How to Design Sex Toys for People with Disabilities

People with disabilities, and disabled women in particular, find that their needs are rarely considered when it comes to sex toy design.

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Nov 2 2015, 3:15pm

The Eva vibrator is designed to be hands-free. Image: Dame Products

Over the decades, vibrators have gone from a dirty little secret to a device regularly acknowledged as a woman's best friend, with everyone from Cosmo to Oprah touting the benefits of sex toys. But there's one class of people who rarely get featured in these visions of sexual ecstasy: the disabled.

Often incorrectly assumed to be lacking in sexual desire, people with disabilities, and disabled women in particular, find that their needs are rarely considered when it comes to vibrator design.

At least one company is trying to change that. Tantus, an eighteen-year-old company known for its high quality silicone dildos, recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for the Rumble, a device billed as "a vibrator to please every body." For founder Metis Black, who sees sexuality as a human right, creating a product that can be pleasurably used, regardless of physical ability, is a central part of the company mission. As the Rumble's campaign copy makes clear, "being less able-bodied does not diminish your sexual needs, wants, or desires."

What, exactly, does an accessible vibrator look like? According to Black, the majority of the product's accessibility lies in the details of its design. The Rumble is incredibly lightweight, and truly ergonomic—so it's comfortable to hold, without putting much strain on the hand. Black also claims that it's well balanced enough that it can be stabilized even if the user is unable to grip it in a fist. "It holds your hand," she says, rather than requiring your hand to do all the work.

"When you're thinking about designing for the body and for pleasure you're thinking about how to make people feel good"

But will the Rumble actually meet the needs of the disabled and horny? I reached out to disability activist Karolyn Gehrig to find out. Overall, Gehrig thinks that Tantus is on the right track. "Anything that's designed with an eye to being as ergonomic as possible and as accessible as possible is going to reach more people and be better for a larger of people," Gehrig said.

Of course, that doesn't mean that this device (or, really, any device) is likely to be accessible for all people. Gehrig, who has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, finds that toys with intense vibrations can hurt her hands. When she uses her Magic Wand, merely holding the toy can cause the joints in her hand to slip out of place. And though the device's completely removable attachments are good from a sanitation perspective, they might pose problems for people with arthritis, or others whose disabilities limit the range of motion in their hands.

Nevertheless, Gehrig's still glad to know there a vibrator manufacturers thinking about her needs—though she's not quite convinced that the Rumble's accessibility is as revolutionary as Black suggests.

"For the most part, sex toys and the sex industry in general are ahead of the curve when it comes to being accessible for people with disabilities," she said. "I don't think that [sex toys are] made with that in mind, but when you're thinking about designing for the body and for pleasure you're thinking about how to make people feel good. Things are going to conform to the body better."

As an example, Gehrig brings up Liberator, a line of wedge-shaped pillows and furniture designed to support the body during sex (and enable a whole array of freaky sex positions). Though Liberator wasn't created with disabled bodies in mind, it's actually better at providing support than pillows specifically designed to prop up and offer relief to people with disabilities. Because the Liberator is intended to stand up to the high impact of hardcore fucking, it's much higher quality—and much more comfortable—than products intended for more lightweight activity.

The Eva from Dame Products offers another example of an accidentally accessible product. A small vibrator designed to nestle comfortably between the labia, no hands required, the Eva's original intent was to offer women away to enjoy clitorial stimulation while having sex with a partner. But the hands-free action that enables the vibe to be easily used during sex also makes it great for those with disabilities. Once the toy is in place and turned on, it doesn't need to be touched at all.

Whether accidental or unintentional, accessible sex toys remain incredibly important for many people. "I think that toys are really great for people with disabilities in general, because they provide a higher level of stimulation, and that level of stimulation can break through pain and make it easier to achieve orgasm," Gehrig said.

And from a basic business perspective, making toys that can be used by a larger of group of people just makes sense. "Excluding an entire class of people based on ability or perceived ability just seems strange," offered Gehrig. As Tantus notes in the Rumble campaign, most of us become less able bodied with the infirmities of age: shouldn't we all want products that'll help us achieve mind blowing orgasms even when we're old, grey, and arthritic?