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Friday, April 19, 2013

The Rebirth of the Magic Wand

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Last week, I was in Las Vegas for the biannual International Lingerie Show, which features not only sexy underthings, but also many sex toys. This column and my next couple of columns will focus on things I learned there.

The bombshell news amongst the sex toy crowd at the show that week was the re-branding of the classic Hitachi Magic Wand. This large, ultra-powerful vibrator has always been marketed as a “muscle massager” and currently features lovely pictures of 1980s-era models on its box, innocently placing the wand on their necks or shoulders. The Magic Wand has been around for more than 30 years, and our small display of vintage vibrators at the Tool Shed includes a wand that’s labeled “The Workout,” which I assume is actually from the ’80s. It would not look out of place in the hands of a headband-and-lycra-wearing Olivia Newton-John.

The Magic Wand rose to fame in the sex toy world after female pleasure pioneer Betty Dodson featured it in her 1974 book, Liberating Masturbation, and the workshops she gave on that topic. Since then, it has been a perennial bestseller in sex toy shops across the country and has been used in hundreds, if not thousands, of pornographic films. It’s so popular that a number of companies not affiliated with Hitachi create accessories for it—especially caps that pop over the head to turn the wand into things like a male masturbation sleeve or an insertable g-spot stimulator.

Why do people love it? Simply put, it’s one of the strongest vibes out there. Most vibrators are battery-operated or rechargeable, but the Magic Wand plugs into a wall socket for maximum power. Its long handle houses a relatively large motor, and its tennis-ball-sized head shakes so vigorously that prolonged use can leave body parts numb and tingling. For some people, this supercharged toy is the only thing that can ensure an orgasm. For others, it may be the fastest and least complicated route to ecstasy. It is also extremely sturdy and will last for decades.

Despite its popularity, its inventor and manufacturer has been growing increasingly uncomfortable with the Magic Wand’s reputation as a sex toy. Hitachi, a Japanese company, also makes and many other products, and it doesn’t want its brand name to be primarily associated with orgasms. Like that famous scene from Sex and the City where Samantha pays a visit to Sharper Image, the company insists in vain, “It’s not a vibrator—it’s a neck massager!”

The Magic Wand is distributed in the United States by Vibratex, a company that also created the iconic Rabbit Habit (which had its own scene on Sex and the City—a whole episode, in fact). According to the Vibratex rep at ILS, Hitachi had decided to stop manufacturing the Magic Wand altogether. Vibratex, sensing the wailing, gnashing of teeth and possible rioting that would ensue if this came to pass, convinced the company to keep producing it, but remove the Hitachi name from the product. In June, the Hitachi Magic Wand will be re-launched as the Original Magic Wand, with new packaging and a slightly different design.

If you are a Magic Wand fan who is panicking at the thought of any changes to your beloved toy, fear not. I held a new Wand in my hand at the show, and it felt just as powerful to me, with the same intensity of vibration. The minor adjustments that Vibratex made cause the toy to be less jerky when turning on and off and will reduce the extremely small number of defective wands to almost zero. The handle has been reinforced to decrease the vibrations that are transmitted to your hand (rather than to the head of the toy), and the switch circuitry has been improved. In my opinion, you can feel these changes when holding the toy, but not when applying the head of the Wand to a body part.

So, if you’re a fan of this product, get used to calling it “the Magic Wand” instead of “the Hitachi,” which is how people usually ask for it when coming into the Tool Shed. I think the changes are improvements, and given that the alternative was to not have the Wand at all, I’m grateful for them!

Laura Anne Stuart owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side. She has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than fifteen years. Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXPress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.