Why Is There Such a Lack of Sex Toys in TV and Film?

Posted by Anna Bergeron on

One of the biggest ways that things start to become a part of our culture is how they are represented in our films and television shows. Sex toys face a tougher challenge to become a “normal” part of our media consumption for a variety of reasons we will explore in this article.

The Importance of Mainstream Representation of Sex Toys

Since joining the stage several decades ago, our visual media has played a massive role in our lives. The influence can be huge, and as something becomes more normal to see on screen it tends to become more normal in real life.

When it comes to sex toys though, it’s still tough to show them on screen. Many people still find this kind of content offensive, and there are considerations of advertising and censorship to contend with.

Since around the 60s, our attitudes to sex have become more open and accepting, and as such various sex toys are starting to sneak into more and more of our media.

It is important that this happens, as our media is a great way to normalise things in the mind of the public. If media tends to portray something negatively, the public will tend to perceive it negatively. Conversely, if media portrays something positively, the public will tend to perceive it positively.

In one of the first onscreen examples of sex toys comes from the film Parenthood in 1989. In a blackout, one of the characters touches a vibrator. He finds this hilarious, while the owner of the vibrator is upset that someone has found his “dirty secret”.

The content we consume can play a massive role in our perception of many different things, so it is important to portray sex toys in a positive way and open conversation about these products.

The Depiction of Sex in Present-Day Media

Fortunately, as time has passed, the depiction of sex toys in TV and film has improved.

Of course, there are the inevitable examples of sex toys accidently appearing on news broadcasts and live shows, but these are most often viewed comedically and usually turn out to be dildos.

But actual toys featured in shows prominently are much rarer. The most famous example being the rabbit vibrator discussed by the girls in Sex and the City.

After the early 2000s, more sex positive shows have been allowed to go ahead, and more toys are being given the spotlight. Broad City for example, gives an honest look at the sex lives of millennials which of course features sex toys. One of the most unusual examples is the penetration of a man with a strap on.

This scene is particularly good to look at, as it was done from the perspective of a man who wanted to be penetrated. By depicting the sexual content in this way, it can encourage other men to try anal play, who might not have before.

Even though things have got better, there’s still room for improvement. Many shows depict sex in an unrealistic way, either being too romanticized, or too pornographic, and not at all like the experience we have in real life.

We have also yet to see some of the more niche products appear on our screen, such as penis plugs, chastity cages, or even common BDSM accessories. There are also rarely sex toy stores shown on screen, which could go a long way to normalising things and making more comfortable shopping for their own toys.

How Would Sex Toys on TV and Film Benefit the Viewers?

There is a fine line we must be careful of when trying to incorporate these kinds of products into mainstream media. Many people are only too happy to take offense to basically anything, so we’re not in a situation where a commercial could show a man using (and enjoying) a cock ring.

Equally though, we can show sex toys more on screen and there are many benefits to doing so.

First, and perhaps most importantly, seeing and hearing about sex toys more, will simply make people more comfortable using them!

Think about the massive boost in sales of different kinds of vibrators over the last two decades. Many women all over the world have their own vibrators, and neither men nor women find this particularly strange. In part this is down to the normalisation of vibrators through our media.

Giving the same treatment to something like a sex swing, or even a male masturbator could give people all over the world the confidence they need to try one themselves. In turn, this could lead to many people around the world simply enjoying sex more!

Another interesting side effect of showing more sex toy focused media, is that customers will be able to make much more informed choices. Imagine your favorite show had a scene set in a sex toy store where they discussed the different kinds of sex dolls available, and which a customer should buy.

Anyone sat at home watching the show would be able to learn about the different products and be more likely to make an informed choice if they wanted to buy one themselves.

This principle could even be expanded to shopping channels, who can run segments solely on sex toys and show the massive range of ways people can improve their sex lives.

Ultimately, there are so many benefits to be had by featuring sex toys more prominently in our media. Meanwhile, the main downside is simply people taking offense. But the key point: They don’t even have to watch it!

Why Are Sex Toys Still Not Taken Seriously?

When you look more closely at shows and movies that have featured sex toys, one thing becomes clear. Comedy is the number-one genre. In addition, the list has some indie shows that predominantly talk about sex. The mainstream appears to have steered away from the subject.

What is it about sex toys that makes them a cause for laughter? What prevents a character using a vibrating prostate massager or a vajankle?

The answer has to do with society’s general attitudes toward sex. Typically, we see sex toys in a more comical way. Rarely are they shown as a sexy thing.

These fictional characters either hide them like some dirty little secret, or they take it to a different extreme. In the latter scenarios, these characters come off as quirky or eccentric, contrasting the “normal” protagonists.

In any case, the representation we have seen throughout the years is not too satisfying.

We could say the same thing about some other kinds of representation on TV and the silver screen. For example, a gay character once meant being a funny guy interested in fashion and a fixed place on the side-lines of the plot.

Today, there are various kinds of shows and films where LGBT characters and their stories are the focus and not an accessory. Could the same happen with sex toys soon? The signs are pointing to an optimistic answer.

If the continuous progress in the visual storytelling stays on its present track, the future should bring more positive examples. These are bound to be more instances of representation where the screen reflects realistic sexual experience without glorification or shame; sex toys included.


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