Sex Toys in the Library: The Pulse [Review]

On the morning of December the 19th I took to Twitter over issues I had with the language used about the Pulse, a new toy from Hot Octopus that had been rolled out earlier in 2014. By the end of the day I’d been gifted a never before used Pulse from a friend who had no serious interest in it. Who says miracles don’t happen?

Screenshot from 1/29/15

Screenshot from 1/29/15

Despite my earlier criticisms I was excited to give the Pulse a shot and see if it would make up for my annoyances with its publicity and media language.

The Pulse is a weird little creature that looks like a hunchback stingray that hugs the external genitalia (what some call “penises” but what I’ll refer to as my “clit” when talking about my personal use.) Its hugging arms, or “Expanding Wings,” wrap around the user’s genitalia while the “Oscillating PulsePlate” stimulates the frenulum with the intention of providing what Hot Octopus modestly describes as “the most powerful and unique orgasm you’ve ever experienced.” This orgasm of apparently epic proportions comes from its use of oscillation instead of traditional vibration. They’re very proud of this oscillation tech and talk a lot about how they’re the first company to take this from the medical world into the sex toy market.

While I had my issues with the Pulse’s marketing and publicity there were enough rave reviews out there that I had some hope for a toy that would be enjoyable. Apparently I’m in the minority of reviewers because I found it to be mildly pleasant at best and downright annoying at the worst.

My main issue is that I just couldn’t get this toy to stay put. My clit is of average to larger-than-average size and yet the Pulse continually slipped off when I wasn’t firmly erect. Even when hard it would move around unless held in place. If the vibrator, sorry, oscillating pulseplate was stronger this wouldn’t really be an issue but whenever it wasn’t on my frenulum I could barely feel it. Honestly even when it was on my frenulum its oscillations were nice but didn’t do much (even on the highest setting) and I kept finding myself thinking longingly of my beloved Hitachi. At one point I wondered if my clit just preferred stronger motions but after being brought to orgasm by a wand on a lower setting than my Hitachi I feel safe in saying that I can enjoy softer vibrations/oscillations when they’re not being delivered by the Pulse. The motor does feel pretty strong to my finger so maybe I’m having a hard time getting my frenulum to make actual contact with the pulseplate? My only other thought is that my issues with the Pulse could be related to the fact that I’m not circumcised and that my foreskin just kept getting in the way (I don’t know of any reviews where people mention being circumcised so this is currently based on my own speculations. I’ll update this if I get more information.)

Hot Octopus recommends trying it with lube and jacking off with it and while lube definitely improved my experience I can’t say that it was enough of an improvement for me to win me over. Jacking off with this as a masturbator was fairly irritating in general. Even with lube I found it dragged in ways that occasionally got pretty unpleasant and the oscillations didn’t extend much into the silicone wings so most of the sensation came from the pulseplate as it moved along (The oscillations do extend into the back of the toy however and holding onto it for longer than a minute would end up with my hand being shaken into numbness.) The pulseplate also seems to be pretty sensitive so whenever I pressed harder to try and milk as much vibration as I could I just ended up stopping the motor.

It’s touted as a great couple’s toy but my experiences with the Pulse were so disappointing and cumbersome that I didn’t want to subject any partner to hearing me swearing a blue streak at a hunk of silicone, plastic and metal.

It’s made with silicone which is great but it’s also not waterproof which is not great. I have this (potentially unreasonable) expectation that if a toy is sold for anything over $20 (ok, let’s say $40) it really should be waterproof and honestly I’m not sure why the Pulse isn’t. It seems like the motor is pretty well sealed up inside the toy which as far as I can tell is one of the basic requirements for a waterproof toy. The Pulse is also so sensitive to water that you can only clean it with a wipe or a damp cloth. It’s a massive lint magnet which isn’t that unexpected because it’s silicone but unlike my other silicone toys I can’t blast the lint away with a stream of water or soak it off with a bath. The two buttons used to control the power are on the side of the toy and are just small enough to be irritating when you’ve got slippery lube hands but large enough to accidentally hit when you’re holding it. Also it’s damn loud, something that people with thin walls should definitely be aware of.

Portrait of the Disappointed Blogger and the Toy

Portrait of the Disappointed Blogger and the Toy

There are some positive elements of the Pulse: It has a good battery life (USB rechargeable!), it’s made of silicone (I already said that though), and… you can masturbate with something that looks like it’s from a bad 80s sci-fi film? (That’s actually the best selling point for me.) These few selling points really aren’t enough for me to recommend it to anyone; particularly when considering that it retails for $99. I’m much more likely to recommend buying a good wand (The Hitachi is a great option and more affordable to boot!) which can stimulate the frenulum in the most delightful ways. The only time that I’d recommend the Pulse is for people with limited wrist/hand mobility but I think this is pretty sad commentary on the state of accessibility in the sex toy world.

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Happy Birthday Emily

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

I’ve been sitting here for far too long trying to write an opening sentence that conveys just how important Emily Dickinson is to me. Considering that I’m talking about a poet who wrote in short and honest sentences perhaps it’s appropriate for me to say just this: There is no poet who I’ve found more accessible, more moving or more applicable to my life than that great Amherst spinster.

Throughout various drafts of this post I’ve had to keep going back and changing all references to Emily Dickinson’s life from present tense to past tense. I think this is because Emily doesn’t feel dead to me. When I read and think of Emily her life and words feel so relevant to my immediate life that it’s like we’re in a conversation. Her writing connects to my depression, speaks to my religion and asks the same questions about the world. Having her on my bookshelf feels the same as having one of my best friends always and constantly available to answer the anxious texts I send at midnight.

I live just one town over from where she lived and part of me feels like I should get schlep through this Autumnal mist over to her house or grave but I really don’t want to. And I don’t think Emily would want me to either. As I interpret it, Emily’s life and writing was about self-determination, about authentic expressions of emotions. Rather than dragging myself over to Amherst I’d rather stay in my burrow and experience my appreciation of Emily in my most honest way.

According to the tour guide from my visit to Emily’s house this photo was taken shortly after the teenage Emily had recovered from a serious illness that left her weak and thin. Wouldn’t you love for the one picture everyone knew after your death to be one of you as a teenager following a physically exhausting sickness? Supposedly Emily didn’t like it and her family didn’t consider it the best depiction of her.

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Music to Bake to

The world has darkness and fear and at times it feels as though this darkness and fear is overwhelming. It can grab at us and pull us down, convincing us that there’s nothing we can do. Personally I’ve grown up with a lovely complex that makes me think that I have to fix every wrong in this world single-handedly and while I’ve started to admit to myself that I can’t actually fix every wrong in this world single-handedly I still get that itch whenever another injustice shows up in my life. I’ve found that one of the few things I can do during these restless moments is bake. I can’t end trans violence, racism, anti-semitism, misogyny, colonialism or any other darkness in this world but what I can do is bring forth miracles from flour, eggs, milk and sugars.

Normally I keep NPR (VPR specifically) on from waking until sleeping but when I bake to fight darkness I tend to blast music. When I bake I want my music to have a swing to it, to make my hips move, to inspire me to actually sing out loud and carry me out of darkness for the time it takes me to put together a loaf of bread. I can’t share my baked goods with everyone out there but I can share this, a playlist of some of my favorite baking tunes (click the image or the link beneath it.)

Now I’m going to go put together a pumpkin cream scone recipe. Take care of yourself, everyone.

Music to Bake toMusic to Bake to (53 minutes, 15 tracks)

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Constance Went to the Hospital Because She was Very, Very, Very Sad: One Year Later

content warnings for discussions of my personal experiences with suicidal thoughts, depression and hospitalizations

Given my personality traits it’s a bit surprising to me that I’m just not very good at anniversaries or consistent remembrances. Honestly the only dates that I can rely upon remembering annually is Virginia Woolf’s birthday (25th of January) and Ben and Jerry’s Free Cone Day (to be fair this one is programmed into my Google Calendar because I’m terrified of missing it) so I wasn’t prepared to find myself marking the one year anniversary of my depression related hospitalization. As the date approached my mind began to draw up all these memories of one of my darkest days (In my list of “darkest days” this time ranks just below the time I bought discount candy corn, kept eating it despite a chemically taste that made me ill until my partner made me throw it out and then found myself seriously considered digging it out of my trash can.)

In 2013 on the last Friday before the week of Thanksgiving I (thankfully) told my therapist that my suicidal thoughts had grown to new heights and she (thankfully) decided that I needed intensive professional observation and help. I have a very clear memory of sitting in a small office at the school’s health services building in jeans and a massive blue sweater, my hands and stomach clenching in rhythm. True to my nature I created an icy calm in my voice in an attempt to convince my therapist that all I really needed was to drive myself back to Vermont to be with my cat. Thankfully (this word continues to show up) she kept politely calling my bullshit as we waited for the ambulance to show up. The ambulance ride was my very first and I kept trying to get the driver to just turn off the lights so that I wouldn’t inconvenience the cars and trucks we kept forcing to the side of the road as we rushed to the local hospital. At the hospital I hung out in a bed with a television that I couldn’t hear until my parents arrived. Once I’d been persuaded by the doctors that I was really, honestly, sincerely, definitely not going to be released into my parents custody (Once again my swearing that if I was reunited with my cat I’d be a-0k failed to win over my medical caregivers.) I picked a Vermont facility to spend the rest of my treatment at. I’m not going to say much about my time at the Vermont facility except that everyone was very nice and upon arriving I knew I had to get home. The idea of spending time with other people (particularly strangers!) during an emotionally vulnerable time was too much for my misanthropic, introverted self to handle. Thankfully (we’re not even close to the last time I’m going to say that word) I found a psychiatrist who trusted me, helped me to formulate an emergency contingency plan and then got me discharged and back to my cat within thirty-six hours of my initial disclosure to my therapist.

There’s a fuck load of things about this span of time that I’m thankful for. I’m thankful that I have a good support network that includes family, friends and medical people. I’m thankful for all the things that came together that helped to stop me from killing myself. I’m thankful that the medical facilities were competent and worked with my needs. I’m thankful that I was allowed to wear my cardigan (a present from my sister) when I was shivering in that first hospital. Perhaps most importantly I’m thankful for what I learned:

I learned that I’m able (and allowed) to lean on the people in my life when I can’t carry myself. I learned that it’s not a bad thing to use substances (for me it’s Zoloft and Ativan) to go about my life. I learned that while I still see the world darkly and cynically there’s more goodness out there than I knew. I learned that I need to prioritize my safety and health or else I’m useless to everyone I care about. I learned that Revolting Librarians Redux: Radical Librarians Speak Out (edited by Jessamyn West and K.R. Roberto) makes great hospitalization reading. I learned that I have friends and family who don’t treat post-hospitalization me like a fragile glass ornament and who respect my ability to recognize when I can and when I can’t want to talk about my depression. I learned that I need to make plans about what to do if my depression incapacitates me. I learned that I can see my depression as an actual fight and not some self-indulgent whining. I learned that I can pick myself up and dust myself off and carry on. I learned that it’s ok that sometimes I need to lay in the dirt before dusting myself 0ff.  I learned that my desire to use humor during moments of emotional distress isn’t deflection but rather a legitimate tool I use to understand my pain. I learned that I need to be public about my experiences.

It’s that last lesson that I want to spend the rest of this essay on. Learning that I need (or want? I’m still fuzzy on this but “need” feels comfortable right now.) to be public about my experiences with depression in general but hospitalization specifically comes from a moment that I didn’t mention in my above narrative. When I was sitting in the office as an ambulance virgin with my parents personally notified there was only one person I needed to get in touch with: a friend who I’ve never met in person. To this day I thank G-d that I was able to reach her on my phone via Google Hangouts’ chat function.

We met when I wrote to her at the end of 2012 after I read a blog post of hers that resonated with me. Facebook messages and e-mails moved between us and soon I considered her a good friend. But in late November of 2013 we’d known each other for not-quite a year and other than watching videos she put on Facebook I’d never head her voice so why was it so important that in that moment I had to talk to her? It’s because she was the only person in my life who could help me understand what I could expect from hospitalization. I knew that she would be unable to tell me exactly what I would encounter but I could ask her questions and I could be reassured by someone who had some idea of what it was like to be a patient who found herself in a hospital for depression related reasons.

Her ability to speak publicly about hospitalization meant that I when I was placed into a similar situation I was able to access someone’s real life experiences. I don’t think it’s possible for me to overstate how important it was for me to hear the words of someone who had been where I was. Even if I hadn’t been able to get in touch with her I think just knowing of her experiences would’ve helped to keep me as grounded as I could be in a situation like this. When my brain began to swarm with images of Arkham Asylum and Nurse Ratched I could pull myself together with the information I learned from my friend’s experience. As we can see from my repeated promises that all I needed was my cat I wasn’t exactly thrilled or enthusiastic about being hospitalized but I wasn’t terrified because I wasn’t facing the unknown. I was scared and nervous but I wasn’t wild-eyed and raving in fear.

I’m so thankful to my friend and I know that I now feel a drive, a need to share my experiences, to help others who may one day be in the same position as us.

I want to end with a message to anyone who is going into a hospital, who thinks they might one day go into a hospital or who is afraid they’ll be hospitalized. I can’t promise that everything is going to be ok (I don’t trust people who claim that they can promise this.) but I can promise that you’re not alone. Going into a hospital doesn’t mean you’re wrong, that you’re a failure, that you’re worthless. Being in a hospital may be scary and it may be painful but there may be other moments too. You might find joy and humor and love and support in a hospital. I hope the people who work with you are kind and compassionate and I speak from experience when I say that these people exist. Our time in hospitals probably can’t heal us but it may be able to help us take care of ourselves in times when we struggle with our own existence.

While this post is very personal and full of emotions for me I do want to say that I believe in the power of sharing narratives and I’m happy with this essay being shared in the hope that it may be useful to others.

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Buying Vibrators with Your Nose

I work at a small sex toy shop (although if you ask certain members of my family I simply work at a “boutique” downtown) which means that every time I leave work I’m leaving with a brand new collection of interactions with customers that range from the charming to the bewildering. Recently I helped a customer who came in to buy a vibrator, their second after purchasing one that didn’t do much for them. As I was going through my usual series of questions and answers to help figure out what the customer was looking for they mentioned that they’d purchased their first vibrator after using the nose test, the not so fancy name for holding a vibrator against the tip of your nose to see how it might feel against your genitals. Now I love and stand by the nose test but the way that this customer used it to buy their original toy meant that that it was utterly ineffective and was probably the main reason why that toy didn’t work out for them. “My friend said to hold the toy to my nose,” they told me, “And that if I could feel the vibration that toy would work for me.”

OK, so let’s talk about this.

While the nose test is something that I use and recommend for customers if you’re going to use it the way this customer did then it won’t really do much for you.

If you haven’t bought a vibrator (or have bought one without encountering the nose test) then you might be wondering why you would want to hold a toy meant for your genitals against you nose. As Erika Moen explained in the comic that was my introduction for the nose test, “[y]our nose is a fleshy and sensitive organ, perfect for testing out potential toys in the store.” Since it’s both taboo and unhygienic to drop your underwear in a store to test out a vibrator we use the nose as a really decent stand in for the clitoris, penis head or anus (or anywhere else you like vibrations although because of their nerve clusters these three are probably the most likely you’re using a vibrator on.) So the advice that my customer had been given was somewhat sound but also not so sound.

Here’s where the advice gets shaky: If I can feel the vibration on my nose then that means it’ll rock my genitals. Unless you have nerve damage or other limited sensation in your nerve endings you’re probably going to feel the vibrations of every toy that you pick up and touch to your nose. Just feeling the vibrations doesn’t really tell you much about how your genitals will respond. You may feel a toy and go “WOAH TOO STRONG DON’T WANT THAT ON MY GENITALS,” but other than that the nose test really doesn’t work for first time buyers.

Where I find in the nose test particularly helpful is when you’re going for that second (or third, or fourth, or fifth…) vibrator. You know what you like and what you dislike about your first vibrator and you might have a better idea of what you’re looking for. When you hold a potential vibrator to your nose you can say, “Oh this has a similar pattern as my first vibrator and I like that the vibration feels more rumbly in the my nerve endings.” Because you can’t take a vibrator for a full test drive and because you’re probably not going to be able to return a vibrator after purchase (thank heavens!) the nose gives you an “almost” test drive to compare to earlier experiences. Don’t forget that your nose may not be erotically stimulated by vibrations so if you’re looking for that “UMPH” feeling that you get when you put the vibe on your other erogenous areas I’d recommend trying to frame your test as a chance to experience this isolated from the, um, distractions of being aroused and really focus on the vibrations from a more “clinical” view.

If you’re shopping in person I hope you feel comfortable engaging with the shop’s employees. Most of us (at least I hope…) care about our jobs and care about helping you find the toy that you want. Feeling awkward asking questions? Remember that your question has been asked before and will definitely be asked again. So ask us questions and play with a range of toys and touch them to your nose and do whatever else you need to do to make sure that you’re leaving with a toy you’ll love.

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Vintage Posters That Are Probably Actually about Sex and Kink

If you don’t follow me on Pinterest then you probably aren’t aware of my deep love for WWI and WWII government propaganda posters. Ever since I got a “Keep Calm and Carry On” notebook for Christmas 2008 (estimated year) I’ve wasted more time than I should admit to on trying to look at every single fucking poster ever produced. A while ago I noticed that a lot of these posters have really great sexual (probably accidental) double entendres which satisfy my desire for easy sex humor. I’ve yet to see every single fucking poster produced by the WWI/II governments (When I do accomplish this goal I will be listing it as an achievement for every job application I fill out.) but I can say that I’ve put together a nice collection of vintage posters that all you sex/kink interested people will want for your walls.

United States

Tell me this isn’t from a San Fran leather club

“Marks the spot! Keep `em firing!” ca. 1942 – ca. 1943 United States

Swastikas look a lot like assholes, how did I never notice that before?

“Keep him goose-stepping! Let’s go, everybody! Keep `em firing!” 1942-1943 United States

 m/m d/s

“Silence” McClelland Barclay 1940-1943 United States

I’m convinced that this is the cover of a dom/sub book cover

United Kingdom

Some good old fashioned femdom work

“I should have gone to the pro station” 1941-1945 United States

Male humiliation is my non-sexual kink let’s be honest

“Do it Right, Make it Bite” 1941-1945 United States

Oh come on this is totally made by a sub who likes being flogged

1939-45 Canada

Bossy tops telling bottoms where to lick across the ocean

Nichol (National War Services) 1941-1942 Canada

Biting/Pet play?/Beaver puns?

All work is in the public domain (to the best of knowledge). Click image for source site.

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In Defense of Twitter [Repost from the Previous Blog]

[Physical and mental health hasn’t been as strong as I’d like it to be this week so here’s one of my favorite posts from my previous blog. Originally posted on the 14th of March, 2013.]

For the past few months I’ve been getting really, really, really into Twitter. I’ve had various Twitter accounts before (including one fake account meant to be funny but that ended up going nowhere) but never have I been this into it. As more of my non-internet friends/family members learn of my current obsession they’ve been responding with, well, I wouldn’t call it scorn exactly… Their initial response is usually one of mild ridicule and I will admit that I find Twitter a bit ridiculous myself. Trying to communicate in 140 characters? And who are we communicating to? Are our mildly amusing jokes tweeted to our favorite celebrities just an attempt to make us feel like we’re cool? Why do I send out tweets about my need for high-fiber cereal to help with my old-lady-bowels?

The answer I have to that last question is this, “Why do people favorite or even respond to these tweets?” It’s because we like the community. It’s nice knowing that you’re not the only under-sixty five year old who needs cardboard cereal to get things moving along. It’s nice knowing that you can tweet about how you really want a toddler and someone will offer you theirs. This argument of community is the one that gets trotted out the most and many people have, and will continue to, dismiss it as a fake community. If you’ve tried Twitter and it didn’t work for you then grand, just don’t develop a superiority complex because you don’t like something that’s popular. If you haven’t tried Twitter then why are you so convinced that you can tell me what my experience on it is? Seriously, I’m waiting for an answer.

It used to be that when I heard people rag on Twitter I’d roll my eyes and not bother responding since I didn’t have an answer stronger than, “I like it.” (Except isn’t that good enough? It’s not doing anyone harm if I use Twitter so why isn’t “I like it” a strong enough reason?)

Everything changed on the night of the Oscars.

That night, that angry night of people responding to our culture’s casual racism, homophobia, ageism, general scummy-ness, misogyny, was the night that I was able to say exactly why I so enjoy Twitter.

I was in my apartment watching the Oscars live but even though I was in Amherst, Massachusetts I was connected to feminists on both coasts (and other countries), friends in the Midwest and various other intelligent people (the majority of whom I’ve never even met) from around the world. I don’t know what your Twitter feed looked like on Oscars night but mine was a beautiful display of cultural criticism that fed into long and thoughtful conversations.

Now when friends and family make some disdainful comment about Twitter I refer back to Oscars night. I’m able to use those few hours of live-tweeting to articulate my defense. In real time I was hearing opinions from the people I wanted to hear from and links to articles were being shared that provided the context and analysis that you don’t have room for with 140-characters. Instead of sitting in my own anger and swearing at the television (Don’t worry, I did find time to let out with some really great swears.) I was able to turn my emotions into something productive, into conversations that helped me process my anger and get at the root of why I wanted to throw up.

I’ve spent several months crafting the list of people who I follow on Twitter. There are vloggers and bloggers and librarians and celebrities and camp friends and pundits and porn actors and politicians and companies and news outlets and any given person is probably going to be interested in no more than ten or twenty percent of the people I follow. What ties all these people together, why I follow them, is that I value their Tweets. Some of them make me laugh, some make me rethink traditional patriarchal structures and many do both. What’s important is that I want to read their tweets.

Yes, Twitter provides a community, I’m not going to argue with that, but what I saw on Oscars night is how it’s more complex than talking about what you had for breakfast. It’s a source for resources, for connections, for information, for information that I will otherwise miss in my day-to-day life. Not only do I get updates from my friends who live way too far away (This aspect has become more important to me since I moved out of state.) but I receive updates on breaking news stories and get to witness @chescaleigh dole out amazing wisdom. My Twitter account is useful and I adore it and the defense rests.

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