It's Official: Vibrators Are Mainstream

While jokes about porn and casual references to male masturbation have made their way into mainstream culture, female pleasure—and especially masturbation—has typically been a touchier subject. But August 7, 2012 might be the day that female sexuality finally became a “mundane fact of life.” That’s when Trojan—the company that made its name selling condoms—inaugurated a line of vibrators by giving 10,000 of them away on the streets of New York City from hot-dog carts emblazoned with cheeky slogans such as, “Getcha vibes here!” According to company representatives, the giveaway is part of an effort to normalize vibrator use. As Bruce Weiss, vice president for marketing at Trojan, told The New York Times, “What we’re doing is taking something like a hot dog cart that is so everyday and so mainstream ... We’re showing people that vibrators are mainstream.”

The shift toward accepting female sexuality has been a long time coming. Almost as soon as the sexual revolution kicked off in the 1960s, feminists countered that more sex didn’t necessarily mean better sex for women. Critics accused feminists of being prudish and trying to squelch fun sexy times. In the subsequent decades, feminists reacted by proving their pro-sex bona fides by building up their own, pro-female avenues for sexual advocacy: feminist erotica, playful safer-sex campaigns, and an entire industry built around helping individual women enhance their erotic experience with education and quality sex toys. Stores like Good Vibrations and Babeland set out to separate the experience of buying sexual enhancement from the seedy environments of old that degraded women. While anti-feminists still resort to accusations of prudery at times, the country by and large knows that feminists are behind this gradual cultural shift towards accepting, even celebrating, female sexuality. 

It might be hard to believe that there’s a trend towards greater acceptance of female sexuality given the increasing hostility toward reproductive rights on the right. The past two years seem to have featured a resurgence of American prudery. States passed nearly three times more abortion restrictions in 2011 than in the previous record-setting year of 2005. The anti-choice movement also expanded its attacks on access to contraception by pushing to defund Planned Parenthood and virulently opposing a provision in the health-care law that requires insurance companies to offer contraception without a co-pay. But there is no paradox here: The reason the right has grown so hysterical over female sexuality is that they’re reacting to women’s increased freedom. They didn’t earn the title “reactionaries” for nothing, after all.

Susan Faludi discussed the push-pull effect of feminist advances in her famous book Backlash, where she observed that sexism rises in direct proportion to the gains women make. Of course, we needn’t even turn to Faludi’s work to know as much; conservatives are more than happy to point out the “excesses” of female liberation that they’re trying to curb. Take William Bennett, who responded to the popularity of Fifty Shades of Gray by describing the current state of affairs as “sexual nihilism” that “pro-family conservatives” “have been condemning” for a long time. Last week, National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez claimed that the contraception mandate forced employers to “underwrite the contraception-driven promiscuity of your employees.” And of course, who can forget Rush Limbaugh calling young activist Sandra Fluke a “slut” simply because she admitted to using birth control? Faludi’s book didn’t offer a prescription for avoiding backlash—it’s just what comes with progress. But the strength of the backlash suggests that feminists are winning.

In an era where women can go to their local pharmacy to buy a vibrator instead of a seedy porn shop and ninety-five percent of Americans have had premarital sex, conservatives know that they’re powerless to reverse the trend toward acceptance of female sexuality. Instead, they have shown they can exact their revenge by restricting access to abortion and contraception. If they’re successful in this mission,  we may end up with a culture in which women’s sexuality is open, but the price they pay for it is incalculably steep. 

Comments

Unfortunately, I think your concluding sentence is the most likely scenario for where American society and politics is headed, at least in the medium-term. Other than the sexual health provisions of the ACA, which were a step-forward overall (despite the fact that they could lead to less abortion access with some insurers), the past four years have been nothing but steps backward, as far as policy. I agree that the culture war is being won, but unless and until public sentiment is translated into actual policy changes, and anti-choice politicians start losing elections (and not just for opposing previously uncontroversial abortion ban exemptions), winning hearts and minds won't actually be worth much.

Hopefully sexual health issues will do more than convince people not to vote for conservatives, but will actually be enough to get non-voters to register. Hopefully they'll be enough to make sure that the DCCC and DSCC never give a cent to anti-choicers again, that blue states start passing legislation that expands access and funding for contraception and abortions, and that the Hyde Amendment stops getting renewed every two years. Unfortunately, I'm not very confident.

As an ex-sportswriter and still a sports fan, one thing I've always noticed in every contest is that the closer you get to the goal line, the more the opposition tries to stop you. As a progressive, I've noticed the same thing happens in politics.

Keep up the pressure and don't let temporary setbacks discourage us.

I think the mainstream acceptance of technologically-mechanically-enhanced sexuality is actually much further along when it comes to women than men. At least that's my emotional reaction to the thought of encountering a man's fleshlight hidden away in a sock drawer or luggage as opposed to a woman's vibrator. And forget about the guy with the vibrator, particularly if he happens to identify as straight.

Sex toys have been becoming mainstream long before 50 shades came out. There are heaps of sites that have been helping raise awareness of sex toys for years like this one.

I think that the normalising of sex toys is also evident in the number of high quality manufacturers; the warranties and service levels; and in the innovation in this area.

For example, when I tried to return a faulty sex toy a decade ago from a fairly mainstream toy chain, I was refused. These days many manufacturers offer one year warranties, and many retailers offer no-quibble return policies. Vibrators, at least at the top and middle end, have become in this respect as mainstream as the washing machines whose vibrations at least some women previously enjoyed!

In terms of innovation: I myself have invented an alarm clock vibrator, worn in the panties, that wakes the user with very gentle, increasingly powerful, stimulation. The technology is not new, but the I think that even a decade ago few people would have been interested in waking up this way. The clitoris was either seen as so immature (Freud) and sinful, or elevated as a symbol of liberation (second wave feminists). There is a certain matter-of-factizing of the clitoris involved in the current wave of sex toys. Clitorises give so much pleasure that why *not* use clitoral stimulation as a method of waking? And, just like wine is, for many, no longer seen as either a route to depravity or spiritual truth, but a lovely and pleasant drink, women are now able to buy high quality, well packaged, beautiful looking and feeling sex toys.

I think it would be naive to think that sex toys are, as yet, entirely mundane socially and politically, but we're certainly come a long way.

I've discussed vibrators with women (mainly friends)since 1984...Conclusion's:
The 'absence' of the male in the sexual bed created the onset of the vibrator!
Most men are/were ill-prepared to handle the responsibility of assisting a woman to reach an orgasm...for whatever reason....not skilled, interested
or whatever...its an 'is what it is' classic!
Part 2 of the female orgasm saga is the fact that once that clit becomes accustomed to that little hum and buzz, a poor penis just doesn't stand a chance!
To the coda: Vibrators have yet to cause a pregnancy or std!

Unless carelessly shared, that is. One could imagine circumstances in which either pregnancy or STD (or worse, E. coli) might be spread. Just be careful.

Mainstream but banned in Georgia! If a married couple want to buy one, they have to drive to Florida and smuggle it back. I believe Alabama and a couple of other Southern states have also banned them.

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