Content note: this post refers briefly to my experience of being sexually groomed and the subsequent dissociation and trauma I experience. If that’s a bit heavy for you, join me next week for some thoughts on eye contact during sex, and take care of yourself in the meantime ♥
You might have noticed that I tackle a fairly broad range of sex- and kink-related topics on this li’l blog of mine, including detailed discussions of the things I’m into and the reasons I’m into them. You might also have noticed that I am a big user of sex toys, since they feature in a lot of my Smut Saturdays pieces and in some of my other essays too. Surely, then, the next logical step would be to write in-depth pieces on my enjoyment (or dislike) of specific sex toys, right?
Well, much like any other question that starts with, “Why do you…” or, “Why don’t you…”, the answer to this one is twofold: it’s the trauma, and the good ol’ autism.
Let’s get the trauma bit out of the way first. I don’t wank much. My first experiences of enjoyable masturbation were in a grooming context, wherein I was being instructed by someone a lot older than me on technique and fantasies. Six years on, I still find my own arousal unsettling when it isn’t “justified” by a partner’s presence and arousal of matching intensity, and trying to get off without anybody’s permission feels dangerous and unfamiliar. Even with awesome porn, if I’m touching myself while I’m alone, I feel unbearably self-conscious and will often dissociate. As you can imagine, this does not make for very good dildo data.
I could, of course, circumvent this by only testing toys in the presence of a partner – which would also yield more data in terms of how a toy can be used by two or more people. However, I’m depressed and anxious, and both of my partners are busy people, so I don’t want to put pressure on the sexual encounters we do manage to have by making them into research projects; nor do I want to put pressure on my partners themselves by bestowing upon them a responsibility to get sexy with me for the sake of my blog when we’d rather be watching Masterchef or snuggling in silence after a busy, hard day.
The only viable solution to this problem, in my eyes, is continued therapy, gentle experimentation, and lots and lots of time to keep recovering. If I ever do manage to produce a review of a toy, y’all should know it’ll be the product of a huge amount of psychological labour, support on my partners’ parts and way more time testing than the average reviewer probably spends.
With that out of the way, here’s my next point: the autism. Being autistic doesn’t automatically preclude a person from reviewing sex toys by any means, and it might even be an advantage to some, since autism can involve, among other things, heightened sensory experiences and a meticulousness that your neurotypical friends will envy during Deadline Week at uni. Unfortunately, my autism also involves a lack of cognitive empathy.
“But Morgan!” you cry, probably gripping your laptop or tablet screen in dismay. “You’re super empathetic! What are you talking about?!”
You’d be right, my dear fictional and overreacting reader. I have buckets of affective empathy, which is the one that makes you cry at videos of raccoons dissolving their own candy floss or bitterly despise your friends’ trash exes – in slightly more technical terms, affective empathy is the type of empathy that causes you to experience the same emotions that people around you are experiencing, and it’s the type I have way too much of.
Cognitive empathy, though, is the kind of empathy that helps you to understand how other people are feeling in the first instance – and I fucking suck at it. Once someone has very clearly signalled their emotions to me, I’m balls-deep in those emotions with them, but they have to be very, very clear signals. As a default, I assume that everybody is fundamentally like me, so I’m surprised to learn that people are straight, or that they like pasta, because I’m a pasta-hating double queer. In terms of sex toy stuff, I’m surprised to learn that some people like very direct clitoral stimulation or that they might dislike intense A-spot stim – and I tend to forget that information even once I’ve learned it. I worry that my lack of cognitive empathy would make my reviews effectively useless to anyone whose preferences didn’t align exactly with my own.
I also worry that my heightened sensory experiences would skew my reviews in a distinctly unhelpful way. Not only do I enjoy things more intensely than some neurotypical folk might, I also find some things unbearable that barely register for allistic folk. I am intensely bothered by certain textures, so I might slate a toy or a lube for a texture that 99% of the population would enjoy (or be neutral on). I’m also sensitive to noise, so my perception of the noise levels produced by a particular vibe might be wildly inaccurate and totally useless to somebody living in a block of flats with very thin walls.
I know that a lot of these problems could be mitigated by understanding and making clear to my readership that my reactions to stimuli aren’t representative and that I’m just describing my own experiences, but I’d hate to lead someone astray with my autistic fussiness and turn them away from a toy that they otherwise might have loved. I suppose, in a sense, this isn’t so much a problem with my autism as it is a problem with my own confidence in my writing; hopefully, over time, I’ll develop enough nuance to accurately and honestly review toys in a way that’s helpful for autistic and allistic folks alike.
Oh, and one final point: I’m broke as shit. Sex toys can be expensive, especially if you limit yourself to only reviewing body-safe ones, and I’m living off my student loan and the Amazon gift cards my uni sometimes gives me for participating in surveys. If any manufacturers or brands want to help mitigate that factor, since it’s the easiest one to contend with, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org – which is also one of the many places you can reach me if you’re a reader and you want to share your thoughts on the art of reviewing toys.