TOBIN: One time I hooked up with this guy and mid-hook up—I was really drunk—he took a dildo out of the bedside table and like started to try and insert it.
KATHY: Oh God.
TOBIN: And I was like I'm not really feeling that tonight.
TOBIN: Thank you. I just ate.
KATHY: Did you tell him that?
TOBIN: I didn’t say that. I just said like I’m not really into this this evening. And then, no here’s the thing, Kathy, so when I said that, he like took his hand away, and then he whispered in my ear “I'll just leave it here in case you change your mind.”
[THEME MUSIC STARTS]
VOX: From WNYC Studios, this is Nancy.
VOX: With your hosts, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
[THEME MUSIC ENDS]
KATHY: When you were telling me that very, very specific dildo story…
TOBIN: Uh huh.
KATHY: It got me thinking.
TOBIN: Oh no, I am nervous. Where’re you going with this?
KATHY: So, there’s a thing that we’re sort of bombarded with growing up, and that is that sex is when a penis goes into a vagina.
TOBIN: Yeah, familiar.
KATHY: But, as you and I both know, and a lot of people know, that’s not necessarily how queer people have sex. And that means a lot of times we have to figure out for ourselves what works and what doesn’t work.
TOBIN: Yeah, yeah, agree.
KATHY: And so, for queer people, sex toys can be a huge part of that journey. They can be like a literal tool to help you learn something about your body and your identity, which is what I wanna talk about today.
TOBIN: Okay, I’m on board now. I’m into this.
KATHY: So, we're gonna tell a few stories about sex toys, and then maybe if you behave yourself, I’ll take you on a little field trip.
TOBIN: Sounds great.
KATHY: Let’s kick things off by introducing you to CJ...
CJ: Picture this, okay? Twenty-year-old Black girl trying to figure it out at university. Theme song, as SZA plays in the background.
KATHY: And back in college, CJ wanted to show off her, let’s say sexual prowess.
CJ: I was kind of a baby queer.
KATHY: At the time?
CJ: At the time. Yeah, I think that like my current partner, when we met, like that was like the first, still is the first woman I’ve dated long term.
CJ: I grew up super Christian so I had a lot a lot a lot of hangups around sex and sexual activity and stuff. And so I think like, when we met, I was still learning my body and myself sexually and stuff. But also, like, there’s no manual, like—queer people know this—there’s no manual for our relationships.
CJ: You know what I mean?
KATHY: If only!
CJ: So I think I was watching a lot of queer YouTube. Do you know who Areille Scarcella is?
CJ: I think that’s her name. And she has a queer sex channel.
[CLIP] ARIELLE SCARCELLA CLIP
VOICE 1: Why strap-ons? Why not an actual penis?
VOICE 2: I guess it’s what you think about a strap to be.
VOICE 3: If they want the penetration but they don’t want the guy then the strap-on is the perfect thing, and they get to pick the size, the girth, the texture. And at the end of the day, they get to put it in a drawer!
CJ: Like a lot of it was about sex toys and strap-ons, like how to clean strap-ons, like all this stuff.
CJ: So I was just like, oh, every queer woman owns a strap-on.
KATHY: So CJ obviously went to a sex store to buy a strap-on. And do you know how much a quality strap-on costs, Tobin?
TOBIN: I have no idea so I’m going to do The Price Is Right move and say a dollar.
[SFX: THE PRICE IS RIGHT — WRONG]
CJ: Combined, these things are like $150, $100.
KATHY: I know! Wait, hold on, when you saw like a strap-on for the first time in front of you, what did you think?
CJ: I was like...I need a tutor.
CJ: I was just like, who trains in this kind of activity?
CJ: Because, I like, one, I didn’t know how the harness went on, I’m gonna be real. And I also was like, the penises were like really aggressive.
CJ: And the more I asked questions, the more I was like, “Wow, sex is complicated.”
CJ: I left stressed out. I left more stressed out than I went in for sure.
KATHY: So CJ leaves the shop without buying a strap-on, because $150 is way out of her budget. And of course she hops onto Amazon.
CJ: I see this strap-on, it’s like $19.99, it’s on sale.
CJ: And I’m like, that’s in my price range. Yes, let’s do it. So I order it, right? And it comes to my door, so I tried it on. Basically this thing is like so cheap that the strap-on is adhered to the harness, you know what I mean?
KATHY: It doesn’t come off?
CJ: You can’t even take the dildo off the harness. It’s one set piece of equipment.
KATHY: What’s the shape of it?
CJ: It was like, slightly curved. There were like veins, so it was supposed to look real, I guess.
CJ: Then there was a black strap that was adhered to it.
KATHY: Wait, wait so like, even after you went to the sex shop, you were still like, strap-on is the thing that I need.
CJ: Yeah, I was still convinced. I just knew that the quality would be low.
CJ: And like, that’s all right.
CJ: Because my sex game was gonna be high. I decided.
KATHY: Wow, such confidence!
CJ: I know!
KATHY: So CJ knew that her sex game was gonna be high because she was gonna do research.
CJ: I googled basically like “how to use a strap-on.” There was a site that had like, 20 tips.
KATHY: Yeah, give us some of these tips.
CJ: Step number one was like, wear the strap-on around the house when you’re doing like daily activities.
KATHY: I’ve never heard that one before.
CJ: I haven’t either but, you know what, I took that advice. So I was like, cool, I gotta do dishes.
CJ: I folded some laundry with it. Like, you know, put sheets on my bed with it. I was like, let me have a symbiotic relationship with this strap-on.
KATHY: Oh my god.
CJ: I’m like practicing hip swivels, watching way too much porn to prepare for this. Which is awful, don’t ever watch porn to prepare for sex. It’s never accurate. Unless it’s like some queer, feminist website you’re paying for, it’s not gonna be real.
KATHY: Here’s the thing...CJ planned this strap-on to be a surprise for her girlfriend. Like, her girlfriend has no idea this was coming.
TOBIN: Oh no.
KATHY: Yeah. So the big night comes...
CJ: I put it on. I decide to be like naked. I decide that’s the best way for this to like go down.
KATHY: Wait, so you were like in your dorm room, naked, with a strap-on on, and your girlfriend is coming over. Is that the scene?
KATHY: And CJ’s girlfriend walks into the room…
CJ: We make eye contact. And she looks at me, and her eyes like pans down to the strap-on. And she looks like back at me and she like smiles. And she was like, “Okay, I see what’s going on here but, like, why’s it white?”
KATHY: CJ, a queer Black woman, got herself a realistic-looking, white dildo.
CJ: Flesh-colored white. I went for a realistic, white penis. And I just thought it was so interesting that as a Black woman, I was just so decided I needed a strap-on like, I didn’t even think about color match, you know?
CJ: Kathy, I don’t know what I was doing, okay?
KATHY: Okay, okay okay.
TOBIN: Okay, that is very funny. So what happened next?
KATHY: So, of course CJ and her girlfriend had a long, long conversation about what happened. It took a few hours. They went over CJ’s entire thought process and how they’re going to do this next time in case another sex toy pops up in their lives.
TOBIN: I love this. They like turned this into a productive, learning, relationship moment.
KATHY: They did. And like here’s the thing: we really need to communicate when it comes to sex toys. I know it sounds trite because honestly we need to communicate better about everything. But when it comes to sex toys, things shouldn’t come as a surprise—you know, unless you’ve talked about it ahead of time.
TOBIN: Yes. Push through the awkwardness, people. No! Surprise! Dildos!
KATHY: So whatever happened to this strap-on?
CJ: It still exists. We have it, it’s like a monument…
KATHY: It’s a monument!
CJ: It’s like an icon in our relationship. But it’s never, like, really touched.
KATHY: Coming up after the break…
GABE: “Haha, alright, cool. I'm going to put this bean pod up my butt and it's going to be magic. Great. Cool. Good luck.”
VOX: Nancy will be back in a minute.
TOBIN: And we’re back. Kathy, what’re we going next on this sex toy journey?
KATHY: Well, I asked if anyone on Twitter had sex toy stories for me, and one of the first to enthusiastically respond was a guy named Gabe Gonzalez.
GABE: I'm a comedian and writer living in Brooklyn, New York.
KATHY: And Gabe wanted to tell me about a specific toy that changed his sex life.
GABE: My sexual journey has been a wild foray into things unknown and also very like vanilla things. To me the penetrative role, right, the role of the penetrator seemed like a given. I was like, “I'm a dude. I have a penis. A penis goes in things. That is supposedly our biological imperative.” Even in Spanish you don't say tops and bottoms, you say activo and passivo, which roughly translates to like active and passive, right. The dominant and the submissive partner. But to me, masculinity was more closely tied to topping. I mean we have this phrase now that people kind of jokingly use but I think there's a kernel of truth to it: bottom shaming, right? That if you're bottom you're naturally more feminine, you’re more campy, you’re louder, you have less masculine features that make you less virile and desirable. So I desperately wanted to be the hot, unattainable, leading man who was the closest to trade you could get without nabbing a straight guy in college, you know what I mean? And I think playing that part meant playing the part of like the strict top if you will.
GABE: You know I hopped into a few relationships throughout college. And a couple of them actually ended because I was very inflexible in my sexual preferences and they were very inflexible in theirs. But about like my junior year, I wanna say, the beginning of my junior year, I met an older student and he and I totally hit it off. I had like met him at a party two years prior and I had like a huge crush on him. He was like, “I'm on top” and I was like, “All right well me too. So how are we going to negotiate this ‘cause I'm really into you.” And he didn't wanna budge. And I was like, “All right. I really like you. Let's figure this out.” And so to sort of help ease me into it, he introduced a prostate stimulator. And it's so funny it looks like a little bean pod with like a curly ear hair sticking out of it, which I guess that little curly Q is so it doesn't just suck straight up your butt. There's like a little way for it to get caught on the way up. And so he was really excited. He was like, “Look, I want you to bottom more and I don’t want to be pushy about it so let’s get this thing.” And I was like, “Haha, alright, cool. I'm going to put this bean pod up my butt and it's going to be magic. Great. Cool. Good luck.”
GABE: And so the bean pod arrives. And that night we didn't have penetrative sex at all. It was just like fucking around with the bean pod. And he really set the scene, like turned on some candles, rolled us a joint ahead of time, we had a glass of wine and like watched a movie. So he really like, he put the effort into it. I was wined and dined. And we talked about it beforehand too so like he knew I was comfortable with it. It wasn't a surprise. And it was weird at first, like, it takes two to sort of figure it out. So like I was like clenching and really tense and he was like “relax.” And I’m like “you telling me to relax doesn’t make me relax, it just makes me think about the size of my butt hole and how I should be standing for this.” And so it's awkward on the way in, for sure. But I think what was really nice about it is that it wasn't an experience that was like focused on another person penetrating me or like “getting fucked.” It was like let's explore an aspect of your body that perhaps you haven't explored in this context. And it was hilarious and very warm and kind of friendly, like it...
GABE: I feel like anytime I had been asked to sort of bottom it was with this expectation, right? It's like, you haven't yet or you have to or I'm taller or older, like, there's no other way this could go. And this felt sort of like a fun suggestion. So I took the toy that night. He bought it for me and was like “I can keep it here for whenever you come over,” and I was like, “No ma'am. I'm going to rinse this off. I'm putting in a little plastic bag. It's going in my backpack and I'm taking it to my dorm room.”
Suddenly like I managed to divorce anal pleasure from the politics of another person being there. It was on my time, on my own terms. And then I found myself suggesting to partners that I bottom more often. I think being able to do it on my own and without the pressure of another partner, without the pressure of thinking about what that role was, just like masturbating in my dorm room while my roommate was gone for the weekend, was some of the most crucial self discovery I think I've ever made as a sexual person.
GABE: Sometimes I'll go on like a month where I just bottom and I like it. I like binge bottom and then I'll come back to topping. But it's kind of up in the air now. I think it really depends on the person and the chemistry and what I want and what they want in any given moment.
K: Tobin, I love Gabe.
T: I love him.
K: I don’t think I knew what a prostate stimulator was until I heard that story. Like, where do you find out about sex toys?
TOBIN: Like both CJ and Gabe, I enjoy an online shopping experience, I have to say, ‘cause I want to see user reviews.
TOBIN: You know, like, minimum 3 ½ stars, you know?
KATHY: Okay so, from the moment I started thinking about sex toys and doing my research, I kinda had this curiosity about the people who make them. You know, the people who create new toys, that sell them and market them. And while I was in LA recently, I found out about this giant sex toy trade show. It’s kind of a secret. If you’re not in the industry, you can’t really get in. It’s called the Adult Novelty Manufacturers Expo, or the ANME Show.
TOBIN: Well so, what was it like?
KATHY: Imagine like a giant consumer electronics expo. It took up an entire space at a Marriott Hotel plus an additional tent space. And I think it’s fair to say that the biggest makers of sex toys were there.
KATHY: What are you exhibiting at this convention?
REP 1: So what we're known for is a line called King Cock, which is realistic products. And we came out with two new items for King Cock and the one I really like is this one. It's uncut and the foreskin moves.
KATHY: There were sex toys hanging off the walls.
REP 2: I mean we have lubes and lubricants and lotions. We have electro stem.
KATHY: People talking about new product lines.
REP 3: So for Winter ANME this year, our new products are our organic toy cleaners Sliquid Shine.
KATHY: Really nice sales reps.
REP 2: We have anal products. We have some fetish products with like a dildo that has like a faux pee. We have masturbators, douches. We have wands. We have fuck machines.
KATHY: Things I really appreciated.
REP 3: We expanded pretty much everything in our entire collection into travel size 2oz bottles.
KATHY: Things I discovered I was very uncomfortable with.
TOY: It’s my pleasure to serve you.
REP 1: What’s your name?
TOY: I’m whoever you want me to be.
KATHY: But like, not much queer stuff.
KATHY: Do you guys have any stuff that's like specifically for the queer community?
REP 1: You know what, we don't like to really label. The only thing that I can think of that we specifically have is, we've got a pride tuggie that is rainbow.
KATHY: I mean, there was one guy who had a product that at least pictured a gay couple.
REP 4: And over to the left we've got a...Manbound. And this is really targeted toward the guys that want to play with guys. Obviously the packaging is more, it's got men on it. It's got men with men so it's really targeted toward gay couples, gay men couples.
KATHY: But I asked him about marketing towards women, and he sort of went on about strap-ons...
Man: You know we have a lot of strap-ons. Here's where I'm going with this…
KATHY: And then about pegging…
Man: ...pegging has gotten huge...
KATHY: And then stuff about inclusivity.
Man: ...inclusivity rather than ratchet it down, we really sort of opened up the, the market.
KATHY: I think he was trying to say that they wanted the packaging to be welcoming to straight and queer women. But it was sort of the opposite of what he was trying to say about Manbound so it was all very confusing.
TOBIN: I mean, did you anything that felt like it was really made for queer folks or marketed to queer folks?
KATHY: Generally, no. There was almost nothing there that was specifically queer. And there was nothing like the stuff I might see when I’m at the boutiquey sex toy stores I usually go to. The vibe was almost exclusively heteronormative and cisgender.
BUCK: Well, they all are, number one, because, first of all, they’re produced by cisgender mostly, so that is the market that they think exists out there.
KATHY: This is Buck Angel, and he was at the ANME show with a company called Perfect Fit. I think they had one of the few specifically queer sex toys I saw at ANME. Buck developed a masturbator for trans men that was originally turned away by a bunch of other manufacturers.
BUCK: They don’t really have a clue about our bodies because there isn’t a lot of representation of our bodies naked or sexually. So people aren’t producing products for pleasure for personal use because they don't see that market. So that’s why to me those are cisgender toys made for cisgender people.
KATHY: And because sex toys are mostly made for cisgendered people, Buck had to make toys work for him.
BUCK: As I started to transition and my vagina transitioned in a sense with me, it started to change, I really was wanting to connect with it. But I couldn’t, it was like it is female to me. It’s a hard thing to explain to people who don’t live in this type of situation. Most people are connected in some sense to their body.
KATHY: Uh huh.
BUCK: I found sex toys. And sex toys really helped me. I started to cut them up and to create them for my own body. That’s why a lot of trans men made amazing things out of water bottles and suction cups and all kinds, because we didn’t have our own toys. We had to buy cisgender toys.
KATHY: What were you cutting up?
BUCK: I took a male stroker, which is like you know a cisgender, male, penis stroker, and then I would cut off one of the end of it to make it shorter because it would suck on me better. So I would just manipulate it a little bit, or dildos, there was one dildo that was made I think that was like a squirting dildo so it had a hole in it. And I would pull off the back of it, was a suction cup, and I would pull off the suction cup and there would be a hole in it. So I would use that because then I could stick myself inside of it and sort of masturbate like a man. It would be moving onto my genitals. People take for granted a lot of things sexually, you know, when you're just born in a body you love, born in the body that's not bothering, you don't realize that not everybody feels that way. Not everybody has the opportunity to have these experiences
KATHY: Was there a moment when you kind of figured out that that's how the world was?
BUCK: You know I think when I was a dyke and I was pretty hardcore dyke, I got jealous. I for sure had penis envy. I for sure wanted to have sex like a man and a woman. And now I feel totally okay, before I felt ripped off that I don't get to have the same experiences.
KATHY: What did you do about it?
BUCK: Well, masturbate. But let me tell you, I eventually got partners, because I was not comfortable with partners for a while during my transition. Just because you're getting a new body. Not only are you getting a new body, you’re getting new smells. And most of the time I was with women who mostly, I guess I would say identify as lesbian, and so I'm wondering are they going to be weirded out by my man smell you know. Those are things that we don't really think about. Or my hair, I had lots of hair all over me. But my first experience with an amazing woman who said, “Relax. Relax!” And I did and I had the most amazing sexual experience. And that person went down on me and did all these amazing things that made me feel very masculine sexually and that was the beginning a lot of me, you know, embracing my body as a man.
TOBIN: Kathy, I have to say, I loved how much we got to hear about people learning about their bodies today.
Kathy: I know, right?
TOBIN: I just loved it a lot.
KATHY: Queer people learning how to communicate, how to accept their bodies, how to bottom!
TOBIN: How to bottom. That’s a big one.
KATHY: That is.
TOBIN: I will also say I learned a lot today, so thank you very much for contributing to my personal growth.
KATHY: You’re welcome, what are friends for?
KATHY: But, before we end, I said I’d take you on a lil field trip.
TOBIN: [GASP] Getting out of the studio!
KATHY: Tobin, do you know where we’re going?
TOBIN: Oh here! The Pleasure Chest.
KATHY: The Pleasure Chest.
TOBIN: Coffee and kegels, May 6th.
TOBIN: Candles, lingerie, some masks...what are you? Oh this is the novelty section.
KATHY: [LAUGHS] Here’s a question I have… is like...rabbit vibrators: I don’t understand.
TOBIN: It’s ‘cause like...this one, for example, very much a dick. You see this and you’re like “this is a dick.”
TOBIN: That doesn’t appeal to everyone. Maybe you just want a different aesthetic. This one, adorable. It has little ears. A little face.
KATHY: Tobin, do you know what the ears are for?
TOBIN: …’cause it’s a rabbit?
KATHY: It’s supposed to tickle the clitoris.
TOBIN: Oh I see. I thought you had a problem with the concept of using a bunny.
KATHY: No no no...a bunny’s fine. No.
[CREDITS MUSIC STARTS]
TOBIN: Okay, should we do some credits while we’re here?
KATHY: Let’s do some credits.
TOBIN: Alright, producer…
KATHY: Matt Collette.
TOBIN: Sound designer…
KATHY: Jeremy Bloom.
KATHY: Jenny Lawton.
TOBIN: Executive Producer…
KATHY: Paula Szuchman.
TOBIN: I’m Tobin Low.
KATHY: I’m Kathy Tu.
TOBIN: And Nancy is a production of WNYC Studios. Literally this whole time I just thought it was ‘cause bunnies are adorable.
[CREDITS MUSIC ENDS]
TOY: Oh I’m gonna come. Oh my god, baby. I’m gonna come. Don’t stop. Don’t stop. [HEAVY BREATHING]
REP 1: Okay, Kathy, she likes you! [LAUGHS]
KATHY: Alright. Alright.
REP 1: I’m gonna set her back down.
TOY: I’ll be right here waiting for you.
REP 1: Isn’t that amazing?