by Alexa Foor
Here we are: the beginning of Pride Month. It’s the time of year that we bask in the glow of queer and trans joy, show up even more powerfully for our LGBTQIA+ community, and continue to practice a radical acceptance and love for each other. Whether you are trans, gender nonconforming, nonbinary, or somewhere on the genderqueer spectrum – or you love someone who is – now is a great time to show up for that community through love and acceptance. At As You Like It, we believe that this radical love and acceptance can come in the form of the pleasure we get from using sex toys. But what do sex toys have to do with gender?
Much of the sex toy and adult pleasure industry would have us believe that toys are geared toward either men or women based on their assumed genitalia. But this assumption leaves a huge gap in the sex toy market for those of us who do not fit neatly into the categories of cisgender man and woman.
Despite what some might believe, sex toys can help affirm and even realign our pleasures based not just on what our bodies physically look like, but also based on the fluidity and creativity that we want to encompass with our bodies. In a perfect world, sex toys would not feel as though they are made with only certain bodies (and certain body experiences) in mind, or even that if you have a certain kind of body that you won’t be able to use a certain sex toy. Sex toys not only give us pleasure, but can feel affirming or even euphoric for our senses of self within our lived, physical experiences of our gendered and/or genderless bodies. Indeed, sex toys can often be the most direct physical conduit between what we want to experience of our bodies during sex and during pleasure, what pleasure means for our bodies, and the physical manifestation of that pleasure. Transgender and gender nonconforming people often know what it means to be creative within sex and with our bodies. And we deserve toys that are as fluid, creative, and inclusive as we are.
At this point you may be asking yourself: Why do we need to think about gender when designing, selling, or even using sex toys? Whether we realize it or not, sex toys are already highly gendered, both implcitly and explicitly. For example: toys geared toward vulvas are often referred to as “women’s” toys, and those designed with penises in mind are often marketed solely toward men. This draws a very thick, unwavering line around what “men’s” and “women’s” bodies are supposed to look like, and what genitals those bodies possess. It also leaves those of us who do not identify as being either a man or a woman out of the picture entirely. For example: if I have a vulva, does that inherently mean I am a woman? Further, what about those of us who see our bodies outside of those (often very limited) categories? This may beg a second question: Can we not just remove all gendered language from toys and products? While this is a good solution and a step in the right direction, the fact remains that the way we think and talk about gender should incorporate more than just removing all mentions of gender and instead specifically and intentionally incorporate multiple forms of gender expression and fluidity. We need to intentionally ask the question: What kinds of affirming toys and techniques are available for trans masc folks, trans femme folks, and folks who just don’t want their toys to be gendered at all?
For these reasons, we strive not just for gender inclusivity but gender expansiveness: a method of thinking and talking about gender that incorporates the creative, fluid, and boundless ways that gender can be experienced across the body. While it is true that sex toys come in all shapes and sizes, the need is still there for toys made specifically with transgender and gender nonconforming people in mind. Further, even if a toy uses non-gendered language (which is a step in the right direction), what does it really mean to think of trans people specifically when designing toys? It is often not enough to simply attempt to remove all mentions of gender from the equation; transgender and other gender diverse people deserve toys that are made specifically and precisely for them.
So, this brings us to the question: What can being “gender affirming” or gender inclusive really mean for sex toys? What does gender expansiveness look like in the adult industry? And what are the best toys for trans folks, anyway?
The Importance of Changing Our Language
One of the first steps toward gender expansiveness in the sex toy industry is rethinking the language we use surrounding toys. At As You Like It, you may notice us modeling language based more on descriptions of the bodies those toys are designed for and less on the genders of the people who will be using those toys. For example, if you come into the store asking us for a vibrator, we may ask you if you want something designed for the clit or the penis. You may also hear us ask if you’d like internal stimulation, external, or both at the same time. In this way, we are focusing more on the particular sensations that feel good to certain body parts without needing to connect those body parts to a certain sex or gender category.
Toys are also often marketed to us as being supplementary, fun additions to sex. While this is true, thinking through a gender expansive lens can reveal the ways that toys can also be additions to our own bodies, and can even be thought of as part of our bodies. In this way, toys can be affirming of our gendered and non-gendered bodies; by breaking the binary between “real” body and “fake” toy, and creating fluidity in what a body can do, be, and look like.
Dildos, for example, can be anatomical or less so, and either can be thought of as extensions of the body, prosthetics, or as simply a toy that is aiding in sexual pleasure. These categories can overlap, and sometimes they can be a combination of all three simultaneously! While the societal systems based in cisheterosexuality would like us to believe that our dildos can only ever be a fake, almost-real-but-not-quite item on our bodies, thinking through gender expansiveness allows us to see that dildos can be that and so much more.
Similarly, a grinding toy like Starsi by Cute Little Fuckers (more on Starsi later!) can cover the genitals and create a smooth surface for sex which can feel not just like a supplement to the body but an extension of the body itself.
For these reasons, rethinking the language we use when referring to these potential extensions of our bodies is crucial in our work of thinking through gender expansiveness in the sex toy industry. Within the industry, for example, it is very common to hear phrases such as “life-life,” “realistic,” “natural,” “like-nature,” etc. to describe toys (especially those that are designed to look like human anatomy). This language is not inherently problematic and in fact it is often necessary to convey what we are looking for in the quickest way possible. However, thinking through gender expansiveness allows us to rethink some of the ways we can creatively talk about the toys we use during sex as being part of our bodies, rather than simply implements to the body. These words can carry the connotation with them that our bodies when using these toys are only close to being “real” or “natural,” but can only come so close before inherently failing to be a body. Instead, we can think of words like “anatomical” and “representational” as being good placeholders to describe what we desire. This can potentially move us away from thinking of the body as something incomplete, but rather as something whose boundaries are permeable, changeable, and immense. Again, this does not mean that anyone who uses these words to describe sex toys is inherently wrong or hurtful for their word choice. Instead, we are simply suggesting that there is a myriad of ways to think about these toys in relation to our unique bodies.
Further, our genitals do not have to be the only parts of our bodies that we view sexually or with gender expansiveness in mind! Our hands, thighs, arms, and more, can be as sexual and pleasurable as our genitals. When you begin to think in terms of gender expansiveness, creativity can abound. Your fingers, for example, can be a dick much in the same way your dildo and/or penis is.
I should pause here and say that not all trans people will feel the same way about their bodies, and therefore our experiences of sex will also be incredibly varied and unique. It would be impossible for every trans person to think about sex and sexuality in the same way, and this is what makes us creative and beautiful! We are not suggesting that any one person should think or talk about their toys in the same way, but rather that there are many expansive and complex ways to think about sex and the roles the toys we use play in sex.
Gender Expansive Toys
One of the brands we want to highlight in the ways that they emulate gender expansiveness in their sex toy design is Cute Little Fuckers. As a trans-owned company, CLF’s mission is to design toys that are “accessible, inclusive, and most of all, FUN! ” The entire line of Cute Little Fuckers are great options, whether you want to think about the toys being part of your body or not. Their design is not “anatomical” in the sense that we don’t naturally have alien stars growing from our human bodies, but the shape is created to allow for a more seamless transition onto the body and to encouraging thinking about the toy itself as part of the body as well.
Trinity (and their partners Tripp and Trine) are a penetrative friend designed for all bodies. The long slim shape, subtle textures, and flared base makes Trinity ideal for exploring all of your most pleasurable places. The cloud base can be also used to secure this toy in a harness, which may be particularly exciting for lesbian and transmasc humans!
Starsi is great vibrator for all surfaces, able to easily move from genitals to chests, between and beyond. The curves on Starsi’s back make an ideal grip, and Transfemme vibrator seekers may to enjoy the ability to cover their genitalia with a gently curved, almost vulva-like feel, allowing us to map new genitalia and unlock new gender euphoria in tandem with pleasure.
Princette Puppypus makes a great vibrating butt plug, but can also be so much more. With a ring of independently buzzing legs on one side and a larger curved vibrating head on the other, Princette is easily grasped by all hands, and can slide between the fingers for an open-handed explorative grip. Princette Puppypus is a versatile and euphoric friend for all!
Finally, Jix and Jin offer endless pleasure. They love working with their partner to unlock multiple sensations in you at once. Experience simultaneous internal and external pleasure, penetrate two of your holes at once, or easily use the shorter end as an ergonomic handle to take you on a journey of pleasure! With Jix and Jin at your side, you’re limited only by your imagination.
But while there is something truly magical about Cute Little Fuckers, and their whimsical toys created with gender-expansive people in mind, the truth is that the whole world of toys is open to people of all anatomy – if you know what to look for.
For Trans-feminine people, or other gender-diverse folks who happen to have a penis, there are several toys out there that may allow you to explore your pleasure on your own terms!
Emma Neo Wand – While wand-style vibrators in general are perfect for people of any anatomy seeking powerful external vibration, what really sets Emma apart from the pack is the included rabbit-ear attachment. Long and flexible, the ears are ideal for hugging, ticking, and teasing.
Arc-Wave Ion – One of the most popular types of clitoral toys feature air-pulse technology, and the Arc-Wave Ion is the first to offer that feature for penises! With a small opening within the channel that releases rhythmic pufs of air onto the frenulum, this toy offers an entirely new sensation.
We-Vibe Vector – For those who own prostates, a curved anal toy can be ideal to achieve pleasure through penetration. While there are countless prostate toys on the market, Vector stands above the rest with its adjustable bulb that allows you to target your pleasure points with incredible precision.
Thigh Harness – Many trans-feminine people enjoy a hands-free grinding experience when going solo, and one of the easiest ways to achieve that is with a thigh harness (wrapped around a pillow) and your choice of compatible dildo! Add a harness to your collection & ride your way to pleasure.
For Trans-masculine people, or other gender-diverse folks who happen to have a vulva, it can be challenging to find toys that don’t trigger dysphoria. Luckily, we have some recommendations.
ShotPocket – Many trans-masc folks want a toy that simulates the sensation of stroking on their external anatomy. Enter the ShotPocket, a stroker specifically designed for trans men! The material is soft and squishy, while the inside cavity is ribbed and textured to deliver intense sensation.
Moxie – For vulva owners who like to take their hands entirely out of the equation, Movie is a wearable external vibe. The magnet on the back allows you to easily attaches this toy to your underwear and control it via remote, so all you have to do is sit back and enjoy!
Svakom Cici – Many people who are on Testosterone still want to experience penetration, but find that their internal anatomy has become a bit more narrow or less elastic than before. Enter Cici, an incredibly slim vibrator that allows users to explore internal stimulation without pain or stretching.
Strap-On-Me Strapless – For those who want to penetrate a partner while experiencing internal stimulation, we recommend the Strap-On-Me Strapless. Adjustable and available in different sizes to accommodate different bodies, this double-dildo is a revolution for those who enjoy harness play!
Still other folks – of all anatomical makeups – may desire a toy that doesn’t seek to gender them or their bodies at all. And it can be overwhelming to navigate a pleasure shop when you have no idea what to look for. But there are many toys that are designed with the ability to bring pleasure to everybody and every body, regardless of your personal identity or unique anatomy.
Vibe Pad – For folks with limited mobility or those who enjoy grinding, the Vibe Pad offers a new kind of pleasure! Simply set it on a comfortable chair, a pillow, or even on the seat of a wheelchair, and start vibing! Intended for external stimulation for all anatomy, the two ridges create a tempting texture so that you can easily apply just the right amount of pressure to your most sensitive spots.
Fun Factory Volta – If you enjoy being licked, Volta’s unique twin-tip shape is perfect for you! When you turn on the powerful motor, the split points flutter together like a pair of tireless tongues. Their versatile shape is flexible enough to hug penises, clitorises, or nipples, yet firm enough to create a unique tapping sensation when laid flat, or even tickling pinpoint stimulation if held upright!
Mimic – Many people of all anatomies first learn to explore pleasure using their hands, so why not try a toy designed to be a natural extension of the hand? Mimic is incredibly ergonomic, able to be nestled into the curves of the palm with ease and comfort. Stroke yourself all over with this in hand, and you’ll experience how the addition of a little vibration can enhance your pleasure patterns.
Magic Wand Mini – The Magic Wand is an absolute icon, and with good reason! The wand’s motor offers super-strong rumbly vibrations that penetrate deep through your tissues, while the large, bulbous head creates a broad surface to deliver them anywhere external. And their new mini version has the added benefit of being lightweight and easy to handle, without sacrificing power.
Vibrating Snug Plugs – Every body has a booty – which means that anal play is accessible for people of all anatomies and identities! Some of our most popular anal toys are the Vibrating Snug Plugs, which have a unique torpedo-shaped body design and a thin flexible neck for maximum comfort. But there are countless options when it comes to booty toys – just make sure you choose an option with a flared base! Check out our Guide to Anal Adventures for more information on how to have a safe and pleasurable anal exploration!
As you continue into the hot days of June, we at As You Like It hope that you have the opportunity to experience your gender and sexuality in a way that is most comfortable and fulfilling to you. If there is one thing we want you to take from this blog, it is this: We all experience sex and gender differently, and there is no right or wrong way to be in your body during sex as long as no one is being harmed in the process. Remember that whatever your gender identity may be, you deserve to experience sex that feels best to you.
Alexa Foor is a PhD student in Environmental Studies and English at the University of Oregon and AYLI staff member. Their research interests largely rest in queer ecologies and gender embodiment. They also write poetry and play roller derby in their spare time.