Let’s Talk About Sex Toys!

Nerys Bushnell (pictured, right) chose a relatively unexplored area for her dissertation topic; her supervisor Dr Sarah Johns has expanded on it and together they have published a new research paper.

New research published in the Journal of Sex Research by Anthropology student Nerys Bushnell and Dr Sarah Johns on sex-tech and the morphology of sex toys allows new insight into a previously taboo and relatively unexplored area. The study ‘What Drives Sex Toy Popularity? A Morphological Examination of Vaginally-Insertable Products Sold by the World’s Largest Sexual Wellness Company’ started out as Bushnell’s undergraduate dissertation, but was reworked with her dissertation supervisor Dr Johns, and submitted for publication. The work has gained a lot of attention in the sector, being shared by leading contributors in the field for its ‘cutting edge’.

A double-ended phallus artifact from the 12th/13th century.

We asked Bushnell in 2021 about her project, and she explained the process of data collection and analysis for a dissertation. She noted the difficulties and stress of writing a dissertation, stating:

‘I think that there is enormous pressure to produce a world-renowned piece that is perfect and publishable but realistically its still an undergraduate degree.’ Bushnell

This paper HAS now been published and commended for its exploration of a ‘taboo’ topic. This is an incredible achievement by the pair, and explores a fascinating topic that relatively few have addressed. With this project, it aims to understand which features women found most desirable in a sex toy – such as length, girth, vibration, or price. They ascertain that while exploring the importance of features in consumption, despite these preferences, manufacturers do not necessarily create product with anatomy or preferences in mind – potentially using outdated conceptions of importance.

‘We hope that this study will encourage further work into specific sex toy features and their relation to customer preference. Given their importance in female masturbatory activity, examination of insertable sex toy popularity provides much needed insights into behaviors that are still viewed as taboo.’ (Johns and Bushnell, 2023)

‘Research into sexual technologies is truly fascinating.’ Dr Johns told us “Sex tech” is a huge (and growing) commercial sector, but many of the legal, anatomical, and psychological aspects remain unexplored. Women are the largest category of sex toy users, and I hope that our research further highlights a topic that is often ignored, or viewed as taboo, because it primarily involves female masturbation and sexual pleasure.’

Read the full study here

Nerys Bushnell is a 4th year BSc (Hons) Anthropology student, currently studying at the Asia Pacific University in Beppu on her year abroad and is looking forward to graduating this year.

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