Adventures with the "Plastic Man": Sex Toys, Compulsory Heterosexuality, and the Politics of Women's Sexual Pleasure

Breanne Fahs, Eric Swank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


While previous studies have addressed symbolic implications of lesbian dildo usage and quantitative findings about women's vibrator use, little research has assessed women's subjective feelings about using sex toys. This study draws upon qualitative interviews with twenty women from diverse ages and backgrounds to illuminate six themes in women's narratives about sex toys: (1) emphasis on non-penetrative use of phallic sex toys; (2) embarrassment about disclosing use to partner(s); (3) personifying vibrators and dildos as male; (4) coercion and lack of power when using sex toys; (5) embracing sex toys as campy, fun, and subversive; and (6) resistance to sex toys as impersonal or artificial. Emerging patterns revealed that queer women more often constructed sex toys as subversive, fun, and free of shame while heterosexual women more often believed most women self-penetrate with sex toys, that sex toys threatened male partners, and they described more coercion involving sex toys. This article explores implications for sexual identity and sex toys, along with women's negotiation of the "masculine" presence of sex toys in their narratives about using sex toys.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)666-685
Number of pages20
JournalSexuality and Culture
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Dildos
  • Gender norms
  • Heterosexuality
  • Qualitative research
  • Queer sexualities
  • Sex toys
  • Sexual subjectivities
  • Vibrators
  • Women's sexuality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Cultural Studies


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