By Ella Gibson (she/her)

Stereotypes, sex education, and sex toys. CANTA’s Ella Gibson talks to Adult Toy Mega Store’s (ATMS) sex expert Emma Hewitt about all things sex toys. Ella and Emma discuss sex toys, top sex tips, and even what and what not to put in your butt! For all of this spicy info and more, keep ready and get ready to get vibey or vibratey, if you know what I mean. 

1) Could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do, Emma?  

“Professionally, I am a sex education and content creator. I work full time for ATMS, and I’ve worked with them for about seven years now. Also, I’ve done a bit of freelance writing on the side. Everything for me in my professional career has always been about sex, sex toys, and seeking pleasure. I am also studying and doing a Sex Educator Certification through a school in the U.S. called ISEE, the Institute for Sexuality Education and Enlightenment. It’s super fun and more scientific than the name suggests. It’s a fascinating industry that I am in, but I really love it.” 

2) Why has sex education specifically sparked your interest? 

“I studied media and communications at Massey University. I did a lot of writing papers while I was there. ATMS had an internship role going, and it had ‘writing’ as part of the description, and it was the only thing that I could find that had anything to do with writing content or anything remotely like that. I was like, “you know what, it’s sex toys, it must be fun!” I knew nothing about it, and I just dived in. Instantly, I was like, “this is what I’m going to do with my life!” It’s just evolved from there.” 

“The more that I learn about this whole industry, not just toys, but pleasure and sex in general, I think there’s a lot that isn’t taught to people. I think that our sexual health and sexuality is such an important part of our lives, and it’s something that isn’t taught to you in any form or setting. Over the last couple of years, what I have really tried to do has shifted towards educating people and sharing some of the stuff that I am learning. I am learning something new every day, and it’s an endless amount of info. And not everyone has an opportunity growing up and in their adult years to learn about this stuff.”  

3) What do you think of the current sex education resources available? 

“I’m 30 now, so I don’t know what it is like in high school now, but when I was growing up, sex education was very minimal. You learn to “use a condom or you’re going to get pregnant and to use a condom or you’re going to get an STI, and here are examples of the worst photos of what that could possibly look like”. I mean, the clitoris was nowhere to be seen in my sex education, and that’s the epicentre of pleasure for me, I’m a cis-female, and that’s what feels good!”  

“I feel like because we have the internet now, everything is a lot more accessible to people. The breadth of different people from different backgrounds that are starting to become sex educators on whatever platform, let it be Instagram or Tiktok, it’s a lot more accessible to people. But of course, we’re very much being censored because it is on the internet, and we don’t have control over a lot of these platforms. I think that somehow we need to find a way to make it more accessible and have less censorship around what is ultimately education about a really important part of our lives.”  

“Education was also very heterosexual. There was nothing for anyone on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum; there was never any information for those people. One thing is taught to everyone that is supposed to apply to everyone, and that’s just not how it works when it comes to sex.”  

“New Zealand is always a bit slow to adopt things globally anyway. I follow some really great educators who have made these internet platforms like Scarleteen in the U.S., which is a sexual information website designed for teens and young people. Information about different clinics where you can go and get checked out. We don’t really have that here. You can go and get some info, but it’s not really targeted to you as a Kiwi. Hopefully, that will happen; I think it’s the slow approach that we like to take.”  

4) Why do you think sex toys are important in our sex lives?  

“There’s a lot of reasons. I feel like pleasure is something that is really important. At ATMS, we talk about this triangle of health. You have your physical health, your mental health, and then your sexual health. Often your sexual health is the overlooked aspect of your health. And it’s good for you; it relaxes you, it boosts your mood, it releases all these amazing endorphins and makes you feel good and sleep better.” 

“Sex toys are designed specifically for those reasons and to help people achieve an orgasm; they can do it fast for a lot of people, maybe faster than just with your hands or with a partner. They are also really good for teaching you about your body and learning about what you enjoy and what your body responds to. If you can do that by yourself, there’s no pressure put on you either. There’s no pressure like there is with a partner to perform or make sure you’re pleasuring them and also feel pleasure yourself. And if you are having sex with someone else later, you can go, “Hey, I know exactly what I like, and I know what feels good, could you try this for me?” 

“They also feel different to sex or any sexual play with people. A person can’t vibrate; a sex toy can! They offer something completely different. Our bodies are packed with nerve endings and erectile tissue and all this stuff that feels really good when it’s stimulated. And that’s what sex toys are there for.”  

5) Do you think that sex toys could be of any benefit to uni students?  

“I think one of the obvious main reasons is that it is amazing stress relief. Uni is stressful, and I have to say that when I was at uni, I was not a very sexual person. I didn’t have any sex toys, and I wasn’t really dating that much. I’m a stressed-out person, and I was at a constant high level of stress. I think that allowing yourself a little bit of a breather, a little bit of time to relax, to have fun and do things that are not focused on trying to get a degree or trying to get your work done is important.”  

“It’s an interesting time in people’s lives. I feel like you are becoming the person that you are going to be. It’s a time for lots of exploration. It’s a whole part of that sexual wellbeing being such a part of your overall wellbeing.” 

6) Do you think that sex toys have any negative stereotypes? If so, how should they be resolved?  

“I think that there are still a bunch of negative stereotypes around sex toys. I think that we have seen some really great momentum in the last few years. Sex toys are becoming seen as more of a wellness product which is very cool. They are being sold in some chemists; you can get sex toys at some hair salons in Wellington now; they’ve even started selling them at Cotton On. People are starting to realise that they are very normal.”  

“But there is still a long way to go because that is not something that has been around for a very long time. I think that there is still this idea that sex toys are only for single people who aren’t having sex with someone else at the moment or don’t have a partner, or can’t get a partner. There’s still this stereotype of “Why would you need that if you can have sex with a person” or “Oh, you can’t get laid, that’s why you have to have a toy!”  

“There’s also a lot of people being intimidated by sex toys. Particularly in heterosexual relationships. I have heard a lot of stories of people where their partners aren’t happy that they have sex toys because they think, “If you’ve got me, why would you need to use that?” But they’re not the same thing! We don’t use sex toys to replace people to enhance our sex and sometimes with those people. I think that that still persists.” 

“I think that for people with a penis, there is still a lot of stigma around their use of sex toys. And I do see where that originally stems from. What was deemed ‘male sex toys’ were very anatomical, and there was a lot of full-sized dolls and things like that. Some people still use and love those, and it’s really cool, but there wasn’t really anything else for people with a penis for a long time. Whereas people with a vagina have vibrators and toys that look like literal statues that you could put on your bookshelf and no one would know, they’re just beautiful. They don’t look like a big penis all the time! It’s only really been in the last few years where things have pushed into this beautiful and non-body part looking toy.” 

“I think that how we can move beyond that is talking about it. I think that the only way that you can normalise something is just more and more conversations. It doesn’t have to be person to person; it can be educators on the internet or a beautiful graphic or piece of art around sex or toys.”  

7) If you could give one piece of advice to university students about sex toys, what would it be? 

“I thought long and hard about this, and I’m doing one piece! It’s not very insightful but don’t put anything up your butt that is not designed to go up there! If it is a butt toy, it has to have a flared base or a retrieval chord because things can and will disappear on you, and you’ve got better things to think about and focus on than trying to retrieve something out of there. Honestly, I think that’s so important.  

8) If you could give one piece of advice to uni students about sex, what would it be?  

“Lubricant is your friend! It is amazing! It is good for any form of play, for people, for toys, and it is the thing that is going to stop your condom from tearing as well. Even with pre-lubricated condoms, it’s not enough lube, and you have to use more. I think that is just a very practical one, but it does make everything feel better! It also reduces stress because you don’t need to worry about your own body becoming naturally lubricated enough. Of course, there are a million things that can influence that not happening, including stress, and I feel like uni students are stressed all the time.”  

“I think the other one is just to have fun! Sex is meant to be fun! It is meant to feel good. Do it with people that you trust because then you can just focus a little bit more on your own pleasure, and you can feel less pressure. Just enjoy yourselves and be safe.”  

If you would like to hear about more wonderful content from Emma and the ATMS team, you can do so by checking out their YouTube channel ‘Adulttoymegastore’. 

You can also check out their podcast, the ‘Electric Rodeo’ on Spotify.