Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 96–120 | Cite as

Intimate Transactions: Sex Toys and the Sexual Discourse of Second-Wave Feminism

  • Hallie LiebermanEmail author
Original Paper


This article examines customer correspondence to Eve’s Garden from women throughout the United States from 1974 to 1989 to determine how ordinary women at the height of the second-wave feminist movement grappled with fraught issues surrounding changing conceptions of sexuality. These exchanges show that feminist sex debates were incorporated into women’s everyday lives, often in terms of a conflict between sexual desires and feminist principles, providing evidence that the personal truly was political. My article shows that sex toys helped women envision their sexuality in new ways. Letters show how ordinary women struggled to take control of their sexuality by creating relationships with commercial establishments in a world awash in social and political changes. Three principal themes emerge from customer correspondence. First is that many feminists were initially skeptical that sex toys could be reconciled with feminist political beliefs. Second is the ambivalence about using an inanimate object, a machine, for sexual pleasure. And third is the complicated role of sex toys in relationships, both lesbian and straight, particularly when women desired vaginal penetration with dildos.


Sex toys History of sexuality Second-wave feminism Dildos Vibrators Dell Williams 



This study was funded by Cornell University’s Human Sexuality Collection Research Support Grant.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Author Hallie Lieberman declares that he/she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Gender and Women’s StudiesUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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