VI­BRA­TOR NATION: HOW FEM­I­NIST SEX-TOY STORES CHANGED THE BUSI­NESS OF PLEA­SURE

Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - BOOK REVIEWS - Lynn Comella { duke Univer­sity Press Books }

Read­ing Lynn Comella’s Vi­bra­tor Nation: How Fem­i­nist Sex-toy Stores Changed the Busi­ness of Plea­sure sum­moned mem­o­ries of buy­ing my first vi­bra­tor. Af­ter a sex ed­u­ca­tor showed my col­lege sex­u­al­ity work­shop dil­dos, butt plugs, and lube, we vis­ited a shop she rec­om­mended, where the sales clerk de­clared that the G-spot mas­sager I bought may lead to fe­male ejac­u­la­tion. Th­ese were the first sex talks I re­ceived that fo­cused on plea­sure in­stead of warn­ings. See­ing sex as a source of en­joy­ment rather than harm made me more com­fort­able in my body.

How­ever, sex toys weren’t al­ways in­stru­ments for em­pow­er­ment. Based on her time work­ing at Ba­be­land, her re­search as a gen­der and sex­u­al­ity stud­ies pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ne­vada, Las Ve­gas, and in­ter­views with more than 80 mem­bers of the in­dus­try, Comella traces their jour­ney from seedy road­side stores to friendly fem­i­nist bou­tiques. Beyond fill­ing peo­ple’s bed­side draw­ers, sex toys got peo­ple talk­ing about sex—and changed how they talked about it. From peg­ging to cli­toral stim­u­la­tion, the prac­tices taught by th­ese sex­perts ex­panded peo­ple’s per­spec­tives on re­la­tion­ships along with their bed­room reper­toires.

Dense with his­tor­i­cal back­ground and quotes from gen­der the­o­rists, Vi­bra­tor Nation is not light beach read­ing, nor should it be. Its high­lights are Comella’s ex­am­i­na­tions of cul­tural ideas that shaped and were shaped by the adult in­dus­try, in­clud­ing two de­light­ful def­i­ni­tions of “queer­ing”: for­mer Good Vi­bra­tions ed­u­ca­tion di­rec­tor Char­lie Glick­man’s “push­ing past lim­its that re­ally don’t need to be there” and prod­uct and pur­chas­ing man­ager Coy­ote Days’s “break­ing open boxes.”

But too of­ten, the nar­ra­tive loses sight of what’s at stake: our sense of safety and power in bod­ies con­stantly de­val­ued. The story rarely strays out­side sex-shop walls. Comella’s anal­y­sis also falls short when ex­am­in­ing fem­i­nist re­tail­ers’ def­i­ni­tion of “wo­man.”

She ac­knowl­edges that it fa­vors rich, white, straight, cis women with vanilla tastes, but fails to il­lus­trate how such ex­clu­sion is ac­com­plished. Though the gen­der stud­ies nerd in me ate this book up, the fem­i­nist in me was left hun­gry for more.

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