August 26, 2010

Plugged In: Push-Button Orgasms

by Kal Cobalt

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Then again, innovation is always propelling us forward into realities we couldn’t possibly have imagined. The concept of orgasm on demand has been around for a long time, but how close are we to that reality?

The Electronic Angle

Believe it or not, there is a long history of orgasms produced by electricity. I’m not talking about vibrators, but actual electric current—the kind of thing produced by toys like violet wands or TENS units. Interestingly, both of these toys began their lives in medical milieus and were then discovered as easy “pervertibles.” TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) units are small, portable electronic devices that can be connected to an ever-increasing number of electric accessories. (In fact, they look a lot like much more powerful and complex versions of “Slightest Touch.”)

In medical settings, TENS units are usually connected to electrodes that are attached to the body with sticky pads. The current running through the electrodes stimulates the nerves, which is often used to reduce pain.

In sexual situations, TENS units are used at a strength that invokes muscle contraction. It’s easy to imagine the usefulness of that kind of tool in the bedroom, and you would not believe how many TENS accessories have been invented to direct current in more sexually appealing ways. And there are ways that sexual uses for TENS have been used medically: in certain types of spinal injuries where paralysis effects sexual response, electrical stimulation can still bring on ejaculation for males who wish to conceive children.

The Placement Question

While it might be obvious how sexual arousal could be had by stimulating muscle contractions in, say, the inner thighs, the “Slightest Touch” depends upon placing electrode pads on the inside of the leg, just above the ankle bone. According to the website, a particular foot massager had the unexpected effect of arousing subjects, but there’s a lot more support to this concept than an accidental excitation.

Chinese medicine has furthered the concept of meridians for centuries. Acupuncture and T’ai Chi in particular are built partly upon the premise that channels of energy course through the body which correspond to certain physical systems, and improving the easy flow of energy along meridians that correspond to physical problems can have an effect. You may have seen “motion sickness wristbands” at airports, and these are based on the same concept—the hard plastic bump on the inside of the band is meant to push against a pressure point on a meridian. Some migraine sufferers have found relief by firmly pinching the fleshy area between the thumb and forefinger, which is purported to work for the same reasons.

Disregarding Chinese medicine for the moment, Western medicine is certain that nerves run down the legs from the crotch to the feet, so it stands to reason that there is at least the potential for just-above-the-ankle electrical stimulation to effect a sexual response. And simply taking personal experience into account, most of us have probably had an incredibly good foot-rub that got us in the mood!

The Whole Package

So is it likely that a little electric stimulation on the calves might instill an outrageously pre-orgasmic state? As a serious skeptic and an acupuncture devotee, I’m caught between dismissal and conviction. It’s possible that other aspects of the “Slightest Touch” concept might have an effect on sexual arousal—the instructions suggest lying quietly for 20 minutes while the machine does its thing. Would 20 minutes of semi-meditative, pressure-free thinking about sex elicit a similar response by itself? The power of suggestion also can’t be discounted entirely, although the experiences recounted by users do seem to outpace the usual effect of placebo treatments.

It’s entirely possible that some gimmicky, expensive products will actually work. The trick, as consumers, is to research and, where possible, try first. In this case, a pal with a TENS unit could help you figure out if there’s anything to this particular practice for you. It’s especially important, when interested in expensive products, to accumulate as much information as you can beforehand—but it’s also harder to find situations where you can test drive things as price tags go up. In the case of items that are sexually useful, almost any reasonably large metro area will have kink-friendly groups where you might find someone willing to facilitate an experience, or at least talk about their own. (Just remember: Safety first, both when it comes to meeting strangers and when it comes to using items sexually that other people use.)

In the end, it’s entirely likely that we’ll end up with orgasms at the push of a button. Indeed, the way sex tech is progressing, it would be almost shocking to reach the end of this decade without a highly affordable instant-gratification machine of some sort or another. We’re likely to have any number of steppingstones along the way, both outright bunk and clunky advancements. Take care not to get suckered, but don’t discount the possibility that some devices meant to put a zing in your thing will actually do so incredibly well.