By Arundhati Ghosh
Drawings By Abhishek Bommana
Lying on the top berth on a train to Benaras when I was about 10 years, I happened to wake up in the middle of the night to a strange buzzing sound coming from the berth on the other side. In the shadowy blue night lamp, I had my first encounter with a vibrator- being used by a woman in that berth.
It was the 1980s. Our adolescence did not prepare us for our sexuality. Without the world wide web of information, we came to terms with the desires of our bodies mostly through whispers and hearsay, giggles among girls in hushed bathrooms and quickly reading through those well-thumbed pages of banned and forbidden books which unfailingly found their way into the strictest of convent schools.
Since you could not speak to anyone about how your body and its needs were changing, explorations were made through trial and errors, sharing snippets with trusted girlfriends. As some of us started discovering various techniques of self pleasure mostly using our fingers, we also began using items we found around the house that we thought might intensify or bring variety to our experiences. I remember discarded perfume bottles and empty talcum powder tins being quite popular those days. They were all our first companions of pleasure.
I discovered the world of sex toys – what I love to call companions of pleasure or simply pleasure toys, much later in life.A friend gifted me a ‘bullet’ – a small vibrator for clitorial pleasure that looked like a lipstick and could be kept quietly in a purse. This was his gift to me on reaching true adulthood, he said – now that I was a financially independent woman. He was always a shocker and loved provoking people, so I took this as one of his antics. I felt a bit awkward too and laughed a little too loudly, I think. But this friend was a dear soul mate and gently told me that he knew I liked new experiences and I could treat this as just that. If I did not like it, I could always throw it away.
I decided to try it out. But I had many apprehensions. Would it hurt? Would it feel strange? Would I tell my boyfriend? How would he react? But I was excited as well at the possibility of a new experiment.
At first it felt strange. But soon I realised the pleasure was quite unlike what I had felt before – and using it was rather easy. My boyfriend turned out to be really supportive as well. It was the start of a whole new journey for me. I had found my special bundle of joy.
Starting from here, these personal sexual explorations widened. I looked up websites, checked out shops in cities where I could find them, spoke to friends who used them and read up on them. I discovered a whole world – no a universe of pleasure toys! Soon I was buying not just for myself, but had also become a sort of an amateur advisor to many of my friends. Sex toy consultant, a start-up dedicated to pleasure! It was exciting and intriguing like any new expedition, giving me a deeper understanding not only of what sexual pleasure meant for me, but for different people. It was a beautiful kind of fun to go on a hunt for the perfect piece for a dear one.
Pleasure toys did many things for me. First, as toys, they brought ‘play’ into my sex life – something that was light and fun and creative. In a deeper sense, they became companions for my desire, enabling me to discover my body and its needs. Sometimes they pushed me to experiences that I could only have for the first time if I knew I was the one in control – things that I may not have been immediately comfortable sharing with my partners. For instance I have often felt shy and uneasy enjoying pleasure during menstruation unless my partner is very encouraging. However, with a toy it becomes so much easier to experiment with the messiness of those days. It also opened me up to various kinds of sexual possibilities as well, that impacted my relationships with my partners. My experiences with acts or positions I had picked up from readings of erotica were tried out with toys first. In a world where the woman’s body is constantly put in restraints or threat for its sexual desires, the world of pleasure toys truly gave me new ways to express my freedom. A safe emotional passage to the freedoms of sexual pleasure.
Many people hesitate to buy and use pleasure toys. I had issues with a foreign object being used intimately. A friend shared how she felt using toys made her feel embarrassed since it pointed to the sexual needs that she could not satisfy fully with her partners. There are others who feel guilty as if it’s a kind of cheating. It is also often not seen as normal or natural. However, as a person who has used them I have seen how important this is – what frontiers of knowing one’s own body this can open up for women who are never encouraged to think of themselves as sexual, to identify their sexual desires. We are supposed to passively receive sexual desire – according to some. But we are not supposed to do so according to nature.
Thus, I have decided to share my pleasure toy guide, as a Woman’s Companions of Pleasure. (While I have bought a few toys for men too, I have limited understanding of their preferences or even the range of devices available for them.)
A BRIEF GUIDE TO A WOMAN’S COMPANIONS OF PLEASURE
- How to buy: Online or Offline
For myself, as gifts for friends or on request of others I have been buying pleasure toys for some time now. It is much easier to buy them in adult shops where one can see and understand how they work, rather than buying them online. But since our country does not have any adult stores, many may not have the access to stores in other countries. Many beginners however may prefer to buy online since there is anonymity in the purchase and it can be a bit intimidating to walk into an adult store. In which case, one will have to look online. However, if there is an option of visiting a store and one can somehow manage to close one’s eyes and enter the shop, the rest becomes much easier. In many of these shops the assistants are really friendly and helpful and can answer many questions. Since they are total strangers, often it is easier to explain to them the need and purpose without feeling embarrassed about it. There are also other buyers who often share a smile and a few words making the process less stressful.
- What to keep in mind while buying: Purpose, price, occasion, aesthetics and safety
What to buy
Slowly I am learning the various factors one must keep in mind when buying pleasure toys and here are a few tips for starters. To begin with, the purpose of the device must be clear – what kind of pleasure does one seek from it and which part of the body is it meant to stimulate. Dildos are mainly for vaginal penetration while vibrators are for clitorial pleasure. And then the multitaskers – dildos and vibrators – do both. The widely popular ‘rabbit’ is a toy with long ear-like flaps which can be placed around the clitoris to stimulate it to orgasm. Many of these toys are available in a variety of speeds, patterned heads for extra sensation and buttons for easy manouvers. The price range also varies quite widely. Just like buying a bicycle.
For those who are more adventurous there are toys for anal pleasure like beads or strings and a variety of equipment for the joys of BDSM and role-play. Adult sex shops also have different kinds of gels and lubricants that can heighten sensations and orgasms, and costumes for the more playful.
Beginner’s Tip: It may be wise to decide on one area of pleasure, buy something that is not too expensive, and try it out to see if it works for you. Sexual pleasure like any other pleasure – say, food – is a very individualistic and personal subject. Only experiences and experiments can open up new avenues of discovery.
Occasion and Frequency of Use
The occasion and frequency of use are two other important factors to take into consideration. I have realised that the toys I use for self pleasure are slightly different from those I might use with a willing partner. The latter would need to satisfy the playful togetherness than just my own desires.
Mobility is an important parameter too. For people like me who travel often, a small, handy and easily portable device is an essential like the cosmetics one carries. These days for a slight premium one can also buy rechargeable toys as well as those with batteries.
Aesthetics and Feel
The materiality and aesthetics of toys also make a difference to the experience since pleasure is all about how it makes you feel. I go for those with bright colours, but I know friends who prefer their toys in skin tones. I have sometimes made mistakes buying a toy that looks terrific and promises the world but have felt really distressed using it.
So the advice is to go for something that is made of material and shapes that one will be comfortable using. And finally, safety is of primary importance while choosing a pleasure toy for oneself. One must read the instructions carefully, watch out for all the safety regulations on the package and go only with brands that have passed safety checks. Many people may be allergic to the materials or contents of the toys and one should be mindful of that as well. While using them, care must be taken at all times to maintain them in a hygienic manner.
- Challenges? Yes of course
I can’t not talk about some of the challenges that I and some of my women friends have faced while using them. Most men are quite averse to using them during sexual intimacies. Some say it makes them feel inferior or inadequate, others complain about the impersonal mechanics, while still other critique them on the grounds of the politics of machines entering their very intimate spaces. While one might be amused at how some of these arguments are quite similar to those made when computers entered our lives (and also, hello, sexting?), one must remember that sexual pleasure with a partner is so much about connections and loving consent as it is about craft. So where such disagreements occur it’s best to have an open conversation about the comfort levels of both partners.
Many women admit getting used to a steady, in-your-control, predictable, high efficiency performance may lead to slightly unsatisfactory experiences with their human partners. A human being is as unpredictable as he is prone to being affected by external factors that may make his performance uneven. While a machine has no such complications, it also lacks the element of surprise, and mischief, which often is a stimulant to pleasurable sexual intimacies. Thus both caution and judiciousness is advised for those who explore the limits of pleasure with toys. Like with any machine, the master needs to be the one wielding it.
Using pleasure toys is truly an amazing way to discover one’s body. It’s fun, it’s intense – it’s what you want it to be. If one has a willing partner it can also mean new ways of enjoying sex together.
To sum up the advice: go slow, take the time to understand how the body is reacting to the stimulation, be open to new feelings and surrender to their pleasure. Reading about it and speaking with people we trust is useful. In my experiences with pleasure toys, I have often felt like a space explorer heading out into the universe with a compass in her hand. Not surprisingly, I often see stars!
Here’s to more joyful discoveries for you with your companions for pleasure.
5 SEX TOY STARS OF TO HELP YOU GET STARTED ON YOUR JOURNEY
- BULLET VIBRATOR: Small, handy, powerful, this little buddy can get you from simmer to tremor in as much time as you need. Available in many slightly different contours and colours, this can be battery driven or rechargeable. Once done, you can just slip it back in your purse like your lipstick.
- DILDO: The simplest of them all, a basic phallic shaped toy for vaginal pleasure. There are various models available in different colours, movable parts, speeds and mechanics with or without strap-ons. But the basic is still a woman’s good friend in need.
- Rabbit Vibrator: This is double trouble – for either vaginal or clitoral pleasure, or both at the same time. It is a must for every woman who enjoys pleasure. It can be used single handedly, and is easy to clean and store.
- Love Eggs: A small vibrating egg that can is meant to be inserted for vaginal or anal pleasure. Available with various speed adjustments, you can leave it in for as long as you like, until it’s hit your special groove.
- Anal Beads: Now, the last one is for the slightly more adventurous. If one wants to foray into exploring anal pleasure, this is perhaps the easiest place to start. This too is available with or without remote or wire control for various speeds, but the simplest, manual one too is a great way to begin enjoying the pleasure.