Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Good Vibrations: Charting the Dominant and Emergent Discursive Regimes of Sex Toys

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Good Vibrations: Charting the Dominant and Emergent Discursive Regimes of Sex Toys

Article excerpt

Introduction: 48 AD

Welcome to year 48 AD, that is Ano Dildo. In line with the endemic proclivity of the human imaginary to identify particularly valuable moments (evaluation points, according to Labov's [1972] narratological model; cf. Ruiz Collantes & Oliva, 2015) in the deployment of meta-narratives as originary, and in the context of the legitimate trend of unearthing suppressed historicities as subaltern to "contingently universalist" discourses (e.g., theological) that was inaugurated with the advent of post-modernity, what appears on the surface as a cheap pun, rooted in the originary temporal point of the release of the seminal cult movie Barbarella (1968), in fact underlies a quite plausible argument for theorizing a subaltern historicity that has been deploying in a global cultural milieu, albeit not yet recognized as such. This suppressed historicity is incumbent broadly speaking on postmodern sexuality (Bauman, 1999) as discourse and as possibilities of be-coming, not just a Second Coming, but of multiple and ubiquitous ones. This suppressed historicity may be fathomed genealogically (Saukko, 2003) by attending, in the same vein as Nietszche and Foucault (Rabinow, 1984) have pursued indefatigably, to how orgasmic pleasure has assumed a telic dimension in the discursive articulations of sex toys' magazine reviews. "In its postmodern rendition, sexual activity is focused narrowly on its orgasmic effect; for all practical intents and purposes, postmodern sex is about orgasm" (Bauman, 1999, p. 24). In this context, Dildano, the hero who saved Barbarella in the homonymous film, is not simply a movie character, but a prophetic anagram of an originary point that set in motion a historical period that is yet to be accounted for. Charting the entrails of Dildano's machinery is the overarching task of this paper.

Sex toys as cultural artefacts favor and actively promote a wholly new consumptive ethos whose significance may be adequately outlined by attending more broadly to the institutional implications that inhere in the consumption of this product category, as well as the consumptive ethos that is shaped in the discourse about sexuality whereby the promotion of sex toys is invested.

In order to chart this consumptive ethos, I am drawing on Foucault's theory of sexuality and the technologies of the self that are enabled by the discursive formations about sexuality, as well as on relevant sociological and ethnographic insights. The theoretical exploratory informs the subsequent reading of 100 sex toys' product reviews from popular magazines (e.g., Cosmopolitan, Glamour) and web sites (e.g., buzzfeed.com) which are coded alongside the three categories of sex scripts suggested by Simon & Gagnon (2007), viz. cultural scenarios, interpersonal scripts and intrapsychic scripts. By further conducting discourse analysis on the selected corpus of product reviews I point out how the new discourse about sex toys is articulated in terms of the salient consumptive dimensions of consumer benefits, consumptive occasions, places. Moreover, by opening up the discussion to broader cultural issues, I outline how the experience of sex toys consumption, as articulated in the concerned discursive formations, facilitates the emergence of new consumer trends, particularly with reference to orgasm-on-the-go and no-touch-orgasm, while buttressing dominant ones.

Sex Toys as Cultural Artefacts

Sex toys are products that aim at enhancing the stimulation of erogenous zones and have been around ever since antiquity. Sex toys are available predominantly in two forms, dildos and vibrators. The difference between these two (often conflated in common parlance) is that whereas dildos do not feature stimulating devices and are intended for vaginal penetration, vibrators are intended for clitoral stimulation only. Occasionally sex toys feature a stimulating device on the instrument, in which instance the toy is appropriate for both vaginal penetration and clitoral stimulation. …

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