Review: Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews


Book Reviews

If it is the inventor in his (or her) garage, who has caught the imagination of large numbers of people, it might be safe to exclude the one who is spending a lot of time and effort on building a sophisticated contraption for sexual stimulation, aka a sex machine. That’s a pity. Kind of. After all, do we really want to know what drives people to invest money and time to hook up correctly sized and shaped artificial phalli to motors, some of which might or might not be taken from all kinds of other, seemingly more useful, machinery?

Yes, I think we do - as Timothy Archibald shows us in his new book Sex Machines. But, before going into more details, let’s get this out of the way: There is very little nudity in this book - even if one is willing to include the phalli. The book is really more about the people who invent these machines and, if put into a larger context, about some of the things that are going on in suburbia or in small towns - those presumed islands of safety and cleanliness, away from the cities’ depravity and sins.

So it is really completely logical that some of the inventors are devout Christians, with their very own kind of morals (one of them asked the author “I realize when you were here I never asked you about your relationship with the Lord. Have you thought about it?”, while another one said “I will require anyone ordering a machine from me to provide proof of marriage and a signed statement of intent to use only within that marriage”) or MBA’s or engineers, who have a hard time finding somebody to try their inventions.

And it’s hard to tell what is more baffling or just plainly amazing/amusing, the interviews or the photography, the latter of which is done in an excellent deadpan fashion. It would absolutely ruin the fun to describe what you can see in some of those photos - there are samples on the website and there is a weblog; but the photography alone is more than worth the price of the book.

Critics, in search of something to nag about, might retort that sex sells. But unlike some other recent, widely publicized books about various aspects of the sex industry, this book really is quite different, because this is not the sex industry - even though, I’m sure, some of the inventors would just love to be successful enough to be included in that term!

And the vast majority of the inventors (and the few - let’s call them - users) aren’t the kind of creeps that one might expect to find. Everything is very normal. You have your living room, with your oddly mixed furniture, and right on top of the table, above a pile of games, there’s your self-made sex machine, and the only reason why the machine is not as inconspicuous as the rest of the setting is because you don’t get to see one every day.

But for the inventors, it’s just a part of their life, and they find nothing unusual about it. Take the happily married couple, sweethearts since school, the wife of which actually has no idea why her husband constructed the machines, but it doesn’t appear to bother her in the least.

It’s just all - or most of it - very normal and - almost - a little innocent, and maybe that’s another good reason why this is such a good book. As Timothy Archibald writes in the introduction the “new sexual underground doesnÂ’t look anything like I thought it would.”