Commercializing self-pleasure

Drug stores sell sex toys, Trojan markets personal massagers. Should we celebrate the mainstreaming of vibrators?

Topics: Sex, Broadsheet, Love and Sex,

Commercializing self-pleasureyoung female with closed eyes and spread hair around the face(Credit: Vikavalter)

The premiere this week of Trojan’s new line of “personal massagers” is just the latest step in the mainstreaming of vibrators. Sex toys are no longer hidden behind the dark windows and flashing neon glow of seedy adult shops. In fact, they aren’t even restricted to the domain of well-lit sex-positive stores like Good Vibrations and Babeland anymore. We’ve read a gazillion trend stories about how suburban housewives are having sex toy Tupperware parties. Drug store chains, like Walgreens, are selling vibes online, and discreet toys are showing up in some actual, physical stores like Duane Reade. A commercial for Trojan’s $39.95 Tri-Phoria vibrator is even getting play on cable TV during the day.

As a sex-positive feminist (who thinks that qualifier is kind of dumb), I find myself wondering what it all means. My initial reaction is: The more vibrators there are in the world, the better. I mean, they’re a virtual, vibrating ode to women’s pleasure. Increasing the number of female orgasms isn’t going to solve the great ills of the world, but it will certainly make for healthier, happier women. And removing some of the stigma from self-pleasure just might allow more ladies to engage in the kind of personal sexual exploration that can ultimately lead to much hotter partnered sex. What’s not to love about all that?

There is part of me — the paranoid, cynical part of me — that thinks vibrators will be marketed to the mainstream as just one more superficial “treatment” for female desire. Of course, a superficial — in the sense of it being, ehem, on the surface — remedy is just what many women need. It certainly seems a more effective and healthy approach than having women pop Cialis or slap on a testosterone patch. But Big Pharma’s ongoing quest for a “female Viagra” has made me a little wary of attempts to medicalize and cash in on female pleasure. That concern wasn’t helped any by the fact that Trojan’s vibrator ad is cheekily framed as a pharmaceutical commercial with warnings about “toe-curling” side effects.

Somehow I doubt that flooding America’s bedrooms with disposable novelty items will exactly revolutionize sex for the good. I’m letting my Berkeley hippie roots show here, but it just seems we’re awfully good at identifying magic fixes when it comes to sexual experience and performance, but not so good about, you know, communicating with our partners. Then again, maybe I’m just being a vibrator snob.

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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