Self-love in isolation: ‘I hope people are using this time to explore their sexuality’

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Since governments around the world started imposing social distancing measures, sales of sex toys have gone through the roof. It makes sense – if others can’t touch you, then you can at least touch yourself.

Sales of sex toys tripled in New Zealand after the lockdown order, while similar spikes have been reported in the US and Australia.

Jocelyn Floro, marketing director of the US-based sex toy company Dame, says: “There’s has been an uptick with 30% increase in sales since February.”

While all but the most essential businesses have shut down, “companies like ours can still run online. We are seeing spikes in certain cities – like New York and LA, where there are more solitary people. Sex toys are a way of having connection with yourself when everything is falling apart.”

Bryony Cole, the chief executive of Future of Sex, has also seen a “30% to 40%” rise in sales. “We all deal with this [isolation] in different ways,” she says. “Some people organise their pantries, other people are masturbating morning and night.”

Why sex toys? Why now?
Iso for many singles is the equivalent of a sexual ice age. For those who have tried virtual dating, the experience can be frustrating, Floro says. “Sex toys can be a way of getting sexual satisfaction while your real-life sex life is on hold,” she explains.

Cole says: “People can virtually date but people are very fatigued – they are all Zoomed out. There have been enough weeks now after the initial excitement when there were all these virtual dates.

“Now there’s the feeling of uncertainty as the weeks progress. This may go on for six months and it’s like, ‘Do I want to chat to this person for six months and maybe not even have sex?’”

Chantelle Otten, an accredited sex therapist and relationship expert, who works with sex toy brand LoveHoney, says it’s natural to be intimated by sex toys if you are a first-time user. “It is important to remember that sex toys are designed to be an extension of your sexual potential and [to] try something different in the bedroom.”

Cole adds: “I hope people are using this time to explore their sexuality.” She says it’s also a great time to “explore your body with your own hands. You don’t necessarily need tech.”

What if you’re isolating with your partner?
“Sex toys aren’t just for self-pleasure, but can help couples discover new ways to connect to maximise their intimacy levels,” Otten says.

Self-isolating, says Cole, is “a chance to deepen our relationship … How can we use tech that allows us a better way to connect without disappearing into the screen?”

The demand is not just for sex toys but anything to get couples out of an intimacy rut and “to encourage everyone to have more sex whilst stuck at home”.

From her iso bolthole just outside Melbourne, Cole has developed a website and game called Wheel of Foreplay that provides sexual suggestions, moves and games for couples in isolation, those in long-distance or sexting relationships, and “even people on their first virtual date”.

She says sex toys and her Wheel of Foreplay game allow people to “use this time to connect more and go deeper”.

Floro says: “With your partner, introducing a vibrator into the bedroom is a great tool. It’s not meant to replace your partner, it’s something to enhance sex.”

She advises couples to “have a conversation and frame it in a way that is not emasculating. Like anything to do with sex, it comes down to communication every single time. If they are open to trying new things they are a keeper.”

Shopping for toys online together can encourage communication within couples, says Otten. “Before bringing sex toys into the bedroom, have an open conversation with your partner … see what you both like the look of and would like to try.”

What if you need to be discreet?
Not everyone is isolating alone or with sexual partners. Some are negotiating lockdown life with roommates, or – for the ultimate in potential embarrassment – parents. So is it possible to bring in toys stealthily?

Floro says after your toy has arrived in the mail (they are usually always posted in plain outer packaging) “you’ve got to plan” when to use it.

If you don’t have a lot of privacy, she advises buying a waterproof vibrator so you can “use it in the shower. Or investing in a quiet vibrator – not something that’s going to drill you into a wall”.

But one of the greatest risks for noise comes from the user, not the toy. “Be aware of your sounds, be aware if you’re a moaner,” Floro says. “Your doona is your best friend.” That is, use under bedding that may muffle any telling groans.

Otten recommends extra-quiet sex toys: “No vibrator will ever be completely silent but whisper-quiet vibrators are made from materials that muffle the noise and are engineered to have quieter motors.

“In terms of specific toys, a good discreet toy to start with is a clitoral stimulator. One like the Mantric Rechargeable Clitoral Vibrator is powerful but also extremely quiet with seven silent settings, for those who are self-isolating in sharing a house with family or housemates.”

What if you’re on a budget?
Floro advises to stay away from toys with “crazy patterns” and instead “look for intensity ranging from one to five, look for medical-grade silicon and a really great make. You could start with a bullet vibrator ranging from $30 to $50.”

Otten says: “If you’re looking to keep things on a budget, females can get basic bullet vibrators and clitoral vibrators for as little as $9.95. Male sex toys start around the $14.95 mark. However, if you’re a first-timer, with sex toys it’s often worth spending a little more and investing in one with multiple functions so you can spend time exploring what you like.”

How about hygiene?
With cleanliness at the top of everyone’s minds, keeping your new toy clean should be no different. “You should be using soap and water to clean them – definitely keep them clean,” Floro says.

Apart from that, just make sure you follow general hygiene advice – in all things you do – whether it’s masturbating or going to the supermarket. Wash your hands often and keep to social distancing guidelines with those outside your household.