Academic journal article Gender Forum

The Power of Pleasure Devices: Sex Toys and Dominance in Society and Pop Culture

Academic journal article Gender Forum

The Power of Pleasure Devices: Sex Toys and Dominance in Society and Pop Culture

Article excerpt

1Human sexuality and its significance for conventions of social relations is a recurring topic in sociology. Viewed in the context of gender studies, it can be very well considered a relevant factor for the construction of hierarchies, especially in interpersonal relationships. The aspect of pleasure, viewed from both the receiving and giving perspective, produced in single or group constellations, determines the individual's relation to the role of sexuality in building or destroying confidence and consciousness about one's own position in the social environment. Nevertheless, sexual intercourse as a source of physical and consequently also mental comfort and satisfaction is nowadays not necessarily a matter depending on the human body exclusively. As shown here, various items are adapted in creative ways to either simulate interpersonal sexual acts or to enhance single or joint sexual experiences. Sex toys, as these devices are commonly labelled today, have a solid position in the sex industry, indicating not only their high popularity but also a fundamental demand for these products. By introducing such devices into one's own sexual life, they become relevant for the discourse created around the distribution of sexual power relations. This discourse is also shaped by the depictions and representations of sex toy use in cultural productions.

2The following paper argues that the role of sex toys in the construction of hierarchy and distribution of power ultimately depends on the user's subjective perception of pleasure. However, there are numerous factors that have an impact on building this subjectivity. Those are, among others, perceptions of sex toy usage shaped by the dominance of heteronormativity and further, particular attitudes towards sex toys reflected in society and filmic text productions popular culture. To determine the interconnectedness of these factors, two perspectives are considered within this paper: firstly, different sets of research conducted and performed in either subjective or empirical forms, and secondly, the representation of sex toys in various 21st century films and TV productions.

3The acknowledgement of the existence of devices built exclusively to deliver sexual pleasure only emerged in the 1960s (Maines 20), though devices that were associated with this function had been created a long time before. To classify the variety of devices that can serve to cause sexual pleasure, two differentiations have to be made: on the one hand, the historical context of the development of such devices and later, the categorization of more contemporary objects regarding their sexual functionality.

4Firstly, the development of devices that functioned as sex toys but were not promoted and conceptualized with the expectation of arousal of sexual pleasure is a relevant factor for historical contextualization. These objects mainly appear in association with medical discourse and later, promotion of relaxation devices for the domestic sphere. The vibrator as a medical tool, for instance, emerged in the 1880s (Maines 11) with the purpose of clinically treating hysterical women, where the success of the procedure relied on the accomplishment of paroxysm, presently known as orgasm (Minge and Zimmerman 334). [1] Hysteria was commonly presented as a female disease and only lost its pathological status in 1952 (Maines 11) after sexuality ceased to be considered as serving only procreational purposes. At the same time, the focus of sexual discourse shifted to the pleasure bringing features of human intimacy. However, there is an explicit pathologization of female arousal in contrast to the absence of medical, either pathological or apithological, discourse around male sexuality led by the male-dominated medical community. Accordingly, this indicates an uneven distribution of agency in favor of the male-identified part of society (Maines 334), based on gender-bound distinctions of sexual normalcy. The absence of clinical interest in male sexuality then marks it as generic, or integrated, whereas the conscious investigation of female sexuality signifies it as deviant, justifying the investigation. …

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