Squat, round, and colorful, at first glance Jimmyjane's Form line looks like paperweights or designer toys, the kind of thing you'd pick up at the MoMA Design Store for a playful friend or particularly precocious child. Form 2 looks like it has bunny ears; Form 5 seems more aquatic-inspired, with two silicone petals emerging from a cylindrical base. Press a button, and each whirs to life with a gentle buzz — yes, they're designer toys, and they're meant to go on your privates. Or, you know, wherever.
"Our Form line is named that way so that each customer can envision it how they want," said Carolina Formoso, an industrial designer at Jimmyjane. Form 2's bunny ears contain a motor each, resulting in extra-powerful vibrations for whatever occupies the space between, be it clitoris, nipple, or perineum. The pocket-size toy (Jimmyjane's best-selling product) is small enough to hold between two bodies, buzzy enough to get a person off on its own, and abstract enough to leave on the nightstand. The Form series, in this abstraction, offers a blank slate. Its design doesn't dictate who uses it, where they use it, or who they use it with.
The sex-toy industry seems to largely be the domain of straight, cis women, perhaps because that's how the personal vibrator originated. Toy marketing is largely pink and hetero — one of the industry's most popular e-commerce sites is called Adam & Eve, and on almost any brand's website you'll need to navigate through categories for women (phallic toys and vibrators) or men (masturbation sleeves, cock rings, and maybe the occasional prostate massager). Toys for couples, it's implied, are for heterosexual couples. However, in 2016, there are a number of ways to use a toy, which can come in all shapes, sizes, and textures to suit any arrangement of bodies and partners. This flexibility arguably makes sex toys some of the queerest tools in the world, despite their heteronormative marketing. And the increasingly creative industrial design behind sex toys has led to a vast possibility of sensations, offering orgasms and experiences outside the scope of traditional partnered sex.
I've never believed that sex with a partner has anything to do with orgasms, perhaps because I figured out how to get myself off while relatively young. Though sex and orgasms were known to converge, sex seemed to be mostly a complex social interaction, fraught by the convergence of my own emotions and other people's feelings. Achieving solo orgasm was largely mechanical, initially thanks to the ever-reliable tag team of my first and middle fingers. Later, after I was old enough to buy one, I got the job done with the assistance of a matte purple vibrator. It was six inches long and multispeed and branded — somehow, this didn't bother me — by Hustler.
The personal vibrator was initially developed as a medical treatment for "feminine hysteria" in the late 19th century. (Dildos have been around for a lot longer — stone phalluses have been found dating back to the Upper Paleolithic period, or 30,000 years ago.) "Hysteria," which comes from the Greek hysteros, or uterus, was a catchall term for a sickness originally (and hilariously) attributed by Hippocrates to a "wandering uterus," which, as it migrated, filled the female body with its poisonous vapors. By the Victorian era, the medical understanding of hysteria was that it was a bothersome feminine condition, eased only by a "hysteric paroxysm" — that is, an orgasm.
As masturbation was discouraged and the general mode of male-centric penetrative sex rarely resulted in female orgasm, the usual Victorian treatment for hysteria was a doctor- or midwife-administered genital massage, conducted in office. Beleaguered, sexually frustrated women patients were good for business — they neither died from their illness nor fully recovered, but required regular appointments. However, doctors complained of hand and wrist fatigue, and thus, the hands-on model proved unsustainable. Alternatives were sought: a French wind-up device called the Tremoussoir; a cumbersome, steam-powered American invention called the "Manipulator"; and, eventually, an electromechanical vibrator patented by Dr. Joseph Granville in 1880.