As early as a few years ago, getting a vibrator would hardly be described as a pleasant experience. Most likely, it was done in secret — at some small store with tinted windows on a side street or on a gaudy website. Once the product was safely taken home, it would be kept in a drawer or closet, hidden from view until it was time to be used. It might not be that you were ashamed of it, but it's not something you'd keep around for people to see. Because let's be honest: Sex toys are not exactly the most beautiful pieces to keep around in plain sight.
Recently, however, there have been a slew of brands that are looking to transform not only the experience of buying the products, but also the way they're viewed in society. The solution? Wearable sexual products that have a high design quotient, making the owners want to show them off and wear them in public — and in the process, perhaps start some long overdue conversations about the nature of the adult toy industry, especially the way it's marketed to women. From high-end silver massage rings to vibrators in the form of lockets, check out a few of the brands transforming sex toys as we know them.
Started by industrial designer Ti Chang, Crave wants to reinvent the vibrator by making it sleek, well-designed, and stylish. From a wearable option to wear around your neck like a necklace to discreet gold items that can be displayed around the house, Crave's purpose is to take the shame out of sexual objects — especially because of their stigma in society.
"Pleasure for women has had a terrible history of male suppression," says Chang. "Guilt and shame are too often part of the experience of pleasure for women, due to these cultural taboos. But there is no reason why a vibrator should not be as well-designed as a camera or cell phone. After all, if anything deserves good design, it's the things we bring to bed with us."
She's particularly proud of the necklace she's created. Called the Vesper, it's a slim, chic vibrator that you can delicately wear on a neck chain. Made of stainless steel, it comes in a silver, gold or rose gold finish (with optional engraving), and has two speeds designed with both discreteness and quietness in mind.
"It's quite statement-making, and that was the point," elaborates Chang. "It's so that women wouldn't be ashamed to wear it in public. Then, if they're asked about it, they can either explain what it is, or they can just say it's a piece of jewelry. But the point is to give them that choice, and hopefully start conversations around why they'd be embarrassed in the first place. It's quite empowering."
Unbound dubs itself a "sexual wellness company" based around the idea that a healthy sex life is part of one's wellness routine — as it should be. Selling everything from handcuffs and vibrators to wearable jewelry that could be used sexually or not, Unbound aims to create conversations around sex, as is evident from their cutesy product names like "Cuffies" and "Shade," as well as their affordable price points.
"I saw that sexuality for women is either hyper-sexualized through the male gaze, or looked at through the lens of fertility and being a mother, but nothing in between," says Co-Founder and CEO Polly Rodriguez. "So, we wanted to create a space where both women and non-binary people could have a space to feel secure and get to know their bodies and really define sexuality for themselves."
A huge part of that movement is the jewelry the brand sells on the site: Some can be used sexually, like the massage ring and bangle handcuffs, while others, like the Venus earrings, are simply to make a statement. "We saw that there was a demand for BDSM products," elaborates Rodriguez, who admits that the jewelry is large in size on purpose. "But all the products on the market just didn't feel sexy to us. For example, the packaging had a woman in lingerie, with really large breasts and a face full of makeup. We wanted to find a way to give power back to the people wearing the jewelry."
Based in Spain, Bijoux Indiscrets is the brainchild of Co-Founder and Designer Elsa Viegas. The brand's motto? "Be a romantic with a dirty mind." According to Viegas, this stems from the idea that most women still think enjoying sex is somehow disgraceful or "dirty" in a way. "Shame and guilt are what's holding us back from this knowledge of self-pleasure, and there's no reason for it to," she says.
To compensate, Bijoux Indiscrets sells a variety of products specifically targeted toward female pleasure — body chains, clitoral and penetrative vibrators, chokers and even a vibrating diamond are all part of the brand's collection. Their body jewelry can be worn stuck to erogenous zones, while the handcuffs and chokers can be worn as simple accessories in day-to-day life. "I wanted to remove the fear we have around this category of products," adds Viegas. "We're all women, everyone who works at the company, and we wanted products that we would personally want to buy; we wanted to empower women through pleasure."
The products, too, are mostly designed to be used alone, as opposed to being couple-focused, further enhancing the idea that women can be responsible for their own sexual pleasure. "I want women to be excited about opening the products, showing off the products and talking about the products," explains Viegas. "It can be the start of many conversations, and allow females to both experiment and feel."
Goop-approved body ornament company Betony Vernon has been around since the 1990s, actually coining the term "sado-chic" with the founder's first creation: A three-in-one sterling silver jewelry set consisting of a cuff, a chain bracelet and a ring (above). "My work is about intimacy before anything else," says Vernon, who recalls that when she first came out with the piece and showed it to department stores, the entire mechanism was a bit unnerving to them. "But I wanted to create products that can infuse love and intimacy and connection, products that help people have conversations and open up about things that may be difficult for some," notes Vernon of the mission and inspiration behind her products.
Now, Vernon sells several other sexual jewelry pieces in her Paris boudoir. The 400-piece collection includes a feather ring, a massage ring and a harness. The functional fine jewelry pieces are tasteful, yet useful, designed to help women and men experience greater sexual experimentation and pleasure. She uses silver to fabricate her "jewel-tools" because it is anti-bacterial and thus safe should they go inside the body, while the gemstones make them beautiful works of art that people might actually want to show off.
"I think these kinds of conversations actually open themselves up to every conversation about oneself," says Vernon, who calls the culture around these types of products "dangerously closed at the moment." "People can get embarrassed about these products otherwise, and it puts up mental blocks, which is so unnecessary ... really, sexuality is an important part of self-expression."
Think high-tech with a twist: UK-based startup Wisp is in the process of launching its SENS collection, which is a series of rings, necklaces and earrings that are designed to stimulate these erogenous zones with the release of perfumes and tactile projection. Designed with crystals and gemstones including amethyst and rose quartz, the options available are on the higher end in terms of price points ($800 on average) with huge, eye-catching designs.
"It isn't that you'll get an orgasm with the push of a button," explains founder Wan Tseng, who holds a degree in engineering and industrial design. "But in my research, I found that females and males experience intimacy very differently. For women, intimacy and sexual pleasure is more subtle. These products have been designed to stimulate arousal, but not necessarily orgasms."
The reason Tseng wanted to start with females was because she found that the market just didn't have enough that dealt with the arousal part of female sexuality, which she found disappointing. "It's so taboo these days unfortunately, but I wanted to create something that would get people talking about this aspect — not just the vibrators and orgasms," she stresses. "We couldn't even use the word 'sexual' when we advertised because of the negative stereotypes, so we had to call them 'sensual toys' instead."
Still, she believes the designs and technology will get people talking — for the better. "These can be statement pieces," she asserts. "And a lot of the removing of shame comes from the high-end design. I want to break the stereotypes."