Sex Toy Companies That Don’t Use Gendered Marketing

Gendered marketing is one of my biggest bugbears in the sex toy space, and it’s almost impossible to get away from. Everywhere you look, you’ll see sex toys categorised as “for men” or “for women.” But we should all know by now that body parts don’t define gender. Not everyone with a vulva is a woman, not everyone with a penis is a man, and myriad genders exist between and beyond those two binary options.

(If you think gender is binary or that physiology alone defines gender, then erm… you’re probably in the wrong place.)

And look, I even understand why companies do this, up to a point. For many, it’s primarily an SEO concern. “Sex toys for men” gets almost half a million Google searches per month at the time of writing, while “sex toys for women” gets close to 100,000. “Sex toys for penis” and “sex toys for clit” get a relatively paltry ~5000 and ~500 searches, respectively (and “vulva” doesn’t even get a look-in, but that’s a rant for another day.)

Even so, though, continuing to aggressively gender sex toys contributes directly towards exclusion and inequality in an industry that is already… not great on those things a lot of the time.

With that in mind, I wanted to tell you about some of my favourite adult retailers and manufacturers that do not use gendered marketing.

SheVibe

I love SheVibe’s playful, comic book-inspired aesthetic, and I love their gender-neutral approach even more. Toys are categorised by type and body part, not by gender. So you’ll find categories like “vibrators”, “dildos”, and “penis toys”.

SheVibe has a huge and extensive product catalogue so whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find something for you here.

Godemiche

This small, UK-based purveyor of colourful silicone sexiness categorises their toys by type – dildos, hump toys, masturbators, and so on – rather than by gender. The Grind Ring products (some of my all-time faves!), for example, are described as being for “anyone with a clitoris.”

If you’re looking for quality body-safe silicone sex toys in a bigger range of colours and blends than you’ve ever seen in your life, then look no further.

Peepshow Toys

Peepshow Toys logo

Peepshow Toys has been a major player in the body-safe sex toys space for a long time now, and their extensive range just keeps going from strength to strength.

They divide their toys by type and then sub-divide them below that. So for example, you’ll see “dildos” then sub-categories of “realistic”, “non realistic”, “suction cup”, and so on. It’s easy to find exactly what you want with no gendered marketing to be seen.

Arosum

Arosum logo

I’ve only recently started working with Arosum, and I’m a big fan. They categorise their toys by body part (vulva, penis, or anus) then sub-categorise them by type (“clitoris vibrators,” “masturbators,” etc.)

Arosum puts the LGBTQ+ community front and centre and designs their products with us in mind. It’s so refreshing to see diverse images of smiling queer people and blog content covering topics like the history of Pride and LGBTQ+ workplace discrimination.

The Pleasure Garden

The Pleasure Garden is a small business and the UK’s inclusive sex shop. They believe that everyone deserves pleasure and they only stock body-safe products. Products are categorised variably by type and by body part (“vibrators”, “cock and ball toys,” and so on.)

They even have a separate “gender expression” category filled with products designed specifically with trans and non-binary people in mind!

Le Wand

Le Wand understand that wand vibrators are for everyone, and sell wands (and their attachments) without gendering them. Their blog posts and guides are de-gendered for the most part, too – you’ll see topics like “Anal Play for Vulva Owners.”

In 2019, they were even awarded “Progressive Company of the Year” at the Xbiz awards.

Love Not War

Love Not War is an innovative sustainable sex toy company selling quality silicone vibrator heads that all work with the same interchangeable battery base. This means you only need one set of electronics to enjoy all their toys. They use FDA-grade silicone, recycled aluminium, and eco-friendly packaging.

Love Not War doesn’t gender their toys, instead indicating what body part they are most suited to – the clitoris or G-spot, for example.

Stockroom

Stockroom is actually primarily known as a BDSM gear supplier, but also offers an impressive array of sex toys in their catalogue. You’ll see wording like “cock and ball toys” rather than “toys for men.”

Annoyingly, some of their kink gear – most notably their extensive range of chastity devices and suction pumps – is categorised by gender rather than body part. For this reason, I debated whether or not to include them. But their sex toys, at least, are de-gendered.

FYI: this post contains affiliate links.

What Does Inclusive Sex Toy Design for the LGBTQ+ Community Look Like?

I believe, and have believed since the first day I started working in this industry, that sex toys are for everyone. Unfortunately, sex toy design and marketing often fail to live up to this ideal. Toy retailers are often unintentionally exclusionary at best, and outright offensive at worst.

But what does it actually look like to create and market inclusive sex toys? Today I want to look at this question specifically through the lens of LGBTQ+ experiences.

No Toy Will Suit Everyone

There are so many reasons I cringe when I see phrases like “best ever sex toy for women!” and “orgasm guaranteed!” in sex toy marketing copy. The main one, though, is that sex – and bodies – simply do not work that way. We’re all different. Our bodies, minds, and relationships have diverse needs. This means that it is absolutely impossible to create a toy that will work for everyone or to guarantee that a product will work for any particular individual.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few different ways that sex toy design can become more inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community. Hint: I love colourful Pride-themed things as much as anyone, but this issue is much more complicated than just slapping a rainbow on something during the month of June.

This post is by no means meant to be exhaustive, but includes some considerations for sex toy designers and makers who want to be LGBTQ+ inclusive to think about.

Design for Diverse Bodies and Preferences

LGBTQ+ people’s bodies can look and function in a whole myriad of different ways, and inclusive sex toy design accounts for this beautiful variety.

Arosum has recently released two new products, the G-Snuggle and the LushVibe, that are specifically crafted for people with tighter or narrower vaginal canals. This might include trans women who have undergone gender confirmation surgery, some intersex people, and cis women, trans men and AFAB non-binary people who suffer from conditions such as vaginismus. These toys feature a slim design with a unique hooked tip shaped like a bean sprout that applies gentle pressure to the vaginal walls.

To be honest, even as a cis woman who simply prefers slimmer toys for penetration most of the time, I think I’d enjoy these products. It’s really nice to see companies breaking the “bigger is always better” narrative when it comes to toys. (The LushVibe, by the way, is also suitable for anal use.)

Toys that are useable when flaccid are also popular amongst some trans women and non-binary people who take estrogen, which can affect erections. I’m eternally disappointed that one of the best toys in this category, the Hot Octopuss Pulse, is marketed with the cringeworthily-gendered term “Guybrator.” Wand vibrators are another great gender-neutral option, because high-powered vibration feels awesome for most genitals.

Highly versatile toys, in general, are wonderful and there should be more of them.

Sex Toys and Gender

Sex toys can play a role in gender affirmation, too. Simply de-gendering your toys entirely is a step in the right direction and can help you to avoid inadvertently causing gender dysphoria.

There are even toys specifically designed with gender affirmation in mind. For example, there are strokers designed specifically for trans men and transmasculine people who have experienced bottom growth due to taking testosterone. And pack-and-plays allow wearers to both pack (create the look and feel of having a penis) and have sex with the same cock.

Toy Kits for Couples

Something that’s tremendously popular in the sex toy industry is bundles or kits for couples. These typically include two toys, one for each person. Sometimes the two products will link up or work together in some way (such as through an app. Isn’t technology marvellous?)

But these bundles are, with very few exceptions that you really have to go looking for, incredibly cisheteronormative in their marketing and design. I’d love to see LGBTQ+ toy manufacturers designing sets and kits for couples with the same genitals… and for couples with different genitals but without the “his & hers” marketing.

Be Aware of Other Intersections

Privilege and oppression exists as a huge and complex system of intersecting identities. This means that, when designing products with the LGBTQ+ community in mind, it’s important to consider other intersections of identity and experience as well.

For example, the sex toy industry has a huge and ongoing racism problem. “Historically, “flesh” dildos and vibrators were the color of Caucasian skin,” writes Hallie Lieberman. This is still a common occurrence and, when toys are available in other skin colours, companies often market them using problematic or even outright racist language. In the same article Shani Hart, CEO of the Hart’s Desires boutique in the D.C. area, calls out the “racist and derogatory” packaging and marketing copy that still appears far too often in this industry.

Disability inclusion matters, too, and it’s important to remember that disability doesn’t look just one way. Disabled writer, advocate, and sex worker Ruby Rousson writes in this article that “Nearly every toy I’ve come across has not been designed with accessibility in mind. Whilst we’re slowly getting there, we’re not there yet.” Size, weight, shape, button size and placement, positioning, care and cleaning, and noise are just some of the factors you’ll need to consider when it comes to disability-friendly sex toy design. Even then, you should probably avoid claiming that your toy is “good for disabled people” without specifying what that actually means.

The Words and Images You Use Matter

Okay, this is a sex toy marketing issue rather than a sex toy design issue, but it’s all intricately connected. Think about the language and images you’re using when you market your toys. Are you using a lot of images of cisgender, heterosexual-presenting people and couples? If so, your LGBTQ+ audience is unlikely to see itself represented and will probably feel excluded by your marketing.

Are you using gendered language? If so, that should be the first thing to go. For example, not everyone with a vulva is a woman and not all women have vulvas, so marketing a clitoral vibrator as a “toy for women” is exclusionary and alienating.

Think about language around sexual orientation and gender identity, too. I advocate against categorising toys by sexuality because, well, inanimate objects don’t have sexual orientations. You might think it’s inclusive to categorise a strap-on, for example, as “for lesbians.” But people of a huge array of sexualities, genders, and relationship configurations can and do use these toys.

If In Doubt, Ask

Remember that, when designing and marketing products for the LGBTQ+ community, you should actually ask us for feedback! Even if you and your team are part of the community, you probably don’t have every single identity under the LGBTQ+ umbrella represented and your experience won’t be someone else’s experience. Always seek the direct input of the individuals and communities you’re looking to serve.

Thanks to Arosum for sponsoring this post. Check out their range of products designed with LGBTQ+ people in mind! All writing and views are, as always, my own.

Sapphic, Lesbian and WLW Erasure in Polyamory, Kink, and Other Alternative Sexuality Communities

Today’s post topic was chosen by my supporters over on Patreon. Join today to vote on the direction of future blog content and get other fun perks too!

Those of us who are active in alternative relationship and sexuality communities such as polyamory, consensual non-monogamy, and kink like to believe that we’re operating in a utopia. We so want to think that our little bubble is apart and separate from the rest of the world, unaffected by society’s ills. It’s a seductive narrative, but it is a lie. Today I want to talk about one of the most pervasive and insidious issues I experience as a sapphic, non-monogamous, kinky femme in these communities.

A quick note on terminology: I can’t write about this topic without acknowledging the ways in which the the anti-transgender hate movement has co-opted the concept of “lesbian erasure.” Anti-trans activists often erroniously claim that to accept trans women as women is to erase or undermine lesbian identities and that cis lesbians routinely experience pressure to transition to male. I absolutely and unequivocally reject these ideas. Trans women are women. Trans sapphics are our sisters and are just as much a part of the community as their cis counterparts.

With that said, I want to talk about the systemic erasure and devaluing of sapphic, lesbian, and women-loving-women (WLW) identities and relationships within polyamory, consensual non-monogamy, kink, and other adjacent communities.

Who Counts as a Couple?

Let’s start with the obvious: many non-monogamous spaces, particularly those geared around casual sex and swinging, are simply not set up in a way that allows for any configuration of people that isn’t “one man and one woman in a relationship” or “a single cisgender person.” The most obvious example of this is gendered pricing. This has tonnes of its own problems anyway and completely falls apart when you account for anyone who isn’t straight, cis, and in a relationship that appears monogamous from the outside.

Many lifestyle events, clubs, and parties would class my girlfriend and I as two single women if we attended together. (Whereas, of course, if I attended with a male partner they’d class us as a couple.) Two women could be literally married to each other, and this would still be the case. Because in the eyes of those spaces, a “couple” is a man and a woman.

“But you’ll get in cheaper if they count you as two single women!”. Yeah, this isn’t the gotcha you think it is in this situation. I’d much, much rather pay the same rate as any other couple rather than have my relationship minimised, othered, and erased on account of our genders.

It’s often more insidious than these fairly blatant forms of discrimination, too. When people talk about “couples” in non-monogamous spaces, they will often casually refer to “the man” and “the lady” (or, worse, “girl”) as if that is the only configuration for a couple to take. If I refer to a partner without gendering them, most people will assume I am talking about a man. I really don’t believe this is malicious in 99% of cases. At worst, I think it is privilege-blind and clueless. But that doesn’t make it any more right or any less hurtful.

The Aggressive Gendering of Kink

I love the BDSM community in so many ways. I’ve been finding my home, my place, and my people within it for the best part of 15 years. But the longer I stick around, the more I see that the kink community still has a fairly pervasive gender-norms problem that we still need to address.

Absent very explicit context to the contrary, people will still broadly assume that men are Dominant, that women are submissive, and that kinky and D/s relationships will look broadly heteronormative. And sure, Femdom exists. But all my Dominant women friends have countless stories of men treating them as little more than fetish dispensers, expecting them to service those men’s needs and follow precise directions while pretending to be in charge and without regard for their own needs and desires.

There is very, very little representation of kinky sapphic relationships of any description in our media, our online spaces, our educational materials, or our event leadership demographics. Why is that? Because it sure as hell isn’t “because kinky sapphics don’t exist.”

I suspect it’s for a few reasons. First, a lack of imagination that assumes all kinky relationships must play out a sexy version of 1950s gender roles. Second, because cisheterosexism still means that – even in alternative spaces – men are more likely to hold positions of leadership and influence. And third, because certain parts of the community can be pretty damn unwelcoming and unsafe for queer people and especially for queer women.

More than once, when I’ve played with other women in public kink spaces, we’ve been interrupted by men either trying to give unsolicited advice or trying to insert themselves into our scene. On one memorable occasion, I was topping for an impact play scene with a friend (who, in her words, was “having a perfectly lovely time”). Out of nowhere, a man I’d never met came over and tried to physically grab my flogger out of my hands.

Because I was a woman, I was assumed to be incompetent. Because we were two women playing together, we were assumed to need a man. Our happy little play bubble was totally ruined by some random dude’s ego and entitlement.

This isn’t an isolated incident, either. Virtually every queer woman I know who plays in mixed kink spaces with other women has a similar story. Is there any wonder we’ve started making more and more of our own spaces?

To be fair, this does seem to be slowly getting better. But there’s some way still to go.

“But You Still Like Men, Right?”

When I mention my girlfriend to people who know I’m non-monogamous (or can reasonably make that assumption, such as at a lifestyle party or social), one of the first I’ve been asked on numerous occasions is whether or not I also date or fuck men.

My friend Violet calls this the “are you heteronormative enough for my comfort zone?” question. Which… no. No I am not. #toogayforyourcomfortzone.

My usual response to this, until now, has been to say yes but emphasise that it’s fairly rare for me to fancy a man enough to want to do anything about it. In the future, though, I think I might change my response. “Why do you ask?” or “well I’m not sleeping with you if that’s what you’re really asking” are currently strong contenders.

I want people who ask me this question to ask themselves why it’s the first place their mind goes on learning that I’m sapphic. After all, if a woman mentions a boyfriend or husband, almost no-one is going to ask her “but you still date women too, right?” Ultimately, what they’re asking is whether I am still sexually available to men – a thing that patriarchy both demands of women and villifies us for.

There’s a strong connection between all of this and the commodification of sapphic sexuality in service of the male gaze.

Sapphic, Lesbian and WLW Sexuality for the Male Gaze

People often believe that there is no sapphic, lesbian and WLW erasure issue in these communities because there are so many bisexual, pansexual and queer women in them. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s quite that simple. In reality, my experience – and the experience of many sapphic friends I’ve spoken to about this – is often not so much one of acceptance but of fetishisation, followed by devaluing when we refuse to conform to a safe, male-gazey idea of what our sexuality should be.

I’m reminded of the man at a polyamorous speed dating event about a year ago who aggressively quizzed me about what my former metamour-with-benefits and I got up to in the bedroom, and was then clearly bored and put out when I refused to engage. In the 16 years or so I’ve been out, I really thought we’d moved past men asking sapphics “but what do y’all do in bed anyway!?”. Apparently we have not.

I’m also reminded of the man who hit on me and my girlfriend in a gay bar on Pride weekend. Because apparently what two sapphics in love desperately needed in that moment was his dick. I have literally dozens of other examples like this that I can pull out with very little thought.

Expectations of Performativity

In sexualised spaces, people continually expect queer and bi+ women to perform their sexuality in a way that appeals to the male gaze. Two different male exes of mine became extremely upset or angry when my girlfriends were either not their physical type or not willing to sleep with them. This made me feel like my sexuality, my relationships, were only valid as long as they provided benefits to men. Which, of course, is a classic way that society devalues and commodifies WLW relationships.

One of these partners literally asked me what was “even the point” of me being queer if I didn’t perform it in a way that fulfilled his lesbian porn fantasy. Other male partners and male metamours over the years have tried to demand titillating details, photos, or even the right to “watch.” I’ve been hit on by so many men who want me to play with their wives. This is inevitably not because she wants a sapphic experience, but because he wants her to perform one for him.

Patriarchal entitlement to women’s bodies persists, even when we are tell you we are far more interested in each other than we are in you.

Unicorn hunting is another extremely common variation on this theme. In those dynamics, the original male/female couple will often pull a bait-and-switch tactic in which they use the woman to lure other queer women in, then spring the boyfriend or husband on the unsuspecting “unicorn” as a package deal. I hope I don’t have to tell you how grossly unethical this is. That’s why I now run from prospective female dates at the first signs that they’re going to expect me to be sexually available to their male partners.

And that brings us to…

Are Women Less Threatening, or Are You Just Homophobic?

This particular trope is so common within non-monogamy that it’s now a cliché. A cisgender man and woman open up their relationship. The man then tells his partner he’ll allow her to date other women, but no men. (In practice, what this means is “no-one else with a penis“, which is also transphobic.) The reason? Women are just less threatening. They don’t make him feel emasculated or threatened in the way that a man (or penis-haver) would.

The subtext? His wife could never leave him for another woman. She could never like having sex with another woman more than she does with him. She could never gain more fulfillment from a sapphic relationship than from a straight one. A man could steal her away, but a woman couldn’t. So his place in her life is safe. Right?

This comes from a place of believing that relationships between women are less real, less valid, and less important than hetero-appearing relationships. In other words it’s straight up, common-or-garden, fucking boring homophobia.

These men, by the way, are often the same men who expect their wives’ sapphic relationships to offer them something in terms of sexual access or live-action lesbian porn on tap then get very upset if they don’t.

But of course, lesbian, sapphic and WLW relationships are just as deep, meaningful, and sexually satisfying as hetero ones. Hell, for many of us they’re often more so. If you believe your wife can’t possibly glean as much happiness or fulfillment from a relationship with a woman, you might be in for a very rude awakening. If you see another man as a threat but not a woman, all this tells me is that you believe men are inherently superior and hetero relationships are inherently more desirable or important.

The fact that this practice and way of thinking is so common tells me, in itself, that there’s still a lot of homophobia towards lesbian, sapphic and queer women within non-monogamy.

So What Can We Do About It?

I try to make these blog posts something more than just rants. So if we accept that sapphic, lesbian and WLW erasure are huge problems in these communities, what can we do about it?

Here are a few of my ideas for how we, as a community, can start combatting this issue within our spaces:

  • Stop all gendered pricing for events, now. If you want to limit numbers of single men, fine. You can sell only a certain number of tickets or vet them carefully or both. But pricing according to gender, and defining “couple” as meaning a man and a woman, is homophobic, cissexist, and exclusionary.
  • Vote with your feet and your wallet. Attend events that are inclusive and avoid those that are not.
  • Stop asking queer women whether we also sleep with men. Some of us do, some of us don’t. Either way, it is solidly none of your goddamn business unless we’re going to sleep with you. And unless we make it very clear, you should probably assume we’re not.
  • Stop asking queer women for details of our sex lives. This includes asking if you can “watch,” asking for pictures or details, or treating us as lesbian porn fantasies.
  • If you’re a man with a queer female partner, ensure that you are giving your wife or partner’s sapphic relationships equal weight to your own.
  • Do not assume that hetero-presenting relationships or marriages are “primary,” more important, or take precedent over queer ones in non-monogamous networks.
  • Push back against unicorn hunting and one penis policies wherever you see them. Let people know that they are fetishising, homophobic, transphobic, and all-round gross.
  • Use non-gendered terms when talking about kink roles such as Top, bottom, Dominant, submissive, and so on. Do not assume that all Dominants are men, that all submissives are women, or that all kinky relationships are heteronormative.
  • Uplift and support queer women as educators, speakers, organisers, and community leaders.

Of course, fixing this kind of stuff takes more than just a few steps. Sapphic, lesbian and WLW erasure is deeply ingrained and pervasive. Undoing it will require a massive cultural shift both within our little subcultures and in wider society. It won’t happen overnight, of course. But I do believe we can get there.

[Guest Post] It’s Time for Non-binary and Polyamory-Inclusive Leather Titles by Lisa Kivok

One of the joys of publishing guest posts on this blog is that I get to enjoy a glimpse into aspects of the vast worlds of gender, sexuality, and kink that I don’t have direct experience with. That’s why I am really thrilled with today’s post in which Lisa Kivok (she/her) tells us why she thinks it’s past time for non-binary and polyamorous inclusion in the world of leather titles. It’s a thought-provoking piece that I’m thrilled to share with you all.

Amy x

It’s Time for Non-binary and Polyamory-Inclusive Leather Titles by Lisa Kivok

It’s 2022. Non-binary and polyamorous people are increasingly visible in mainstream society. Not nearly enough, of course, but still increasingly so. But the leather community, which rightfully prides itself so much on being accepting, often excludes them in its contest titles. Not always, and usually not intentionally, but still far too often.

For example, how often do you see a leather title for Couple of the Year/Region/etc.? Now, how included do you think monogamous people would feel if the title was Polycule of the Year… but hey, we’ll let couples compete and call them “Couple of the Year” if they happen to win? Just about as included as polyamorous people feel when relationships competing for titles are dubbed “couples” by default.

Instead, it’s time for leather contests to stop using Couple of the Year titles and start using titles that are neutral in relationship style and can truly include polyamorous people – for example, Relationship of the Year.

A trickier phenomenon is that of Woman/Man of the Year/Region/etc. leather titles. It wouldn’t be right for those titles to be replaced – for a lot of people, their femininity or masculinity is an important part of their connection to the leather world. That shouldn’t be downplayed by eliminating those titles. But it’s past time that leather contests acknowledged non-binary leather people by adding a non-binary title, too – for example, Non-binary Person of the Year. Just letting non-binary people compete in Woman/Man categories and changing the title if they win isn’t fair. If women and men get their own designated titles, non-binary people should, too. After all, would you expect a woman to feel included in a non-binary person of the year contest? The same is true in reverse.

Why is now the time to make these changes?

Polyamorous and non-binary people have always existed, and any time would have been a great time to acknowledge them by making these changes, as some but not enough leather contests already have. Indeed, it would have been best to start out with such inclusive titles when leather contests first began. But such changes are better done late than never, and now is an especially important time to take a stand on this. That’s because right now there is a huge backlash against diversity, especially sexual diversity.

Yes, non-binary and polyamorous people are increasingly visible in mainstream society, but that often only leads to greater backlash. You can’t turn on the TV or look at Twitter without hearing about people being called groomers for being queer in public, trans youth being denied puberty blockers, and other attempts to shove people back into the imagined Father Knows Best days that never really existed.

If even the leather community pushes polyamorous and non-binary people to the side for not being mainstream enough, where will those people find acceptance?

Lack of acceptance may drive these people away from the leather subculture, which in addition to being unfortunate for them would be unfortunate for leather society itself. Polyamorous and non-binary people have contributed much to leather society, and no doubt can and will contribute more if they were better included.

The leather subculture has never been about the “nice” people who just want to be accepted by the mainstream. Sure, they’re as welcome in leather society as anyone else. But the heart of leather society has always been people maligned and excluded elsewhere. It is hypocritical and illogical to have a subculture based in large part on a fairly rare sexual fetish, long thought of as disgusting and immoral by mainstream society, and to then exclude polyamorous and non-binary people for not being mainstream or common enough. That way lies a ”sanitization” of leather society that goes against the values the culture does, and should, stand for in terms of acceptance of people who do not belong to the sexual and gender mainstream.

Making room for people excluded from mainstream society has always been part of leather culture, and minority groups within leather culture have fought long and proudly and successfully for inclusion, including in leather titles. There are women’s leather titles, Black leather titles, and deaf leather titles, to name just a few. It’s time we gave polyamorous and non-binary people the same sort of chance. It’s time to remind ourselves that when mainstream society says “get out, freaks and perverts”, leatherfolk say, “you’re welcome here with us.”

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[Guest Post] “Silly Rabbit, Toys are for Everyone!” by Velvet Divine

Velvet Divine (fae/faer) is back again with another fantastic guest post, this time about transition, sex toys, body image, and lots more good stuff. Don’t forget to follow faer on Twitter!

“Silly Rabbit, Toys are for Everyone!” by Velvet Divine

“Hey, I’m really flattered and hella down but it’s been a while since we talked and there’s been some new developments. I’ve been on HRT for a bit now and it’s started to affect my downstairs equipment so things don’t really work the same as before.”

“That’s fine, we can still have amazing BDSM sex without a dick or even any kind of penetration.”

“You’re absolutely right, I guess I’m just still getting used to the new situation and never really thought I’d be here, ya know?

– A snippet from a conversation I had recently with an old flame about being physically intimate again. 

I was born with a penis and although knowing I was trans femme and being out socially and professionally, for the most part, I was not able to begin the medical portion of my transition until around five months ago. I shan’t bore you with the minutia of the HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) process but want to focus on one aspect of my experience: the loss of libido and erectile dysfunction as a result of the low blood pressure from Spiro and the Estrogen.

It’s not a bad thing in any capacity, mind you, I was never particularly attached to my bio dildo, to begin with, but it’s different – for the entirety of my sexual history up until these past few months, it was largely the main event or performing a duet with various accoutrements. That’s not the case anymore.

Now, I find myself in the process of learning how to make sensuality, foreplay, and various accessories the headliners of the experience. This isn’t a problem in and of itself but I have noticed that it can get tricky trying to navigate expectations, both mine and others. I’m typically physically and sexually intimate with other femme-coded people and more often than not those people have vaginas and, in the case of my last few encounters, came from mostly if not exclusively being with cis men.

A few of these people I was intimate with prior to HRT and then during, which became an interesting exercise in shifting expectations and accommodating material realities. Those liaisons did not last but they were incredibly affirming and I could not have asked for more at the time. The ones that followed were less affirming and a bit more awkward. There was disappointment that my equipment did not perform to expectation and trepidation about trying toys for the first time. They weren’t bad experiences but they were not repeated.

Orgasms are different too, they’re not quite as jolting as they used to be and I no longer feel the mounting pressure to like climax like I did prior. They’re rad enough but they’re no longer the ritz. I could take them or leave them. And I leave them more often than not nowadays since penetration used to be my main vector for climax.

I’m sure you’re about to say, “Velvet, that’s a barrel of bananas if not a whole jungle. There are so many other forms of stimulation you could receive or do for yourself”. And you’d be correct, dear reader – but here’s the kicker:

I do not want other people touching me any more than they have to. Or more accurately, by the time the trust and foundation needed for me to feel safe being touched intimately, my Fraysexuality has usually kicked in and the liaison plateaus platonically. (Fraysexuality being on the ace spectrum and characterized by a loss of sexual attraction as a platonic relationship is established and cemented. Think of it as the opposite of Demisexuality.)

Despite the complexity and frustration of the present situation, I’m making a concerted effort to approach it as an opportunity to heal and better conceptualize the relationships I have with intimacy, both the one I provide myself and the one I get from others.

I do not like my body, never have, but for the first time, I don’t actively loath it. Sure, there’s hair in all the wrong places, I feel like I’m built like a titan from the eponymous anime, and I still cringe if I catch the wrong angle in the mirror. But I’m growing boobs. That hair is growing back slower and it’s more manageable. The hair on my head (the one I actually like) is the longest it’s ever been and when it cooperates – my curls are fuckin’ hot.

(Note on the breast development: for the first twenty-four years of my life I was pretty unaware that I had nipples. Now I’m entirely too aware and they’re sore more often than not. But, boobs. So I’m pretty damn stoked.)

Inhabiting this mortal coil usually feels like being stuffed in an iron maiden two sizes too small and trying to provide myself with intimacy feels just as unwelcoming. Self massages, oils, and most spicy toys don’t quite hit the mark but hugging squishmallows, breaking out a weighted blanket, and even taking those extra five or ten minutes to pop a hoodie in the dryer for a warm treat on a cold night, have been baby steps that I can stomach.

Getting intimacy from other people, however, has proven more Icarian than Herculean. Not the least of which by virtue of the fact that being some flavor of aro/ace (Aroflux and Fraysexual in my case), at least for myself, makes it extremely difficult to discern the exact kind of attraction I feel for certain people and harder still to know the way I would prefer to express or receive that attraction.

In the event you may not be aware, there are different forms of attraction besides the classic romantic and sexual. Aesthetic revolves around enjoying a person’s appearance or style, without any desire for more. Sensual refers to wanting to touch and be touched by that person, in as far as hugs, holding hands, kissing, cuddling, etc. Alterous attraction means the lovely limbo north of the platonic but not quite romantic, you’ll often hear it in reference to queerplatonic situations.

Some people I find incredibly and even frighteningly attractive, but the buck stops there. I’m just happy they exist and I can respectfully look at the insta feed. Others are a little trickier. They might have beautiful hands that I’d like to hold and kiss, maybe I want them to hold me and play with my hair while I get lost in their eyes (no, you’re thinking of specific people right now, don’t project onto me), and some I’d be cool with having them ride my face for an evening.

And once or even if the mode of attraction or vector of affection is identified, how the fuck do you make that known. I mentioned in previous pieces here that approaching femme-coded people as a trans femme, especially still looking as masc as I do, can be pretty frightening but there’s even less of a script for bringing up niche topics outside of those niche communities.

Amatonormativity has set such a draconian binary between platonic and romantic affection that even among LGBTQIA+ people it can be difficult to ask for intimacy or establish connections outside of this script imposed upon us. Thus, we may end up in situations that often don’t serve us or that are downright uncomfortable because we don’t know other ways to fill those needs.

You might settle for a romantic relationship even if you’re not interested in romance because it might be the most convenient way for you to get a nesting partner, co-parent, or a source of emotional closeness when a queerplatonic situation might better serve you. For me, I engage in a lot of casual sexual intimacy not necessarily because I want sex but because it’s the most socially acceptable and convenient way for me to get the sensual intimacy I need.

And sure, I could ask. I won’t, but I could.

Besides the fact that I would rather be dead than vulnerable, there’s this tremendous fear that opening that Pandora’s Jar would irrevocably change those friendships. 

Would they understand that my sensual attraction isn’t sexual and a testament to how safe I feel with them or would they be uncomfortable around me moving forward?

Would they reciprocate or be at least comfortable with my alterous attraction to them or just consider me the latest in a line of friends that ruined the connection by burdening them with my confession?

People are complicated. Try, if you have the spoons and the patience, but toys are always an option too.

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[Guest Post] Conversion Therapy Has Rebranded and It’s Just as Dangerous by Violet Grey

I’m delighted to be welcoming the lovely and talented Violet Grey (she/her) back to Coffee & Kink with another guest post. This one is really important and also really challenging.

If you’re a straight, cis person, please take the time to read and absorb this one. If you’re queer and/or a conversion therapy survivor, please take care of yourself if you decide to engage with this <3

Amy x

Conversion Therapy Has Rebranded and It’s Just as Dangerous

TW for conversion therapy, spiritual abuse, trauma and suicide

If you’ve seen the news recently, you’ll know banning conversion therapy is back in discussion. Despite promises by the UK government to ban it back in 2018, conversion therapy is sadly still legal, with no swift action being taken to criminalise the practice. In its lengthy history and the outpouring of horrific survivor accounts, it has undergone a rebranding in recent years, but it is just as dangerous as ever. 

Being a bi person of faith (Christianity and Quaker teachings) I know not all Christians support conversion therapy. In fact, most I know are vehemently against it. However, it is a large, systemic problem in the church that needs confronting. 

What is Conversion Therapy?

Conversion therapy (sometimes known as Cure or Reparative Therapy) is a pseudoscientific practice of “repairing” or “curing” an LGBTQ+ person (usually teenagers and young adults) to change their sexual orientation to heterosexual, or gender identity to cisgender. 

It is usually undertaken by religious communities (in this case, I’m talking about Christianity), but is also known to be done by a select few medical professionals. It stems from the belief that being anything other than heterosexual and cisgender is wrong, and therefore should be treated. 

Such “treatments” to “cure” or “repair” someone of their homosexuality, bisexuality (often referred to as SSA or “Same Sex Attraction” in these circles,) or trans identity have included, but not been limited to: 

  • Biblical “counselling“: a mixture of psychotherapy-style sessions with spiritual advice. It is not uncommon for the counsellors to have no qualifications in counselling and people will be asked to sign a waiver acknowledging this. 
  • Praying and scripture study: Also known as “pray the gay away,” or praying for God to help the person with their “struggle” of Same Sex Attraction, again often reinforcing self-loathing. 
  • Physical torture, including starvation and beating
  • Exorcism
  • Electroshock Therapy 
  • Forced sterilisation and surgeries 
  • Chemical castration: The use of anaphrodisiac drugs to reduce a person’s libido or sexual activity. While it can be used to treat certain cancers, this has been used on LGBTQ+ people to “reduce homosexual urges.”

The medical community has denounced conversion therapy as a dangerous pseudoscience (with incredibly high failure rates) that contributes to PTSD, depression, anxiety, and even suicide in those who undergo it. There are countless studies with findings all pointing to the same conclusion: conversion therapy doesn’t work, and you can’t “make” someone straight any more than you can “make” someone gay.

Being LGBTQ+ it is not a choice, it doesn’t disrupt the family dynamic, and it is not caused by childhood trauma. We just are who we are. 

Rebranding: Hate the Sin, Not the Sinner

Rebranding of conversion therapy has been happening in the last fifteen years or so, primarily since the legalisation of same-sex marriage across many parts of the world. Since then, in my experience with homophobic views, they have shifted from “being gay is a choice” to “God may have made you gay. It’s just the act of homosexuality that’s a sin” in order to come across as more accepting. 

This is just as bad. One: love (and sex) is not a sin. Two: it gaslights the person through spiritual abuse. Three: it leaves already vulnerable LGBTQ+ people with two choices: 

  • A lifetime of celibacy. So no masturbation, no same-sex relationship, no sex, no nothing. 
  • A heterosexual marriage with someone we might not even love. 

Either way the options are clear: a lifetime of misery, or a lifetime of misery. But hey, God loves you, right? 

Biblical “counselling” and prayer is being championed in the wake of this so-called progressive view, to “help” people who want this so-called help. However, this toxic doctrine has been internalised in not LGBTQ+ people, but the very people claiming to help them. 

These views usually echo in the various groups: 

  • Folks who like to Bible thump and control
  • Christians who still believe sexuality is a choice
  • Well-meaning Christians

Now, “well-meaning Christian” interlinked with homophobia does sound like an oxymoron, and it is. However, with such messages being preached from the pulpit or in a mistranslated Bible verse (there are 450 English translations of the Bible!) these views will either be all you know, or even be considered a liberal take – especially if you come from a conservative background.

Their view, from my experience, does not come from malice (though I don’t justify it at all.) They genuinely feel they are doing the right thing. They think they are helping, but conversion therapy doesn’t help and in fact, can and does still cause significant harm.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

For the well-meaning folks, who believe in “hating the sin and not the sinner,” I just want to say this: I’m not trying to attack you or limit your faith. But from a fellow Christian, and a queer one at that, this take is still hurting people and we need to acknowledge this. Then we can enact truly positive change.

Sadly, this doctrine of “tolerance but not really” further reinforces self-hatred in the name of love. It reinforces distress that shouldn’t be there in the first place, and is not justifiable with any of Jesus’ teachings. 

We are called to love our neighbour and consider the fruit we bear, but if the fruit we produce leads to trauma, self-loathing and even suicide, we can’t dig our heels in with, “But the Bible says…”. There is no Biblical justification for the torture we as a community have, and continue to, put LGBTQ+ people through.  Who are we as Christians to tear two adults in love away from each other and condemn them to a life of misery?

Breaking Up with Toxic Doctrine

The truth of the matter is that Leviticus, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians, and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah were about sexual violence and abuse of power. 

We are using the Bible as a weapon when it was never meant to be. The Bible is a rich, historical document full of context to be learned, as well as a religious text. Literalism is killing people and if we want to try to be more Christ-like, we need to focus on what Christ was about: love. 

Now, there is a shift towards churches becoming LGBTQ+ affirming and progressives, both clergy and parishioner, are leading the way through thorough research of doctrine. However, it goes without saying that there is backlash against this. So while we are making positive baby steps, we’ve still got a long way to go. 

Violet Grey describes herself as “your 20-something lady who loves to write. I write erotic fiction, along with real-life sex stories, thoughts on sexuality, kink, BDSM, and generally whatever else is on my mind.” Check out her blog and give her a follow on Twitter!

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[Guest Post] Kink in Context by Quenby

It’s time for another guest post and I’m delighted to be bring you another piece from Quenby (they/them) who has written for me before and always has such great things to say. Today, they’re exploring the limits of “your kink is not my kink but your kink is okay.”

Remember: you can always chip in via the tip jar to help me keep commissioning awesome guest writers.

Amy x

Kink in Context by Quenby

“Your Kink Is Not My Kink, And That’s Okay.” This concept has become an article of faith within the kink community, a rallying cry of mutual acceptance. And I think the basic idea behind it – that we shouldn’t shame people simply because they have kinks we don’t – is sound. But it’s often used to shut down any criticism of people within the kink community. And that is a dangerous situation in any community, and particularly for marginalised people within that group.

Kink is a distinct subculture, with its own behavioural norms and distinct culture. But any subculture exists within the context of the wider culture it’s embedded in, so it os not isolated from the issues which affect the dominant culture[*]. So kinks are connected to mainstream culture, they often play with the idea of taboo (i.e. relating to social norms by violating them). And that means we need to think about how our kinks can reinforce the existing problems in our culture.

This isn’t exactly a new idea. There are countless pieces out there discussing whether you can be a submissive and a feminist (spoiler alert, yes you can). Last year the iconic Sinclair Sexsmith wrote about the issues of Master-slave dynamics in a world where racism and slavery are very real issues. 

Personally, it’s feminisation which hits the hardest. Seeing a cis man feminised as a way to humiliate him hits a little too close to home. At its worst, it feels like this reproduces trans trauma for the entertainment of people who will never actually have to live with this. Yet I know several people who worked out they were trans through this kink. And when it’s done by trans people to reclaim power over their trauma, it’s a very different situation.

This piece mostly deals with these questions in the abstract, so what does this look like in a practical sense? Let’s take a relatively simple example, I really love it when a partner refers to me as a filthy slut. Part of the reason that’s hot to me is the taboo, the way it degrades me for violating the social norm of “you shouldn’t be slutty”. But if you’re not careful, using this language in a kink context can normalise using it more broadly, and reinforce the slutshaming within our society.

There’s a conversation connected to this around reclaiming language (for example, The Ethical Slut reframes the word “slut” as something which isn’t inherently negative,) but a big part of this is how we behave outside of kink. I would never allow someone to call me a slut in a kink context if they also used it as a derogatory term in real life, and for me that’s an important distinction to make.

I don’t have all the solutions here. There aren’t simple answers of “this kink is wrong”, or “you have to engage in kink in this particular way”. How to engage with a culture without reproducing its harmful elements is a very complex question. But I’m pretty sure that the answer isn’t to simply ignore how kink can reinforce and normalise real social issues, or excuse the harm this can do to real people for fear of kink shaming. 

Perhaps all I can ask is for people to think about what they’re doing. To look at the kinks they engage with and consider how these relate to the real world – the privileges they possess within this context and the unintended consequences on people around them. It’s not easy. In the “filthy slut” example alone, I found so much to unpack from three simple syllables. Thinking about how this applies to the intricacy of different kinks is a daunting task. But these are questions we need to be asking.

Bias, privilege, and marginalisation are built into our society, as a part of that society each of us carries these problems within us. This is not done equally, some of us try to address internalised biases while others embrace them. But we are all, on some level, part of the problem. And we all need to be part of the solution.

[*] The mainstream culture which dominates society, not the culture of Doms

Quenby is a queer perfomer, writer, and activist. If you liked this post you can check out their blog, or follow them on FB and Twitter @QuenbyCreatives.

[Guest Post] Using Gender-Neutral Language Isn’t Enough

Today’s guest post comes from Shannon Burton (they/she) who I met through the Smutlancers community. They’re a brilliantly talented writer and I’m thrilled to be publishing them on C&K for the first time, talking about gender-neutral language and how to use it.

It’s important to note that though this article uses one specific example of problematic language as its jumping-off point, it’s not about attacking or critiquing an individual. This is stuff that virtually all cis people – including me! – could do better with. I learned a huge amount from this and I’m sure you will, too.

They’ve helpfully included some working definitions for those of you who are new to these concepts, so I’ll include those first and then we’ll dive into the article.

Amy x

Definitions

Cis/cisgender: when someone’s gender identity matches their assigned sex at birth

Trans/transgender: when someone’s gender identity is different than their assigned sex at birth

Genderqueer/nonbinary: when someone’s gender identity falls outside the categories of man and woman

Intersex: when someone’s sex characteristics such as chromosomes, hormones, gonads, or genitals don’t fit neatly into typical definitions of male or female sex. Being intersex does not determine a person’s gender identity.

Vulva-owner: person with a vulva (generally including the mons pubis, labia majora and minora, clitoris, and vaginal opening.) Being a vulva owner does not determine a person’s gender identity.

Penis-owner: person with a penis (generally including glans, shaft, and foreskin.) Being a penis owner does not determine a person’s gender identity.

Using Gender-Neutral Language Isn’t Enough by Shannon Burton

Sometimes, even our best intentions fall short.

Such was the situation in the very first lesson of Dr. Emily Morse’s “Sex and Communication” Masterclass.

“I want this class to include everyone,” the Sex With Emily podcast host begins promisingly. “So instead of hearing me say woman, I’m gonna say vulva-owner or vulva, and instead of man, I’m gonna say penis-owner or penis.”

Arrrrgggg!

This is a perfect example of trying to be inclusive of trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary people and falling short. Our bodies do not always indicate our gender. Yet, this statement still implies that women are vulva-owners and men are penis-owners. It also implies that being inclusive is just a matter of swapping out gendered words (woman, man) for neutral, body-based ones and then—hurray!—our work here is done.

But not every man has a penis, and not every woman has a vulva. While this body-centered language helps when giving sex advice and talking about bodies without assuming gender, this introduction unfortunately undoes its own intent.

Without that statement, the rest of the course is pretty gender inclusive. Dr. Morse uses body-centered language throughout the lessons (slipping up just once), so that vulva-owners and penis-owners of all genders can tune in to relevant information about themselves and/or their partners. That introduction, though, leaves viewers free to mentally substitute gendered terms when they hear the gender-neutral ones, maintaining the status quo that marginalizes trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary people.

What could Dr. Morse have done differently? What can those of us who are trying to be more inclusive in our work and day-to-day life do to be better at keeping up with and using terms correctly, especially when it feels like they’re constantly changing?

The first step is to get in our own heads about gender.

Decoupling Body from Gender

Body-centered language (like penis-owner and vulva-owner) is becoming more common in some contexts, and for good reason. In reproductive health settings, for example, it’s important to know whether someone has a uterus or testes. Asking whether someone is a woman, man, or other gender identity can’t tell you that, since there are men with uteruses, women with testes, nonbinary and genderqueer people with either, and intersex people of all gender identities.

In other contexts, however, body-centered language isn’t always necessary. For example, when discussing social issues that disproportionately affect different genders, it’s appropriate to use those gendered terms. (i.e. “Women tend to make less money than men for the same work,” “Men are more likely than women to develop a dependency on drugs or alcohol,” or “Trans people experience higher rates of sexual assault than cis women and men.”) Our socially-constructed gender identities are a major part of these social problems, so using those terms makes sense.

When it comes to talking about sex, things can get messy (no surprise there!) Sex is socially stigmatized, and people of different gender identities experience different pressures as a result. Meanwhile, sex educators and businesses aim to provide helpful advice and knowledge that often involves talking very specifically about people’s most intimate body parts. 

This requires ongoing work on our part to decouple bodies from gender in our own heads, while still considering how those things interact. That’s going to look different for everyone, but one place I like to start with cisgender friends is to ask a question you may have already asked yourself, seriously or not:

What would you do if you woke up tomorrow and your body’s sex characteristics had changed?

In this thought exercise, you’d still be you… but your body hair, chest, hips, and genitals would be different, and perhaps your voice, too. If you currently have a penis and testicles, you might now have a vagina, uterus, and ovaries, and vice versa.

When I first explored this question with friends in high school, our answers predictably ranged from “freak out” to “find someone to go down on me.” Go ahead, have fun with the thought exercise yourself. Think of all the things you’d do with a different appearance and new sex organs. Then, really sit with it. What would happen if you woke up with the new body day after day, week after week? What if you’d have it for the rest of your life?

For most cisgender people, I think this would be very distressing. They’d know, to their core, that they are a “woman trapped in a man’s body,” or vice versa. The body would not feel like their own, and they might seek to change it with hormone therapy and/or surgery, if they had access to that and could afford it. They’d resent being treated as a gender not their own in day-to-day interactions, and told their gender identity is wrong when they correct people.

This is often the trans experience: one’s body does not reflect the gender one knows deeply to be true. (Please note, however, that despite this not all trans people desire hormone therapy or surgery.)

When you begin to understand how your gender identity is separate from the body you possess, you begin to understand why saying something like “instead of women I’ll say vulva-owners” is well-intentioned but still problematic. Not everyone who knows in their heart that they are a woman has a vulva.

What Sex Educators and Businesses Can Do

How could Dr. Emily Morse have done better? An improved introduction might look like this:

“I want this class to include everyone, so instead of giving advice based on gender, I’m going to focus on the parts of the body many of us use during sex. You’ll hear body-centered language like penis-owner and vulva-owner to help indicate which information is most relevant to you and your partners.”

Sex educators and sex-related business owners can learn about and use better language by consulting with gender-aware writers and editors for their content. They can also commit to further educating themselves by seeking out trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary authors, bloggers, podcasters, and educators. They can read, watch, and listen to what these people are sharing to build a better understanding of how different people experience gender.

Most importantly, they shouldn’t stop here. I am but one nonbinary person and this post is a very limited introduction to thinking about gender and language. Check out resources like this guide for writing about transgender people, which is constantly being updated, and the Trans Journalists Association style guide.

Our understanding of gender is constantly changing. The language and ideas I’ve used in this post may be problematic without me realizing it, or may be outdated just a year or two from now—and that’s okay. I trust my fellow trans, nonbinary, and genderqueer comrades to hold me accountable and offer better alternatives, and you should, too. Be okay with making mistakes.

There are way more unanswered questions about gender out there than answered ones, so doing better at being inclusive is a life-long learning journey. Accepting that is a huge first step to being part of a safer world for people of all gender identities, and it’s worth taking.

About the Author

Picture of Shannon Burton, guest blogger writing about gender-neutral language

Shannon (they/she) is a sex coach and content writer residing in New Orleans. You can find them at SexCoachShannon.com or on Twitter @SexCoachShannon.

Remember: you can help me pay more guest bloggers (and pay guest bloggers more!) by donating via the tip jar.

[Guest Post] How I Found My Femininity Through Inflation by Astra Ebonwing

I commissioned this piece way back in November, and I’m so excited to be sharing it with you as the first guest post of 2021. When Astra (she/her) pitched me this idea, I was immediately excited because it represented an opportunity to learn about a kink with which I’m almost entirely unfamiliar.

But this piece is much more than just a story about an unusual kink. It’s also a powerfully personal tale of transition, growing into an identity, and falling in love with femininity.

This is quite a long one, but so fascinating. I invite you to grab a mug of something and savour it.

As always, if you want to help me keep bringing awesome guest bloggers to you, supporting via the tip jar is the best way to do that!

Amy x

How I Found My Femininity Through Inflation by Astra Ebonwing

Transition is a Frightening Experience

I remember the day I got my first prescription for estrogen and spironolactone, the two main drugs used to transition from male to female. My doctor was in a flurry, writing medical notes that were complete bullshit.

“Your heart rate is too high and you need spironolactone to calm it. And then, an application of estrogen will ensure it does not drop too low,” she said to me as she was writing. “Yes, I’m making all of this up so your insurance doesn’t reject the request.”

When I told her my insurance actually did cover the drugs, she was flabbergasted. Very few types of insurance cover transition willingly. In 2007, there were even less options than there are today. She corrected the notes, still worried, but one hour later I walked out of the pharmacy with pills in hand. I was triumphant, but I knew I was about to follow a path of hardship. I’d have to be in public in women’s clothing. I had to master makeup, something I still struggled with at the time. I also had to walk through “the in-between,” that period of time where you look like a weird blob that doesn’t quite match to male or female clothes. The time when you wonder, “Do I look good enough to sit in the women’s bathroom and not scare the hell out of someone?”

I drove home with all of these thoughts in my head, took my first dose, and then grabbed the balloons out from under my bed. I stuck them in my bra, shoved my pillow under my clothing to puff up my stomach, and I snuggled up on my couch and turned on the TV.

In a flash, I went from a thin man to a maternal, very pregnant woman. I cherished my stomach, oversized breasts, and hips. I no longer felt frightened or scared. Every concern in my mind stopped.

This was me. This was who I was.

I closed my eyes and cried. I knew I had found the Goddess within myself. I used to fear my balloons and out-of-proportion self as much as I loved them. I felt like an outsider who had this weird passion of being in a very specific body that I didn’t think others would understand. I was scared someone would find out and that it would ruin my professional career.

But in that moment, I finally accepted myself. The look no longer felt like I was doing something dirty. I realized during that quiet time in my apartment that I was actually about to experience my own kink.

Parts of me were actually about to inflate – and inflate they did.

What IS Inflation Kink?

Look, I get that we’re not the largest or most well-known group of kinksters, so I thought I’d better include a section of explanation so everyone is on the same page with what this kink is and what it is not. We have, unfortunately, a lot of unique terms.

Inflation kink, otherwise known as expansion, is a sexual desire focused on the concept of “inflating” or growing parts of your body in some way. Expansion is an umbrella term for our kink, as it splits down into specific “shapes” of change in the body. “Full Body” is when a character becomes completely round like a balloon, “Hyper Hourglass” is an expansion of just the hips and breasts, “Hyper Preg” focuses on breasts and belly, “SSBBW” is short for “super-sized big beautiful woman” and you can easily guess what that is, “Weight Gain” focuses on literal weight gain, and finally, “Inflatables” are folks who want to be changed into big pool toys that are also, of course, inflated with air or a gas.

The growth always has a macguffin that works as a trigger for the scene. It could be as simple as a potion, a curse, or a piece of candy, or as complicated as a special machine or magical statue. At this point we introduce the medium, or the way the character is being changed. We can either grow naturally, where our bodies are just generating fat deposits like any normal growth, or be “inflated” (there’s the origin of the name) with gas, liquid, slime, etc. Different folks have different preferences for mediums. One may love the concept of a character floating in the air from taking too much helium, while another may enjoy the weight of water.

Scenes can be solo, where a participant chooses to change their own body, or between an inflator/inflatee, where one person causes the change and the other accepts it. This is the part that most kinky people will begin to understand: the power dynamics between inflator and inflatee. Inflator usually takes on the role of the Dominant, while the inflatee is usually the submissive. It doesn’t always work like that, of course, but that’s the most common dynamic.

Instead of restraints, like ropes or bondage equipment, we are our own restraint. By changing our bodies, we usually don’t move so well. Characters might get stuck in doors, rip out of clothing, squish into rooms that are simply too small, or the addition of gas or liquid in our limbs might keep us from bending. Of course, bondage can easily be added to our kink, so people are stuck not just due to the inflation, but also restrained by rope, cuffs, or other bondage equipment. While we can deal with pain in the kink, it’s usually overlooked and replaced by intense pleasure through change. Instead, many of us focus on internal pressure. 

Everyone has a limit to how much they can be filled, and the character will feel that pressure rising and rising. The symbolism here is obvious: it’s a visual and internal orgasm. The timing of the final rush is usually centered on where the character finds their limit. Here we have two branching choices: stay safe in which the character orgasms and stops their growth, or pop where the character orgasms and “explodes” simultaneously. Many inflationist characters simply reform in some way, back down to their original size, and are ready to ride again.

Many of our pieces feature otherworldly elements, from fantasy to sci-fi. Very rarely are we grounded in reality: Our kink simply can’t function without the suspension of disbelief.

Practicing our kink in real life is done through various pieces of prop work, which we call rigs. Injecting fluid or gas into your body via any means is extremely dangerous, and therefore many of us stay away from that. Instead, the rig is created with multiple pieces of clothing layered together with a balloon or inflatable underneath. Some folks have the money to go further, using transgender silicone skin tops or bottoms so it looks like a person is actually inflating and can be nude. Otherwise, we’re clothed or use props that match skin tone.

Inflation is Based in Nature and Instinct

There are a lot of transgender inflationists. And I mean a LOT. In helping run SizeCon, the only adult convention dedicated to our niche kink, I was surrounded by more transgender women than I ever had been in my life.

Yet is any of that surprising? Our kink is based in change and transition. Inflation can be about the end state, sure, but so many of our stories and thoughts focus on the process. The tightness of the clothing as it strains around the person, seams popping, characters falling on their rears due to their inflation – all of that is visual change.

We, as transgender people, change. This kink is in many way a reflection of what many of us experience in our lives. And you may have noticed a lot of my recollections focus on feminine physical assets over male-coded assets. This is what I believe the core of my kink comes from. It is, in many ways, the celebration of femininity or maternity. Our puberty and our hormones change our bodies, grow our breasts, add that soft layer of fat to cushion us for a future of maybe producing a child.

It was wild for me to watch my chest grow, feel my skin get softer, and squeeze my growing rear into my skinny jeans. It was everything I had practiced in my kink for years and years, and it was legitimately happening to me.

Inflation kinksters love all shapes and sizes. Your body, no matter the form it takes, is beautiful. I remember that feeling of societal pressure to be that “perfect woman,” as so many transgender women feel, but I was able to apply my kink to dilute that poison. I was happy with how I looked, be it a large pregnant woman or a small, pencil-ish nerd. I had the power to tell society to screw off because that was not what I wanted. This supermodel image was, and still is, not my desire.

For Love, Cuddles, and Science

When I returned to the inflation kink in the hellish year of 2020, the community had changed. Originally, when I admitted to other artists and writers that I was transgender, traffic to my stuff super slowed down. Back in the early 2000s, our kink was like 90-95% male. Upon returning to our community last year, the split had severely changed. We are now closer to 60% male and 40% female, and we are immersed between the LGBTQIA+ and Furry communities. We went from “I don’t understand a transgender experience” to “Psh, welcome to the club.”

Body positivity had flourished while I was gone. It made perfect sense for us. We’re bouncy, a little hyperactive, and ready to squish into someone. Size only mattered if the word was “bigger.” We also finally united with the Giant and Tiny (think Lilliputian) kinks, forming the new “size community.”

The people whom I have met and worked with this year have astounded me. Their artistry and understanding of proportion and perspective is deep. One of my artist friends told me, “You can’t do inflation unless you understand our basic proportions.” He’s right. You need to know the basics before you can take them to extremes.

My friends are doctors, lawyers, retail workers, white-collar professionals like myself, cooks, game designers, research scientists, psychologists… So many of us just spout amazing knowledge of our basic biology. The community even has a scientific inside joke: the infamous Square Cube Law. The larger your volume, the more difficult you are to cool. Elephants actually have this problem: they are so large that their internal temperature can dangerously rise. This is why they blow water out of their trunks onto their bodies frequently, or roll in dirt. So, if you applied that to a giantess or an inflationist… well it can’t work. We damn this scientific law with laughter. Our community loves our knowledge of ourselves.

The personas we emulate are at the core of who we are. Care-free, loving individuals who love to squish or be squish hugged by our friends. Our characters hold devious smiles and throw their worries and cares to the wind. We love to change.

I know I loved my change. My emotions emerged, my depression subsided, and I am stuffed full of creativity. I joke that I’m “pregnant with ideas, I just gotta figure out birth.” Even that is an embrace of my internal feminine self. I never would have said that years ago. I would have been scared out of my mind to even admit that I felt like I was female.

Inflation showed me that I can love myself and be proud of my body. I don’t have to feel like I’m doing something wrong or bad, like I was trained to feel. My wife noticed it, actually. She always tells me, “You stand up straighter when you look bigger than 9 months. Your stance shifts. You’re confident.” She’s right. I finally do feel confident.

Throughout all of this, one thing stayed the same: our passion for feminine curves. I specifically never mentioned that back in 2006, when our community was male-dominated, a lot of the artists weren’t frightened of things like male pregnancy, or a man inflating and gaining feminine-coded traits like prominent breasts or soft skin. They were ready back then, just as they are now, to embrace that femininity within all of us.

We just have to be willing to listen to it.

About the Author

Astra Ebonwing is a professional writer, game designer, and video game producer. Her fiction work has been published in major video games such as Batman: Arkham City, F.E.A.R. Online, EVE Online, and others. She is honored to have contributed to iconic characters such as Wonder Woman and Superman. In the kink space, she is an inflation model and writer, with a new kink-based tabletop RPG debuting in 2021 called Wicked Wonders. When not inflating or playing a game, she can be found hugging cats, performing her duties as a Wiccan priestess, or joining live action role playing games throughout the United States. Follow her on Twitter and DeviantArt.

Dear Kinkly, I’m Out [An Open Letter]

Yesterday morning, I posted on Twitter a screenshot of the email I sent to Kinkly asking them to remove my blog from their site and not include me on their “Top 100 Sex Blogging Superheroes” list again.

But I had more to say, so I thought I’d write an open letter.

Dear Kinkly,

This isn’t what I wanted to be writing today. I don’t enjoy using my blog in this way. All things considered, I’d much rather be writing hot smut or dildo reviews or literally fucking anything else.

However, I am in a privileged position in this situation. I am a cisgender person who is not directly harmed by transphobia. Therefore, I feel it is my responsibility to use my platform to make what difference I can.

Many people in the sex blogging community were dismayed to see what your “Top 100 Sex Blogging Superheroes” list, released last week, awarded prizes to bloggers who have perpetuated transphobic behaviour this year. I must stress here that we’re not talking about someone making a mistake in good faith. We’re talking about people who expressed support for a violently transphobic piece of writing. People who misgendered others deliberately. People who doubled down and attacked when asked to do better and stop hurting trans and non-binary people.

As a community, we gave you the benefit of the doubt when you published your list. We understand you can’t go through every single bit of social media interaction someone has ever had. That’s why the problem was brought to your attention calmly and politely.

We very much hoped that you would choose to do better. It wouldn’t even have been particularly difficult! All you needed to do was say “we’re really sorry, we didn’t know,” remove the bigoted people from your list, and make more of an effort to uplift marginalised voices in the future.

Instead, you chose to double down. The comments you posted on Twitter earlier this week cannot even really be described as a “non apology.” They weren’t even that. They amounted to “welp, not our problem.”

You could have chosen to own your mistake and support the most marginalised members of our community. Instead, you told us loudly and clearly that you don’t give a damn.

In a situation of injustice, you tried to remain neutral. In doing so, you sided with the oppressor.

I’m done, Kinkly. I’m out. I’ve already told you to remove my content from your platform and unless I see meaningful and substantive change, I will not consider supporting you again in any way – writing for you, sharing your content, engaging with you on social media, or allowing you to use any of my content on your site.

We spoke up, and you chose to ignore us. We asked you to do better, and instead you chose to turn away and continue to give bigotry a platform. At a certain point, all we can do is vote with our digital feet.

So that’s it. I’m out. I hope you will seriously consider the repercussions of your actions and the very real harm they have caused to trans and non-binary people, who are already marginalised in the rest of the world and deserve to find a safe space in our community. I hope you will reevaluate your approach to how you do your “Superheroes” list, should you continue to run it in the future. And I hope you’ll make some real, meaningful steps towards making amends. Might I suggest a genuine apology, removing the bigoted bloggers from your platform, and perhaps making a donation to a charity that supports trans people as a starting point?

I hope you’ll choose to do better, but I’m not holding my breath.

Amy

Want to cosign the letter? Just comment below to do so!