COVID, Me and My Robot Lovers

Testing the Toys Most Closely Inspired by Human Contact After Months of Self-Isolation

Can you fuck away the loneliness?

Like almost everyone else in the world, I’ve spent the past year pointedly, intensely, and unhappily avoiding human contact. It’s strange to map just how profoundly lonely the world around us is, but then again, it’s strange to be in a pandemic, and strange to be asked to choose between your health and socializing. There’s little to do, little to see. As a twenty-year-old living away from her school and friends, I rank pretty high on the touch starved scale — my sex life has all but vanished. What else is there to do but sit around and wait?

Can toys ever really mirror human contact?

I know loneliness now more intimately than ever before. I can count the people I’ve seen in real life on a couple of fingers, but mainly, I’ve just been chilling on my own. I learned Facetime dates are fun enough if you don’t mind processing sexual tension through a screen, and sat through a healthy amount of soapy, lovestruck TV. And, as a sexuality writer, I’ve had some kind of outlet to aid in processing this weird confusing time of mandated isolation. People are getting freakier and stir-crazy: online sex toy sales are rocketing. It’s not shocking that more people are getting adventurous, masturbating their way through the lockdown. But can you fuck the loneliness out of your system? Can toys ever really mirror human contact?

Any sex toy that helps you masturbate, in my eyes, is a winner. But before the pandemic hit, there was a pretty specific advertising strategy prevailing, where toys were presented as nonthreatening, a complement but not a companion. Good enough to get you off, sure, but not good enough to make you swear off sex with other people and pledge loyalty to a $79 piece of silicone.

Random, fear-mongering myths spread like wildfire: if a vibrator was too strong, it might alter your body forever and destroy genital sensitivity! If a dildo was too big, you’d never enjoy a human penis again! If you masturbated too much, partnered sex would be boring and unsatisfying! Not only did these rumors stem from patriarchal and heteronormative standards, but they discouraged people from experimenting, and relegated a lot of fascinating and innovative sex tech to the back of the store, so to speak. But at a time of such colossal, complete, aloneness, these rumors lose their power. What better time to try technology that’s inspired by human contact? I ordered two mainstays that I had my eye on — a thrusting dildo and a suction vibrator.

If you’re unfamiliar with what these toys do, it’s basically exactly what it sounds like. A thrusting dildo draws inspiration from rapid penetration. Depending on the price point and style, it will either literally thrust from a base, or pulse/vibrate throughout. Similarly, a suction toy uses air pressure to simulate a tapping or sucking feeling that’s similar to oral sex. Both are usually at the pricier end ($100-400 usually) but cheaper alternatives do exist (TYVM, Romp Switch and Inya!) They’re both extremely popular and well-reputed types of toys but are sometimes met with an upturned nose because of their realism. It’s silly, I know, but while human bodies can’t rumble at 6,000 RPM, they can suck and thrust and move, just like these toys can.

I looked back at the sex I had before quarantine began, imagining the emotions, sensations, and connections.

By imagining what the toys would feel like, I got to daydreaming about real-life situations. In a way, it was an avenue to connect to a part of my sex drive that had been blockaded by depression and mandated self-isolation. I looked back at the sex I had before quarantine began, imagining the emotions, sensations, and connections. In waiting for the toys to come and the first weeks of trying them out, I was imaginative, excited, and horny. If nothing else, these toys gave me a chance to remember this other part of sex lives that feel impossibly far away now.

The good news: when they came, so did I. If you’re reading this to know just what I think about these toys, don’t worry, the review is coming. In short, I really liked both — they now live in my nightstand drawer and are part of my regular rotation. But unsurprisingly, neither truly mimics the feeling of having another person between your legs. Maybe it’s the same reason quarantine feels so lonely: interactions are so much more than just physical experience. When you’re having partnered sex, all your senses are stimulated. You feel their breath, you hear them, you smell, you see, you’re connecting (sorry if this is making you feel things). I’m a big fan of solo sex, but it’s a whole different wheelhouse. The right lighting, mood music, and creativity can all help keep you in the moment, but they can’t replicate these intimate scenarios. Sensation alone is not experience.

When I tested the toys out for the first time, I tried to keep an open mind. I played back and forth with how to prepare. Should I get dressed up? Should I treat this like a hookup? Did I need to shave my legs? I think I ended up putting on some cute lingerie. I made sure to give myself time and attention. I tried to stay in the moment — not the easiest goal in a world raging with pain, grief and constantly depressing headlines. One part of partnered sex that feels so special, after all, is trying to be utterly present: locking the door, being with someone else, getting to shut out the world around you. So I closed the curtains and warned my roommate not to knock for a bit. And when I got into it, it was basically what I expected. The inspiration behind the technology is clear. The toys work great. The Womanizer Liberty, the $99 suction toy I ordered that’s as infamous for it’s shitty name as it is renowned for its technology, latches on your clit and pulses. While a bullet or wand might ‘rub one out,’, the suction technology pulls the orgasm out of you. Again and again. Paired with a healthy amount of lube, it does kind of feel like getting really great head, but as it’s a motor, not a person, it can remain in place for longer and maintain a consistent pace.

I think I got ahead of myself and expected to do absolutely no work.

As for the Fun Factory Stronic Dildo, the $169.99 thruster: while the shape, firmness, and size have made it my favorite realistic dildo I’ve used, getting it going is fairly confusing. I think I got ahead of myself and expected to do absolutely no work. As with any dildo without a suction base, you’ll still need to maneuver it yourself, or at least hold it in place. The ‘thrusting’ sensation is accomplished by vertical vibrations: It doesn’t feel like getting penetrated as much as it feels like a pulsing, moving back and forth inside you, type of deal. You have to click the buttons in a very specific order to turn it on and change the speed — while it was designed to make sure nothing gets changed in the heat of the moment, it’s pretty distracting when you want to be focusing on other things. In all honesty, the first couple times I used it, I didn’t even keep it turned on. Perhaps a toy like the similarly priced Velvet Thruster (what a name!), which seems to have a larger range of motion, might be able to better capture the feeling of penetrative sex, but this one just felt like a really great vibrating dildo. And I’m perfectly happy with that!

As I actually write it out, I feel a bit silly to have put so much pressure on technology to capture these intricacies perfectly. If it hadn’t been for all the hype and rumors, I don’t know if I’d even try to imagine a robot accomplishing such utterly human acts. In the age of Alexas, Lil Miquelas, and evil overlord Musk-Bezos’s, we have expectations for technology that we might not even ask of our own partners. I’m happy with a toy being just that. A piece of silicone/glass/metal that gets you off is more than enough.

It’s a fairly miserable time and a time where we should be prioritizing our pleasure in every safe way we can.

Reflecting on these trial runs, I’m brought back to one of my favorite essays about sex toys: the brilliant piece by Fancy Feast, “Sex Toys Will Never Be Able To Do The Hardest Work For You”. Fancy writes about how, in her time working at a sex shop, she noticed a pattern in customer requests. “People wanted toys that would do the fucking for them […] People constantly asked for hands-free toys, toys that were not “intimidating,” for them or for their partners. “Something great, please, but nothing that could replace me,” they would say, over and over again.” There’s this expectation that toys because they’re brilliant and wonderful and give you great sensations, can replicate sex. It’s too simple. Quarantine has shown us how valuable and amazing human contact is: it’s more complex than an orgasm.

This pandemic has hit us all deeply and profoundly. With so much time on our own, with only our body (maybe a few others if we’re lucky), we’ve been forced to take the time to get to know ourselves. I’m fairly certain that if you asked the general population what they like, long for, and miss, pre-Covid, then now, our 2021 selves would have much more intricate and well-thought-out answers. It’s a fairly miserable time and a time where we should be prioritizing our pleasure in every safe way we can. As the promise of vaccines lingers on the horizon, we know we’re entering a different world than the one we were yanked out of. As we rebuild and create a better world that accounts for the trauma of the pandemic, I’m hoping we’ll shed some of our outdated expectations, and create a more accepting, hornier, and happier future.

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