“When I first heard about applying electricity to your naked body during sex, my first thought was ‘oh my god why would you do that?! Zappy, ouchy, dangerous!” says Jess Wilde.
“But now I have completely changed my mind: the idea of turning you and your partner into a shared unit of weird, romantic, sexy tingles is a wholly different thing.”
Welcome to “erotic electrostimulation”, sometimes known as “electroplay” or “electrosex”.
Moving beyond lubes, toys, and costumes onto the next sensory level by throwing electricity into the mix, this form of high-tech play is all the buzz. Gadgets, toys l, and tinglers that bring electricity in between the sheets span a huge range: electrified butt plugs, cock rings and masturbatory sleeves for the lads, eggs, g-spot probes and Kegel balls for the girls, nipple clamps for both, and—increasingly popular—“e-stim” kits that turn both partners into part of an electrical circuit via electrodes and sticky pads.
The sensation–a shivering, tingly tickle–is wholly different from that of a vibrator or any other everyday sex toy. The human nervous system operates via tiny electrical signals. These toys just tap into that natural biological currency by stimulating the networks that already course throughout your body, triggering powerful sensory outputs—putting the “charge” into “discharge,” so to speak.
Intrigued? Wilde, copywriter and bondage expert for online sex shop Lovehoney.com, suggests for him: ElectraStim Bi-Polar Electrosex Jack Socket Stroker or the ElectraStim Uni-Polar Metallic Adjustable Cock Loops. For her: ElectraStim Bi-Polar Lula Noir Silicone Kegel Balls with E-Stim or ElectraStim Bi-Polar Electrosex Silicone Noir Nona G-Spot Probe. And for couples: ElectraStim EM60-E Flick Single Output Stimulator and ElectraPads Set.
It might seem quirky and “out there” at first glance, and indeed, in the early days erotic electrostimulation was mostly limited to the BDSM community as an enhancement to “medical fun and pain play” explains Wilde. Which makes sense–everyone knows power is a turn on.
But now the world of electroplay is rapidly moving from the world of kink and bondage into the mainstream, helping “vanilla” couples to keep their sex life electric. “We have seen e-stim sales rocket in the past year,” says Wilde. Their sales increased by 70 percent in 2015 over 2014, and in the last two months surged upwards again by 75 percent.
Electroplay devices have been around for decades: early e-stim models grew out of medical TENS devices, which use electricity to treat pain and muscle problems. And electrified muscle toners–popular in the 1970s for an exercise-free six-pack–are still around. Which, fans of electroplay point out, makes it pretty obvious that electroplay isn’t dangerous or painful (…unless of course you want it to be). Going further back in history, electrified probes called “violet wands” were employed as kinky massagers in the 1920s.
But now electroplay is going big time, and the main factor behind the boom, says Wilde, is the shift by manufacturers to use new materials: namely, velvet-smooth silicone instead of shiny metal.
“The metal-based products were great for conductivity, but they can look a bit scary–hard, shiny, chrome, and intimidating,” she says.
Toy makers are also now borrowing from the tricks of the vibrator industry: making devices simpler, user-friendly and ergonomically sleek.
“Eight years ago, sets looked like something out of a science lab, covered in knobs and switches,” says Wilde. Now the units have been scaled down to four simple buttons. “They are easier to master than your TV remote control.”
But while the vibrator revolution for women took toys from a clandestine secret scurried away in a drawer to a plotline on daytime TV, this time it’s largely the men who are leading the way. Globally, lads are bringing electroplay out of the dungeon and into the light.
It could be chalked up to a male predilection for gadgets and machinery, Wilde muses, but for the most part it’s probably down to pure biology. For most men, vibration alone will not bring them to orgasm. But for many, electrical stimulation via rings around the shaft, plugs up the bum, or even long metallic “sounds” down the urethra, will bring them to the hands-free toy-assisted orgasm wave women have been riding for years.
But the biggest driver contributing to elecroplay’s surging popularity is not the kinky or the quirky, but “vanilla couples”, says Wilde. A handy video from online purveyor Mystim on Youtube helps to demystify e-stim with a friendly cartoon, illustrating that the kits are just as handy for a young monogamous couple on the couch as a costumed pair in a dungeon.
As proof of this, always popular at Lovehoney.com are kits designed for partnered sex: sticky pads with electrodes connected to a hand-held power source. When two people connect to each other via wires, they can create an electric current by touching each other, closing the circuit.
“The magical thing about electrical currents is that your skin is conductive—you can be sat next to your partner, connected via wires, and not feel anything, but the minute you touch you can share this cool, tingly feeling that is a completely different sensation to vibration, spanking or tickling,” says Wilde. “It’s an entirely new way to see what your body can do—-it turns you into the sex toy itself.”
And this is one of the main reasons e-stim is becoming so popular among “young, ‘vanilla’ couples, and not just dungeon-owning dominatrices,” she says. It’s not a piece of machinery in the bed–just another way to heighten natural sensations and get sparks flying between the sheets.
But it can of course–like all things kinky–get a bit more extreme. A glance on Wikipedia reveals that in the US there exists a patent, #3,941,136: “a method for artificially inducing urination, defecation, or sexual excitation.”
That might sound extreme, but electrified “sounds”—designed to go down the urethra (male or female)—are “extremely popular”, says Wilde.
“When I discovered that electrified urethral sounds actually exist, that was actually quite terrifying for me,” laughs Nick Hind. Which is saying a lot: Nick is a violet wand restorer within London, who sources antique violet wand kits from the last century and repairs and resells them to collectors and aficionados looking for something more powerful than today’s toys.
Contemporary models–which Hind derides as mostly “cosmetic”-—are simply not as powerful as vintage sets, which ramp up to about 35 watts compared to five today. Think of it as the sex toy equivalent of buying a 1960s Mustang, with the roaring engines modern fuel-efficient motors just can’t match.
Though most people use these more powerful devices—which actually send a visible spark of electricity to the skin–just for massaging the shoulders, back of the neck and spine, of course some have applied them to their genitals as well. “We don’t recommend people use them internally, but of course people have put them in every part of the body for every conceivable use, as they always have,” he says.
Could applying that level of electricity to your bare body be dangerous?
One friend of mine–who only shared his story based on anonymity–didn’t find his experience of electroplay painful, so to speak, but he certainly didn’t find it pleasurable. And there were some, well, shocking side effects:
“A guy had this electro gadget with a battery powered gauge and metal butt plug. I was a bit wary of this as I had never tried it before. He placed it in my butt and turned on the voltage gauge. To my surprise it was a nice tingly feeling,” he says. “But. When he turned up the voltage, it made my legs flap up and down like a frog in a biology class. It was so surreal. Quite funny, actually. But I really feel electroplay is not for me.”
It is interesting to note that of the four friends who spoke to me about their experiences with electroplay, none of them wanted their real names on record. Even though reports of e-stim being painful or risky are few and far between, there is still something about the combination of electricity and sex that sounds ill-advised and possibly crazed.
“Look, anything that is fun can be dangerous–getting in a car is dangerous. But the great thing about violet wands is that they look dangerous, but they are perfectly safe. And that’s part of the joy: the fear factor,” says Hind. “The toys can look and sound like a 1930s Frankenstein movie, a bit terrifying, like something from a different era, and that’s part of the fun.”
His devices will likely remain territory for the connoisseur–but among the mainstream, gentler electroplay devices are undoubtedly going to get more popular, says Wilde. And given the advances in technology and the popularity of the sensation, what are we likely to see?
She predicts more colours–a shift from black and grey to pink and purple, as with vibrators. USB attachments, for remote stroking over the Internet. Wireless devices could liberate fans to enjoying electroplay in the great outdoors, for those who get off on exhibitionism. Combo dildos with the ability to zap as well as vibrate ought to be the dream product–why nobody has made an e-stim Rabbit yet is shocking, says Wilde.
Other things she’d love to see: electrified anal beads, a double penetration toy to zap the butt and the bits at the same time, and electro-restraints.
Exploring your sexual landscape is always a good thing, and some of the most illuminating things that people can discover via e-stim is not about the technology, but about themselves.
“People are realizing that your sex organs go further than your genitals–it really is your whole body. And the best way to explore that is with electrical current,” says Wilde. “You are pushing the boundaries of your own body a bit more–and that is empowering.