Sex Toys Don’t Need Genders
Five Canadians on why gender inclusive sex toys are important.
Sex toys are more popular than ever and companies are inviting everyone to play.
Globally, the sex toy market is forecasted to grow by $9.8 billion USD between 2019 and 2024, with growth propelled in part by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the recent periods of isolation and COVID-19 restrictions, many people turned to sex toys as a way to safely get off while staying at home or to spice up their routines with their partners.
Along with the rising interest in sex toys, there’s also been a shift in how these devices are marketed. Traditionally, sex toys have been divided along a gender binary: for him or for her. More recently, buzzy new brands like Maude and Dame excluded gendered wording in their packaging and created simply shaped toys that are not marketed towards any gender. And it’s about time.
As of 2018, one million Canadians (or about 4 percent of the total population) identified as a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community and approximately 75,000 Canadians identified as trans or non-binary. Gender diversity may be new to Canada’s census, but gender-diverse people have always existed and like everyone else, are entitled to pleasure. The sex toy industry is finally looking beyond the binary and taking the need for gender inclusion seriously. This shift doesn’t just benefit gender-diverse people—Canadian experts say that doing away with gendered sex toys can open new avenues for pleasure for everyone, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
We talked to five Canadian sex toy experts about the importance of gender-neutral sex toys, why inclusivity in the sex toy industry is needed and what barriers to inclusivity still exist.
Image: Dr. Jess O'Reilly
“Inclusivity is good for all of us”
“When we talk about sex in heteronormative, and cisnormative ways, we tend to be penetration-focused. We leave out not only a considerable portion of the population, but also so many forms of pleasure. Being more inclusive and recognizing that not everybody identifies along the binary means that we’re going to have better sex—there are going to be more options for playing, more options for pleasure, greater explorations of the body and probably more meaningful connections.
People think that inclusivity only benefits folks who were forced to the margins, but inclusivity is actually good for all of us, like we are all holding ourselves back with our cisnormative and heteronormative expectations of ourselves and it’s not easy to just shed them. We’re taught so much about what it means to be a woman or what it means to be a man or what a clitoris is supposed to enjoy. But no, everybody is so unique.
Because sex toys are designed for the body it just makes sense to talk about them in terms of parts as opposed to identity. So, if a toy stimulates a penis, anyone with a penis can use it, whether they identify as a man or non-binary or genderqueer or gender fluid. The other approach brands are taking is to talk about the toy’s functions and benefits. So, they’d talk about all the different ways you can use it… gender doesn’t need to be a factor.”
Go-to toy recommendation: “I’m a big fan of lay-on vibrators—they’re great because you can use them all over the body, they’re great for all body parts, all gender identities. Personally, my fave is the Touch X [from WeVibe].”
— Dr. Jess O’Reilly, sexologist and host of the Sex with Dr. Jess podcast based in Toronto, Ontario
Image: Rae Chen
“I really appreciate that shops go the extra mile to make sure products are labelled neutrally”
“As a sex writer, I see a lot of sex toys and one of the things that’s missing is proper labelling. When we get gender-neutral sex toys, most of the neutrality is coming from the shops that are selling them, rather than the companies that are producing them. I really appreciate that shops will go the extra mile to make sure that all the products that they carry are labelled neutrally, but when you receive the product, often it still says like, ‘this toy is for her,’ as opposed to like, ‘this toy is for your clitoris.’ So, they’re not only lacking gender neutrality, which is really important, but they’re just also like lacking specificity, which can make it more difficult to find the kinds of toys that you want.
Everyone should have access to pleasure and toys. They’re wonderful and so affirming, and everyone deserves to have the safe, consensual sex that they want to have with their body in their gender experience.”
Sex toy buying tips: “For shops, I really like SheVibe, Spectrum Boutique and Come As You Are, I find that they’re definitely the most gender affirming when I’m looking for toys. For toys, I haven’t been able to find any that are packaged and marketed by the brand in a way that I’m fully comfortable with, but I really like the Je Jou Mimi Soft and the Tenga 3D line.”
—Rae Chen, sex writer based in Edmonton, Alberta
Image: Luna Matatas
“Sometimes people look at what’s available and think ‘I don’t feel represented here’”
“Historically in the sex industry, we’ve marketed things to genitals and attached genitals to gender. We know better now, thanks to gender-diverse people, that’s not how pleasure works. Sensation and stimulation toys work on lots of people’s bodies and most toys can be used in different ways. It’s great that we’re starting to market and talk about gender-neutral sex toys and not limiting people’s access to pleasure by telling them that they shouldn’t use something because they have a certain body.
Sometimes people look at what’s available and think, ‘I don’t feel represented here.’ It can provoke feelings of not belonging in your own pleasure, or that there’s something wrong with your fantasies or the way that you want to engage in sex toys. So, when we see more representation, people can connect to things better, and they can see themselves in their pleasure. Like, the technology is there, but the way that we’re marketing and talking about toys is creating more of a narrow state for pleasure than actually exists.”
Go-to sex toy recommendation: “The toys I tend to recommend for gender neutral stuff is always a wand. It feels like such a classic vibrator, but that’s because it’s been marketed to people with vulvas, it’s actually a very powerful sensation-based toy you can use on nipples, you can use on backs, on feet, on the butthole, on the tip of the penis. There are just so many ways to use a wand. I would recommend the LoveHoney Deluxe Rechargeable Mini-Massage Wand Vibrator.”
—Luna Matatas, sex and pleasure educator based in Toronto
Image: Jack Lamon
“We’ve always believed that sex toys can change the world”
“We’ve always believed that sex toys can change the world. When you look at society from an intersectional lens, it’s clear there are a lot of oppressive forces. But that one thing that people universally have in common is sexuality. And for us, we’ve always seen sexual pleasure as a radical force that can literally change society. You know, masturbation is free, sex is free. Capitalism hates any kind of sexual liberation because it is a threat to productivity. And because we’ve all been raised with a particular set of cultural mores around sexuality being titillating or taboo or immoral or unproductive, it is a bit of an uphill climb to uncover and discover desire and pleasure.
We’ve all been locked into these little boxes and sex toys provide a really great jumping off point and a bit of an assist in terms of discovering one’s sexuality or one’s orgasm, or where one to derives pleasure from. Some people really do need sex toys—that can be a wonderful way to access pleasure if our bodies are not set up to be able to do that with our hands or other body parts or with another lover.”
Sex toy buying tip: “Come As You Are has a policy around not displaying any packaging in store that is exclusionary. If there’s a toy that really fits a niche, or that is important in other ways—maybe that’s access or it has a particular functionality—we only display the toy itself in the shop, not any of the packaging or marketing. Sometimes companies are really aggressive and will send you these giant banners to put on your floor, but we find the marketing more often than not is extremely alienating for most people. We just focus on having samples of the products on our shelves, and then people can navigate the store as they like and we make sure that there is no loaded expectation around the gender of the supposed user of the toy. This has been store policy since 1997 and has continued to serve us really well.”
—Jack Lamon, worker-owner and toy buyer at Come As You Are sex toy shop in Toronto
Katie Aitken (L) with Bonjibon co-founder Grace Bennett (R). Image: Bonjibon
“Gender-neutral sex toys can reflect the reality of what it is to be human”
“Gender-neutral sex toys are incredibly important because they can reflect the reality of what it is to be human. Instead of trying to fit into a binary when it comes to our sexual experiences, it is about what feels good—and being a man or woman is unimportant when it comes to that. So, when brands say this is for him or this is for her, they’re saying, for you to enjoy this, you have to fit into this binary. And the more we learn about gender, the more we know that that’s not reflective of our world at all.
There’s space for more completely gender-inclusive toys. It doesn’t look like a penis, it doesn’t look like a vulva and it can be used for all kinds of bodies. We’re starting to see some things come out that accommodate that. There’s a lot of space for creativity when it comes to toys that look like they can deliver pleasure to anyone. And you’re not thinking so much about whether it’s a penetrative toy, or something for a penis, as much as thinking that this is something that’s joyous that we can introduce in our bedroom.”
Go-to sex toy recommendation: “I’m really in love with Fuze right now. All of their copy is entirely gender inclusive, which we really appreciate. And the silicone is poured in the States, and they are really big on in the environment. So that’s lovely. I’m a big fan of Dame. It’s a New York-based toy company that has a few different options and they do a really good job making long lasting toys that can be used for all kinds of purposes.”
—Katie Aitken, co-owner of Bonjibon a Canadian online sex toy store, and works with survivors of gender-based violence