The Snarky Feminist’s Guide to Valentine’s Day Sex Toy Shopping

Wondering what toys these are? Find out at the bottom of the post!

Oh, hello! I’m guessing you’re here because you’re ready to shop until you drop—or at least until your cart is overflowing with sex toys for Valentine’s Day and you can’t carry any more. Welcome!

Let’s get something out of the way first. I know, I know, you want to dive right into the juicy stuff. I don’t blame you! This is Valentine’s Day we’re preparing for, after all—also known as That Time of Year When Mainstream Magazines Make Really Shitty Sex Toy Gift Guides and Mislead Their Readers. Er, sorry. My fingers slipped on the keyboard! No use in deleting it now.

Yes, Valentine’s Day. We’re really talking about Valentine’s Day here. I swear.

Anyway, just one bit of serious housekeeping before we begin. Are you buying a sex toy for yourself? AWESOME. Keep reading and go forth and buy all the body-safe things. Buying a sex toy for your partner? Please, please don’t buy a sex toy for someone else without having an in-depth conversation about it first, and don’t ever surprise a partner with a toy during sex. I’m always a fan of shopping with your partner, but if that’s not an option, check out Dangerous Lilly’s advice.

Back to that juicy stuff we might get into. (Yes, I said might, didn’t you see the word “Feminist” in the title? That obviously means we won’t have any fun.)

Against all logic, I’m going to share tips and suggestions for shame-free shopping for financially accessible, body-safe sex toys made by ethical companies. Isn’t that just wild? Join me in this rebellion against the slew of sex toy shopping guides popular magazines put out every year before Valentine’s Day. Take that, capitalism! #OrgasmsAgainstCapitalism

Yes, Virginia, there IS a sex toy under $200. Quite, a few, actually. What if I told you there are even body-safe sex toys under $100, under $50? Well, you better believe it.

For much of sex toys’ history, the only financially accessible options on the market were toxic and unsafe. Now, toxic sex toys still hang around (thanks, unethical companies), but more and more manufacturers are realizing the importance of creating affordable toys that are also body-safe. The sex toy industry admittedly has a long way to go, but despite mainstream advice—*cough* “women’s” magazines *cough*—it’s just not true that you have to spend a fortune to get a quality sex toy anymore.

BREAKING NEWS: Using and loving sex toys doesn’t make you “dirty” or “naughty.” Sex toys don’t need to be your “little secret” or a “private bedroom delight” or [insert any other strange, cringe-worthy, stigmatizing phrase here].

Descriptors like these might seem harmless at first, but they’re everywhere in the sex toy industry—and pop up every five seconds during the Valentine’s Day sex toy shopping frenzy. They imply that sex toys are shameful and that people should keep quiet and hide their pleasure. I have only two words in response: Fuck. That. You are allowed to embrace your sexuality and shop with companies that affirm pleasure as a human right.

No one should be ready for this jelly. This is approximately the time in the lifespan of a mainstream sex toy gift guide that the writer mentions a toxic, unsafe jelly sex toy as an “affordable alternative” to higher-priced materials. Just keep scrolling and shield your eyes. Staring at a sweaty, sticky, toxic dildo through a computer screen never did anyone any favors.

Fuck with feminists, not fakers. Yeah, I said fakers. What is this, the 1990s? I wanted the alliteration, okay? You can be embarrassed, I’m embarrassed too. (Exploitative, unethical misogynists is a good alternative to fakers. Your pick.)

It’s a good idea to investigate sex toy companies and manufacturers’ ethics and business practices before buying their toys. You deserve to use products made by companies that care about sexual freedom, autonomy, consent, and agency—and you can give a big ol’ middle-finger to those that don’t. Feminist retailers like Vibrant, Sugar, and Smitten Kitten have chosen not to stock toys by unethical manufacturers like LELO, and I look forward to seeing other shops follow suit.

Tear down unnecessary “couples” sex toy labels. Next stop, patriarchy! There’s no such thing as a sex toy made “just for couples.” All sex toys can be couples’ toys, just as they can be solo toys. Unfortunately, sex toy gift guides (and sex toy companies themselves) all too often prescribe certain kinds of sex toys for partnered people—and they’re almost always meant for penetrative sex.

“Couples toys” are usually extraordinarily highly-priced in the $150-200 range, making sex toys seem inaccessible for folks who can’t spend a couple hundred dollars on a product that may or may not work for them. The truth is a whole lot easier on your wallet: does a sex toy work for you and your partners? Even if it’s not labeled as a “couples” toy? Even if it’s $150 LESS than the luxury “couples” toys manufacturers peddle? Awesome. Pleasure shouldn’t be cost-prohibitive.

Well, there you have it, Valentine’s Day sex toy shopping extraordinaires. Go forth and shop equitably and free of shame, armed with knowledge of body-safe sex toys and ethical companies. Huzzah!

Products in the header image, starting from the bottom left going clockwise: Magic Wand Rechargeable, Fun Factory Amor, Good Clean Love Lube, Blush Novelties Helio, LVX Supply cuffs and floral paddle, Tantus Super Soft C-Ring, Jimmyjane Iconic Wand, We-Vibe Tango, random rope, New York Toy Collective Shilo, We-Vibe Gala, b-Vibe Rimming Plug, Doxy Wand.

This post was sponsored by Vibrant. As always, all writing and opinions are my own.

The Fragmentation of Sarah

8:30 AM: I wake up and feel more me than I ever have. I kiss the freckles on my partner’s shoulders, watch them slowly saunter to the bathroom before leaving for work, pull the covers tighter around my bare shoulders. Still in a sleepy daze, I reach across to the nightstand for my phone, eager to check in with my community.

My community. I chew on those words for a while, feel their weight, their importance, their centrality in my life. I am Sarah Brynn Holliday. I am happy here.

9:00 AM: I roll out of bed, sleepy but fulfilled: I exchanged some salty, snarky messages with one of my best friends. A budding sex toy boutique wants to bring me on as a consultant. My Twitter feed is filled with new blog posts and projects from creators in my community.

I sit down at my home office desk and type “good morning” to coworkers at my full-time job. Suddenly, jarringly, I am not Sarah Brynn Holliday anymore.

Or I am. But not here. Here, for the next eight hours, I am someone else. I am a progressive political activist at a job that has little to do with sexuality or sex education. I am [redacted]. I am happy here, but I am not Sarah Brynn Holliday.

•••

I decided against blogging under my legal name for my own safety. As if hostility towards mentally ill queer femmes writing about sex, masturbation, and trauma on the internet wasn’t enough, I was also working full-time in a field that faced a lot of dangerous, violent opposition. By the time I decided to choose a name for my sex blogging and education work, I had already dealt with death and rape threats and attended conferences that couldn’t be publicized for fear of infiltration or violence. An organization I worked for had to hide our physical address and very carefully monitor who we invited into our space. Some of my job trainings included how to check for bombs that may have been placed under the body of my car and what to do if an active shooter was in our building.

Compared to colleagues in my field, I had it easy. Still, I knew that if any of those violent, threatening people found out about my blog, it would not end well. Sarah Brynn Holliday was born.

That was about a year and a half ago. Now, I have a different job. I’m not subject to threats and harassment the way I once was, but my name stuck around. I would be incomplete without it.

•••

I don’t have a “secret life.”

I do not have two bodies, two lives. I do not exist in two worlds completely separate from one another. My worlds touch and commingle, boundaries and borders overlapping, relationships and experiences dancing in the gray area. But I am more full, more realized, more whole when I can be all of me, when I can center my sexuality world in my life.

•••

A new friend recently described her personal Instagram as where she is simply alive and her not-always-safe-for-work, semi-private Instagram as where she is truly living. I feel that deeply.

The Twitter account I was so attached to in college hasn’t been updated in over a year. I’m marginally more active on my personal Facebook and Instagram accounts, scrolling through each at lightning speed a few times a day, never spending more than a few minutes crafting my own content, growing more private with each passing day.

While my personal social media feeds grow dormant, my sex blogging accounts flourish. Here, I thrive. Surrounded by loving friends, a supportive community, and a network of colleagues and companies I respect, I can create whatever I want. I can talk about orgasms and trauma-informed sex education, dual-density dildos and destroying gendered marketing, abortion rights and misbehaving sex toy companies. I can dream of a world without stigma and shame because I have a place in a community that fights those things. I don’t have to just survive.

•••

The first time I attended a sexuality conference as Sarah Brynn Holliday, I gave my legal name when I reached the registration table. Embarrassed, I corrected myself and proceeded to excitedly shout my full name at the rest of the people I met that weekend.

These days, I have no idea how to introduce myself. I have two good options—“Hi, I’m Sarah and I’m a sex blogger!” or “Hi, I’m [redacted] and I work at [redacted]!”—but the gray area connecting the parts of myself is vast. In some situations, it’s clear. At sexual freedom conferences, trauma-informed workshops, and sex education volunteer trainings, I’m Sarah Brynn Holliday. When I meet other people working in politics, I’m [redacted]. But what about people who would be interested in all the parts of me? What if my coworkers want to talk about sex education? What if people I meet in the sex toy industry want to talk about Trump? How do I talk about work with my hairdresser, my therapist, the people who will one day review my graduate school applications? What if people ask my partner what I do? Who do I tell and what do I tell them? How much do I want them to know?

“Hello, my name is [redacted] and I work at this place, but I also do this other thing under a different name, so feel free to read my blog or come to my workshops but please don’t tag my personal Facebook if you post about it…” doesn’t make for an excellent opening line—but it’s one I’ve clumsily used more times than I’d like to admit.

It feels painful to fragment myself.

•••

11:30 PM: I close down my computer for the night, feeling invigorated after writing a new blog post and drafting a workshop pitch for an upcoming conference. I climb into bed after my partner, nuzzle my nose against their cheek, curl my legs close to my stomach. As I close my eyes, I think about how nice it is to feel like I’ve found my place, my community, my home base.

I am happy here. I am whole. I am Sarah Brynn Holliday.

Review of Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy

I stumbled upon Hallie Lieberman’s book about the history of sex toys while poking around on Amazon for Christmas presents. I was surprised—unlike other new sex toy-related releases, I hadn’t seen a single person in my communities talking about this one. How could a sex toy history book come out without many experts in the industry knowing about it? Intrigued, wary, and anxious to dig in, I ordered Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy immediately.

Lieberman is a former dildo slinger who wrote her PhD dissertation on sex toy history. In Buzz, she examines the history of sex toys from 30,000 years ago to the 21st century, guided by questions of how we ended up in the “sexually regressive” world of sex toys she came to know after years of working in the industry.

Indeed, large parts of Buzz analyze the mainstream sex toy industry’s adherence to gender and sexual norms at a time when companies and manufacturers instead could have promoted sexual freedom, empowerment, and liberation. Lieberman also provides a detailed overview of burgeoning sex toy companies in the 1900s and lays out the legal history of sex toys, “explicit” material, and numerous court and government battles many companies were entrenched in for years. But for me, as a sex toy connoisseur, blogger, and educator, Buzz left me wanting. I don’t think the average reader—someone who doesn’t work in or adjacent to the sex toy industry—would walk away from Buzz with a truly comprehensive understanding of the industry, especially recent history.

Buzz Basics

Buzz is well-structured: with approximately 300 pages of content plus a bibliography and endnotes, it’s just the right length. There are 15 chapters, about 20 pages each, and they all feel equal and even. History books often seem daunting, but Lieberman obviously took care to make Buzz accessible and palatable to a wide range of readers.

Lieberman begins Buzz with her personal stories of selling sex toys, first as an in-home sex toy party salesperson, then as a dildo slinger at a brick-and-mortar store in Texas when sex toys were still illegal. She then gives a centuries-spanning overview of sex toys around the world, followed by a deeper dive into sex toys in the 1800s and 1900s, with most of the book focusing on sex toy manufacturers and retailers in the United States in the mid-to-late 1900s. As Buzz progresses, Lieberman examines the women’s movement in-depth, exploring the idea of masturbation as liberation, the birth of the first feminist and queer-owned sex toy shops, and the contentious role of sex toys in the feminist movement.

Lieberman weaves in the history of sex toy companies’ legal struggles throughout the book, and positions those battles within the legal and cultural contexts of the time. She ends Buzz with a short discussion of sex toys in the 21st century and a reflection on where we can go from here.

What I Loved: Disabled Dildo Makers, Missing Magic Wands, and Feminist Founders

I have major concerns with Buzz, but there were parts of the book I found illuminating. As someone working in the field, it’s important to know the roots of the sex toy industry and its connections with feminist and sexual freedom movements—and I learned so much about the birth of the industry, including manufacturers and retailers that are still around today.

For example, I never knew that The Pleasure Chest was founded by two gay men intent on creating safer spaces for people to explore their sexuality through sex toys, or that the founders of Adam & Eve also co-founded an international abortion rights organization that’s still thriving today. I also learned that the first feminist sex shop in the United States, Eve’s Garden, was founded by an advertising executive inspired to make sex toys more accessible for women after attending Betty Dodson’s bodysex workshops.

Lieberman includes many helpful storylines that show how the sex toy industry was shaped into what it is now: differences between early companies, like those who prioritized safer toys and those who prioritized profit; the violent history of Doc Johnson founder Reuben Sturman and the incredibly tight stranglehold he had over the industry for years; how Vibratex came to market the Magic Wand after a vibrator drought in the United States; the battle feminists faced to liberate sex toys from the narrow category of “marital aids” compared to anti-sex toy “feminists” who firmly believed using dildos meant submitting to patriarchy; and how vibrators’ portrayal in the mainstream media contributes to sex toy stigma rather than empowerment.

I was most thrilled to learn that the first silicone sex toy was born out of the disability rights movement. Gosnell Duncan, a disabled Caribbean immigrant, joined the sex toy industry to make dildos for other disabled people who were disregarded by doctors and left out of the sexual revolution—and he made them out of silicone.

In Buzz, Lieberman writes:

“[Duncan] began by investigating newer, safer materials for dildos. At the time, most sex toys were made of polyvinyl chloride, which had major drawbacks, including porousness, a “plastic” smell, and the inability to retain heat…If he could develop a silicone safe enough for the body, he thought, he could create a dildo different than anything on the market. A silicone rubber dildo would be nonporous, making it appealingly smooth and capable of being sanitized between partners.” (96)

To make his silicone dildos, Duncan collaborated with a General Electric chemist. Nine months later, they hit the formula jackpot and Duncan created a test lab in his basement. His basement silicone dildo workshop wasn’t the only revolutionary thing Duncan did—he also helped make dildos more diverse.

“At the time, the standard dildo was in an off-white pinkish color referred to as ‘flesh-colored,’ which alienated all those whose flesh wasn’t the color of the dildo. It was only when Duncan, a dark-skinned Caribbean paraplegic, started making dildos that the colors and styles changed radically…Duncan experimented in his basement lab to create just the right skin colors, blending brown and black organic pigments with silicone oil.” (100)

Duncan’s silicone dildo legacy is a crucial (and also rarely discussed) piece of sex toy history. His innovation paved the way for the rise of body-safe sex toys and infused disability rights and health justice into the sex toy industry. Once his dildos became popular, Duncan turned his basement dildo operation into the now-defunct company Scorpio Products, but the mark he left on sex toys lives on.

Harmful “History”: Trans Exclusion and the Gender Binary

The sex toy history Lieberman did include in Buzz was informative and entertaining, but it wasn’t enough: there was little discussion of very recent sex toy history (in the last 10-15 years). Even more problematic for me, though, was the exclusionary language used throughout the book and erasure of marginalized and oppressed people.

Lieberman radically misrepresents what Buzz is supposed to be about—sexuality and gender. The language throughout the book is incredibly binary and focuses on “men and women” and “male and female” people. Transgender people are mentioned only a handful of times, always in reference to trans men and women. There’s no mention of non-binary people anywhere in Buzz. Even in the conclusion, when Lieberman shares her vision for the future of sex toys, she says “In a perfect world…boys and girls would be taught about [sex toys] in sex education courses.” (292)

Just boys and girls. It’s ironic and disappointing that in a book partly written to analyze the sex toy industry’s attachment to gender and sexual norms, Lieberman still adheres to the gender binary.

Further, any mention of queer people is focused mainly on lesbians and gay men, with a few bisexual women scattered throughout. Most offensive is Lieberman’s horrifyingly inaccurate retelling of the Stonewall riots: “It was the smashed beer bottle heard ‘round the world: Finally gay men and women had stood up to the police harassment that they were constantly subjected to in bars and other public areas.” (114) Uh, what? Black and Brown trans women, drag queens, and gender nonconforming butches revolted at Stonewall—and Lieberman didn’t say one word about them. Instead, she contributed to the continual erasure of trans people, especially trans femmes, at Stonewall and throughout queer history.

Glaring Omissions: Toxic Toys, Modern Manufacturers, and Blogger Contributions

Aside for brief mentions here and there, usually associated with Duncan’s silicone dildos, Buzz does not include an in-depth examination of body-safe sex toy materials. These quick tidbits are enough for someone like me who knows the ins and outs of safe sex toy products, but it doesn’t come close to being enough for the average reader. It’s irresponsible to leave this crucial information out—many people don’t realize that toxic and unsafe sex toy materials can make you sick, and that many big-name companies in the industry still sell toxic toys. Instead, Lieberman claims “nearly all sex-toy companies today target women and make sex toys out of silicone or other body-safe materials.” (287)

Lieberman is doing her readers a disservice by not delving into the details of body-safe materials. Ideally, she would have spent a chapter devoted to what makes a sex toy safe (and unsafe), what companies sell safe toys, and what manufacturers still promote toxic toys and value capitalism more highly than consumer and community safety. That’s still part of sex toy history—and social justice too. Lieberman had the opportunity to hold companies accountable for manufacturing and selling unsafe toys. She didn’t take it.

Most of Buzz focused on a small handful of companies and manufacturers—Doc Johnson, Scorpio Products (Gosnell Duncan’s company), Adam & Eve, Vibratex, and two older companies, Marche Manufacturing and United Sales—and a few feminist sex toy shops—Eve’s Garden, The Pleasure Chest, and Good Vibrations. Lieberman mentions a few other companies in passing, but doesn’t spend more than a few paragraphs on any company other than those above.

I was surprised at just how many incredible companies Buzz doesn’t even mention, like SheVibe, online feminist sex toy retailer founded in 2006, various feminist sex shops founded in the 2000s like Sugar, Smitten Kitten, and Early to Bed, or ethical manufacturers like Doxy. Once again, I feel like Lieberman is doing her readers a disservice: I know there are more excellent, equitable sex toy companies out there than the ones profiled or mentioned in Buzz, but will the average reader? Buzz is a book about the history of sex toys, but that should include recent history, too.

Lieberman also makes no mention of sex bloggers and educators working to improve the sex toy industry outside of prominent educators associated with sex shops she profiled. She leaves out proficient sex toy reviewers like Epiphora and Dangerous Lilly, who have each been blogging for a decade and educate thousands upon thousands of people about sex toy safety. Not a peep about the other countless bloggers, educators, performers, and other content creators who push the sex toy industry to sell body-safe sex toy materials and center social justice in their work and guide consumers away from bad companies and toward good ones. The sex toy industry wouldn’t be the same without the educators and bloggers who work tirelessly to make it more ethical and equitable—it’s a mistake not to include them in the history of sex toys.

Frustratingly, Lieberman had room to explore body-safe sex toys, 21st century feminist retailers and manufacturers, and sex bloggers’ role in making the sex toy industry better. She spent many, many pages retelling sex toy companies and shops’ legal battles in extreme detail—the least compelling part of Buzz for me. While including some of that history is necessary to highlight how anti-sex attitudes were (and still are) codified into law and used to discriminate, the intricacies of every drawn out legal fight were too much.

Finally, Lieberman strangely jumps between saying “sex-toy” and “sex toy” throughout the book. In my years in this industry, I’ve never seen “sex toy” written with a dash in the middle. The inconsistency was vexing. Buzz is also littered with spelling and punctuation errors. They aren’t few and far-between—I lost count of how many I found. Even Hillary Clinton’s name is spelled wrong in the final chapter of the book.

Written differently, a comprehensive history of sex toys would be an excellent asset to the sexual freedom movement. Unfortunately, Buzz just isn’t it. It’s not just about what history you include—it’s about how you tell it, who you center, and what stories you choose to lift up. Buzz is a start, but Lieberman still has a long way to go.

8 Commitments Sex Toy Companies Can Make in 2018

Last year, I wrote a post detailing 7 commitment sex toy companies can make in 2017. I called on companies to actively work to defend and expand human rights, stop asking for unpaid labor from sex bloggers and educators, and diversify advertising to center marginalized and oppressed people, among other things.

This year, I’m expanding on the basics and digging a little deeper into what sex toy companies can do to center feminism, ethics, equity, and justice in their business practice. Enjoy!

  1. Get rid of the abusers and harassers in your ranks. Just like any other career field, the sex toy industry isn’t immune from harassers, abusers, and perpetrators of sexual violence. Sex toy companies must hold predatory and violent owners, staff, consultants, and spokespeople accountable for their actions. Whether a person’s abuse is widely known or kept hush-hush as a company or industry “secret,” their time in the sexual freedom movement needs to come to an end. Companies cannot turn turn their backs on survivors just to uphold the giants in our industry, no matter who they are or the influence they’ve had on the field. And for fellow educators and bloggers: it’s absolutely okay to stop supporting companies that protect abusers, even if they’re considered high-ranking in the industry. You don’t have to do anything that doesn’t align with your ethics.

  2. Stop selling sex toys made by unethical manufacturers. Place ethics over profit and clear out questionable sex toy stock. Want an easy example? A number of feminist sex shops like Vibrant, Sugar, and Smitten Kitten refuse to carry LELO toys because they hired an abuser to promote their faulty, unsafe condom. Follow these shops’ lead and show consumers the incredible breadth of ethical manufacturers in the industry instead of sticking with anti-feminist companies. It’s completely possible to thrive in the sex toy industry while leaving unethical counterparts behind!

  3. Hire social media managers with knowledge of the industry and an understanding of sexual freedom. If sex bloggers and educators had a dollar for every time a sex toy company’s social media manager stole our content, promoted harmful and offensive advertising, or made racist, misogynistic, or fat-shaming “jokes,” we’d have enough money to buy out the biggest unethical sex toy manufacturer and turn it into our own feminist body-safe sex toy haven. Social media can make or break a company, and you shouldn’t hand over the reigns to someone who doesn’t have a clear picture of the intersections of social justice and sexual freedom. Meaningful, educational content and thoughtful, respectful interactions with community members are some of the keys to a successful social media feed — no harmful “jokes” or creepy advertising needed.

  4. Stop fighting sex bloggers and educators on our rates. If 2016 was the year of companies asking for my unpaid labor, 2017 was the year of companies haggling me to drastically lower my rates. One company even tried to get me to agree to a rate of just one-tenth of what I quoted them for a sponsored blog post. This isn’t just laughable, it’s downright disrespectful — and it happens all the time. About one-third of all payment negotiations I had with companies this year ended with the company trying to finagle their way out of paying me a fair and decent rate. I know my work is worth it: I’m a smart consultant and a good writer. Sponsored links and blog posts on my site are valuable. Companies know this, too, or they wouldn’t come calling. In 2018, I don’t want to fight with a single company about my rates. My rates are my rates are my rates. Pay them or show yourself out.

  5. Give up marketing your sex toys “for women” and/or “for men.” Gendered marketing is archaic and it’s many years beyond time for sex toy companies to give it up. Sex toys don’t have sex or gender. (They don’t have sexual orientations, either.) People of any and no gender use sex toys, not just cis men and cis women. Gendering sex toys isn’t just inaccurate — it shows that your company has a wildly problematic and dangerous understanding of sex, gender, and bodies. Instead of assigning sex and gender to toys, just call them what they are: naming something a “vibrator” instead of a “female vibrator” never hurt anybody.

  6. Invest in sex bloggers to make your company the best it can be. You know how I said earlier that companies should hire social media managers with knowledge of the industry and an understanding of sexual freedom? That pretty much describes many sex bloggers to a T. We have a unique understanding of the sex toy industry and an incredibly strong, supportive network. Many of us work as consultants for sex toy companies looking to improve their products, marketing, and business standards. After seeing the inevitable weekly sex toy company marketing snafu or tweet gone awry, one of my first thoughts is: “Ah. Should have hired a sex blogger.” Sex bloggers aren’t a one-stop shop to fix all of your company’s problems — you need to take our advice into serious consideration and be open to make changes — but in many cases, we can help. We get the job done and we do it well.

  7. Stop ghosting people you’ve promised payment to. Imagine you scored a brand-new job, negotiated a salary, and had your start date for work. All that’s missing is your contract. And then… you never hear from your supposed employer again. This is exactly what it feels like when sex toy company reps drop off the face off the earth after negotiating payment for sponsored content, advertising, or consulting work with bloggers. I wish I could pay my gas and electric bills and buy my groceries with emails promising $150 in my PayPal account by Tuesday, but I’m not superhuman. Just be decent and let us know you’re moving on. It’ll be a blow to my finances spreadsheet, but not as detrimental to my livelihood as being kept in the dark about work and payment I was promised.

  8. Overhaul your entire company. Saved the biggest one for last, right? This goes miles and miles beyond any individual suggestion I’ve made in this post or last year’s commitment post. Put plainly, this is about getting your shit right and putting marginalized and oppressed people front and center. We deserve to be running your company, designing your products, and directing your marketing campaigns — not just included in these facets of your business for appearances or for the sake of diversity. True inclusion requires direct action. Keeping us on the sidelines is not acceptable. In 2018, I want to see more opportunities for people of color, LGBTQ+ people, disabled people, immigrants, sex workers, fat people, and people of marginalized genders to run the show. I hope you do too.

If your company would like to discuss any of these points further, please email me to discuss my consulting fee.

Supporting Feminist Sex Shops Under the Trump Administration

The checkout desk at Sugar, a fab feminist sex shop in Baltimore, MD. (Photo credit: Jacq Jones, owner of Sugar!)

It’s been over a year since the 2016 presidential election. I imagine that night will be forever burned into my memory: hosting a a victory party, watching the food I’d made grow cold as results started to roll in, seeing my friends walk out the door as the night took a darker turn, lying on the floor screaming into my empty apartment in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

In January, we’ll reach the one-year anniversary of his inauguration. Since then, Trump has capitalized on having an official place in government to amplify white supremacy in the next chapter of our country’s violent history. He targets marginalized people and egregiously violates human rights at every possible opportunity through executive orders and collaborations with Republicans in Congress.

But the impact of Trump’s administration goes beyond sweeping policy changes, more than proclamations and pen strokes. The reality of his administration’s influence on the country (and the world) is much more insidious: whether Trump has legislated on an issue or not, he’s made his political views exceedingly clear. He’s a rapist and perpetrator of sexual violence. He’s queerphobic, transphobic, and misogynistic. He endlessly terrorizes Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. And he certainly has no regard for human rights and freedoms, sexual freedom included.

Even issues Trump hasn’t specifically, directly addressed are still in jeopardy thanks to the culture of shame and stigma he’s helped to strengthen — and one such issue is independent feminist sex shops. Trump has never issued an executive order about sex toys and he didn’t have anything in his campaign platform about decrying and regulating feminist sex shops, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t impacted by his administration.

It’s pretty easy to infer Trump’s views on feminist sex shops seeing how he wants nothing to do with advancing sexual freedom. Trump is vehemently anti-abortion, a proponent of abstinence-only sex education, and a rapist. He works to roll back (the very sparse) protections for queer and trans people in the United States. He views women as objects for his taking. Feminist sex shops are the antithesis of everything Trump stands for: places where autonomy, agency, consent, and comprehensive, trauma-informed, pleasure-focused sex education reign and marginalized people are affirmed, celebrated, and centered.

With this in mind, in August I issued a call for independent feminist sex shop owners and toy makers to let me know how the Trump administration has impacted their business — and their answers weren’t surprising. Across the board, both feminist sex shops (brick-and-mortar and online stores) and small manufacturers I talked to have seen an overall downturn in sales since the election.

Even if this isn’t true for every single shop and maker out there, it’s a concerning trend nonetheless. There has never been a more important time to support feminist sex shops — and here’s why.

Buying From Feminist Sex Shops Puts Our Ethics Where Our Wallets Are

By giving your business to feminist sex shops, you are almost always directly funding labor of marginalized and oppressed people. Independent, ethical shops are most often staffed and owned by people of marginalized genders, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, disabled people, and sex workers. Many pay their staff a fair and living wage and prioritize workers’ rights.

If you want to financially support people most severely impacted by the Trump administration, spend your cash at a feminist sex shop. (The same goes for any small business owned by marginalized people!) For those of us in an economic position to do so, we can put our ethics where our wallets are and shop local, shop independent, and shop feminist.

Shopping at feminist sex toy stores also helps fund the sexual freedom movement. Too often, sex and pleasure are left out of mainstream calls for “resistance” — and many feminist shops are putting in the work to ensure sexual freedom has a place at the table. When we advocate for equity and social justice, we can’t forget sexual rights, too.

Supporting Feminist Sex Shops Keeps the Door to Sex Education Open

Whether brick-and-mortar or online, feminist sex shops are places of resistance and resilience, education and empowerment. Brick-and-mortar shops are sometimes the only place in a city to receive truly comprehensive, pleasure-focused sex education — sex education that supports sex workers, centers queer and trans communities, is kink-affirming, highly values sex toy and lube safety, celebrates all body types, and is informed by trauma. Even online shops often have blogs and share affirming, pleasure-focused content on social media, making sex education accessible to people no matter where they live.

Further, feminist sex shops endlessly support the sex blogging and education communities and the sex industry at large. I would not be the educator and writer I am without the independent feminist shops and companies that sustain and affirm me. My relationships with them are treasured and beautiful. By supporting these shops, you’re not only aiding their in-house education — you’re helping lift up a community of sex educators, writers, bloggers, and speakers across the world.

Feminist Sex Shops Give Us Space To Celebrate Our Pleasure

Feminist sex shops affirm that we deserve to focus on and celebrate our pleasure. They remind us that self-care isn’t selfish, orgasms aren’t frivolous, and sex and masturbation don’t have to be afterthoughts, even in dark political times. Trump and his administration are trying to violently rip our rights and our joy away from us at every chance, but we deserve to seek and feel pleasure.

It is our birthright, after all.

It’s not difficult to translate the “why” into “how”: there are numerous ways to support feminist sex shops, and they don’t all involve spending money. Feminist sex shops (and ethical indie toy makers and small companies) always deserve your business, but that’s not an option for everyone. In addition to spending your cash, you can write good reviews of feminist sex shops and apply for jobs with them. Tell your friends about the fabulous sex toy or lube or book or lingerie you just bought and encourage them to check out the shop, too.

If you’re an educator, consider reaching out to teach a class at your local shop — it’ll bring in revenue and a new customer base for the store and you get a cut of the profits, too. Show up for charity events your local shop may partner on. Boost their profile by including them in movements like Small Business Saturday and help bust the stigma that feminist sex shops are unlike any other small, independent business in your town.

Feminist sex shops do so much good for communities all across the country and for the sexual freedom movement in general. We can put in the work to support them, too.

For online shopping, check out my two favorite ethical, independent retailers: Vibrant and SheVibe. To find a brick-and-mortar feminist sex shop near you, take a look at JoEllen Notte’s Superhero Sex Shop List.