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SocietyMay 11, 2024

The Sunday Essay: A buzzy year


My husband is posted overseas for 12 months and I’m armed with an expensive, newfangled vibrator. Will I miss him? 

The Sunday Essay is made possible thanks to the support of Creative New Zealand.

A few days after my husband leaves, a new sex toy arrives at the front door. Nestled in its sleek black box, the Share Satisfaction Kama Suction & G-Spot Vibrator looks expensive with its two heads of soft purple silicone and rose gold detailing. The instructions tell me it is waterproof and rechargeable, and an online review says it makes women feel like they don’t need men any more. Perfect.

I rip off the plastic wrapping and rush to my bedroom to take it for a quick test drive. Afterwards, I lie there stunned, waiting for my ragged breathing to return to normal before giving the machine a wipe down and stuffing it guiltily into the back of the wardrobe.

My husband of 13 years is posted overseas for work and we make the difficult decision that the family won’t join him, at least for now. I feel furious and helpless, yet strangely resigned to the situation. We’ve done this before and are still alive to tell the tale. Between our children’s painful sobs and our own salty tears, we say goodbye with a loaded look over little heads and a chaste peck on the cheek. 

Knowing my habit of getting grumpier and grumpier the longer I go between orgasms, my thoughtful husband has a fancy new vibrator couriered to the house to tide me over while he is gone. It’s a lovely idea in theory, but the first time using my new toy is actually quite alarming. 

There’s no time to consult my wank bank or relax into the sensations as the electric dildo takes less than a minute to send me screaming into my pillow. Rather than a lovely post-coital glow, I lie there in shock thinking, What the fuck just happened?! Brought to climax with such Fordist efficiency, it’s like the machine was processing me in the shortest amount of time rather than generating any kind of gratification or pleasure. I feel used and confused, like I have been seduced by a cruel lover who skipped all the foreplay for a “wham, bam, thank you ma’am”. But in this case, the pleasure was all mine. 

I definitely don’t want a repeat performance and plan to chalk this strange encounter up to a meaningless one night stand, but my insatiable appetite has other ideas, and a few weeks later I find myself getting squirmy and uptight again. So, for purely therapeutic stress-release purposes, I decide I should give my new-found friend another go.

Only I never get the opportunity. The itch is there, but so are my kids. Sleeping in my bed. Every. Single. Night. The poor munchkins, devastated by their dad’s departure, cling to me like limpets and can’t seem to sleep in their own rooms. Their constant presence gives me no space to think, no space to cry and most frustratingly, no space to wank. 

In many ways, life is less complicated with my husband gone: no compromising, no negotiating, no nagging to get off the couch. But it’s hard work solo parenting and I start to miss his rare but adorable smile, his uncanny ability to always play the perfect song for the vibe, and his prowess in both the kitchen and the bedroom. 

Feeling myself getting hornier and hornier, I organise some overnight babysitting with the grandparents. It’s like prepping for date night, only my casanova is a handheld device that won’t be wining and dining me first. 

With the house blissfully empty, I dim the lights, blast Lorde on the record player and down a gin and tonic for courage, before reaching for the purple people-pleaser. Mucking around with the buttons, I find that both the ribbed shaft and clit sucker thingamajiggy have ten settings that get progressively stronger and more chaotic with their throbbing and pulsing. Flicking through them reminds me of trying to find a bearable ringtone on my early 2000s Nokia. The crescendoing brrrr brrrr BRRRR, the syncopated dit-dah-dit-dah dit-dah, the relentless staccato bup-bup-bup-bup-bup-bup are all weird as hell and far too intense for a novice like me. So I stick to the first setting – just a low-key but persistent buzz – and once again find myself almost immediately succumbing to its brutal but effective stimulation.

In my mind, this maniacal machine with its killer moves has the personality of a Bond villain who doesn’t relent when I beg for mercy. I call him Vlad the Vibrator – Mr V for short – and despite my mixed feelings about him, the deep ache in my loins motivates me to seek him out for more high jinks. But I have to be furtive, snatching moments of privacy in the shower or sneaking into another room when the kids are asleep. It’s deranged. And exciting.

After a while, I become more used to Mr V coming on strong and our lovemaking sessions become less of a sprint and more of a middle-distance event. I explore his ripples and curves and become familiar with his rhythms and flows. Finally, I get past the first setting, but only by a notch or two. 

It’s an uncomplicated relationship. Mr V doesn’t make any demands of me, doesn’t infuriate with his strong opinions or keep me awake with his snoring. I bet that if I needed someone to talk to, he’d be a really good listener. Our affair blossoms, and while there is no depth to this relationship – he is all high RPM and low EQ – at least my physical needs are being met. 

I rave about Mr V to anyone who’ll listen; his mad skills whispered about at work, wrapped up in a cute anecdote over dinner, and shouted across the dancefloor at a party. I sound like an infomercial: “Is your love life lacking lustre? Does your partner have trouble locating the clitoris? Reliable orgasms or your money back, guaranteed!” I respond to my own zealous sales pitch by buying Mr V clones for some friends I think could do with some pleasure of their own.

The longer my husband is away, the less I think about him. I start to forget the way he smells, the way he moves, the way it feels to have him in my orbit. We FaceTime, but the calls are irregular and usually dominated by the kids. Technology doesn’t bridge the distance between us so when we do get to talk, it is all surface fluff and banal practicalities and we can’t seem to connect on any kind of emotional level. I start to wonder if I actually need him at all.

I am, after all, a strong independent woman, working hard at my day job, solo parenting like a boss and running the house smooth as clockwork. I feel liberated and empowered when I take care of stereotypically male chores like pruning the trees, laying ant poison, or fixing a broken door latch. See, I don’t need a man!

Then one night our house gets robbed. The invasion makes me feel vulnerable and I’m gutted to discover among the ransacked mess that Mr V’s charging cable is one of the hundreds of things that have been stolen. I’m too busy filing insurance claims and replacing duvets and kitchen appliances to worry, and besides, I haven’t had to charge him before so he must have good staying power. 

But during a future liaison, tragedy strikes. I’m close to fireworks when Mr V suddenly stops in his tracks: no wind-down, no spluttering last few wiggles, just straight-up dead and unmoving in my hand. Unsatisfied and unhinged, I wail into the darkness and send an SOS text to my husband, who, knowing a cry for help when he hears one, orders me a replacement cable pronto. A few days later it arrives on the doorstep, and a few hours later my lubed-up lover is ready for action. 

I lie back dreamily anticipating the pleasure to follow, but am horrified to discover that at full battery power Mr V is back to being the ruthless maniac of our first few romps. I realise that I hadn’t become used to him at all, he had just been slowly losing steam! 

The honeymoon is over. Everything I thought I loved about Mr V is gone again. I curse his aggressive vibrations, robotic precision and cruel detached efficiency. Yes, I want a happy ending, but I want to travel long meandering roads that eventually lead to the destination. In order for him to become bearable again, I’ll have to run down his battery, but I can’t face putting up with him full throttle in the meantime. 

Meanwhile, my feminist facade starts to crumble. I don’t know how to sharpen the kitchen knives so they get more blunt, the ladder doesn’t reach the light bulbs in the ceiling so the house gets gloomier, and because I know fuck-all about cars, I suspect I am being swindled by my mechanic. I hate to admit it, but I could really use a man right now. 

As I spend yet another evening alone on the couch, I find myself looking wistfully at the shiny patch on the armrest worn smooth over the years by my husband’s feet and realise that I don’t just need a man, I need my man. But my man is still working on the other side of the world and has no idea when he will be back. 

My little unit of three does experience moments of hilarity and joy, but overall our sense of stability is sliding and everyone’s behaviour is deteriorating. I’m exhausted and snappy, my daughter is a nervous wreck and my son gets increasingly violent, lashing out at his sister and me. I do my best to keep us all sane and safe, but I feel like I’m drowning. 

Bitterly, I wish that my husband’s so-called replacement could materialise into human form to protect me from the flying fists and to comfort me when I cry. But Mr V lies static and useless in his box, and despite desperately needing some stress relief, I no longer have the capacity to take advantage of his only useful function. 

Weeks of hell stretch into months of survival mode, until one day my husband announces he is quitting his job and coming home. A weight instantly lifts from my shoulders, and some sunshine peeks through those ever-present storm clouds. The kids are ecstatic.

Driving to the airport, I feel butterflies in my tummy, the nervous kind. It has been almost a year since my husband left, and I’m worried that our relationship won’t recover from the time apart.  When I see him I let out an involuntary squeal and rush towards him in a clumsy mess of excitement and tears. He is much taller and more handsome than I remember, which makes me hesitate, but as soon as he envelopes me in his big, strong arms, my head fitting neatly under his chin, I know that I am exactly where I belong.

Back home, we fall back into the familiar rhythms of bottom pats and affectionate pisstakes. My husband is funny, gentle and kind, cuddling the kids and whipping us up a delicious dinner. His quiet presence fills every corner of the house, and if I look at things sideways, it almost feels like he never left. He assumes his usual position on the couch, and for once it doesn’t bother me.

That night, we shyly become reacquainted with each other. He jokes that he won’t live up to the performance of Mr V, but he needn’t have worried. The feeling of skin on skin is incredible and his body, so warm and smelling like caramel, makes me melt. I rediscover the smoothness of his inner thigh, the softness of his ear lobe, that dip by his hip bone that I like to squeeze. He covers my back in the sweetest of kisses and eagerly responds to my urges and desires. 

It is slow, sensual and sexy as hell, but best of all, there is laughter and love. And it lasts more than a few minutes.

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