Are Vibrators Coming Out of the Closet?

Not so long ago, vibrators were illegal in several states, including Texas, Mississippi and Alabama, or found only in seedy sex shops. But as The New York Times reports, today they may be purchased at your neighborhood drug store. Even Oprah has pitched the helpful tool. And who can forget the Rabbit Pearl popping up in Sex and the City?

And yet, they aren’t quite out of the closet.

As one seller, who runs a vibrator line with his wife, described the problem to The New York Times,

I can sit with my 10-year-old daughter during prime-time TV and watch a commercial for Viagra, but I can’t advertise our OhMiBod fan page within Facebook.

Nylon magazine won’t run the couple’s ads and the Small Business Administration refused their loan application because vibrators are a “prurient” business.

Ambivalence over tools and meds that enhance women’s sexuality reflects a larger cultural view. On the one hand, the media glamorizes women’s sexuality. And plenty of porn approvingly portrays women with voracious sexual appetites. But an attitude of shame about women’s sexuality persists in our culture, and not just in vibrator advertising. Women are still told “Keep your legs together,” as if open legs were an open invitation. Men are praised as players and pimps, while women are called sluts, whores, tramps, and skanks. What positive word applies to women who enjoy sexuality?

Slang for penis and vagina also says a lot, especially “cock” and “down there.” Cock: Cocky, boastful, swaggering. “Down there?” Unspeakable. Shameful.

This all reminds me of Zestra’s difficulty getting ad space for a product that arouses women. TV networks, national cable stations, radio stations and Facebook all resisted. Yet Viagra ads run on all of these platforms with no problem.

With such mixed messages, is it any wonder that surveys find mixed experiences among women when it comes to sexual pleasure?

Indiana University’s comprehensive survey found that while 91 percent of men had an orgasm the last time they had sex, only 64 percent of women did. These numbers roughly reflect the percentage of men and women who say they enjoyed sex “extremely” or “quite a bit”: 66 percent of women and 83 percent of men. Only 58 percent of women in their ’20s experienced “the big O” during their latest sexual encounter.

As I’ve recently posted, 30-40 percent of women report difficulty climaxing. When women “lose their virginity,” they are also likely to lose self esteem. And one-third of women under 35 often feel sad, anxious, restless or irritable after sex, while 10 percent frequently feel sad after intercourse.

On the other hand, many women do enjoy sex a lot, and frequently orgasm.

Could it be that each woman’s enjoyment is affected by which message has been most strongly drilled into her mind?

Keeping women’s sexual pleasure kept in shadow and suspicion has an effect. Time to come out of the closet! And perhaps we can start by  removing the shame around vibrators completely.


  1. To me, the issue is not women’s sexuality but men’s role in it. Viagra, pornography, sexual slang, orgasm-or-no-orgasm – these are all sexual issues that are under men’s control. But bring in the dreaded vibrator? Men are afraid they will be replaced. Celebrate women’s sexuality? What about the men who don’t even know what’s “down there”! Tell women they should be having an orgasm every time? Well, that’s just setting the bar too darn high.

    • Goldmarx says:

      Actually, vibrators and sex toys are very prominent in mainstream porn. Lots of men fantasize about being replaced as an escape from a world where too much is asked and expected of them.

    • vanessa fields says:

      whatcha afraid of…….

  2. This irritates me like none other. The constant barrage of erectile disfunction commercials are ok, but promoting a product that let’s women enjoy sex? out of the question! just another way that our patriarchal society is trying to control women’s bodies. Thank you for this article.

  3. With all fairness, wouldn’t you say there’s an even greater stigma against sex toys designed for men and the types of men who use them? I don’t ever see a day when blow-up dolls will be available for purchase in drug stores.

  4. I am pretty sure that vibrators are still illegal in Texas. They have to call them “massagers” in sex toy stores.

  5. I just wanted to point out that you are making a mistake in reasoning. The male equivalent of a vibrator is not Viagra, it is a fleshlight. Once you see prime time adds for fleshlights you can start complaining…

    • It doesn’t have to be a direct correlation, it’s the fact that a product that enhances men’s sexuality can be advertised, while a product that enhances women’s sexuality cannot. Both products serve ONLY to increase sexual performance/pleasure, so while they aren’t actually equivalent, the different ways they are treated by the media is still significant.

      • Any woman who is in a monogamous relationship with a man who suffers from erectile dysfunction will have her sexuality enhanced by Viagra. And the Viagra ads are relatively tasteful, unlike some feminine hygiene ads that I have seen.

  6. I took a look at ‘Fleshlights’ and was delighted to see that men have a toy to simulate sex. They should be advertised, in fact distributed. Maybe it would reduce the number of sex crimes against women since men feel the need to dominate them and spread their seed like it’s their God given right. Women love and deserve sex and there should be no shame in sex toys or enhancing the woman experience. Get over it boys.

  7. I don’t have a fear of being replaced by a vibrator, nor do I enjoy fleshlights. Sure, they are useful when alone or bored, but I don’t think they will ever replace the real thing. If your sex partner is not pleasing you, then maybe you’re not a good match.

  8. Sexual taboos as a whole need to come to public light, in my opinion. Of course while maintaining the innocence of the young. I know for a fact that in Japan there’s a huge industry for sex toys and all sorts of pleasure inducing items. I think, if anything, toys for women specifically might help women detach from the social construction of needing men to feel good about themselves. Vibrators can perhaps then be advertise discretly in doctor’s offices or theraphist lounges. More importantly there needs to be a notion to let all the ladies know that there’s no shame in using toys, a fact that men know all too well.

    Maybe this can relieve some of the symptoms of inferiority, such as depression, low self esteem, and anxiety.

  9. “Could it be that each woman’s enjoyment is affected by which message has been most strongly drilled into her mind?”

    for me, i believe this strongly, and is the most imporant question about female sexuality.

  10. I believe that all sexes should be entitled to express themselves as they as wish without restrictons or neative responses. To praise one sex for them taking pleasure in sexual activities, and then shunning the other shows that our culture still resists equal treatment of all people or what goes against what they belief. I feel that our culture’s refusal to adapt and accept could expand the gap between the two sexes making it more difficult for one to understand the other.

  11. I have always had a big opinion about this topic and I am glad that it is being discussed here today. Woman are in fact affected by the image of sex that is pushed upon them from the very start of their lives.. Women and girls are taught for some absurd reason that enjoying, liking and even wanting sex makes you a slut. This image is made stronger through the high-school years when girls are starting to explore and experiment with their sexuality, at a time when hormones and emotion run high. Girls can be mean to one another and this simply makes matters worse.

    The thing that most strikes me as strange is that, not only can we, and do we, see Viagra commercials on television during prime time ‘family television’ hours, magazines such as Hustler, Play Boy, and Swank are available on local store shelves, even at most pharmacies and are easily within view of our young children…Yet talking about sex, advertising for a womens pleasure product or openly discussing women and sex is frowned upon..???

    I have two children, a boy and a girl, and while they are only young now I made a vow long ago. I will be entirely open with my children about sex, both my son and my daughter. I will not sugarcoat, or fulff things up in relation to their sexes.. Though each will approach the issue in different ways as boys and girls do, they will both get the honest, open, truth from me.. That is the one area my mother made a mistake in raising my sister and me. Though she did not shun sex, she never really talked about it either and so to gain knowledge about the subject we ended up curious about it and learned in the wrong ways.

    I want my son to know that sex is not everything, that getting HIS rocks off is not the main objective in the situation. I want my daughter to understand that sex is part of a healthy relationship, both with her partner and with herself. I don’t want her to be uncomfortable with talking about, or experimenting sexually it is a natural part of life, and make up a big part of a woman’s self-esteem.

    I think it is sad that in this day and age we are still living life by the lie that only women in Porno’s can enjoy themselves sexually, that real life women do not want pleasure and that we would never think or want to pleasure ourselves… I think it is time that we as women stand up to this lie and express that just because a woman chooses to enjoy sex and openly discusses it does not mean she is a slut!

  12. BTW Great post… Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  13. When I think about it I’ve never seen any sex toys advertised on t.v. Actually, no, Trojan has advertised a tickler and a vibrating cock-ring. Anyway, Does the media give mixed messages about female sexuality? Heck yes! Then again, the media isn’t exactly known for its positivity towards men who can’t be classified as simply gay or straight.

    I really get disheartened when I only see articles about the media’s affect on female sexuality because it clearly has an affect on males. How many ads have any of us seen about the pleasures of anal toys, and how they can stimulate a man’s prostate? Yeah, me neither. How many shows have been made documenting how awesome bisexual women are, yet never once do they focus men who are bisexual because that’s just nasty! In fact, I’ve seen several reality/ documentary shows that imply that men who are bi are denial about being gay! So, what I’m getting from the media is that it’s okay for me to kiss girls, have sex with girls, and generally explore my sexuality (especially, if I’m sexy and in front of interested men). But, if my boyfriend wants to do the same, whether he’s sexy or not, he’s gay.

    But, this message isn’t only coming from the big bad media, it’s society. There have been plenty of times where I’ve had open discussions about sex, and all that it encompasses. I always come to the conclusion that as much as the media feeds us, we feed it because the confusion, anxiety, and mixed messages that are displayed through the media are clearly present on an intra/interpersonal level throughout society. I’ve met girls who seriously don’t know what or where their clitorises are! Or, I’ve met boys who admit they like girls, but they’ve always wanted to know what it’s be like to be with another boy. The kid doesn’t know what to do because his friends and relatives are telling him one thing while he’s feeling another. That’s not a media problem, that’s a parent/relational problem.

  14. Wow great loaded topic. I would agree that the Viagra commercials aren’t exactly the same since men who need Viagra are somehow inherently admitting they have a problem with enjoying sex. The most directly sex-related commercial I see for women are on birth control, but again those commercials make it look like the women on birth control are happy, independent, clean women who are engaged in activities like swimming or biking or in serious relationships. Never do you see a commercial of a woman at bar picking up a guy and winking at the screen, “I’ve got birth control.”

    Additionally it is true that in society we don’t discuss what’s “down there” or we have limited slang for the vagina and they certainly don’t have the swagger that “cock” implies. Also men are generally okay with discussing erections and have come up with a myriad of playful metaphors for ejaculation, but the mere mention of menstruation leaves men gagging and disgustedly shaking their heads, how can we talk about that?! It’s only a sign of sexual maturity and continued fertility. Yet most grown men cannot discuss the subject, ironically the more “masculine” and “tough” they are the more difficult they find referring to the “nether-regions” of women. I really could go on and on… but great topic and great point.

  15. I don’t see why the SBA would’t give a loan for a vibrator business; they’re sold on Amazon, eBay, and other mainstream outlets. I also don’t agree that women’s sex toy use is nearly as looked down on with scorn as men using them. I have no objection to women’s vibrator use as long as they don’t object to men’s porn use.

  16. Vibrators are great for sexual health and discovery as long as they are phthalate free. Eco-friendly sex toys are amazing!

  17. Vines are way more mainstream now. ladies talk about them in the office sometimes, maybe not to mom but they are out in the open now.

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