Sex Toys and Empowerment

This article first appeared on Offbeat Home.

cw: mentions of sexual abuse, sex-negativity, and some tough topics like trauma and gender dysphoria

[A magnolia bud alongside a suspiciously similar-looking purple butt plug. Please do not use a magnolia bud in lieu of a butt plug.]

In December of 2009, I bought my first sex toy. It was purple, smooth, slightly see-through. I later learned that the material was possibly toxic, but in 2009 I had no idea. At the time was fun and exciting, 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, if they did—and 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.

[A Caucasian hand holding a purple jeweled plug over a gold brocade-looking fabric. In the background are four sex toys, one glass, one bright green silicone, one purple silicone vibrator, and one rainbow tentacle.]

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 fanfiction, and explored LiveJournal which, at the time, had a surprisingly active and progressive sex ed community. Both fanfiction and LiveJournal were communities of, for the most part, women and queer people, which was revolutionary to me.

And then, 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 heterosexual PIV

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 of sorts, 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 to experience pleasure.

[A close-up of four sex toys laying against a field of printed pink flamingos. The toys are a green silicone dildo, a purple silicone vibrator, a generic purple butt plug, and a swirly glass dildo.]

Sex toys can help people with disabilities to 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.”

[A butt plug and a swirly glass dildo on top of what looks like a painting of two people, one in a suit and fedora, the other in a long black dress, at a bar.]

The toys used in the photos are: a generic purple princess plug from a site that no longer exists; the Neo Elite 6 Inch Dual Density Silicone by Blush Novelties (review coming soon); Icicles No. 53 by Pipedream; Foxy Friend 10 Function vibrator from Spencers which is actually terrible but photographs well; and the Tako from Bad Dragon.

This post was not sponsored but does contain multiple affiliate links.

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