My last book club event was brunch and bloody marys followed by a trip to the local LGTBQ-friendly sex shop. “That’s so unfair,” remarked my dude friend when he recognized the corner of a Babeland bag sticking out of my purse. “I can’t go to a sex shop with all my guy friends. There’s something really creepy about saying, ‘check out my new Fleshlight.’” Though I’m hesitant to concede to the existence of any “female privilege,” which I find is often an illusion that offers women no real power, I admitted he had a point. Why is it socially acceptable for women to discuss masturbation in detail, while for men it is seen as sketchy? Why are women generally punished accross the board for being sexual, but also generally able to speak more freely about sex toys?
This phenomenon may be rooted in the long-surviving myth that the female orgasm is elusive or even nonexistent. Sex research has sexist and racist roots. J. Marion Sims, the “Father of American gynecology” infamously performed many surgical experiments on his female slaves without the use of anesthetics, despite their availability. Freud postulated that clitoral orgasms were characteristic of female adolescence and that adult women would naturally favor vaginal orgasms.
Perhaps this myth is the reason discussion of female use of sex toys is socially acceptable. It paints the pictures that female orgasms are impossible to achieve or at the very least, exceptionally complicated—and that’s what makes the use of technology okay.
Freud’s theories continue to privilege penis-in-vagina intercourse as central to, even defining of, what sex is. Because much sexual activity does not fit this mold, young people wishing to maintain their virginity operate under misconceptions like “anal sex is not really sex” or “it’s just a blowjob, it’s not like I’m having sex or anything.” This paradigm trivializes queer sexual experience. Women who do not experience vaginal orgasms can be made to feel that they are at fault.
America’s obsession with virginity as the defining element of a woman’s worth ends up punishing women who openly talk about or engage in sex. And our inability to talk frankly about sex both in and out of the classroom has a lot of drawbacks, most notably that we are grossly misinformed about sexual health and pleasure.
We need to redefine sex and divorce it from these fallacious conceptions of pleasure and virginity. Why not start by changing how we talk about sex toys? Masturbation is not a shameful pastime for those who can’t obtain “real” sex. Masturbation is a way of knowing yourself and your preferences in the bedroom—and this is not just a female issue. Do you dislike cunnilingus? Or do you just dislike the way your partner performs cunnilingus? Masturbation is available 24/7, and comes without risks of STDs, pregnancy, or the complexities of relationships. Interested in anal but nervous to try it with a partner? Using a dildo or butt plug gives you a greater sense of control than you may feel with a partner.
No matter your gender or sexual orientation, your sex life can be greatly enriched by your ability to say, “Why don’t you twist my nipples a little bit?”