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The Joy of Sex Toys: How Vibrators Stopped Being 'Shameful' Secrets

Once considered shameful, the vibrator has become a common part of most people's sex lives. Turns out we like sexual pleasure.
 
 
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I had my first encounter with a vibrator in my mid-20s.

Fairvilla Megastore, the most prominent adult retailer in Orlando, Fla., at the time, had a big, bright Plexiglas case with a bunch of vibrators in it, each corresponding to a button on a panel. A sign invited customers to "Try before you buy."

After pussy-footing around for a few minutes, I pushed a button, bleating and jumping away as the corresponding toy hula'd and buzzed. I was raised around the animatronics of Disney World fergodsake, but all those talking ghosts, bears and Abraham Lincolns hadn't prepared me for this salacious, gyrating wiener.

As I recovered myself, I heard trills of laughter -- a young couple had been watching me the entire time. For all three of us, it was Discovery Day.

In the ensuing 20 years, much has changed. I now have a blog on which I often talk about, and sometimes review, vibrators. Better adult stores now all take products out of the boxes and putting them right into customer's hands so they'll know what kind of bangs they'll get for their bucks. And the buzz on vibrators, culturally and in real life, has gone from a whisper to a joyous scream.

If Apple's approval of a vibrator app for the iPhone wasn't enough, the embrace of the once-shunned sex aid was recently confirmed by two studies from the University of Indiana (on one men, one on women), which found that 53 percent of women and 45 percent of the men between 18 and 60 have used vibrators and that those who had were more apt to safeguard their sexual health.

Female vibrator users were more likely to have had gynecological exams in the last year or to have performed breast self exams in the last month. Recent male users were more like to have performed a testicular self-exam and scored themselves higher in most of the five domains of sexual function (erectile function, orgasmic function, sexual desire, intercourse satisfaction and overall satisfaction).

There was no significant difference in vibrator use between men who identified as straight and those who identified as gay or bisexual. The study, which queried 2,056 women and 1,047 men, is the first  to publish nationally representative data on vibrator use and was funded by Church & Dwight Co. Inc, makers of Trojan products (condoms, pleasure rings, etc).

When you consider the stigmas vibrators held in the past, this rate of use isn't just a jump, it's a shuttle launch. Writing in the New York Times about the Indiana study, Michael Winerip notes that vibrator use was cited as "not appreciable" by an Alfred Kinsey report in 1953 and "less than 1 percent" by Shere Hite in 1976.

A subsequent 1992 survey from the University of Chicago said that only 2 percent of women had bought a vibrator in the past year. Even recognizing that "bought" and "used" are significantly different, for the numbers to shoot that high that quickly represents a significant change in our attitude toward sexual pleasure.

Turns out we like it.

"Vibrators are part of who we are as a culture now," says Metis Black, president and co-founder of Tantus Inc., a sex-toy company specializing in hand-made, pure silicone products. "When we started Tantus 11 years ago, we were going for 30- to 50-something women; that was thought to be the audience." Younger women, she says, were thought to be with younger men, who might be threatened by the idea.

"But if you look at the (Indiana) study, young women and men have no qualms about using a sex toy." she says. In fact, the age group with whom vibrators are most popular, both men and women, are 23-44. "They're influenced by their mothers, by movies and television," and are aware that vibrators are "normal."

 
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