Home / Columns / Sexpress / Lessons from 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

Lessons from 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

May. 24, 2012
Google plus Linkedin Pinterest
Unless you have been consciously avoiding all media for the last month or so, you are probably aware that the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has been causing quite a stir. While there has been some well-deserved criticism of the way the book portrays BDSM, I am optimistic that the positives can outweigh the negatives—that the book will give people who are curious about kinky sex permission to try it on for size, safely.  As long as we remember that these books are sexy Twilight fanfics and not instructional manuals, we should all be OK. You're not searching OKCupid for actual sparkly vampires, are you? Then don't use Christian Grey as your dom/sub relationship guru.

We have definitely sold a lot of books and a lot of kinky gear at the Tool Shed as a result of the Fifty Shades phenomenon. But what I find most interesting is the huge impact the trilogy has had on sales of vaginal PC-muscle exercisers that are often called “Kegel balls” or “ben wa balls.” The characters in the book use them in a sexy scene together (page 362, ahem), and as a result, it's been difficult to keep enough of them in stock!

So what are these things? Most vaginal balls come in sets of two and are constructed with a smaller ball enclosed inside a larger one. The smaller ball rolls and rattles around, creating a sensation that can both feel very pleasurable and help tone the pubococcygeus (PC) muscle when the balls are inserted into the vagina (for more about toning the PC muscle, which can help with orgasmic function, read my past column “Flex Your Sex Muscles”).

In Fifty Shades, the characters insert the balls during a spanking scene—great idea (although as a Tool Shed staffer pointed out, it's probably better to use a good water-based lubricant when inserting the balls rather than or in addition to the saliva that is used in the book). The impact of spanking causes the balls to rock and roll, adding a whole new sensory dimension to the experience. The female character Anastasia also described the experience of having her PC muscles involuntarily clench when the balls move, which is one of the ways that the balls help tone those muscles. Some people insert the balls and wear them around during daily activities, both for a secret sexy thrill and for some multitasking muscle exercise.

As with any sex toy, construction and materials are important when choosing vaginal balls. A lot of the balls that are marketed as inexpensive “ben wa” balls are made of cheap metal (and usually have terrible racist packaging), and as someone with a nickel allergy, I cringe at the thought of putting these inside someone's body. I recommend the same materials that I would for any other sex toy—100% medical-grade silicone or firm ABS plastic, both nonporous, easy to clean and unlikely to cause allergic reactions or infections. This recent review of a particular brand of vaginal balls has a great discussion of both materials and construction.

Vaginal balls should NOT be used anally. We get this question in the store a lot, because most of the balls have a “retrieval cord” attached—kind of like a tampon string that allows you to easily pull them out of the vagina when you're done using them. This retrieval cord does NOT make them safe for anal use; the cord itself could get pulled inside the body, and then you'd have some rattling balls stuck inside your butt and a lot of explaining to do in the emergency room. However, at a trade show I attended in March, I was extremely excited to see that a company whose products we really like had created a butt plug with an enclosed rolling ball, replicating the vaginal ball sensation in an anal-safe toy. The PC muscles run from your tailbone to your pelvic bone, so using an anal toy like this one can stimulate them. Finally, those without vaginas can get in on this action!

Laura Anne Stuart owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side. She has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.


Are you upset by the way the NFL and the team owners have treated Colin Kaepernick?

Getting poll results. Please wait...