From Victorian times - when vibrators were invented to treat "female hysteria" - to "Sex and the City" times - when Charlotte discovered The Rabbit - generations of women have used vibrators to go from no-go to the Big O. But today's sex toys are more innovative than ever and not just for women.
Brands like Trojan now sell their line of vibrators alongside condoms at your local drugstore. And sex shops report being inundated by shoppers who have read the erotic novel "50 Shades of Grey" and now want to spice things up in their own bedrooms.
In the past decade, vibrator use has become a lot less taboo among women, and there has been an explosion of new toy designs for the discerning lady looking to engage in self-pleasuring. Yet for the most part, that same variety of product has not existed for men.
Yet slowly but surely toy designers are acknowledging the fact that
vibrators and the like don't have to be relegated to solo use; for
adventurous and open-minded couples, they can be invaluable tools for
reigniting intimacy, and for achieving even more pleasurable sex.
"For both women and men vibrator use is linked with more positive sexual function, such as greater desire, arousal, and easier orgasms," says Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., a research scientist at Indiana University and the author of "Sex Made Easy."
"It's also something that most women and men in the U.S. feel positively about - there really isn't the same stigma that, decades ago, people may have associated with sex toy use."
Because of this shift in perception, Herbenick reports, most women in the U.S. - and nearly half of all men - have used vibrators. And while there are many who are still shy about purchasing a sex toy from their local drugstore or other retail chain, it's easy to order these products online, or to take advantage of an in-home sex toy party in a fun, group setting with companies like Pure Romance or Passion Parties.
So how are toy designers and distributors responding to this new demand for their wares? In addition to expanding outside of adult bookstores and sex-specific shops, sex toy purveyors are offering their products in a variety of price ranges, for every type of consumer.
Some of the simplest toys can be had for as little as $10. Others veer into the hundreds and can now be found at mainstream retailers like Brookstone. And as a sign that toys are no longer something to be ashamed of, some product lines are considered luxury items... beautiful, artsy, and - in some cases - costing thousands of dollars, like the luxury toys at Kiki de Montparnasse.
Many vibrators have also strayed from the classic, phallic design, expanding what's available in terms of both form and function.
Today's sex toys are often beautifully designed, and fit in well with the quirky aesthetics of, say, Apple Computers or Volkswagen.
Tenga, for example, has made some interesting toys for men, such as disposable "eggs" for self-pleasure or partnered sex play. The We-Vibe, meanwhile, is proving to be a bestseller in many sex shops, which, in the shape of a funky horse-shoe, is designed for couples to use to enhance love-making and stimulates both partners simultaneously.
And then there's the trend in remote control toys. Some designers are adapting gaming technology for sex toys with an emphasis on play. The SenseMotion toys from Lelo use motion-control remotes similar to the Wii, and the upcoming Mojowijo (not yet available in the U.S.) makes use of the actual Wii controller. Men and women can use the remote to manipulate the sex toy their partner is using. It even works over Skype!
And if music is your thing, then you can get in sync with your playlist via the Ohmibod, a wireless music driven vibrator that, when connected to an iPod /iPhone (or any mp3 player), will pulsate to the music.
But aren't men intimidated by vibrators? you ask. Herbenick believes that's a myth.
"Fortunately, most men are not intimidated by vibrators," she says. "Some men worry that their partner will prefer a vibrator over them, but most men don't feel this way. Hopefully, we will continue to see more toys available for men and also more toys made specifically with couples in mind."