Content warning: this post talks about themes of abuse and sex. If you’d rather not read about that right now, head to safety!
In December of 2009, I bought my first sex toy. It was purple, smooth, and slightly see-through. I later learned that the softened plastic was possibly toxic, but in 2009 I had no idea and probably wouldn’t have cared. At the time was fun, exciting, and above all, bold.
I grew up a Good Christian Girl. My mother was the leader of my church’s youth group, and so as a teen I was an example to the other church kids there, and a beacon for Christ in my high school. I was encouraged to dressed conservatively, so I didn’t tempt our Christian brothers to sinful thoughts. Meanwhile, I also grew up a victim. A relative systematically groomed me from a young age, along with my older sister. We told my mother at some point, but in the interest of family harmony, she never really put a stop to it, or let us stay home without a valid excuse. So it was, we assumed, our responsibility, and any “slip-up” — anytime he said or did something inappropriate — was because we weren’t sufficiently on our guard.
So it was clear to me, as an adolescent and a young adult, that my body was for others’ enjoyment, not for mine, and that any hint of sexuality was unacceptable. The problem with this was that I was horny as fuck, like 24/7. I don’t remember how exactly I learned to masturbate, but I figured it out, and this was knowledge I utilized. Nightly. I felt like there was something wrong with me — surely women didn’t masturbate this much. Sometimes I tried to give it up, but frankly, it was fun, and I was still horny. On occasion, I’d mention in a Bible study or a purity meeting or whatever that girls also had sexual desires, and often got a thoughtful, “Yeah, you’re right,” and nothing else.
Here was an entire industry dedicated to the act of bringing my body pleasure. And it wasn’t presented as secretive and embarrassing and shameful… for the first time, my body felt like mine and my sexuality belonged to me.
At some point, I realized the religion wasn’t for me, and started learning more about sexuality, sometimes in odd ways. I read a lot of dirty fan fiction, and explored LiveJournal which, at the time, had a surprisingly active and progressive sex ed community. Both fan fiction and LiveJournal were communities of, for the most part, women and queer people, which was revolutionary to me.
In December of 2009, I bought my first sex toy, and it was incredible. Here was an entire industry dedicated to the act of bringing my body pleasure. Not for anyone else, but for my own enjoyment. And it wasn’t presented as secretive and embarrassing and shameful: it was bright purple. And for the first time, my body felt like mine and my sexuality belonged to me.
Since then, sex toys have been an active interest of mine, and I’ve learned a lot about them — and about how important they are. They’re empowering to me, and empowering to countless others, and it takes all of my effort not to constantly sing their praises to random strangers on the street.
Sex toys can push sex beyond a heterosexual point of view
The heterosexual orgasm gap is still an issue, in part because people socialized as women are encouraged to defer to men and men’s pleasure, and because anything other than PIV sex is still often considered optional — which sucks, because most people with vaginas can’t orgasm from penetration alone. There’s a market for “couple’s sex toys” but to be honest, any sex toy can be used with a partner — of any gender.
Sex toys enable people to pursue pleasure on their own
For people uninterested or unable to pursue a relationship — and even a one-night stand is a relationship in the sense that another human is involved, and some emotional energy is necessary in the form of kindness and compassion and generally not being an asshole — they can take sexual pleasure into their own hands. Sex toys aren’t a replacement for a real human — they’re a tool that means that, sexually, you don’t need one.
Sex toys can help people with disabilities pursue sexual pleasure
People with limited hand or body mobility may have trouble with manual masturbation or some forms of partnered sex. But the sex toy industry has position aids for people who need it, and there are toys with long handles that are great for people with limited motion or reach issues, and there are even penetrable toys that can mechanically pleasure a penis.
Sex toys can help with gender dysphoria
Manual masturbation or partnered sex can be unpleasant or even traumatic to some people whose bodies don’t line up with their gender. There are sex toys designed for trans people, which is awesome on its own. But also, vibrators and some insertables (dildos, plugs, and so on) are toys that can literally be used by people of any gender. Some shops still divide toys into “male” and “female,” but many are giving that up because, again, anyone can use a toy. Finding a queer-friendly sex store can be incredibly affirming.
Sex toys can be healing
People who are afraid to leave a relationship for sexual reasons have another option. People who have experienced trauma can reclaim their bodies. People who have spent their lives thinking pleasure isn’t for them can have it, without relying on someone else to validate them.
Sex toys can be beautiful
There are some sex toys that are genuine works of art, and in a society where sexuality is still a shameful thing, it’s an almost revolutionary act to say, “My sexual needs are real, and they are worth admiring.”