So, recently I wrote an essay about a time I was given a sex toy, instead of cash, in exchange for teaching a class. (Funnily enough, just around the same time, there was an article on TDB about sex toys not only going mainstream but even being marketed for Extremely Religious People. Isn’t it weird how a topic gets into the ether?
Now, my essay wasn’t an x-rated review of sex toys, nor was it in any way explicit about my own sex life. Really, it was about navigating the way one’s identity changes over the course of a long relationship and after parenthood. Nevertheless, the Surprise Guest Star of the essay was a vibrating cock ring, and in response to publishing it, I got a lot of reactions that basically boiled down to:
One of the reactions was from a friend who expressed concern that using sex toys would “desensitize” a person to “regular” sex, become addictive, and, generally, transform something that should be wonderful and natural into something artificial and bad.
I found I had an immediate, visceral reaction to this, which was, just, NO. There are lots of things can be used in a harmful way, but that doesn’t make the thing itself bad or dangerous.
I said to her, “I think it doesn’t have to be that way. Like, usually, I make roast chicken plain, but sometimes I change it up and use lemon and oregano. The fact that sometimes I use oregano doesn’t make me not like having it plain anymore.”
My friend looked at me like I’d just thrown the easiest out-of-the-ballpark homerun pitch ever and said, “Mer. Sex is not like chicken.”
I thought about that for a long time.
I concluded that in fact sex is quite like chicken:
- It can be really flavorful and almost embarassingly juicy, or it can be dry and tasteless.
- Even though it really tastes good and almost everyone likes it, it can totally turn into the boring, expected default “we’re having chicken again,” as a substitute for something more inventive.
- It can be prepared endless ways. There are whole books describing hundreds of ways to make chicken. But I think most people spend their entire lives doing it the same two or three ways and only try it, say, Polynesian Style, on their honeymoon when they’re travelling, or when they go out for their anniversary.
- The kind you get on your wedding night is generally not the best kind you ever had.
- Some people like it bone-in; others prefer it boneless.
- Some people like it when it’s free-range and organic and has a really sharp, distinctive, meaty taste. Other people want it to be as bland as possible and not really have to think about the fact that it’s flesh. Chicken is so diverse that all of these people can be made happy.
- You can identify the kosher version because a tip of it is cut off.
- When you buy it on the cheap, it is full of chemicals.
- AND, when you ask a real cooking maven how to tell if someone is a good cook, they will say that the best cook in the world makes a simple, plain roasted chicken that is transcendant.
On the other hand, chicken is unlike sex in that you don’t have to do the whole eww-y salmonella-preventing handwashing thing after touching it raw.
By the time the final version of my essay was written, I’d written the words “vibrating cock ring” so many times that they ceased to be shocking. I had told versions of the cock ring story to many of my friends and a group of us started jokingly referring to it as a “VCR.” In fact, by the end of the revision, it was hard to remember what had been outre about it to begin with.
At one point, I confessed to my editor that I was worried that I sounded like a big rube, and that no one would get what had shocked me about the cock ring anyway (she laughed and said she didn’t think so, and she was right).
Here is what I conclude from this:
1. You can get desensitized to a word by using it. That word could be “cock ring” or it could be something pertaining more directly to motherhood like, “breast-milk” or “breast” or “nipple” or “poop” or even “Mom” – all of which are words I’ve seen people flinch at in the early days.
2. You get desensitized to the idea that something is outrageous when you get familiar with it. This could be a change in your sex life. Or it could be the very idea that your sex life changes over time. Or it could be something much more mundane, like the initially outrageous idea of a baby sleeping in your room, or milk in your breasts, or a pump that removes the milk, or that you’ll cope patiently with colic, diapers, tantrums, or the notion that you’ll survive not having time to blow your hair dry or get to the gym every day. Familiarity makes things seem not strange anymore.
3. Talking to other people makes even weird, crazy things seem a lot less weird and crazy. This is also a kind of desensitization. I think it’s desensitization to your own ego, and its so important.
But no, I don’t think that a sex toy is going to desensitize you to sex if you liked sex in the first place.