Female masturbation has always been a taboo subject. And the only way to overcome taboo is by talking about that thing. So, let’s talk about it. Sex toys are important not only because they cataylse a conversation about a topic which women often feel ashamed to talk about, but they are also an active agent in taking control of sexual pleasure. Nothing signifies female empowerment better than being able to orgasm on your own, wherever and whenever you want (within reason, of course).
This isn’t to say that sex toys are only about masturbation, either. Naturally, they can enhance sexual relationships with other people too. The Orgasm Gap, showing that as many as 75% of women do not orgasm during sex- compared to only 28% of men, can be addressed and potentially reduced with the addition of external stimulants. While this may not work for everyone, or even be something that they wish to experiment with, looking for new ways to explore intimacy with a partner is a sure way to maintain desire in a long-term relationship or introduce excitement in a new one. Furthermore, the pressure to perform, specifically for men in heterosexual relations, can be eased by the use of sex toys, ultimately improving the experience for both parties.
Especially during the national lockdowns this year, when people were either unable to see their partners or were not ‘socialising’ (if you know what I mean) to the same extent, the sex toy industry seems to be booming like never before. In New Zealand, the company ‘Adult Toy Megastore’ reported that their sales tripled in the 48 hours before their national lockdown was imposed. Arguably, yes, it isn’t ideal for companies to be profiting off a form of gratification that seems to come so easily to men (particularly when you look at the excessive prices of some products), but I can also think of worse things to spend your money on.
Something which people perhaps overlook in the discourse surrounding sex toys is what they can do for survivors of sexual trauma. As one RAZZ writer explored in a previous article- ‘Getting My Buzz Back: Vibrators & Recovery from Sexual Trauma’– masturbation is an integral aspect of sexuality often compromised after a physical violation. They write: ‘the premise of exploring my body in unprecedented ways and taking an exciting, positive step forwards sexually, meant that I could battle my trauma through new avenues that didn’t require abstinence and avoidance.’ Again, this isn’t guaranteed to work for everyone (sexual trauma manifests itself differently for every victim) but there is certainly something to be said about the possibilities that sex toys can offer to those who want to feel in control of their sexual pleasure once again.
In recent years, there has been an increased representation of sex toys in popular culture, as people have begun to realize that just because something isn’t talked about it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. From the impressively powerful vibrator which managed to shut down the electricity for an entire block in Emily in Paris, to the thoughtful gift exchange between Fleabag and her sister Claire, many modern TV shows have begun to depict the use of sex toys in an unprecedented way. In the past, these representations have often been either non-existent or largely unfavorable. Even the supposedly progressive Sex and the City has a whole episode dedicated to shaming Miranda for using a vibrator rather than having sex because ‘you can’t take it home to meet your parents!’ Which, arguably, is the whole point.
Lots of female celebrities have been jumping on this bandwagon too. Lily Allen launched her own vibrator with Womanizer and has joined their #IMasturbate campaign as ‘Chief Liberation Officer’. Tweeting for the first time in almost a year, she wrote: ‘I’ve got a big announcement tomorrow… I can’t tell you what yet, but if you want to feel empowered and give yourself a little self love, stay tuned.’ While I was disappointed (among many others, no doubt) to discover that it wasn’t new music, her endorsement of sex toys is breaking down barriers for the benefit of all women. Married at First Sight’s Jessika Power teamed up with Vush to #BreakTheStigma and promote their products, writing: ‘I’m not ashamed to promote this openly with you all as I want ALL my ladies out there to feel confident in themselves and what they want to do with THEIR bodies.’ While female masturbation is something everyone should be able to discuss (not just famous people who are open about their sexuality), when influential people speak up it sets a precedent that others can too.
Normalizing female masturbation is a necessary step towards female empowerment. The widespread use of sex toys facilitates this phenomenon, placing female sexual pleasure at the forefront of our awareness about technologically enhanced intimacy. If we are to move away from a history that has shamed women for their bodies, for their desire, for their confidence, we must create a society in which female sexuality is never a taboo.
– Esther Huntington-Whiteley
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