Sunday, April 29, 2018

Vibrator Nation by Lynn Comella


I wonder if there are two types of seniors: those who love their sex-toy shops, and those who haven't discovered yet how wonderful these stores are.

If you're in the second camp because you imagine (or remember from your youth) a dark, seedy, sticky-floored space with leering salespeople, customers wrapped in raincoats, and gaping orifices on the shelves, you're in for a delightful surprise.

In Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure, Lynn Comella, Ph.D. has accomplished a rarity: a peppy, sex-positive history book chronicling the emergence and evolution of feminist sex-toy shops. Written by a researcher, it's far from dry -- well lubricated, rather, by lively interviews with sex-toy shop owners and workers. We learn how the business of pleasure toys evolved to include sex education, inclusivity, and a feminist mission, not just sales.

This is a book about feminist invention, intervention, and contradiction, a world where sex-positive retailers double as social activists, commodities are framed as tools of liberation, and consumers are willing to pay for the promise of better living through orgasms.

Eavesdrop on the conversations and struggles about what a feminist sex-toy store should stand for, what the politics should be, whether or not to sell porn, and if so, how to choose it, how to be education-based and still sell products.

Smitten Kitten, Minneapolis
Learn Jennifer Pritchett's "sweaty sex toy" story. In 2003, the owner of Minneapolis's first feminist sex shop, Smitten Kitten, opened a shipment of toys that degraded and leached greasy, noxious chemicals. This led Pritchett to spearhead the anti-toxic-sex-toy movement. "That's when Smitten Kitten's mission changed from being just another sex-positive, educationally focused feminist sex shop to becoming a business committed to environmental justice and personal health"

  Photo by Krystal Ramirez
Lynn Comella is an associate professor of gender and sexuality studies, a researcher and expert on the adult entertainment industry, a writer on sex and culture. She immersed herself in sex-toy retail culture while researching Vibrator Nation, including selling sex toys at Babeland to get the inside experience. I've had the pleasure of hearing her speak several times, and she's smart and sassy, a delight. This attitude and liveliness is as strong in her writing as in her public speaking.

You'll not only learn about sex-toy stores, you'll also get some cool sex-education quotes. For example:

"A sex-positive person appreciates that human sexuality is endlessly diverse -- there is no right way to have sex and no singular definition of normal." - Lynn Comella

"In those days, when we were discussing vaginal and clitoral orgasms, we used to say that the only people who reliably have vaginal orgasms are men." - Joani Blank, founder of Good Vibrations.

"When women talk about sex, it changes the culture." - Carol Queen 

"Doing what 'comes naturally' for us is to be sexually inhibited. Sex is like any other skill -- it has to be learned and practiced. When a woman masturbates, she learns to like her own genitals, to enjoy sex and orgasm, and furthermore, to become proficient and independent about it." - Betty Dodson

 "The worst sexual problem we have -- our worst sexual dysfunction... [is] our inability to talk about sex." - Joani Blank


I love today's feminist sex-toy shops. They curate their products carefully for our health and pleasure. They provide sex education to their customers. They believe that sexual pleasure is everyone's right, whatever the age, gender, sexual identity, orientation, kink, needs, desires, abilities, relationship structure, and whatever else should be in this list.

Some of these stores hire me to speak, proving that they agree with my assertion that sex has no expiration date. They advertise on this blog, voting with their wallets to support my educational mission. Please support them in return! You'll find them in the right-hand column of this blog, and yes, you can purchase from them online.


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