A while back, a sex toy company called Mystery Vibe emailed me to ask if I’d be willing to review a product for them for my blog. I said, “Sure!,” cheerfully ignoring the inconvenient fact that I detest vibrators. So they sent me this fancy schmancy device called a Crescendo.
Now your response right now might be, “What the fuck, you don’t like vibrators?!” followed by, “Why the hell should I read the rest of this review?” Well, to answer the first point, I find vibrators tolerable when they’re ridiculously slow and have irregular rhythms. But mostly I just think they’re incredibly uncomfortable. I enjoy making women happy, however, so I like to keep a handy arsenal of vibrators around. Which brings me to the second question about how I reviewed this toy: I did what any sensible slut would do; I took it to a Victorian-themed kink party, and treated a couple of lovely ladies for hysteria. You know… for science!
Okay, so first off, the selling points from the company. What does Crescendo have going for it? It’s a rechargeable flexible toy with six independent vibrators that you can (theoretically) control with an app on your phone, and it’s fully submersible. It can be many different shapes, as the website shows: It currently sells for $199 (with free shipping right now), so it’s not a small investment in pleasure.
But let’s just go ahead and get one thing out of the way at the start. A friend of mine at the party where I tried out Crescendo noted that with vibrators, it’s usually a case of Rechargeable, Waterproof, Powerful: Pick 2. Crescendo, alas, is no exception to this rule. It’s rechargeable and waterproof, but if you love Hitachi-style genital abuse, save your money. I tried Crescendo out on two different women, and Test Subject #2 just basically stared blankly at me and the poor toy with that tragic, “Is something happening to my genitals? I can’t tell” look. We knocked the Crescendo up to high, and she continued to just look vaguely uncomfortable; we gave up. Her opinion was basically 0 stars.
So, assuming that you’re not the sort of person who likes to feel like a car engine is revving up against your bits, what can Crescendo do for you?
For our experiment, our victim who I’ll call Meredith, found a random girl to stuff some fingers inside her, and a very well endowed gentleman whose dick she could suck, while another woman physically manipulated the Crescendo against Meredith’s bits and I controlled the app for the Crescendo on my phone. If this sounds like a lot of people were trying to make her happy, it’s true. During this phase, the Crescendo stayed completely on the outside around Meredith’s clit.
For most of the second phase of this experiment, Meredith just jerked herself off without all her assistants. For this, she kept the toy bent into a U-shape, so that half of it was inside her and half outside. She noted that while the flexibility of the toy was potentially awesome, in reality, her own pussy muscles kept trying to bend and straighten it back out of shape. This really limited its power as an insertable toy.
Hypothetically, the Crescendo with this shape should be able to provide a really subtle and magnificent experience, since you can have higher levels of vibration on the inside or the outside, depending on your preference. In practice, however, this turned out to be pretty difficult to manipulate. As long as you want a clear difference between them, it’s fine; but if you want the power to be more evenly distributed, you’re in trouble. None of us (and there were a lot of smart people around) could make the vibrator have evenly distributed intensity throughout. There was always more intensity at the base, which meant that you had to pick which side you wanted the stronger vibration on.
We ran into a whole host of other practical problems. The toy has buttons on both its sides, and it’s really hard not to end up bumping into them while you’re playing with it. On several occasions during our experiment, we accidentally turned it off. It’s also really hard to touch those buttons yourself if you’re jerking yourself off with it. Unless you’ve memorized where these tiny buttons are ahead of time, you’ll have to take the toy off of you in order to adjust its intensity–not so great in the heat of the moment. It wasn’t any easier to adjust if you were another person manipulating the toy.
Theoretically, the app should keep you from having to worry about those problems. But at its current stage of development, the app is mostly just bewildering. Most importantly, as far as me, an engineer, a computer scientist, and a graphic designer could tell, the app doesn’t really let you control intensity of vibration. Only the physical buttons on the Crescendo itself do that. On top of that, there’s no easy way to manipulate the six different vibrators in the Crescendo. You have to keep scrolling around between a lot of different options, most of which just don’t make sense. It would be way more reasonable to be able to directly control each of the six vibrators and their respective intensities.
Ultimately, Meredith rated the orgasm she had from the Crescendo as “outstanding and excellent,” but said that the complications and inadequacies of the toy would be unlikely to make it her go-to vibrator. Her opinion of it was basically 4 stars.
During our experiments, we did not attempt to use Crescendo for penis-in-vagina sex, nor did I find any people with penises who wanted to try it on themselves. Given the current limitations of the toy, I would be reluctant to try to use it for PIV sex, although I definitely think it has potential for that (like a WeVibe).
All of us who participated in the experiment felt that Crescendo has a lot of potential. We felt that the key problems that we hope the designers would fix in a later version would be:
- Actually having some sort of on/off switch. Preferably one that’s hard to hit during play. The current lack of one is extremely annoying.
- Other than the on/off switch, getting rid of the physical buttons entirely would be helpful. Substituting a remote control would be easier and reduce the chances of accidentally turning it off or up/down while using it.
- Improving the app to provide much more control. Nothing about the app is intuitive presently, and it also just isn’t very useful. It doesn’t let you do any of the things you would most want to do. You should just be able to tap any of the six vibrators and set the rhythm and intensity, and adjust the intensity by dragging up or down. It would also be fucking fabulous if the app had an option to make your phone vibrate in some approximation (at least the rhythm) of what you’re doing to the person. That way, if you’re manipulating your partner, you have some clue what you’re doing.
- Having a sturdier charging base. The base fell off a low table to the floor, and basically fell apart. My two very mechanically savvy partners managed to put it back together, but that shouldn’t be necessary.
 For the record, I have seen the same thing happen with Sybians, which many people claim are amazing. I was once at a sex party where someone brought a Sybian. I watched three folks with vaginas ride it. The first just looked bored. The second had approximately the appalled look on their face that a woman would have if a man with a soft dick had repeatedly tried to penetrate her belly button. The third had many noisy and happy orgasms. All of which is to say, sex toys are definitely not one-size-fits-all propositions. I myself would literally not ride a Sybian with a ten-foot-pole.
Much of the time I’m sufficiently opinionated that I just write unsolicited sex and relationship advice. But this time, someone actually asked a solid question and said I could answer it publicly. This person, who I’ll call Jo, had been to my poly architecture class and heard me make the claim that it’s ridiculously difficult (nigh unto impossible, it seems) for people in very serious secondary relationships who want a primary to find one. She wasn’t questioning the claim. But she was concerned, because she already has a wife and a serious girlfriend, but she just met The Perfect sub For Her (™). The problem is that Perfect sub, who I’m going to call Amy for the sake of simplicity, doesn’t have a primary and definitely wants one, and lives a long way away anyway. Jo was worried about Amy finding a primary if Amy was always sitting at her feet whenever they went to events together, and asked for my advice.
My advice is… hoo, boy, that’s a tricky one.
On the one hand, in some ways distance can work in your favor in that situation, because it tends to place automatic constraints on how serious the relationship can get (there’s only so much time you can practically spend with someone who lives a long way away). On the other hand, poly long distance relationships have a habit of becoming vacation-ships–you know, the kind where you don’t get out of bed for two days, do all your laundry and clean your house before and after “the date,” and ignore most phone calls from other people when you’re together? Vacation-ships are a big problem when you’re trying to build other actualrelationships because they make the other relationships seem so much less fun by comparison. Vacation-ships are like dessert, but people need solid meals to be healthy and happy. And yet. You need to eat vegetables, but they don’t look very tasty next to cheesecake, do they? Of course, you’ll actually enjoy the cheesecake a lot more if you eat your veggies. Go figure.
The other way that long distance becomes a problem here is that it makes my first automatic advice a lot more difficult to implement, which is: assuming that Amy is the kind of person who meets people at events, don’t go to many events “together”. For most kinky folks, even if they don’t actually meet a Person at events, they socialize and network at events in ways that ultimately can help them meet a Person. So if you go to an event and spend all of your time with the Person you already have, limiting your opportunities to meet new people, you make it really difficult to acquire the missing Person you’re looking for. BUT if you’re long distance, events often become your chief opportunity to spend quality time together.
The temptation here is the Rotten Compromise, where you say, “We will go to this three-night event, and even though we will be sharing a hotel room together, Amy and I must spend one evening apart so she can look for a date.” It sounds eminently reasonable, but sadly, it’s really not, in my experience. At a bare minimum, even people who are quite capable at the Pick Up need one night to search and another night to cement their search, so you really have to promise to spend two evenings apart. But if you’re sharing a hotel room (or cabin or tent), it’s ridiculously easy to just chuck your good intentions entirely and decide that a “night” apart in that context is from 7 pm to 10 pm. Suddenly your resolution not to spend too much time together and to enforce socialization with other people gets flushed down the toilet. Do I sound like I’m speaking from experience? Yeahhhhh…
And I haven’t even gotten to the basic day-to-day stuff where Amy struggles not to text you all the time, because she knows she’s not supposed to depend on you too much emotionally, but she still values you and the support you give her so much. And even though she knows she shouldn’t let it happen, you kind of become her rock. And dammit, she never meant for that to happen, but how is she ever going to find anyone who’s even as remotely awesome as you?
That latter point raises an important point that a lot of hierarchy discussions leave out: there really are some people who are That Awesome. I know a number of folks with a zillion partners, and several of their partners say they’d ideally rather have a primary; but since Awesome Person already has a primary (or two or three), they’ll settle for mostly being Awesome Person’s secondary or tertiary because Awesome Person is That Awesome. So if you’re That Awesome, it’s possible that Amy might kind of give up the hunt for other partners. Be prepared for this possibility. It’s happened to a lot of the people I know.
But let’s say you’re trying to stay super committed to helping Amy find a primary, and let’s hope that you’re better at managing all of this than I have historically been. What do you do?
Dump her. No, I’m kidding. Well, I’m kind of not… Except, you’re not going to, and I sincerely hope you aren’t the sort of person who’d do that because I told you to anyway. It’s still good advice, but I hope you, like me, are unwilling to take this good advice.
So what else do you do? First, you have to be very clear about the relationship boundaries and possibilities. Say, “I have a wife and a girlfriend, and I love you, but I cannot be the Person that you need, and I want to actively support your quest to find that Person.” Try not to accidentally raise unrealistic expectations. At the same time, don’t try to force yourself to stick to unnecessarily harsh relationship boundaries as a matter of principle. There’s a balance there, and no one but you and your partners can find it. That’s a matter of trial and error. If Amy asks you to do or be something for her, and you have the time and energy and inclination to do it, do it. Don’t say “no” just because you’re afraid she’s getting too dependent on you or that it will raise her expectations too high. Constantly doing boundary maintenance for the sake of boundary maintenance is futile and exhausting, in my experience. To use a plant metaphor, don’t try to create relationship topiary: get an approximate sized box to grow your relationship in, and don’t freak out every time it looks a little too big or too small.
Next, you should try be very careful about how you spend time in public places where Amy has good opportunities to meet other people. Unless Amy is the sort of person who is constitutionally incapable of meeting people in large gatherings, or the sort of person who goes to events all the time without you, try not to be her Event Girlfriend. Try to make sure that she goes regularly to quality places where she can meet–and will basically be forced to interact with–quality people without you. You can’t force her to meet other people, but you can make sure that you aren’t the human security blanket that most of us kinky oddballs love to have when interacting in big groups.
Most importantly, if Amy does manage to get another relationship, or even something that looks like it might grow up into one, graciously accept your back seat role. Don’t make her feel guilty for spending less time with you; tell her she’s wanted, but that you accept that whatever she is building with takes priority. Recognize that initially she’ll probably come running to you every time something goes wrong in that other relationship because you probably will remain her security blanket for some time. And then eventually she’ll either stop running to you because that relationship grows up, or for a different reason because they broke up. The hardest thing about anticipating and managing these kinds of relationship changes is recognizing that your role in her life may change completely once she gets her Person. Most of the people who are attracted to hierarchical poly over anarchical poly usually prefer stability; but when you start trying to build relationships over top of previous relationships instead of under them, you don’t really know what’s going to happen.
I don’t know how helpful this has been, because there really just aren’t any easy answers to this very serious question. To me, it often looks like one of the unintended consequences of hierarchical poly life is that some people just seem stuck in a pink-collar relationship ghetto–much like the beloved and well-treated secretary in your office who is never going to get a promotion and never going to get paid what she deserves. Everyone wishes they had a way to fix the system, but no one really has a fucking clue how. If anyone else has a fucking clue, I’d certainly love to hear it.
I wish you both (all) the best of luck.