Rowan Pelling: Adventures with my Rampant Rabbit

Believe me, a vibrator is no substitute for a husband. But it's great if he's not around
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The Independent Online

There's a much-repeated "statistic" that tells us more people buy Rampant Rabbit vibrators each year than buy washing machines. Mind you, I never see actual numbers quoted and I could say with equally spurious gravitas that a zillion times more people buy Kit-Kats every day than buy sex toys. Does this prove something momentous about lovemaking? It seems to me the important questions in the Rabbit/washing machine debate is: does your bunny come with a five-year warranty, and will it be kind to your delicates? Because they both come with a choice of speeds and you'll feel a bit fruity if you straddle your Zanussi.

Given the choice, I'd go for the washing machine every time. Which is not to diminish the impact of the Rabbit - the most successful sex toy in the history of onanism. The ubiquitous bunny has appeared in Sex and the City, is Ann Summers' best-selling line, and this week stars in a new British film called Rabbit Fever about a group of women addicted to their favourite appliance. Although reviews suggest it's about as amusing as a bath of cold vomit, it's still an astonishing piece of product promotion.

But the Rabbit's a bit astonishing all round, if you ask me. I mean, what sick freak sat down and thought it would be cute to give a vibrator pointy ears and a fluffy bunny face? Presumably the sort of person whose dirty talk consists of icky euphemisms: "Here's little Peter diving down your burrow!" The Dolphin's just as bad (yup: large, blue and fish-shaped). Who are all these women who seem mustard keen to stuff large mammals up their front bottoms?

Thankfully there is an increasing number of variations on the Rabbit design, which are manufactured free of any obvious cotton-tail properties. I should probably explain to those of you who lead sheltered lives in remote crofting communities that the Rabbit has earned its place in the pantheon of design classics because of its ability to provide simultaneous vaginal and clitoral stimulation. Or, as Mr Kipling might put it, giving a satisfying feeling of fullness with something to tickle your fancy.

I am grateful to the Rabbit in more ways than one. In the years that I co-owned the Erotic Review magazine, my business partner Gavin Griffiths and I supplemented our perilous finances by selling shocking hideous pink bunnies. An entire wall of our office was given over to stacks of the blooming things. Gavin soon worked out, dolefully, that if our entire business was devoted to sales of lurid sex toys we would turn a huge profit far sooner than if we chugged on with the mag. So the Rabbits multiplied. You couldn't open a drawer, cupboard or filing cabinet without a pink bunny leering at you.

I went to Spain to do a recording for the BBC and grabbed an office bag to stick my night-things in. As I went through customs the scanner detected "an object with batteries" and a granite-faced man removed a vibrator from the zipped front pouch of my bag in front of a large and curious crowd of easyJet passengers. He proceeded to take the Rabbit apart and remove the batteries with the pained, self-sacrificing expression of a bomb-disposal expert on Danger UXB.

Because of the proliferation of vibrators at the Erotic Review, it was only last year that I realised I'd never actually walked into a sex shop and bought one. I was surprised to find the very idea made me feel awkward. If I felt like that after eight years of running an erotic magazine, what hope was there for more delicate flowers? Although common wisdom suggests every female in the land has a drawer of Rabbits, I know plenty of women who are timid when it comes to vibrators.

So, in the interests of research, I decided to do a quick tour of some of Britain's leading woman-friendly sex shops and see how mortifying the experience could possibly be. I put on a tweed suit and pearls, along with a splash of eau de naïf and went to Ann Summers, Sh! and Coco de Mer. In each shop I explained that I was a 37-year-old housewife who had never bought a vibrator before and could the assistant please help me find "a jolly good one for beginners".

In every instance the staff were unbelievably kind, informative and tactful. But I have to admit that Coco de Mer topped the league. Their range of sex toys may be smaller and pricier, but the quality is superb. The boutique's owner, Sam Roddick, is the only purveyor of sex aids I know who's committed to supplying vibrators that are certified free of phthalates (toxic and volatile substances often found in cheap plastics) and as a result there's not a Rabbit in sight. As Roddick points out, sex toys are rubbing against the user's most delicate and porous membranes. I walked away with a small, pebble-shaped appliance in a tasteful eau-de-nil: the "butterfly" vibrator, which won't frighten the horses, let alone your husband.

About the only thing Rabbit Fever gets right is that men don't generally want to find themselves outclassed by a large, juddering piece of plastic. How would women feel if men made the same kind of widespread claims for the superiority of rubber dolls over the real thing, that women routinely make for the Rabbit? Surely it's more gracious, whatever your true views, to imply that vibrators are supplements or interregnums at best. After all, a Rabbit won't warm your toes or heart in the long winter of old age. Nor will it make a decent cup of tea - though it's handy for frothing a latte.