Opinion
4 min

The masturbation misadventures of a sex toy reviewer

From a shoe with butt plug-shaped heels to an alarm clock vibrator, my job isn’t always as glamourous as it sounds

Credit: Indiana Joel/Daily Xtra

One afternoon last summer, a shoe gave me an orgasm.

Okay, there’s a little more to it than that. A company called Ainsley-T sent me their product, a pair of pumps whose heels are shaped like butt plugs. I’ve been a sex toy reviewer for over five years, so I was up to the task of testing the shoes —on my feet, sure, but mostly in my butt.

Shortly after receiving the shoes, I bumbled my way through a sweaty masturbation sesh. It took a long time to find a position where the shoe didn’t slide out of my ass every 10 seconds, and even longer to bring myself to orgasm with a wand vibrator while remaining perfectly still so as not to dislodge the fickle heel. I was essentially in a predicament-bondage scene with a shoe.

When I finally came, I let out a garbled moan that was equal parts regular orgasmic pleasure and the sheer relief of being allowed to stop jerking off. My butt jettisoned the shoe as if in protest, and I collapsed on my bed, dripping with sweat, vibrator pinned under one arm and shoe heel jabbing into my thigh.

Many frazzled thoughts crossed my mind as I lay there catching my breath and trying to regain my dignity. This sure is a shoe-merous story. If porn star Tina Horn fucked me with a shoe, she’d be “shoehorning” me. But mostly, I just thought about how weird it is to be a sex toy reviewer — and how different it is from what most people think.

I’ve been asked countless times in the five years I’ve been reviewing toys, “So you just, like, masturbate all the time? That must be nice.” And yeah, I get where they’re coming from. But there’s so much they don’t know.

They don’t know, for example, how many orgasms I’ve had to intentionally ruin by testing shitty toys. The alarm-clock vibrator that dug into me uncomfortably while I tried to sleep, the vibrators so buzzy they numb my genitals (and my hand) so I can’t even feel what’s happening, the tiny hot-pepper-shaped dildo that tried so hard to be funny it forgot to be pleasurable. I do my due diligence when writing reviews, and that means eking orgasms out of toys I test whenever possible — often at the expense of my pleasure, comfort and satisfaction. Woe is me, right?

These people also don’t know how many times I’ve subjected myself to toys that are painful or literally unsafe. There was the Fifty Shades of Grey-branded butt plug with a base so flimsy it could’ve landed me in an emergency room for an embarrassing extraction, the surprisingly stabby $200 couples’ vibe that made me scream in pain every time I used it, and the glass Kegel egg that got accidentally lodged in my vagina for a few terrifying minutes. These experiences were made slightly more palatable by knowing they were for a greater purpose — reviews and education — rather than just senseless suffering, but the pain and fear were still very real.

Sex toy reviewing sometimes stirs a different type of pain in me too: an emotional one. I’m just coming off a long stint of singlehood, and in that time, it seemed everyone wanted to send me toys that required a partner — and a steady one, at that, if I wanted to test them sufficiently. My inbox filled with offers for vibrators to use during intercourse, positioning aids meant to enhance intimacy between sweethearts and bondage products I couldn’t wrangle my way into (or out of) on my own.

Again and again, I declined these offers because a “couples’ toy” lingering in my to-review pile would only highlight what already weighed heavily on my mind: the lack of a consistent romantic partner in my life. Sure, you can test weird sex toys with casual bangs — as many friends insisted when they advised me to enlist hot strangers from Oasis Aqualounge as guinea pigs for my latest wooden paddle, pair of cuffs, or We-Vibe — but there is something so embarrassingly uncool about that. One-off hook-ups are supposed to be white-hot and fleeting; there is no room, I worry, for the dorky earnestness required to ask, “Hey, wanna put something strange and possibly uncomfortable on your junk, for science?”

But despite all these complaints about sex toy reviewing, it’s ultimately served a purpose far greater than just racking me up dozens of toys: it’s made me truly appreciate masturbation. The process of testing toys demands careful attention — are these vibrations buzzy or rumbly? How does the texture of this dildo feel against my G-spot? Is this plug too big for my butt, or just right? At times, it’s akin to mindfulness meditation, the Buddhist practice of nonjudgmentally noticing the sensations in your body as a way of finding calm and contentment. Sex educator Annie Sprinkle calls this “medibation”: where masturbation meets meditation, and creates something even more beautiful and life-affirming than either of those things on their own.

 Reviewing toys has also taught me that I am truly self-sufficient — sexually and otherwise. Why wait by the phone for a too-cool suitor to text me back when I can pick up my Magic Wand and buzz my anxiety away? Why pine for the good sex I’d have with a hypothetical partner sometime in the distant future when I can have great sex with myself right now? Why crave pleasures I don’t currently have access to when there are so many equally good pleasures right at my fingertips?

Toys or no toys, partner or no partner, sexual pleasure can be a deep, sweet source of joy in one’s life — and I’m not sure I would’ve learned that if I hadn’t started my blog all those years ago. This is what I think about when people say, “You’re a sex toy reviewer? Must be nice to get to masturbate all the time!” because yeah, sometimes it is. All those shitty orgasms “for science” were worth enduring, because they deepened my understanding of what it means to make yourself happy, and how wonderful it is that I always can.