the promise of more and better sexual experiences for solo users and couples. They tout multiple motors, separate gyrating arms, dozens of pulse patterns, adjustable shapes, multi-functionality. Yay, I guess…however in practice, sorting it all out during the act is a bit frustrating.

confusing sex toys enigma sex toys

For example, from luxe toy company Lelo, the Enigma dual stimulation sonic massager has one arm that fits inside the vagina and a handle with an open circle that simultaneously bathes the clitoris in sound waves. The brand makes a big deal of the clitoral stimulator being “no contact” which seems nonsensical to me (you’ve already got your sex toy down there, no need to ask it to keep its distance at this point). Anyway, the device has one button for the clitoral sound waves, another button for the internal G-spot arm and a third button to turn the whole thing off. When I introduced this gizmo into intimate play, the thing was so confusing that by the time my partner and I figured out how it worked and positioned it thusly, my mood was entirely broken and frankly I just wanted to go back to binge-watching The Other Black Girl.

Not to yuck anyone’s yum, but I don’t want a toy that’s giving military-grade hardware vibes.

confusing sex toys rose

Toys I have not tried but confuse me from the description include the Wild Rose Dual Stimulator, which in theory sounds like a slam-dunk. It is basically a TikTok-viral rose vibrator attached to a small thrusting vibrator. Except how is this going to work? You’re going to hold the thrusting vibrator in place by closing your legs or by using one hand to steady/angle it, while your other hand has the vibrating rose in it? At best, it’s akin to rubbing your head in one direction while circling your tummy in the other, a schoolyard coordination challenge I regularly failed. At worst, the idea of keeping two areas of stimulation on track precludes me from being able to pay attention to anything else, like a sexual partner. Which, honestly, I’m not talking “decentering my female pleasure” here or anything, but I was raised to believe it’s just rude to ignore your guests. (I suppose I could enjoy this alone, but it sounds like a lot to pay attention to at once.)

confusing sex toys wevibe

Speaking of guests, the We-Vibe Verge is a vibrating ring that fits over a guy’s scrotum in seven different ways while stimulating perineum, clitoris and other areas, controlled by buttons (which might be hard to reach mid-use) or an app. Again, I guess it's progress, because there are all sorts of new ways to stimulate erotic areas in more intense ways than the usual p-to-v act. But in practice—and full disclosure, I have not used this exact model so honey we can still experiment if it’s my holiday stocking surprise—I anticipate that it will be another case of I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love me…but this buzzing thing between us is giving me Bluetooth-device pairing anxiety.

I’m not anti-progress! For example, some developments I’m intrigued by include a new material called neo-silicone that U.K.-based Love Not War is using to make toys that won’t break down when used with silicone lubricants. (Medical-grade silicone is the material of choice for most sex toys today, but are best used with water-based lubes, which can lack staying power.) And I am all for innovation in underrepresented categories, like toys made for hands-free use and for people with disabilities. Plus I’d like to see more made-in-the-USA products, like the dildos from Doc Johnson.

So to reiterate: a bedroom toy chest is great, but I don’t believe that our orgasms need to be a product of late-stage capitalism. Who among us wants to chase what TikTok calls the status orgasm, i.e. a vaginal and clitoral orgasm that lasts more than one minute? Not me—I’m a busy working mom, so I don’t have the bandwidth to devote to making sex some sort of tech-powered puzzle. I want it to be fun, warm and ultimately relaxing—I don’t want some device giving me all this pressure to win the orgasm race. And frankly, competing in the sexual Olympics really takes a person out of the moment.

Call me a romantic, but a little bit of electronic fun goes a long way in the bedroom. Reading classic dirty books (Story of O and Macho Sluts, for example, put Christian Grey to shame) and even sharing fantasies with your partner are equally challenging, exciting and rewarding ways to amp up your sex life. Don’t let us allow tech to weaken our minds as sex tools, in the same way that Waze has obliterated map-reading skills and Chat GPT is threatening basic paragraph writing. Stand strong, women—and yes, carry a big vibrator.

dana dickey

Senior Editor

Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space...