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Clinical use and implications of sexual devices and sexually explicit media

Abstract

Given that sexual pleasure is a core component of sexual health, devices that are designed to enhance and diversify sexual pleasure are particularly useful in clinical practice. Despite their growing popularity and widespread use in various biopsychosocial circumstances, many taboos still seem to exist, as indicated by the paucity of scientific literature on the prevalence, application and effectiveness of sexual devices for therapeutic use. However, sex toys and sexual devices are commonly used and have a variety of indications to expand individual and partnered sexuality and to treat sexual difficulties. Different devices are associated with specific advantages and potential risks, opportunities, barriers and ethical challenges when used in a clinical context. Increased knowledge about the aim and functional possibilities of sexual devices might help health-care professionals overcome potential embarrassment, preconceptions and other barriers, learn which patients might benefit from which products, consider their use in treatment programmes, educate about correct use and safety issues, and facilitate open communication about sexual pleasure with their patients.

Key points

  • Sexual devices are primarily designed to improve sexual well-being, pleasure, recreation, freedom and diversity.

  • Despite the increasing accessibility and popularity of sexual devices in society, for some health-care professionals in clinical practice they remain a taboo subject.

  • Health-care professionals should be encouraged to keep an open mind around the use of sexual devices and to assist their clients in obtaining the knowledge and skills necessary for their correct and safe use.

  • Sexual devices are commonly used and have a variety of indications to expand individual and partnered sexuality and to assist in the treatment of sexual difficulties.

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Glossary

Sexual script

Sexual scripting suggests the importance of meanings and symbols in human sexuality. A script can be layered through three dimensions: cultural scenarios, interpersonal scenarios and intrapsychic scenarios. A sexual sensation does not simply emerge from bodily reactions, but needs to be assigned meanings and symbols that provide cues and clues to enable sexualities to develop. Sexual scripts are blueprints and guidelines for what we define as our role in sexual expression, sexual orientation, sexual behaviours, sexual desires and the sexual component of our self-definition.

Self-actualization

The highest level of psychological development, whereby a person’s potential is fully realized after basic bodily and ego needs have been fulfilled. People are able to accept themselves and others as they are.

Rape myths

First described by M. Burt in 1980, rape myths are prejudiced, stereotyped and false assumptions about sexual attacks, rapists and rape victims. Rape myths are often used to excuse sexual assault, foster animosity toward victims and distort criminal justice.

Feminist discourses

A wide range of analytical work in psychology from a feminist perspective. It constitutes a thorough critical evaluation of intellectual, social and political changes that are needed to promote female rights.

Male gaze

Suggests a sexualized way of looking that empowers men and objectifies women. The woman is visually positioned as an object of heterosexual male desire.

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Dewitte, M., Reisman, Y. Clinical use and implications of sexual devices and sexually explicit media. Nat Rev Urol 18, 359–377 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41585-021-00456-2

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