May is Masturbation Month: Building a better vibrator

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In honor of national Masturbation Month (only nine days left! But we’re not rushing you — you can celebrate all year), we’d like to offer this article from The Atlantic. Titled Can a Better Vibrator Inspire an Age of Great American Sex? and written by Andy Isaacson, it’s about about Ethan Imboden, the founder of Jimmyjane. Jimmyjane has been a pioneer in designing high-end vibrators with excellent materials, an aim for longevity and normalizing the sex toy-buying experience, and an eye for design that owes more to Apple than Hustler.

Newspaper ad for antique vibrator.

The article covers Imboden’s engineering and design background, the history of vibrators (and their ads in magazines) back to the Victorian era, the treatment of ‘hysteria’ back to antiquity, as well as the trend toward placing sexual health devices among other home and lifestyle wares in upscale boutiques. I can’t really do the article justice in trying to summarize it, but I found it fascinating. Here’s one excerpt I got a particular kick out of:

‘Ethan has an intellectual curiosity and an emotional maturity that doesn’t stop him from exploring something that a man ‘shouldn’t,’ said Lisa Berman, Jimmyjane’s C.E.O., who came from The Limited and Guess and is among the company’s all-female executive team. ‘He is a real purist in the way he thinks, not just about engineering and design but the emotional connection that these products might assist in a relationship. He can do that better than anyone that I’ve met.’

Imboden enlisted his mother and sister to help him start the company. These made for some strange moments, as in the time when his mom complimented him on a well-written description of how a vibrator could be inserted safely for anal use, calling out from across the room, ‘Ethan, you handled the anus beautifully.’ His friend Brian and other close friends invested initial seed money. Professional investors were intrigued but hesitant; here was a first-time entrepreneur, making a consumer product that was not, strictly speaking, technology (being the Bay Area this mattered)–and it was about sex. ‘They were scared of it,’ Imboden said. (Banks still refuse their business, citing vague ‘morality clauses’.) Tim Draper, a prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist known for backing ventures like Skype and Hotmail, thought differently. ‘He had a unique way of looking at the world, and a great sense for product design,’ Draper wrote to me in an e-mail. ‘He understood branding.’

And:

Early on, Imboden would also hang around celebrity gatherings, putting vibrators in the hands of influencers. After the Grammy Awards one year, he found himself walking across an intersection in front of a white low rider. Inside, two heads bobbed to music; ‘Snoop de Ville’ ran across the side of the car. As Imboden jogged over to the front window, he reached inside his shoulder bag for a vibrator, and ‘it dawns on me that this is a perfect recipe for getting shot,’ he recalls. Snoop Dogg was behind the wheel, talking on a cell phone; a chandelier swayed gently above him. Imboden handed him a Little Something. ‘This dude just gave me a 24k gold vibrator,’ Snoop relayed into the phone. Then he turned to Imboden. ‘Thank you, my nigga. I’m gonna put this to work right now.’

Okay, one more bit, because I think it speaks so well to Imboden’s understanding of the psychology he is working with as he designs these vibrators:

… mimicking male genitalia treads on psychological territory that Imboden would rather avoid. ‘While on the one hand that has its own excitement, there becomes a third person,’ he said, noting that some men feel threatened by an object they perceive to be a substitution for themselves. ‘People aren’t necessarily seeking to have a threesome. Our goal has really been for the focus to be on you and your sensations and the interaction with your partner and not really to pull attention to the product itself. That’s an element of why we make the products as quiet as they are. It’s also why we make them visually quiet.’ Representational objects, like taxidermy hanging in a lodge, take up psychic space; figurative forms leave fantasy open to one’s own interpretation. ‘Staying away from body shapes,’ Imboden explained, ‘is a way of keeping open provocative possibility, as opposed to narrowing it down to a provocative prescription.’

You can read the article in its entirety here.

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15 Responses to May is Masturbation Month: Building a better vibrator

  1. Katie Vee says:

    No worries, Huffy. But I think I need to invest in a screen guard. ;)

  2. Lizzy Huffy says:

    Thanks Katie – will check out those links asap! Sorry bout the coffee…

  3. Katie Vee says:

    Carrie and Huffy: Laughed so hard lost my coffee. Literally. Wiping off the computer screen right now. Vegetables for that purpose and salad days made me think of Saxton Freymann, an artist who works in fruit and veg medium. Link provided is very G-rated. He writes/illustrates kids books: http://books.google.ca/books?id=9Om343QKxlAC&printsec=frontcover&dq=saxton+freymann&hl=en#v=onepage&q=saxton%20freymann&f=false

  4. Carrie says:

    “One could say that your salad days are over?”

    :::laughing::: These days I just eat the veggies…well not carrots because they are too carby. ::::giggling::: I eat other things too…… :::snicker:::

  5. Lizzy Huffy says:

    Carrie – I love your vegetable exploits! Hilarious! One could say that your salad days are over? (must check out those dildos…).

  6. Carrie says:

    Amanda,

    I am not into vibrators either; just not what I like. Instead I bought a nice cock-shaped dildo (average size, don’t like huge size) when I turned 51. My very first one.

    Back when I was 13, I wanted to try penetrative masturbation (having been doing the outer rubbing thing to orgasm since I was 3 years old) so I washed some carrots and used them. The experience was soo much better for me that I did it all the time. My mom thought I had a liking for carrots and, as I was always thought to be fat, she kept buying them for me as a diet snack. :::laughing:::

    As an adult, I found cucumbers to be better (I once got a book from a friend which was titled, “Cucumbers are better than men because….”). Problem is, once warmed, both carrots and cucumbers become a bit rubbery. So I finally got up the nerve (hey I am from an older generation!) to buy myself real dildos. I got three; so I can have my fantasy of every orifice filled at once.

    They come in handy when DH is not available. We haven’t used them during sex play yet; no need for them right now as DH is very good at things…always. He is cool about me having them though.

  7. Amanda Painter Amanda Painter says:

    thanks for the tip, gwind, for anyone who may be interested. myself? i won’t be meeting mr. hitachi anytime soon.

  8. gwind gwind says:

    Amanda, The perfect “accessory” for Mr. Hitachi is a clog sock condom! It perfectly fits the head of the vibrator, is made of cotton and can be tossed in the washing machine. Very soft. You can get them from Foot Smart and here is a link. Nothing like Mr. Hitachi …

    http://www.footsmart.com/P-Toe-Toppers-Socks-Women-3-Pr-98232.aspx

  9. Lizzy Huffy says:

    Good idea. Many thanks for the tips!

  10. Amanda Painter Amanda Painter says:

    from what i understand, many users of the hitachi magic wand use a soft towel folded between themselves and the vibrator for that reason. maybe that’s something to try — or else wear out the batteries a little first — like, massaging your neck? maybe you could switch them out for a pair currently in another appliance?

  11. Lizzy Huffy says:

    How wonderful to win a vibrator, Amanda! I think there’s some beautiful symbolism there, even if you don’t use it…Have already mentioned here how I got my first ever vibrator for my 50th birthday last July. Was really happy with my new found friend, till the batteries ran out… When I changed them, the vibrator with its new batteries was just too aggressive, too stimulating – it had so much power that I practically could have driven to work on it. The buggers in the sex shop had obviously sold my friend a vibrator with used batteries. This was from a sex shop in the city of the Pope, so you can imagine that they don’t have the most sophisticated models on the market. So like yours, Amanda, mine sits in a drawer, unused. I’m sure it would make great cappuccinos though…

  12. Amanda Painter Amanda Painter says:

    fe — that sounds like an *awesome* experience for a nephew of yours!!!

    btw — full disclosure:

    a few years ago i actually *won* a Form 6 from the local woman-owned “sexuality boutique” (called “Nomia”). it was a multi-prize raffle for their anniversary, and i was praying that whatever i might win, that it just not be the fleshlight.

    anyway — it really is a beautifully-designed product, but i am a creature of habit (taurus!). i was already quite happy with the vibrator i owned at the time, but experimented some with the various pulse settings and speeds on the Form 6. maybe i didn’t experiment enough, or maybe it just doesn’t *quite* have what i was looking for, but eventually it got put on a shelf — and then i discovered that the emotional content/edge of my fantasies was what really affects the intensity and depth of my orgasms far more profoundly than a vibrator’s vibrations.

    i pretty much never use a vibe anymore — about once or twice a year i trot it out for fun, but i find that the sensation is so different now, kind of more of a surface thing, that it’s not quite as satisfying.

    anyway — a couple summers ago i happened to see a Form 6 in a store,looked at the price, and now kind of feel bad that i have a $150-$180 vibrator collecting dust.

    hmmm…. maybe i’ll give it a second chance…

    (and that’s not a criticism of the product — it’s great, just not what i’m into right now.)

  13. susyc says:

    Oooo, Fe, you may not remember but we are ummm, uh, cousins….haha. I just got something great from Betty Dodson’s sex shop, the We-Vibe II, looking forward to exploring it’s varied features with my sweetiepie…

  14. Fe Bongolan Fe Bongolan says:

    My nephew, who is getting a graduate degree in industrial design, is about to intern with jimmyjane. The women in our family have all demanded samples.

  15. Lizzy Huffy says:

    Thanks for posting this Amanda! Really look forward to reading it all.

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