Who Actually Uses Long-Distance Sex Toys?
You can't get much more socially distant than remote-controlled intimacy
If ever there were a time for long-distance sex toys to shine, it would be right now.
It’s obvious why. Since March, some of us have been away from our partners for weeks if not months at a time, while those of us who were single when the pandemic hit went from an active sex life to an active imagination.
Longing for physical connection — either with a partner who’s quarantined in another state or a stranger we’ve been flirting with on Hinge — some of us have turned to technology: specifically, long-distance sex toys … or at least that’s what they’re called in theory.
With long-distance sex toys (a category that includes a variety of products, from dildos to butt plugs), partners can stimulate one another from a distance, usually by using an app on their phone. Sure, it’s not the same as having sex IRL, but if the makers behind the growing catalogue of sex toys that can be operated from a COVID-safe distance are to be believed, it’s far better than masturbating alone or even watching your partner masturbate via FaceTime.
“Adding sex toys to the mix gives these virtual encounters a little more meat and potatoes, allowing partners to satisfy each other while staying apart,” says Daniel Saynt, founder and chief conspirator of the members-only sex club New Society for Wellness (NSFW).
The logic checks out, but one question remains: Who, if anyone, is actually using this shit? Despite seeing the potential value, I’ve long been skeptical of the idea that people are going to put in the effort to buy a long-distance sex toy, set up a time to use it with a partner, and then actually follow through with it. It seems like a lot of work just to have your partner control your dildo’s vibration for six minutes.
While sex-toy sales have boomed during the pandemic, the stats don’t tell us much about long-distance sex toy sales specifically, so I reached out to We-Vibe for numbers. All of the company’s products utilize the We-Vibe Connect app, allowing users to engage in long-distance play. Denny Alexander, Head of Communications (Americas) at We-Vibe’s parent company, WOW Tech, informed me that between March and July of this year, We-Vibe sales were up approximately 168 percent from 2019. Typically, the company forecasts much more modest growth year over year, between five and 10 percent.
This growth doesn’t necessarily indicate that folks are actually using their toys for long-distance play, however. While We-Vibe is well known for its couples’ toys, their products are also built for solo play, meaning many consumers who contributed to the pandemic run on sex toys could have simply bought them for personal use.
Retailer Loverspackage.com gave me a breakdown of We-Vibe sales by product on their site, revealing that couple’s vibrator We-Vibe Sync was up only 64 percent, compared to more solo-centric toys like G-spot stimulator We-Vibe Rave, up 2,384 percent, and prostate massager We-Vibe Vector, up 1,676 percent. This could indicate that single folks have been buying more sex toys than couples, though sales data can’t tell us whether or not consumers are sharing those toys with long-distance partners once they’ve purchased them.
However, there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest some pandemic masturbators have indeed been taking advantage of their toys’ long-distance capabilities.
Grace, 24, started using long-distance sex toys in April at the recommendation of one of her partners. She bought the Lovense Lush vibrating egg and has used it with multiple people, including partners she was seeing before the pandemic as well as new folks she’s been chatting with online since coronavirus hit. She likes that long-distance toys can add a physical aspect to an otherwise virtual sexual experience. “It’s also exciting for me to give control over to another person. Virtual play is much more exciting when you can’t be sure what’s going to happen next,” she says.
Since March, Grace has been leaning into exhibitionism a bit more — sending more nudes and attending virtual sex parties. She’s found that long-distance sex toys have further enabled this new curiosity. “I have given control of my toy to partners when they cannot see me, but it is especially fun to use the toy when my partner (and maybe some other people) can see how it affects me,” she says.
Gregory, 29, bought his first long-distance sex toy (Lovense’s Hush butt plug) the day before the shutdown hit New York. “It was 100% in response to COVID,” he says. “I decided to dial back the in-person hookups and opt for safer methods of play.” He has a few “buddies” he uses it with — about 2-3 times a week at the beginning of lockdown, though less often now.
“Mostly, I like how kinky it is,” he says. “I put my butt plug in and make myself available for the people I give access to, so they can have their way with me.”
This “kinky” aspect seems to be a primary reason why many people use and enjoy long-distance sex toys. Instead of using them to connect with a partner you’re no longer seeing in the flesh, long-distance sex-toy users seem to other elements: exhibitionism, surprise and even dominance/submission with remote sex partners they may have never even met in real life.
John, 28, is the only person I spoke to who had been using long-distance sex toys since before the pandemic, starting back in 2016.
John loves the “dom/sub situation, where you’re not in control at all,” he says. “There have been moments where I’ve been out in public with a guy and will give him a quick zap to remind him he’s wearing a vibrator in his butt. There is a total kinky and fun aspect to this.”
Clearly, I approached this all wrong. The question isn’t really “Who uses long-distance sex toys?” It’s “Why?” While long-distance sex toys are, in theory, a way to connect with your long-term partner while the two of you quarantine separately, in practice, it seems like they’re getting the most use among people with multiple partners who are looking for a sense of novelty and excitement amid the sexual tedium of COVID.
And who can blame them? Even masturbation, it seems, has lost its luster in the many months of quarantine. But the idea of having a partner pleasure you with a toy or sleeve they manipulate from afar? I think we all could get into that — for a little while, anyway.
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