(WARNING: This post contains graphic language and detailed descriptions of sex, bodies, and other things sex-related.)
Oh vibrator, how I do love thee. Instigator of immaculate ignitions. Eminence of elevated eruption. Treasured knickknack, cosseted gizmo, prize plum of my prize plum. I have known you in so many forms: tiny silver bullet, oversized blue dildo, confusing jumble of straps and cords. But there was a time, long ago, when we had never met. It is hard to imagine life without you, and yet there I was, on the cusp of my 30th birthday, sex-starved, sore-fingered, and vibratorless.
The realization that I could buy myself a vibrator was one of the great revelations of my adult life. I was about to turn 30 and I wanted to buy myself something really special, something that I would use lots and appreciate, something like… a new pair of boots, maybe. I was pretty confused about sex at that point in my life. Breaking up with my fiance two years earlier had set me on a path of discovering just how messed up most of us are emotionally, spiritually, and sexually. The last time Gabe and I had sex was fantastic. I mean, we’d been having sex with each other for 11 years. We knew each other’s angles and spots pretty well. I naively assumed good sex wouldn’t be that hard to come by, mostly because I wasn’t thinking about all those years Gabe and I spent learning each other’s sexual maps.
For two years after Gabe and I broke up, I dated men with commitment issues, erectile dysfunction, rape fantasies, irritable bowel syndrome, closeted homosexuality, or unrequited love of third parties. Add to this my own sexual issues, and you get the inevitable result that good sex was not that easy to come by. Ba-dump-bump. On my 30th birthday I was in love with two unavailable men: a celibate monk who lived next door to me, and my best friend. My friends threw me a great birthday party, and even invited several cute, single guys for my benefit, but the closest I got to sex that night was a french kiss with yet another gay male friend.
One day, soon after turning 30, my cousin and I were talking about sex. She listened to me complain for a while and then she blurted out, “Don’t you have a vibrator?” I confessed that I didn’t, and as soon as I’d said it I realized that I should have one. So we made a plan to go to the sex shop. My sister wanted to come along, and the three of us drove out to the only female-friendly sex shop at the time. It was cozy, brightly lit, and filled with interesting objects. It felt like a knitting store, but with anal beads instead of yarn, and dildos instead of needles. I felt very shy. My sister and cousin sauntered around, acting bored. I picked things up and tried my best to look like I knew what I was looking at. In the back of the store, a basket of condoms sat next to a little curtained area. I had to ask the salesperson what the condoms were for, and tried not to look shocked as she patiently explained that they were to help prevent the spread of STDs between customers who tried the toys out behind the curtain. I sidestepped the curtained area.
A display of dildos stuck straight out from the back wall. They looked quite like real penises, but bigger and spongier. I couldn’t help but think of hunting trophies, animal heads mounted on a wall. I also wondered how they worked. Did you nail them into your wall and use them standing up? Some had large suction cups behind the balls. Was that to stick them on the shower wall? I was too embarrassed to ask questions. My sister and cousin huddled together and spoke quietly about different products, obviously well versed in everything. The salesperson seemed annoyed at me, and I assumed it was because I came across as a tourist. I blushed the entire time I was in there.
Finally, I saw something I recognized: the famous rabbit vibrator from Sex and the City. I didn’t even watch that show but still knew about the connection. It looked…amazing. I could tell just by looking at it what it did, and it looked like it did everything at once. It cost nearly $100, but I bought it without hesitation. It had rotating pearls inside, for crying out loud! I didn’t know what they did, but they were pearls! Inside a dildo!
On a technical level, that vibrator did for me in 5 minutes what no person had been able to do in less than half an hour. It taught me about my g-spot, which I knew about theoretically but didn’t really know. The more I used the rabbit, the less stressed I became about orgasms. Orgasms had always been something I had to really work for, and could never be sure they would happen. My cute pink vibrator always delivered, and quickly. I began to gain a new confidence in my sexuality. Masturbation became an activity I could be spontaneous about, like if I only had 10 minutes. That vibrator served me well for a year, until my next serious relationship when I began to learn just how far behind I was compared to many people my age, in knowledge and experience with different tools, aids, and terminology.
Something that often bothers me in conversations I have about sex is this attitude that we are all supposed to be cool and comfortable with everything already. This know-it-all attitude makes it hard to learn. Recently, I had a date with a man who entertained me with stories about his last relationship, a relationship that had gone horribly wrong. “I even bought her an anal hook!” he said, as if that were the thing that should have won her devotion.
“An anal hook?” I asked, not knowing what that was.
He looked at me like I was crazy. “Yeah, you know, an anal hook!”
I admitted that I didn’t know what an anal hook was and he seemed surprised. But rather than offer information, maybe hark back to the time when he hadn’t yet learned what an anal hook was, he subtly teased and chastised me for my lack of knowledge. And rather than stand my ground and probe for information (no pun intended), I grew embarrassed and mumbled that I didn’t actually want to know what an anal hook was. This type of interaction is too common. Personally, I think that we are all so deeply insecure in our sexualities and about sex, and about our bodies and pleasure, and also just our need to seem smart and educated in general, that we are too vulnerable to act like beginners around each other. Even back in middle school, when we all really were beginners, we were supposed to act like we knew everything and had already done everything. I did an internet search for ‘anal hook’ later, and I’m glad I did. It looks different than I pictured, and I would very likely mistakenly hang my clothes on it if I saw it in someone’s house.
So my post-vibrator boyfriend knew a lot more about sex than I, and owned toys I didn’t know existed. Thankfully, he was eager to teach and didn’t shame me for my ignorance. For me, vibrators have provided a way to claim my own pleasure. I know they don’t work for everyone, just like finger stimulation doesn’t work that well for me. But when you find the things that work for you, sexual pleasure becomes normal. It’s like learning how to be a good cook. Suddenly it’s normal to eat delicious food, and the hassle of eating out in restaurants is no longer as appealing when you can make just as good, often better food at home. It’s no big deal. Just whip up a risotto, or throw together a beurre blanc. Impulsively decide to throw a dinner party because you are sure that you can make something delicious with whatever you have on hand. You have your skills down. You have your tools. You have your vibrator. (No, I don’t cook with my vibrator. I let those metaphors get a little blurred, sorry.)
Over the years, I’ve added to my personal collection of toys. I still don’t own very many, but I have a couple that… well, let’s just say that they might make it into the bag of stuff I grab if my house is on fire. Sometimes I’ll try something new, but I can usually tell by looking at it if I’m going to like it. I’ve also learned that paying more for toys is generally worth it. Unfortunately, there is a no-return policy to every sex shop I’ve visited, which is understandable. But that makes it risky to buy something I’m unsure of, like the Alice in Wonderland themed vibrating cock ring I convinced my last boyfriend we should have. Not a hit. It got used once, maybe twice, and then laid to rest in its lavender satin-cushioned box.
I have a couple of good sex toy stories that I think I’ll save for future blog posts, because they tie in to very specific dates that are great stories on their own. I’ll end this post by confessing that the pink rabbit was not technically my first vibrator. My actual first vibrator was a small, battery operated nail buffer that my aunt sent me when I was 10. I can say with complete certainty that my sweet, Christian auntie had no idea I would find a different use for that vibrating wand. Once I figured out this better use for my nail buffer, I began to find excuses to go lie in my bed. One afternoon my mom came into my room while I was buffing away and her eyes got wide. She wondered aloud what the sound was, and I blurted out that I thought there was a bee in my bed. It was the first thing I could think of. In a flash she bolted to the side of my bed, grabbed the covers and started shaking them out, looking for the bee. I can’t remember where I hid the buffer, but I know I’d never moved so fast in my life.