I recently got into watching the show “How I Met Your Mother” due to wonder that is Netflix Instant Streaming and a sudden expanse of free time now that my semester has ended. I love the show, but one of the episodes I watched recently totally baffles me.
One of the main characters, Lily, is getting married in a few days, so she throws a bridal shower. Her best friend, Robin, in an effort to be racy and exciting, buys her a vibrator as a gift, which she gets super embarrassed about when she finds out that the bridal shower is mostly Lily’s grandparents, cousins who are soon-to-be-nuns, and other wholesome types. After the hilarity of giving the gift, there’s this weird moment where Robin says how embarrassing the gift was and offers to take it back. And then there’s Bianca, sitting on the couch, eating her chicken curry and thinking, “WTF? How is this awkward? Doesn’t she already have one?”
I understand that sex toys tend to be one of those private things that we talk about mostly in very sexually charged environments and can only laugh about elsewhere, but I felt like this episode really did a disservice to individuals who do use vibrators all the time, and consider it a normal, healthy part of their sexuality.
Robin and Lily’s interaction implied two things that I think suck about US “sex culture”:
1. That normal people don’t have vibrators. The fact that Robin didn’t even know where to buy one and Lily didn’t already have one makes the statement that “regular people” don’t need crazy things like vibrators, and that’s a message that a lot of people have internalized. When I was shopping around for my first one, I asked a couple friends for suggestions and not a single one of them owned a vibrator. Most of them laughed at me, and one went so far as to say, “I have a boyfriend to do that for me.”
I’m sorry, love, are you too good to masturbate? Well, I guess that’s her loss.
2. That the only legitimate reason to buy/keep a vibrator is for a laugh. Robin clearly buys this gift as a joke, and when she offers to return it, Lily says that she will keep it because her husband, Marshall, would get a kick out of it, and deserves to see it. The subtext to this is of course that they are both actually fighting over the vibrator, because neither one of them has one, but they can’t actively SAY that they want it, and GOD FORBID, Robin couldn’t go out and buy another one for herself because that would just be weird.
Thing is, it’s unfortunate that these are the messages that get sent to people about sexual health and pleasure, but we are adults capable of seeking out alternative messages and bucking the trends of the global media when we want to. So I won’t boo-hoo for too long about all the orgasm-starved people out there who are too scared to go out to a sex shop or order a dildo from Babeland.com.
But when these messages turn into behavior like this, I get a little pissed off.
Because it’s one thing to hold your own private opinions about sex toys—It’s QUITE ANOTHER to leave a note in a strangers luggage about them (affirming or otherwise!)
I’m happy to say that the man who left that note was fired for his indiscretion, but I think the incident illuminates larger societal discomfort that we just need to get the heck over. Josey Vogels from the Huffington Post writes eloquently and entertainingly about some of the other problems people have faced while traveling with sex toys- from sheepish security guards to excessive scrutiny by border police. And while it’s funny enough from a distance or when such infringements are an occasional occurrence, but I feel like this culture of being ashamed and awkward about sex toys gets old after a while.
When you’re in my line of work, travelling with sex toys is part of the job. Which is why I was relieved when earlier this year the Tranportation Security Administration officials in the U.S. announced that “whips, chains, handcuffs, vibrators, and other personal ‘toys’ that don’t exceed certain measurements are OK to pack in your carry-on as long they don’t become ‘club-like,'” according to Lifehacker.com.
As far as I know, no one has ever been “clubbed” on a plane with a vibrator, but in these post-9/11 days, when a tube of liquid hair gel is a potential threat, what’s a customs guy to do with a bag full of tubes of personal lubricant?
Confiscate them… of course.
The dualistic way we approach sex toys- at once as something fascinating and desirable, but also awkward and unnecessary- is frustrating. I cannot tell you the number of people who have been incredibly excited when I tell them that I get sex toys from Babeland for reviewing on Forever the Queerest Kids, but who own none of their own!
One of the things I really hope to accomplish with this blog is to make people more comfortable with their own bodies sexually, and not to feel afraid to talk about and explore new things in their sexual lives. For some people, that might be opening up their previously monogamous relationship. For others it might be learning to ask their partner for dirty talk in bed, or learning to relax about masturbation. And I hope for many people, it’s a growing comfort with owning and using sex toys in their personal lives, whether that’s solo, with a partner(s).
Stay cool, queer kids, and go buy some sex toys!