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Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010

Strap One On

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Last weekend, we held a "Strap-On Sex 101" class at the Tool Shed. This was the first time that we had offered this particular workshop, and I was fascinated to see that it generated more phone and e-mail inquiries than any other class we've held. Many people wanted more information about exactly what would be covered during the class, but we ended up having a relatively small number of people in attendance. This leads me to believe that there's a high level of interest in this topic, but a certain shyness about it that still persists.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about pegging, which involves a woman wearing a strap-on harness and dildo to anally penetrate her male partner. This certainly falls under the broad category of "strap-on sex," but there is much more to it. People of any gender—men, women or transgender people—can wear harnesses, and people of any gender can enjoy being on the receiving end of a nicely lubed dildo.

One typical fear that I mentioned in my column about pegging is that including a harness and dildo in your sex play is some kind of commentary about your sexual orientation or gender identity. There's a common misconception that if you enjoy being penetrated by a dildo, you "really" want to have sex with a man, which can be troubling to heterosexual men or lesbian women. The flip side of this is that if you enjoy wearing a harness and penetrating a partner, you "really" want to be a man. For some female-to-male transgender men, this may be true, and dildo play can be an integral part of their identity. But for others, this is not the case at all. Remember: You don't work for the dildo; the dildo works for you. It's just one more tool in your arsenal of pleasure toys. It only carries the meanings that you assign to it.

So why use strap-ons? A harness creates a hands-free way to attach a toy to your body, which leaves your hands free for other activities and allows you to have close physical contact with your partner during penetration that otherwise might not be possible. Dildos come in every conceivable size and shape, which gives you a lot of variety for both vaginal and anal penetration. Whether your partner is a size queen or prefers something no bigger than a finger, you can find a toy to suit. You can switch it up depending on your mood. For men who may not have thought about dildo play before, this means that you aren't limited to the equipment that's attached to your body; if your partner would prefer a smaller or larger sized object for penetration, dildos are there to please.

Strap-ons can also be a handy tool for men with erectile dysfunction or for men whose partners may wish to keep going after they have ejaculated. Both penis extenders (sheaths that fit over an erect or flaccid penis) and harnesses made especially to fit a man's body allow men to penetrate a partner whether or not their penises are cooperating at any given moment.

I can't write a column about dildos without taking a moment to mention the materials from which they are made. I recommend 100% silicone dildos rather than other materials, like jelly, rubber or latex. Silicone is more expensive, but it's worth it. Dildos made of jelly or cyberskin may contain phthalates, which are chemicals used to soften plastic that have been linked to cancer and hormone disruption. These dildos eventually degrade over time—many customers have told me that they eventually found their favorite dil melted into a puddle at the bottom of their toy box. Silicone is nonporous, can easily be sterilized, will never degrade and does not contain any toxic chemicals. Take some care in choosing toys that last.

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.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.