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Contrary to what Internet Culture would have you believe, all the best personal effects rest not in your purse, but on your nightstand. Sure, the “what’s in her bag” oeuvre is ever-exciting (uncapped lip balms! CVS receipts the length of your wingspan! 31 lost hair ties!), but the nightstand offers a bit more of an intimate portrait, so to speak. Think: lube and literature, vibrators and phone chargers, floggers and retainer cases.

Our nightstands fill a particular need. They house the last things we might use before drifting off to sleep, and the first things we’ll need upon waking. They’re a repository for our sex stashes — condoms, dildos, handcuffs — alongside our skincare essentials. Their contents speak volumes about our relationships to our bodies, our partners, and pleasure as whole. So in the spirit of normalizing — nay, celebrating — whatever it is that we keep by our bedsides, we asked three sex-positive women about the defining objects they keep on their nightstands, and the stories that come with them.

“When watching mainstream porn, I always ask myself, why do we care about these people having sex?” says Carly Pifer. “Most of the time the answer to that question is…we don’t. What lacks in a lot of porn is a storyline.”

As Carly sees it, narrative structure is essential to arousal — which is the guiding light behind her modern literotica site, Aurore. “I always encourage my writers to make sure these characters feel real — that this sex feels plausible,” she says of Aurore. The site — which is laid out with all the clean corners and sans serif fonts of your standard all-day café — is a far cry from the average porn site. In fact, the title page, which is divided between “Vanilla” and “Erotica” skews more Tumblr than it does X-rated. That’s not to say it isn’t plenty raunchy — the stories on site range from consensual dominatrix fantasies to far more docile coffee shop meet-cutes, and the roster of contributors places heavy emphasis on inclusivity — but it’s peaceful and design-forward. “I wanted it to feel beautiful,” says Carly. “I hated being on other sites and having these aggressive or creepy ads pop up. I wanted the experience of leaning into erotica to be an altogether positive, seamless one. I think we deserve that.”

Carly’s positive, candid relationship with her own sexuality began forming at a fairly young age. “I was sexualized before I was a sexual being,” she says. “I had really big breasts by age 12 — and my sexuality was kinda thrust upon me.” As she emerged from puberty, she began to feel as if her only way of reclaiming her sexuality was to champion it herself — to speak frankly about it and take control of the narrative. And so, years later, in service of this same ethos, the concept for Aurore was born. “I was just feeling the need for a space that was safe and sexy but also felt kinky and weird,” she says. “With literorica there’s space to visualize things in your own head, unlike typical porn. It’s inclusive, and representative, and no matter who you are, it allows you to insert yourself.”

It comes as no surprise, then, that Carly’s nightstand houses a steady supply of literature. “I love this particular cover, it’s very Georgia O’Keeffe” she says, of a hardcover edition of Alice In Wonderland at the top of her stack. “But I like keeping literature of all kinds near the bed. Before I’m a sex advocate, I’m a reader and a writer. And honestly, that’s where Aurore came from.”

Coupled with her reading material, Carly keeps a handful of classically intimate items. To start, a Tenga vibrator, that resembles a work of sculpture more than it does a sex toy. She says she’s never been one to shy away from vibrators on the nightstand, but she finds this one to be particularly beautiful. “I like it because it’s the female version of phallic — actually, there’s a word for that: Yonic.”

Alongside the vibrator, she has a set of nipple clamps that she says make her feel like a burlesque dancer — feathered and glamorous and sultry in the old-school sense of the word (“not to mention the fact that they make for really stimulating nipple-play when you’re masturbating,” she says). Then there’s an old shell, collected from a beach, where she keeps jewelry, a requisite glass of water, an astrology manual or two, and close by, a bodysuit, secured from a favorite local establishment, Rack Shack. “It’s the greatest store — and this particular bodysuit is so great for women with big boobs. It makes me feel incredible,” she says, “and it’s such a glorious thing to find things that help you love your body unabashedly.”

Below, listen to Carly wax poetic about nipple clamps and masturbation prep:

Sam’s foray into formal sex work began with a single portrait. As a college student, she met a photographer known for his work with nudes. “He did these really stunning photographs of women’s butts with flowers around them,” she says. “And I really wanted to work with him.”

After their first shoot together, Sam began to receive other requests. Photographers who had seen her shots were hoping to use her in their work — and thus, a modest nude art modeling career began. At the time, she was having trouble making ends meet, and a friend suggested cam-girl work. It was similar to modeling, and she’d make more money from the safety of her own home. So she gave it a shot — and she found that she really liked it.

“It was low-risk, and I got to make my own schedule, and I loved that,” she says. “Then, when I started to build some relationships and I got comfortable, I’d visit some clients in person. It helped me pay some bills and pay my way through college — so it just kind of evolved naturally.”

Now, Sam works as a producer at a women’s publication. And while she doesn’t engage in much in-person sex work anymore, she does attend sex parties and BDSM community events, and she maintains a kink Instagram. “I still domme and I’ll make custom content for clients, and while I am paid for these services I do not solely rely on this income,” she says. “I enjoy making online content because I have the privilege to do it at my own leisure.”

Sam wasn’t always so fundamentally open with regards to sex, though. In fact, she cites her sex work as having played a formative role in the development of her relationship to her body. “I went through an assault in high school and after that I sort of dissociated with my body,” she says. “But once I started feeling rooted again, the sex work helped me to feel strong and beautiful — to refocus on self-pleasure.”

Below, listen to Sam speak out about lube and foreplay:

On her nightstand, Sam has an impressive roster of tools designed for partner use and for solo play. To start, she keeps a set of drip candles, which she likes to use both during foreplay and mid-sex. “They’re great if you’re playing with someone who’s blindfolded, because that’ll heighten the sensation of the hot wax,” she says.

Alongside the candles, she has a flogger — which she claims is a good BDSM gateway tool, being that it’s less aggressive than a paddle or a crop. And beside that, a bottle of K-Y Natural-Feeling lube. “For starters, when you’re wearing latex you have to lube it up to get it on you,” she says. “And I also love using lube as a sensual massage oil during foreplay.” More generally, she recommends a water-based lube like K-Y One because it works with any sex toy, and it’s great with latex condoms — plus, it won’t leave you feeling sticky. This particular lube is also a favorite of her partner’s.

While Sam’s partner is not necessarily involved in the same world of kink, they still maintain plenty healthy sex life. “He’s respectful and open to the fact that I do this kind of work and that I’m into all of these things — so we have an open relationship,” she says. “He’s kind of vanilla. But he’s open to exploring. Sex work and BDSM are very much about communication and honesty and just being transparent, so that’s something we take so seriously in our relationship and it’s something I take very seriously in general.”

When it comes to solo pleasure, Sam keeps a vibrator designed specifically for clit stimulation. “It makes me orgasm in less than 30 seconds and it’s silicone so it’s super soft,” she says. “Actually, I have this ritual and I’m masturbating, I’ll think about an intention — a lot of other sex educators do this too — and I try to visualize it when I cum. It’s a kind of sex magic that a lot of people swear by.”

In the realm of intentions, Sam also keeps a five-minute journal at her bedside, which she writes in daily, beside a selection of well-tended plants, a cat calendar (a gift from her grandfather), and a retainer case. “Maybe not the sexiest thing on my nightstand,” she says, “but it’s just as essential as everything else, so I keep it right there…next to my flogger.”

Shay Neary never imagined herself as a model — let alone the first transgender, plus-size model to land a major label fashion campaign.

Growing up in small-town Pennsylvania, Shay dabbled in drag, but it wasn’t until years later that she found her identity as a trans woman. “When I went off to college, I lived on a men’s floor — and I’d never been around so many men before,” she says. “It just made me starkly aware of how little we had in common.” So, that very same year, Shay decided to spend her savings on an all new wardrobe of women’s clothing. “I took all my men’s clothing and I dumped it in this enormous construction dumpster sitting outside our dorm,” she says. “It was all very dramatic.”

Eventually, Shay moved to New York, began hormone replacement therapy, and landed a job at a bustling West Village restaurant. It was there, while she was working, that a coworker tipped her off about an emerging trans modeling agency. “[My coworker] told me I should submit photos to the agency and I was like I’m not submitting, no one’s gonna take a fat girl,” she says. But she ended up hearing back — and soon after, booked her first major gig.

“I’ve always sort of shined behind the camera. Folks will say I have a natural light,” she says. “It’s because I’m comfortable in front of the lens. When you’ve been through a lot of trauma, I think it makes you a more relaxed individual — more appreciative of life. And I think that’s something you see on my face in photographs.”

The objects on Shay’s nightstand also speak to the developing sense of comfort in her own body. To start, she keeps a prostate massager on hand — one of her favorite tools to use in partner play. She says the multi-setting vibrating tool adds another layer to her orgasms. When she’s solo, she likes to use a vibrator shaped like two fingers gesturing in a “come hither” motion — she says it helps her to work through some of her lingering body dysmorphia while still enjoying touching herself. “It’s such a good tool, you can use it to claw into you a bit — it feels amazing,” she says.

When it comes to partner play, Shay also enjoys sensory deprivation — so beside her bed, she has both Japanese silk ropes, and a silk blindfold. “Of course, I’d only use a blindfold with partners I can really trust,” she says, “But when you feel safe and you’re blindfolded, it creates a sense of intrigue. It heightens pleasure everywhere else.” She also doesn’t have vision in her right eye — from an accident as a child — and eliminating sight altogether helps her relax.

But the silk ropes represent something else: submission. “I can be a very controlling person, but in sex, sometimes I enjoy being submissive,” she says. “I have a dom who takes great care of me and we love to play with these silk ropes. It’s another form of sensory deprivation for me.” Again, she harps on the importance of trusting your partner — and when you do, she says, the use of ropes, especially ones as soft and luxurious as these, can be a really fun way to explore new realms of sexuality.

Last, Shay keeps a pack of berry-flavored Skittles beside her bed, among other packaged candies. “Everybody needs a sweet treat!” she says. “I believe in keeping candy on hand at all times.” Beyond the standard joy of consuming sweets, she also thinks flavor can be a fun addition to sex. “Taking a bite of something delicious in the midst of sex can really elevate your pleasure in a new way. In fact, if I had a fridge next to my bed I’d keep it stocked all the time. I’d be living in a pleasure cave, I’d never leave.”

Hear more from Shay on sensory deprivation and blindfolds below:

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