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How to close the female orgasm gap

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Studies show sexual pleasure, self-esteem and satisfaction profoundly impacts our wellbeing. That’s why increasing our ‘sexual IQ’ matters

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In this moment of brave truth telling and female empowerment, it’s time to address one topic that’s been missing far too long from our conversations around sex: female pleasure.

Study after study show that sexual pleasure, self-esteem and satisfaction have profound impacts on our physical and mental wellbeing. It is a natural and vital part of our health and happiness.

As a society, we accept this premise fairly easily when it comes to men and they learn it at a young age. When discovering how babies are made, male ejaculation (ie his pleasure) plays a featured role. Men feel entitled to pleasure and our culture supports that. There are endless nicknames for male anatomy and jokes about masturbation; and TV shows, movies, advertisements and porn all cater to their fantasies.

Women, on the other hand, appear mostly as the object in these fantasies rather than as subjects. In middle school sex ed classes, drawings of female anatomy often don’t even include the clitoris, as if women’s reproductive function is somehow separate from their pleasure. Female pleasure remains taboo and poorly understood. There is little scientific research on the topic and even doctors shy away from discussing it: according to a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, less than 30% of gynecologists routinely ask their patients about pleasure and sexual satisfaction.

This silence has real consequences. Almost 30% of college-age women can’t identify their clitoris on an anatomy test, according to a study from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Another survey by the UK gynecological cancer charity, Eve Appeal, finds that women are more familiar with men’s bodies than their own: while 60% could correctly label a diagram of the male body, just 35% of women correctly labeled female anatomy. (For the record, men scored even worse.)

Lack of sexual health knowledge is associated with lower rates of condom and contraceptive use. It also contributes to pleasure disparities in the bedroom. While gay and straight men climax about 85% of the time during sex, women having sex with women orgasm about 75% of the time and women having sex with men come last at just 63%, research from the Kinsey Institute shows. The reasons for this “orgasm gap” are surely multifaceted, but we can start to address it by talking more about the importance of women’s pleasure.

Let’s talk about what women’s sexual anatomy really looks like, so that we can normalize differences, reduce body shame and improve self-care. We should encourage self-exploration from an early age so that women (and men) learn what feels good to them and how that changes as we move through the different stages of our lives.

Knowing our own bodies can promote our own health and wellbeing, and empower our relationships. The Kinsey study showed that compared to women who orgasmed less frequently, women who experienced more pleasure were more likely to ask for what they want in bed, act out fantasies and praise their partner for something they did in bed, among other things. We can’t talk about what we like or don’t like with our partners if we don’t know ourselves.

In order to cultivate a culture of true gender equality, we need candid conversations and accurate, sex-positive information. Without this, pop culture, pornography and outdated cultural institutions fill in these gaps with unhealthy stereotypes and unrealistic expectations that center on male pleasure and leave women in a supporting role.

Through our willingness to speak openly about sex and to seek out empowering information, we can increase our “sexual IQ” and make more informed choices that will improve our sexual satisfaction, happiness and wellbeing throughout our lives.

As author Peggy Orenstein says “We’ve raised a generation of girls to have a voice, to expect egalitarian treatment in the homes, in the classroom, in the workplace. Now it’s time to demand that ‘intimate justice’ in their personal lives as well.”

Complete Article HERE!

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7 condom myths everyone needs to stop believing, according to a doctor

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It’s time we got real about condoms.

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When it comes to condoms, chances are pretty good that you think you know everything there is know on the matter. Like, you’ve been learning about safe sex since eighth grade health class. You’re good.

But where, exactly, does most of your current-day condom knowledge stem from? If it’s sourced from a mix of things your friends have told you, plus whatever memory of eighth grade health class you have stored deep within your temporal lobe, it may not all be entirely accurate. In fact, there are more than a few common condom myths floating around — some of which you may believe as fact.

INSIDER spoke with Dr. Logan Levkoff, a nationally recognized health and sexuality expert who works with Trojan brand condoms, to get down to the bottom of of what you should (and shouldn’t) believe about condoms.

Myth: Condoms haven’t evolved over the past few decades.

Condoms being tested.

Think that condoms haven’t really changed from the time that your parents (and even your grandparents) might have been using them? According to Dr. Levkoff, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“One of [the biggest myths] is when people say that condoms haven’t changed over time, that the condoms that are out today are the same as they were thirty or forty years ago. And it’s just not true,” Dr. Levkoff told INSIDER.

“There are have been a ton of innovations about condoms, condom shape, the use of lube, the thinness of latex, the ribbing. They’re so much better now!”

Myth: Condoms aren’t that effective.

Most of us have heard the same statistics — condoms, when used perfectly, are 98% effective. But “typical” condom use (aka the way most people use them) is 85% effective. Because of this, you may feel as though condoms aren’t so important.

“What we don’t typically tell people is that this “typical” number, that includes people who don”t use condoms all the time. So, is there a surprise that the number is lower if people don’t use them at all?” Dr. Levkoff told INSIDER.

“I think myths occur because we aren’t really clear on the numbers we’re giving and talking about.”

So, if you feel like you can skip a condom because it won’t make that much of a difference whether you use one or not, think again. If you use one, you’ll be in a much better position than you would be if you’d skipped one.

Myth: Sex with condoms isn’t as enjoyable as sex without condoms.

Condom sex = bad sex. Or, at least, this is a commonly-accepted narrative that you’ve probably heard two or three (or 10) times.

As it turns out, this isn’t true at all.

“Because we have these preconceived notions of what condoms are — thick latex, big smell — we perpetuate the message that condoms don’t feel good or condoms aren’t fun. And the reality is that condoms have lower latex odor today and they feel great,” Dr. Levkoff told INSIDER.

Dr. Levkoff also noted that a study done at Indiana University found that people rate sex with condoms equally as pleasurable as sex without condoms.

“And that’s really important, because condoms give us the ability to be fully engaged in the act of sex, to not worry and think about the ‘what ifs.'” Dr. Levkoff told INSIDER.

Myth: You can stop using condoms once you’re exclusive.

There’s something called a “condom window.”

Thinking about dropping condoms now that you and your partner have been dating for a few months? You might want to think again.

“In this business, we call this the ‘condom window,'” Dr. Levkoff told INSIDER. “We know that once someone is sexually active with a partner for a while all of the sudden, they’re like ‘Well, we don’t have to use these anymore.'”

“The reality is, we probably get rid of the condoms earlier than we should. There’s no question, in heterosexual relationship, that dual protection — condoms, plus [another form of birth control] — are really the best way to prevent STIs as well as unintended pregnancy. I would love to say that we live in a world in which we’re all super honest about what we do and who we do it with and what our sexual health status is, but we’re not always. So, until we get to a point where we can be, then it’s always worth having condoms, too.”

Myth: Young people are the only ones at risk for condom misuse and mistakes.

It can be easy to assume that, once you age out of the risk of becoming a teen pregnancy statistic, the rest of your sex life will be safe and surprise free. But if it’s important to be vigilant about safe sex, no matter how old you are — and, according to Dr. Levkoff, many people start to slip up as they get older.

“We are seeing numbers of sexual health issues arise, not just in younger populations, but certainly in aging populations too, who maybe are out dating again and are sexually active and aren’t as concerned about unintended pregnancy,” Dr. Levkoff told INSIDER.

“They might not have grown up in a time of HIV/AIDs and don’t think to worry,” she continued. “That’s also the group where, for the most part, if they saw condoms, they saw the condoms from the sixties, not the condoms from today. So there’s definitely some work to be done there.”

Myth: Condoms stored in wallets aren’t effective.

We’ve all seen that classic Reddit photo of the wallet that developed a permanent ring due to the fact that its owner stored a condom in there for the duration of his college years. And that probably means that you shouldn’t keep condoms in wallets at all, right?

Well, not exactly. Storing condoms in wallets certainly isn’t the best idea — ideally, condoms should be kept in a dark, cool, friction-free environment— but as long as you don’t keep a condom in a wallet for years and years, you should be fine.

“Condoms are medical devices. They’re regulated, so they have to be held to certain standards. But keeping it in your wallet for a little on the chance that you might have a great night, it’s not a big deal,” Dr. Levkoff told INSIDER.

What’s more important is to pay attention to the expiration date on the condom wrapper. “Condoms have expiration dates for a reason, because there is a window that they are most effective,” Dr. Levkoff said.

Myth: Condoms should only be the guy’s responsibility.

Do not rely on anyone for birth control.

If you are a person with a vagina who has sex with people with penises, you may feel that it is the penis-haver’s responsibility to provide the condoms.

Not so, said Dr. Levkoff. “I think there’s nothing more empowering than knowing you can carry a product that takes care of your sexual health. But there’s this idea that, because someone with a penis wears a condom, [they have to be in charge].”

According to Dr. Levkoff, it’s better to think about condoms as though both parties will be wearing them — because, technically, they are.

“If it’s going into someone else’s body, they’re wearing it too. It doesn’t have to be rolled onto you in order for it to be considered use,” Dr. Levkoff told INSIDER.

Complete Article HERE!

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For Queer Women, What Counts as Losing Your Virginity?

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I wanted, desperately, to know if the sex I was having “counted.”

After I hooked up with someone, I snuck out of bed and into the darkness of my balcony, alone. A nervous wreck, I texted my friend, practically hyperventilating because of something I’d never expected to worry about at all.

Hoping for an answer, I texted: Am I still a virgin if I had sex with a girl?

My friend asked what I thought, but I really didn’t know. The woman I’d slept with defined sex as penetration, so by her definition, we hadn’t had sex. She, as the older, long-time queer in the hookup, had the upper hand. I didn’t think it was up to me. After all, what did I know about the rules of girl-on-girl sex, let alone what counts as losing your virginity? Could it be sex if only half of the people involved thought it was?

To me, it felt like it had to be sex, because if not sex, what was it?

It was a panic I never expected to feel. I was super open-minded. I was super feminist. I should have been beyond thrilled and empowered by the fact that I’d had a positive sexual encounter. But instead of cuddling the girl I was sleeping with and basking in our post-sex glow, or even vocalizing my worry over whether or not we’d just had sex, I was panicking in solitude.

My identity has always been a blur—I’m biracial, bisexual, and queer—and it’s something that makes me feel murky, unsure of who I am. Virginity was just the newest thing to freak out about. I stood in the dark alone and tried to figure out, once again, how to define myself.

I wanted, desperately, to know if the sex I was having “counted.” And I’m not the only one.

While many people have a strained relationship with the concept of virginity (and whether or not it exists to begin with), for queer women, the role of virginity is especially complicated.

“Virginity is a socially constructed idea that is fairly exclusive to the heterosexual population,” Kristen Mark, Ph.D. an associate professor of health promotion at University of Kentucky and director of the sexual health promotion lab, told SELF. “There is very little language in determining how virginity is ‘lost’ in non-heterosexual populations. Given the relatively large population of non-heterosexual populations, the validity of virginity is poor.”

As a result, many of us are stressed out by the concept, and left wondering if there’s just something other queer women know that we aren’t quite in on.

For Sam Roberts*, the lack of clarity surrounding expectations of queer women made them hesitant to come out in the first place. “I didn’t come out as queer until I was 25,” they tell SELF. “I felt vulnerable because of the lack of understanding around queer sexuality. Certainly it has gotten better, but not having a model for what queer sex ([specifically] for [cisgender]-women) looks like via health class, media, or pop culture can make it hard to know how to navigate that space.”

Alaina Leary, 24, expressed similar frustrations the first time they had sex. “My first sex partner and I had a lot of conversations around sex and sexuality,” Leary tells SELF. “We were essentially figuring it out on our own. Health class, for me, never taught me much about LGBTQ sex.”

When you’ve been socialized to view penetration as the hallmark of sexual intercourse, it’s hard to know what counts as losing your virginity—or having sex, for that matter.

“For many queer women, what they consider sex is not considered sex from a heteronormative perspective,” Karen Blair, Ph.D., professor of psychology at St. Francis Xavier University and director of the KLB Research Lab, tells SELF. “So this can complicate the question of when one lost their virginity, if ever.”

“Even if one expands the definition of having lost one’s virginity to some form of vaginal penetration, many queer women may never actually ‘lose’ their virginity—to the extent that it is something that can be considered ‘lost’ in the first place.”

To be clear, relying on penetration as a defining aspect of sex only serves to exclude all those who aren’t interested in or physically capable of engaging in penetrative sexual acts—regardless of their sexual orientation. Ultimately, requiring sex to be any one thing is inherently difficult because of the limitless differences among bodies and genitals, and the simple fact that what feels pleasurable to one body can be boring at best, and traumatizing at worst, to another.

The lack of a clear moment when one became sexually active can make us feel like the sex we have doesn’t count.

We live in a culture that overwhelmingly values virginity, with “losing your v-card” still seen as a step into adulthood. It’s something that, as a former straight girl, I’d never even thought about, but, as a queer girl, I became obsessive over: When was I really, truly, having sex?

It was especially frustrating considering that my straight friends seemed instantly thrust into this status of adults in real, legitimate sexual relationships, while my relationships were being thought of as “foreplay” by the mainstream, rather than valid sex acts.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. “We had straight friends who were having sex and doing sexual things in very defined ways,” Leary says. “One of my friends was obsessed with the ‘bases’ and insisted that her oral sex with her boyfriend didn’t count as sex because it was ‘only third base.’”

So what does that mean for those of us who will only ever engage in “foreplay?”

Considering the larger structures and cultural expectations that make queer women feel invalid, virginity is just another way that we’re left feeling somehow less than our straight and cisgender counterparts.

“The primary impact of the concept of virginity on queer women is an—even if unconscious—feeling of inferiority or oppression,” Dr. Mark explains. “We as a society place so much emphasis on virginity loss, yet it is a concept that is only relevant to a portion of the population. Women in general, regardless of sexual orientation, know they are sexual objects before they are sexually active due to the existence of the concept of virginity.”

Consider the fact that most young women first learn about sex in the context of virginity, which often exists under the scope of “purity.” This, Dr. Mark says, can make women feel “defined by virginity status.”

As a result, when queer women do have sex, and it doesn’t “count” as their virginity being “taken,” they can be left confused about the encounter and unsure of how valid their sexual relationships are to begin with.

At the end of the day, it’s up to queer women to define what virginity—and sex—mean for ourselves.

“I would encourage queer women to define their sexual lives in ways that make sense for them,” Dr. Mark explains. “If they have created an idea around virginity that makes it important to them, I encourage them to think about alternate ways to define it that fits with their experience. But I also encourage the rejection of virginity for women who feel like it doesn’t fit for them.”

This lack of an expectation (beyond consent, of course) when it comes to how you have sex can actually be freeing, in a way, Dr. Blair says.

“One of the best things that queer women have going for them in their relationships is the freedom to write their own sexual scripts in a way that suits them and their partners best.”

Complete Article HERE!

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What’s the difference between sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape?

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Physician Larry Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for the sexual assault of girls on the USA Gymnastics team.

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The terms “sexual abuse,” “sexual assault,” “sexual harassment” – and even “rape” – crop up daily in the news. We are likely to see these terms more as the #MeToo movement continues.

Many people want to understand these behaviors and work to prevent them. It helps if we are consistent and as precise as possible when we use these terms.

But what does each term mean?

We are three scholars who have specialized in the scientific study of sexual abuse, rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment over several decades.

Let’s start by defining each of these terms. Then, we can look at how these behaviors sometimes overlap.

Sexual abuse

The term that has been in the news most recently with reference to sports doctor Larry Nassar’s trial is sexual abuse, a form of mistreating children. Sexual abuse is mainly used to describe behavior toward children, not adults.

All 50 states have laws that recognize that children are not capable of giving informed consent to any sex act. In the United States, the age at which consent can be given ranges from 16 to 18 years.

Sexual abuse can include many different things, from touching a victim in a sexual manner to forcing a victim to touch the perpetrator in a sexual way to making a victim look at sexual body parts or watch sexual activity. Sexual abuse of a child is a criminal act.

Rape

In 2012, the FBI issued a revised definition of rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” The revised law is gender neutral, meaning that anyone can be a victim.

When carefully examined, the FBI definition does not look like most people’s idea of rape – typically perpetrated by a stranger through force. The FBI definition says nothing about the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator and it says nothing about force. It does, however, say something about consent, or rather, the lack of it. Think about consent as your ability to make a decision about what happens to your body.

A perpetrator can compel a victim into a penetrative sex act in multiple ways. A perpetrator can ignore verbal resistance – like saying “no,” “stop” or “I don’t want to” – or overpower physical resistance by holding a person down so they cannot move. A person can penetrate a victim who is incapable of giving consent because he or she is drunk, unconscious, asleep, or mentally or physically incapacitated; or can threaten or use physical force or a weapon against a person. Essentially, these methods either ignore or remove the person’s ability to make an autonomous decision about what happens to their body. State laws vary in how they define removing or ignoring consent.

Perpetrators can’t defend against charges of rape by claiming they were drunk themselves or by saying they are married to the victim.

In November 2017, participants combined the ‘Take Back the Workplace March’ and the ‘#MeToo Survivors March’ in Hollywood.

Sexual assault

Rape and sexual assault have been used interchangeably in coverage of events leading to the #MeToo movement, and this practice, though unintentional, is confusing. In contrast to the specific criminal act of rape, the term sexual assault can describe a range of criminal acts that are sexual in nature, from unwanted touching and kissing, to rubbing, groping or forcing the victim to touch the perpetrator in sexual ways. But sexual assault overlaps with rape because the term includes rape.

Social and behavioral scientists often use the term “sexual violence.” This term is far more broad than sexual assault. It include acts that are not codified in law as criminal but are harmful and traumatic. Sexual violence includes using false promises, insistent pressure, abusive comments or reputational threats to coerce sex acts. It can encompass noncontact acts like catcalls and whistles, which can make women feel objectified and victimized. It includes nonconsensual electronic sharing of explicit images, exposure of genitals and surreptitious viewing of others naked or during sex.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a much broader term than sexual assault, encompassing three categories of impermissible behavior.

One is sexual coercion – legally termed “quid pro quo harassment” – referring to implicit or explicit attempts to make work conditions contingent upon sexual cooperation. The classic “sleep with me or you’re fired” scenario is a perfect example of sexual coercion. It is the most stereotypical form of sexual harassment, but also the rarest.

A second, and more common, form of sexual harassment is unwanted sexual attention: unwanted touching, hugging, stroking, kissing, relentless pressure for dates or sexual behavior. Note that romantic and sexual overtures come in many varieties at work, not all of them harassing. To constitute unlawful sexual harassment, the sexual advances must be unwelcome and unpleasant to the recipient. They must be “sufficiently severe or pervasive” to “create an abusive working environment,” according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Unwanted sexual attention can include sexual assault and even rape. If an employer were to forcibly kiss and grope a receptionist without her consent, this would be an example of both unwanted sexual attention and sexual assault – both a civil offense and a crime.

Most sexual harassment, however, entails no sexual advance. This third and most common manifestation is gender harassment: conduct that disparages people based on gender, but implies no sexual interest. Gender harassment can include crude sexual terms and images, for example, degrading comments about bodies or sexual activities, graffiti calling women “cunts” or men “pussies.” More often than not, though, it is purely sexist, such as contemptuous remarks about women being ill-suited for leadership or men having no place in childcare. Such actions constitute “sexual” harassment because they are sex-based, not because they involve sexuality.

Come-ons, put-downs: They’re both bad

In lay terms, sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention are come-ons, whereas gender harassment is a put-down. Still, they are all forms of sexual harassment and can all violate law, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Historically, social attitudes towards all these hostile actions have assumed a continuum of severity. Sexist graffiti and insults are offensive, but no big deal, right? Verbal sexual overtures cannot be as bad as physical ones. And, if there was no penetration, it can’t have been all that bad.

These assumptions do not hold up to scientific scrutiny, however. For example, researchers at the University of Melbourne analyzed data from 73,877 working women. They found that experiences of gender harassment, sexist discrimination and the like are more corrosive to work and well-being, compared to encounters with unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion.

We have tried to clarify terms that are now becoming household words. Of course, life is complicated. Abusive, assaulting or harassing behavior cannot always be neatly divided into one category or another – sometimes it belongs in more than one. Nevertheless, it is important to use terms in accurate ways to promote the public’s understanding.

Finally, we take heed that society is in a period like no other and one we thought we would never see. People are reflecting on, and talking about, and considering and reconsidering their experiences and their behavior. Definitions, criminal and otherwise, change with social standards. This time next year, we may be writing a new column.

Complete Article HERE!

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The Sex Toy Shops That Switched On a Feminist Revolution

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The “White Cross Electric Vibrator Girl” as pictured in a 1911 Health and Beauty catalog.

BUZZ
The Stimulating History of the Sex Toy
By Hallie Lieberman
Illustrated. 359 pp. Pegasus Books. $26.95.

VIBRATOR NATION
How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure
By Lynn Comella
278 pp. Duke University Press. $25.95.

Think back, for a moment, to the year 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. The Beatles released the “White Album.” North Vietnam launched the Tet offensive. And American women discovered the clitoris. O.K., that last one may be a bit of an overreach, but 1968 was when “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm,” a short essay by Anne Koedt, went that era’s version of viral. Jumping off of the Masters and Johnson bombshell that women who didn’t climax during intercourse could have multiple orgasms with a vibrator, Koedt called for replacing Freud’s fantasy of “mature” orgasm with women’s lived truth: It was all about the clitoris. That assertion single-handedly, as it were, made female self-love a political act, and claimed orgasm as a serious step to women’s overall emancipation. It also threatened many men, who feared obsolescence, or at the very least, loss of primacy. Norman Mailer, that famed phallocentrist, raged in his book “The Prisoner of Sex” against the emasculating “plenitude of orgasms” created by “that laboratory dildo, that vibrator!” (yet another reason, beyond the whole stabbing incident, to pity the man’s poor wives).

To be fair, Mailer & Co. had cause to quake. The quest for sexual self-knowledge, as two new books on the history and politics of sex toys reveal, would become a driver of feminist social change, striking a blow against men’s overweening insecurity and the attempt (still with us today) to control women’s bodies. As Lynn Comella writes in “Vibrator Nation,” retailers like Good Vibrations in San Francisco created an erotic consumer landscape different from anything that previously existed for women, one that was safe, attractive, welcoming and ultimately subversive, presenting female sexual fulfillment as “unattached to reproduction, motherhood, monogamy — even heterosexuality.”

As you can imagine, both books (which contain a great deal of overlap) are chockablock with colorful characters, starting with Betty Dodson, the Pied Piper of female onanism, who would often personally demonstrate — in the nude — how to use a vibrator to orgasm during her early sexual consciousness-raising workshops in New York. I am woman, hear me roar indeed.

Back in the day, though, attaining a Vibrator of One’s Own was tricky. The leering male gaze of the typical “adult” store was, at best, off-putting to most women. Amazon, where sex toys, like fresh produce, are just a mouse click away, was still a glimmer in Jeff Bezos’ eye. Enter Dell Williams, who after being shamed by a Macy’s salesclerk while checking out a Hitachi Magic Wand, founded in 1974 the mail order company Eve’s Garden. That was quickly followed by Good Vibrations, the first feminist sex toy storefront; it’s great fun to read the back story of Good Vibes’ late founder, Joani Blank, along with radical “sexperts” like Susie Bright and Carol Queen.
Continue reading the main story

The authors of “Vibrator Nation” and “Buzz” each put in time observing how sex toys are sold, so have firsthand insight into the industry. Whose take will hold more appeal depends on the reader’s interests: In “Buzz,” Hallie Lieberman offers a broader view, taking us back some 30,000 years, when our ancestors carved penises out of siltstone; moving on to the ancient Greeks’ creative use of olive oil; the buzzy medical devices of the 19th century (disappointingly, doctors’ notorious in-office use of vibrators as treatment for female “hysteria” is urban legend); and the impact of early-20th-century obscenity laws — incredibly, sex toys remain illegal in Alabama — before digging deeply into more contemporary influences. In addition to feminist retailers, Lieberman braids in stories of men like Ted Marche, whose family business — employing his wife and teenage children — began by making prosthetic strap-ons for impotent men; Gosnell Duncan, who made sex aids for the disabled and was the first to expand dildo production beyond the Caucasian pink once called “flesh colored”; the Malorrus brothers, who were gag gift manufacturers (think penis pencil toppers); and the hard-core porn distribution mogul Reuben Sturman, who repeatedly, and eventually disastrously, ran afoul of the law. Although their X-rated wares would supposedly give women orgasms, unlike the feminist-championed toys they were sold primarily as devices that would benefit men. Much like the era’s sexual revolution, in other words, they maintained and even perpetuated a sexist status quo.

“Vibrator Nation” focuses more narrowly on women-owned vendors, wrestling with how their activist mission bumped up against the demands and constraints of the marketplace. Those early entrepreneurs, Comella writes, believed nothing less than that “women who had orgasms could change the world.” As with other utopian feminist visions, however, this one quickly splintered. Controversy broke out over what constituted “sex positivity,” what constituted “woman-friendly,” what constituted “woman.” Was it politically correct to stock, or even produce, feminist porn? Were BDSM lesbians invited to the party? Would the stores serve transwomen? Did the “respectable” aesthetic of the white, middle-class founders translate across lines of class and race? If the goal was self-exploration through a kind of cliteracy, what about customers (of any gender or sexual orientation) who wanted toys for partnered play or who enjoyed penetrative sex? Could a sex store that sold nine-inch, veined dildos retain its feminist bona fides? Dell Williams solved that particular problem by commissioning nonrepresentational silicone devices with names like “Venus Rising” from Gosnell Duncan, the man who made prosthetics for the disabled. Others followed suit.

Even so, Comella writes, the retailers struggled to stay afloat: Feminist stores refused, as a matter of principle, to trade on customers’ anxiety — there were none of the “tightening creams,” “numbing creams,” penis enlargers or anal bleaches that boosted profits at typical sex stores. Employees were considered “educators,” and sales were secondary to providing information and support. What’s more, Good Vibrations in particular was noncompetitive; Blank freely shared her business model with any woman interested in spreading the love.

Consumer culture and feminism have always been strange bedfellows, with the former tending to overpower the latter. Just as Virginia Slims co-opted the message of ’70s liberation, as the Spice Girls cannibalized ’90s grrrl power, so feminist sex stores exerted their influence on the mainstream, yet were ultimately absorbed and diluted by it. In 2007, Good Vibrations was sold to GVA-TWN, the very type of sleazy mega-sex-store company it was founded to disrupt. Though no physical changes have been made in the store, Good Vibrations is no longer woman-owned. Although the aesthetics haven’t changed, Lieberman writes, the idea of feminist sex toys as a source of women’s liberation has faded, all but disappeared. An infamous episode of “Sex and the City” that made the Rabbit the hottest vibrator in the nation also portrayed female masturbation as addictive and isolating, potentially leading to permanent loneliness. The sex toys in “Fifty Shades of Grey” were wielded solely in service of traditional sex and gender roles: A man is in charge of Anastasia Steele’s sexual awakening, and climax is properly experienced through partnered intercourse. Meanwhile, the orgasm gap between genders has proved more stubborn than the pay gap. Women still experience one orgasm for every three experienced by men in partnered sex. And fewer than half of teenage girls between 14 and 17 have ever masturbated.

At the end of “Buzz,” Lieberman makes a provocative point: Viagra is covered by insurance but vibrators aren’t, presumably because while erections are seen as medically necessary for sexual functioning the same is not true of female orgasm. Like our feminist foremothers, she envisions a new utopia, one in which the F.D.A. regulates sex toys to ensure their safety, in which they are covered by insurance, where children are taught about them in sex education courses and they are seen and even subsidized worldwide as a way to promote women’s sexual health.

In other words: We’ve come a long way, baby, but as “Vibrator Nation” and “Buzz” make clear, we still may not be coming enough.

Complete Article HERE!

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