Intimate Transactions: Sex Toys and the Sexual Discourse of Second-Wave Feminism
- 1.9k Downloads
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.
KeywordsSex 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.
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 was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
- Bailey, B. (2002). Sex in the heartland. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Barbach, L. G. (1976). For yourself: The fulfillment of female sexuality (Rev and Updated ed.). New York: Anchor.Google Scholar
- Blank, J. (1976). Good vibrations: The complete woman’s guide to vibrators. Burlingame, CA: Down There Press.Google Scholar
- Comella, L. (2004). Selling sexual liberation: Women-owned sex toy stores and the business of social change. Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest, pp. 1–452.Google Scholar
- Comella, L. (2013). From text to context: Feminist porn the making of a market. In T. Taormino, C. Penley, C. P. Shimizu, & M. Miller-Young (Eds.), The feminist porn book: The politics of producing pleasure (pp. 79–93). New York, NY: The Feminist Press at CUNY.Google Scholar
- Comfort, A. (Ed.). (1972). The joy of sex: A gourmet guide to love making (1st ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
- Dell Williams Papers 1922–2008. (n.d.). Cornell University.Google Scholar
- Dodson, B. (1974). Liberating masturbation. New York: Bodysex Designs.Google Scholar
- Dodson, B. (2010). My romantic love wars: A sexual memoir. New York: Betty Dodson.Google Scholar
- Douglas, S. J. (1995). Where the girls are: Growing up female with the Mass Media (Reprint edition). New York: Three Rivers Press.Google Scholar
- Dumont, A., & Dumont, A. (1970). Sex devices and how to use them (1st ed.). Medco Books.Google Scholar
- Echols, A. (1989). Daring to be bad: Radical feminism in America 1967–1975 (1st ed.). Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
- Edgerton, D. (2011). The shock of the old: Technology and global history since 1900 (Reprint edition). Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Evans, A., & Riley, S. (2015). Technologies of sexiness: Sex, identity, and consumer culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Ferla, R. (2004, October 3). Good vibrations, upscale division. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/03/fashion/good-vibrations-upscale-division.html.
- Frank, T. (1998). The conquest of cool: Business culture, counterculture, and the rise of hip consumerism (1st ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Freedman, E. (2002). No turning back: The history of feminism and the future of women. New York: Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
- Friedan, B. (1991). It changed my life. New York: Laurel.Google Scholar
- Fullerton, P. (1972). The dilemma of the modern lesbian. Lavendar Woman, 1, 3.Google Scholar
- Gerhard, J. (2001). Desiring revolution: Second-wave feminism and the rewriting of American sexual thought, 1920 to 1982. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
- Godiva. (1975). What lesbians do. New York: Godiva.Google Scholar
- Hanisch, C. (1970). The personal is political. Notes from the Second Year: Major Writings of Radical Feminists, 1(1), 76–78.Google Scholar
- Heiman, J. R., Lopiccolo, L., & Lopiccolo, J. (1976). Becoming orgasmic: A sexual growth program for women (1st ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.Google Scholar
- Hite, S. (2004). The hite report: A national study of female sexuality (Subsequent edition). New York: Seven Stories Press.Google Scholar
- Hurlbert, D. F., & Whittaker, K. E. (1991). The role of masturbation in marital and sexual satisfaction: A comparative study of female masturbators and nonmasturbators. Journal of Sex Education & Therapy, 17(4), 272–282.Google Scholar
- Isaacson, A. (2012). Can a better vibrator inspire an age of Great American sex? The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/05/can-a-better-vibrator-inspire-an-age-of-great-american-sex/257108/.
- Juffer, J. (1998). At home with pornography: Women, sexuality, and everyday life (1st ed.). New York: NYU Press.Google Scholar
- Katz, S. (1970). Smash phallic imperialism. Lavendar Vision, 1, 1.Google Scholar
- Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., Martin, C. E., & Gebhard, P. H. (1953). Sexual behavior in the human female. Philadelphia, London: W.B. Saunders and Company.Google Scholar
- Kirk, A. (2002). Machines of loving grace: Technology, environmentalism and the counterculture. In P. Braunstein & W. M. Doyle (Eds.), Imagine nation: The American counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s (pp. 362–364). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Kline, W. (2010). Bodies of knowledge: Sexual, reproduction, and women’s health in the second wave. University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Koedt, A. (1973). The Myth of the vaginal Orbasm. In A. Koedt, E. Levine, & A. Rapone (Eds.), Radical feminism (pp. 198–207). New York: Quadrangle Books.Google Scholar
- Maines, R. P. (1998). The technology of orgasm: “Hysteria”, the Vibrator, and women’s sexual satisfaction. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
- Masters, W. H., & Johnson, V. E. (1966). Human sexual response (1st ed.). Boston, MA: Little Brown and Company.Google Scholar
- National Organization for Women. (1974). Women’s sexuality conference proceedings (pp. 55–56). New York: National Organization of Women New York Chapter.Google Scholar
- Rosen, R. (2006). The world split open: How the modern women’s movement changed America (Revised Edition). New York: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
- Safran, C. (1976). Plain talk about the new approach to sexual pleasure. Redbook, 46(5), 85–88.Google Scholar
- Sharon, J. (2012, May 31). Many chain stores now add a toy aisle for adults. USA Today. Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/wellness/story/2012-05-29/vibrators-and-sex-toys-sales/55289424/1.
- Snitow, A., Stansell, C., & Thompson, S. (1983). Powers of Desire (Copyright 1983 edition). New York: Monthly Review Press.Google Scholar
- Starrett, B. (1974). I dream in female: The metaphors of evolution. Amazon Quarterly, 3(1), 24–25.Google Scholar
- Stengers, J., & Van, A. (2001). Masturbation: The history of a great terror. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
- United States. (1971). Technical report of the commission on obscenity and pornography. Washington: For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved from http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009911547.
- Wallace, J. (1975). Masturbation: A woman’s handbook. Bloomfield, NJ: R.J Williams Pub.Google Scholar
- Williams, D., & Vannucci, L. (2005). Revolution in the garden (Original edition). San Francisco, CA: Silverback Books.Google Scholar
- Wypijewski, J. (2012). Playing doctor. The Nation. Retrieved August 26, 2016, from https://www.thenation.com/article/playing-doctor/.
- Zietsch, B. P., Miller, G. F., Bailey, J. M., & Martin, N. G. (2011). Female orgasm rates are largely independent of other traits: Implications for “female orgasmic disorder” and evolutionary theories of orgasm. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8(8), 2305–2316. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar