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Of Shame and Sex Toys

And the struggle of overcoming the stigma tied to them.

Kopytin Georgy

After college, one of my friends trashed all of her sex toys. And her lingerie. She was moving back in with her parents, until she could find a job. “I’m terrified my mom will see them,” she said.

My friend was obviously no prude.

But her parents were, and she feared their judgment. Those toys never crossed the threshold. What a shame.

She didn’t even sell them online. Not that buying used sex toys is a great idea. You know exactly where they’ve been, just not how well they respond to cleaning. It all depends on the plastic.

Imagine all the sex toys sitting in land fills — just terrible for the environment. As one blogger writes, “I dream of the day our nation’s greatest minds come together and invent a compostable dildo.”

Environmental issues are just one reason we need to finally get over the stigma still associated with sex toys. We also need better health and safety regulation, and more education. We need to remain vigilant about laws that discriminate against sex toy users and retailers.

Sex toys in the closet

Turns out, my friend’s not the only person to struggle with the lingering shame of sex toys.

The online sex toy retailer TooTimid.com recently found that 54 percent of women hide their toys from their partners.

You’re thinking, “How can that possibly be true?”

A few reasons. First, some men make a big deal out of a vibrator. They feel insecure by the size, or the sight of their partner finding pleasure in something other than them. They feel outgunned, and outsourced.

Some men (and women) would rather keep their toys in the closet and not talk about them. This hurts everyone.

There’s no point in the blame game. Bottom line, it’s always a good idea to talk about sex toy use. I’m no relationship counselor, or sex therapist. But sex research tends to make a recurring point about communication. Mainly, lies and secrets tend to undermine sexual health.

Besides, any man or woman with anxiety about sex toys is missing the point. They’re also missing out on a lot of fun.

How a hollow strap on saved my marriage

Some people still don’t understand all the benefits of sex toys. Take Dan Ireland, the architect behind Alabama’s controversial sex toy ban. According to him, “there’s no moral use” for a dildo.

Well, I call bullshit. Like many couples, me and mine have used sex toys for different reasons — all of them moral, because they sustained our marriage through tough times.

They help get sex going with your loved one. And they can make it better for both. Because if even one partner enjoys a vibrator, they’ll be more engaged. That’s good for you, too.

Maybe you’ve heard of the hollow strap on, a sex accessory for men. It’s like a sleeve for your penis that increases girth. My partner used one for a while during a stressful career transition. He was seeing drops in testosterone and other ED-related issues. It took months to work everything out.

Meanwhile, we could still have sex.

Some men might feel insecure or ashamed about using a sex toy. But it was actually his idea. He was like, “Do they make strap ons for guys?” We looked, we shopped, we ordered. We rocked the headboard.

The moral of this story?

There’s never any shame in pleasing your partner. No matter how you get there. If your partner loves you, they won’t judge.

Laws against sex toys

You can finally own a dildo in most states, for now. Medieval obscenity statutes still exist in places like Alabama — where buying, owning, or distributing sex toys can lead to heavy fines and jail. The laws are enforced capriciously.

Most bans on sex toys have fallen. The collapse began in 2004, when a Passion Parties consultant in Dallas was arrested by two under-cover police officers. They attended one of her parties, posing as a young married couple. Pretty low, if you ask me.

That case was thrown out by a judge, who decided it was a complete waste of taxpayer money. The community rallied. Still, it’s kind of ridiculous that — in 2004 — you could get arrested for selling dildos.

In 2008, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a Texas ban on sex toys, after a case filed by Le Rouge and Adam & Eve. The ruling also made similar laws in Mississippi practically toothless.

That sounds like progress, and it is — especially in the south. But think about how recent that was, in historical terms.

We’re just now crawling out of the primordial sludge when it comes to public discourse about sex toys.

Even if you can buy a dildo today, that doesn’t mean you can buy one tomorrow. A city might always decide to pass a morality or obscenity statute. In 2009 Sandy Springs, GA, made the possession and purchase of sex toys illegal. You couldn’t even buy them online. The law remained on the books until 2017, when the mayor finally repealed it.

The reason for better education

In 2016, an elderly man died of a heart attack while having sex with an artificial vagina. A case report in the International Journal of Applied and Basic Medical Research explains why this matters.

Basically, the medical examiners couldn’t have determined the cause of death without the vagina. You see, it was the only way to know he’d been engaged in sexual activity — which brought on the attack.

The authors speculate that this kind of thing happens more than we know. But in most cases, someone removes the sex toy in order to save the deceased some dignity. That’s pretty powerful stuff.

Imagine if you died while pigging out on chicken wings. That might be a little embarrassing, but it doesn’t carry half the social stigma. Hey, that’s probably how most guys would prefer to clock out — their face buried in chicken wings, or a woman’s breasts.

But most people probably cringe at the prospect of dying suddenly, while whacking off to the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, with their package stuffed inside a Fleshlight.

That’s a funny way of phrasing an important problem. Over the last few decades, we’ve chipped away at the stereotype that only perverts and crazy cat ladies own sex toys. Most people do. The sex toy industry isn’t raking in millions for nothing.

Even if you go solo, a toy can help you understand your sexuality and preferences. They also help people with physical disabilities that affect sexual performance and pleasure.

They’re used in sex therapy for a reason.

Maybe we’ll never convince the radical right. But we don’t have to. We just need to convince everyone else to stop feeling ashamed. If you die with a dildo in you, nobody will really care. In fact, you’re helping science.