4 Sep 2017

BANG! Episode 6: Fifty Shades of Grey

From Bang!, 1:00 pm on 4 September 2017

In BANG! episode 6 sex therapist Edit Horvath identifies some of the common challenges faced by those in their 50s, and we learn about how intimacy is affected by life-threatening illness. Plus Melody braves a "sex shop" to find out what's on offer for couples hoping to 'spice up' their sex lives.

She writes about that experience below.

Illustration by Pinky Fang

Illustration by Pinky Fang Photo: RNZ

Sex shops are a lot different now than the last time I visited one. For a start, they’re not called “sex shops” anymore - staff preferring the term ‘adult lifestyle store’ because, as my Peaches & Cream tour guide Dan points out - “we don’t sell sex”. 

If that’s the case what they do sell is certainly sex-adjacent - everything from vibrators and dildos, to ‘fleshlights’, lube, porn DVDs and whatever you might need for a bit of entry-level BDSM. But there are no heavy curtains or dark corners - in fact the store is bright, neatly arranged and clean - a quick glance and you might think you were looking at a chemist. 

“You’re buying a product that you’re basically putting in yourself, so it’s gotta be clean and nice,” says Dan. 

Over half an hour Dan shows me around his shop, at my request focusing in on the types of things requested by or recommended to those in their 50s and early 60s hoping to ‘spice things up’. He begins by showing me what a sex toy looked like 'back in the day', compared with today. The older ones are more closely modelled on male anatomy, aside from the bunny head growing out of the side, whereas these days female sex toys are much more streamlined, almost futuristic-looking, and are made from non-porous silicone so they don’t harbour bacteria. Many are rechargeable “so they have a lot more power”, some can even be controlled via smartphone - adding a tactile component to traditional phone or webcam sex, and one brand even has a clitoral stimulator that sucks- literally. Dan turns it on and urges me to put my finger up to it - sure enough, it latches on.

“They’re a lot quieter than the older ones as well,” says Dan, knowingly.

From here we head over to the bestselling male sex toy - the ‘fleshlight’ - which looks like a large torch (assumedly so it can be stashed safely in a man cave) but, on undoing one end, reveals a vulva and vaginal opening made from a patented material that does feel a lot like real skin (don’t worry, it isn’t). If just any old vulva isn’t good enough, there is a series modelled on the genitalia (and mouths) of real porn stars, and there are also “bums” for queer men. All of these toys are distinctly lacking in pubic hair, though Dan reassures me that the DVDs he stocks with “a more natural looking woman” sell out very quickly - suggesting pubes might not be so ‘out’ as mainstream porn suggests. 

For couples looking for something to explore together, Dan shows me the Fifty Shades of Grey range which includes Ben Wa balls, finger vibrators, prostate massagers, vibrating nipple clamps and beginners BDSM kits. One full kit includes a contract to be filled out by the submissive and dominant partner, and a booklet going over some of the very important conversations around boundaries, consent and safe words that need to happen well before any play happens.

Finally to wrap up our tour, Dan leads me to a display filled with bottle after bottle of lubricant - the one product that has come up every single time I’ve spoken with a sex therapist for BANG! including Sex Therapy NZ’s Helen Mounsey who advised couples to, “Have 2 or 3 pottles of it wherever it needs to be… and use it. Young and old need it, at times particularly like this, when you’re working really hard to be as good as you can be for the occasion.” 

I leave Peaches & Cream feeling that couples keen to “spice up” their sex lives have a lot of options available to them, without - as Episode 6 sex therapist Edit Horvath put it - going into anything “too weird or crazy”. But one thing I've also learned over the past couple of months, is that sex is just one way to be intimate.

As “Jo” says about her relationship in this episode: “We’ve got to a point now where we very rarely have physical intimacy anymore and… we asked ourselves ‘Are we ok with this?’

Her partner Tony responds, “‘I have to say I think we are. You certainly talk more. You share more. I believe some people around our age see the be all and end all around that period of time in bed at night when it’s a physical act and that’s it. [But] it’s not a release valve for everything else in your life.”