Catherine Townsend: Sleeping Around

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The Independent Online

It seemed so unfair. Most of my male friends remember their first orgasm as happening somewhat spontaneously. But for me, figuring out the intricacies of the female anatomy - even my own - was like deciphering the assembly instructions for an Ikea wardrobe. And I'm not alone. Many of my girlfriends, even the most sexually liberated, spent years doing imitations of Sharon Stone moaning and screaming in Basic Instinct while secretly wondering what all the fuss was about. For us, the silicon revolution has been an invaluable part of sexual self-discovery.

I'll never forget buying my first vibrator, a Hitachi Magic Wand massager that I told the chemist, my eyes averted, was for "neck pain". It was a revelation. Never had I had so much fun on my own. Unfortunately, it sounded a bit like an egg-beater, so it wasn't ideal for late-night trysts.

Since then, a succession of plastic playthings, including the Dolphin, Rampant Rabbit, Jellyfish and something from Japan that looks like a giant seahorse have lined my secret drawer.

Vibrators are becoming as ubiquitous as toothpaste on shop shelves, so why can sharing them with a partner still be so tricky? "I think some men find the idea of something larger than them, and phallic shaped, in the bedroom a bit intimidating," suggests my friend Michael. Which is a shame, because men who learn to use sex toys to their advantage are the ones most likely to be remembered by their partners as legendary. I'll never forget one particular ex-boyfriend for his willingness to experiment with toys, because he made me feel so comfortable about myself and my body with his "If it feels good, do it" attitude. And as I said to Michael, if his girlfriend is experiencing earth-shattering orgasms with a vibrator, wouldn't it be better that she associates those sensations with him?

Considering that a woman's orgasm can have so many factors - whether it's comfort level, blood-alcohol level, or Mercury and Venus being in perfect alignment - anything that helps to increase sexual exploration has to be a good thing. Sex toys are there to enhance pleasure, not replace anyone - at least, not until they invent one that can make coffee and say "I love you".

Not that there aren't dangers. My sex-toy sprees have, at times, gone a bit too far - like the time I realised that over-enthusiastic buzzing had left me a bit numb, and I wasn't returning my boyfriend's phone calls.

Now, I'm back in business. My latest discovery, the Rock Chick, is a tiny pink vibrating horseshoe that can stimulate the G-spot and clitoris at the same time, and can work hands-free. I'm hoping eventually to introduce it to my new crush, the Irish businessman with whom I have my second date next week.

"Well, at least it's a little less intimidating because it doesn't look like a man's anatomy," says Michael, viewing the Rock Chick online. "Actually, it doesn't look all that impressive at all."

If he only knew.