By Angela Kempf
Sex toy stigma has been around for as long as sex toys have. Even though the first dildos on record date back 32,000 years, our notions of sexual pleasure have not advanced much. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake hasn’t become normalized—yet. However, there is nothing shameful about owning a sex toy. It’s an empowering experience to take pleasure into your own hands. Find out how to do just that, below.
What Sex Toy Stigma Feels Like
It’s surprising in an age where sex is so frequently seen, heard, and discussed that we’re only discussing one type of sex. Sex and the City broached the topic of vibrator use twenty-two years ago, and Broad City talked about pegging five years ago. Yet we haven’t quite pivoted to where sex toys are regular, everyday household items, like tampons or candles.
That feeling of embarrassment if your friend or partner knew you had a sex toy is stigma at work. It’s also the feeling you get when you tell a friend about a vibrator and they ask why you need one or whether a partner wouldn’t be better than a piece of plastic.
Sex toy stigma rears its ugly head in the form of some states still having laws against sex toy ownership. Having to face these stigmatizing sentiments is extremely common due to the sex-negative messaging we’re flooded with. And yet, that shouldn’t stand in the way of your pleasure.
Women Get a Double Dose
Women face stigma based on their gender, certainly, but there’s also a ton of different ways this manifests in real life. Women and girls experience stereotyping from a young age, including period shaming, which results in over half of women feeling embarrassed about their periods. So, while depressing, it makes sense that female sexual pleasure is still taboo.
Sure, you can see an ad for erectile dysfunction medication on a commercial break at dinner, but women’s sexual pleasure is not a comfortable conversation topic for many people.
The stigma around female sexual pleasure isn’t just annoying—it creates an environment where women are denied the same access to pleasure and desire that men are. The notion that women masturbate is rarely discussed, and it means more women miss out on the health and mental wellness benefits that come from self-pleasure.
Facing the Stigma and Buying That Toy
Experts have some thoughts on how you can deal with sex toy stigma and live your life. Much of the advice revolves around communication: talking about shame lessens its power. Understanding and naming the emotions you feel can help you move beyond them.
A lot of shame comes from values that were perhaps instilled during childhood (either from religion or sex-negative sex education) but that you may not consciously hold anymore. Realizing that you have different principles from the ones you were raised with can help you let go of lingering shame.
To do away with shame on a cultural level, first you need to address your individual insecurities and anxieties about sex. A common concern about buying a sex toy is that the sex toy is evidence that you’re weird in some way; either overly focused on sex or unable to find ways to otherwise get off. It’s important to know that neither of these ideas is valid.
Talk to sex toy store workers or reach out to customer service for online shops. These people are often more approachable than you could imagine, and it’s because they know firsthand how much stigma sex toys carry and how intimidating it can be to ask for advice. They can help you feel comfortable and pick out a toy that will check all your boxes.
After you get a toy, keep the conversation going. If you talk about your purchase with your close friends, they will feel more comfortable talking about their own sex toy purchases. That’s the silver lining of dealing with stigma: you can dismantle it within your community. The more emboldened you are to talk about sex toys you like with your friends, the more they will feel confident about speaking up.
Saying Goodbye to Sex Toy Stigma
The solution to stigma is a fun one. Not only do you get to buy body-safe toys that will enhance your orgasmic pleasure, but you also get to talk to your friends about it! Those simple actions will make the world a better, more welcoming place for future female pleasure-seekers. When talking about sex toys becomes an ordinary activity, stigma doesn’t stand a chance.
About the Author
Angela Kempf is a Denver-based writer whose sex education and travel writings have been published on a number of notable online publications. She can most often be found with her nose in a book, eating tacos, or writing feminist erotica.