With friends like Hilda Hutcherson, MD, my go-to sexpert and the author of Pleasure: A Woman's Guide to Getting the Sex You Want, Need, and Deserve, who needs sales help? I call my fearless pal and offer to buy her lunch in exchange for a guided tour of the best sex toys currently on the market. My education begins in the personal massagers section of a discreet midtown Manhattan shop called Eve's Garden. I check out a shelf of architecturally unobtrusive little gadgets as Hilda heads straight for a periwinkle blue confection. "See how pretty," she says, grouping it with the chartreuse and salmon ones. "They're so sculptural, you could really have them on your coffee table without anybody realizing they're vibrators." But before I can lay out what I feel is a rather cogent argument for not displaying an assortment of pastel sex toys in the middle of my living room, Hilda has moved on. "Ooh, look, Lisa—it's the smoothie!" She picks up an ultrasleek tiger-stripe number and turns it to low. "Smoothies are a bit more phallic," she says, as it dawns on me that Hilda's idea of a bit more phallic is my definition of the Washington Monument. "These are terrific for women who are just trying to get their feet wet." As the smoothie buzzes away, I start to offer her a little free advice: "Technically, Doctor, it's not the feet that need to get—" But before I can finish, Hilda is zeroing in on an odd contraption. "Here's one based on a medical device for women with arousal disorder. This piece suctions the clitoris," she says, holding up a rubbery thimble, "while this cylinder vibrates. I write lots of prescriptions for these," she says matter-of-factly.
"But isn't everything here over-the-counter?" I ask. "Aren't sex toys more about leisure activity than medical need?" I can't help picturing an operating room in which a dedicated young surgeon calls for his instruments: "Scalpel! Sutures! Box of remote-control panties!" Hilda puts down the sample of edible Kama Sutra Honey Dust she's been enjoying. "When I write a prescription, I'm giving a woman permission from a doctor," she says. "And some of us need that. Ten percent of the sexually active female population have never had an orgasm, and God knows how many women have trouble climaxing with a partner. I prescribe a vibrator for use during intercourse. Toys give you control and provide extra stimulation."