I need to tell you something. It’s not a secret, so there’s no need to gather round closely, or whisper this one in hushed tones behind closed doors. Please, for the love of goddess, shout this from the rooftops: despite what some retailers promote on their websites or in their stores, there is no such thing as “gay and lesbian sex toys”.
I am a queer woman. I use sex toys. But my sex toys are not queer sex toys. They are simply sex toys, for use by people of any sexual orientation.
I’ve written before about the importance of companies and retailers relieving toys from any gendered categories on their website or in their stores in a post about ethical, feminist sex toy companies, which was inspired by one notoriously awful company claiming to embody feminist values who then hired an abuser to promote their condoms. Now, I’ve been inspired to write about mythical “gay and lesbian sex toys” thanks to the reactions to this tweet, which then prompted this tweet, which then prompted my investigation into a number of online retailers.
There are a huge amount of online sex shops and brick-and-mortar stores that categorize sex toys by sexual orientation. I will not link to any of those shops here, but they are easily found. It doesn’t take much searching. Most often, these categories are named “gay and lesbian toys” or are are separated into “gay toys” and “lesbian toys”. During the aforementioned investigating, I even found a retailer with a “gay masturbation” category. (What is that? Please, someone, enlighten me.) The toys in these “gay and lesbian” categories are often strap-on kits, including dildos and harnesses, anal toys, like plugs or beads, and strokers, but this is definitely not an exhaustive list. Retailers put all kinds of toys under their “gay and lesbian” section.
I want to make one thing clear: this isn’t about queering sex toys. I deeply believe that movements, frameworks, and things in our lives can be queered – for example, examining how we can queer sex education to center queer and trans people in curricula, how we can queer the sexual freedom movement so that people of marginalized genders and sexual orientations are represented, or how we can queer perceptions of sex toy usage by highlighting their revolutionary importance for lots of queer folks who are exploring their bodies or re-discovering pleasure after trauma (like me!).
I could write a book on each of those topics. But this is not about queering: this is about presenting factual information on retailer websites and in stores, removing stigma from sex toy use, and understanding that sex toys are not sexual orientation or gender specific.
Categorizing certain sex toys as “gay and lesbian” is not just inaccurate and frustrating: it shows a real, radical misunderstanding of both sex toys and queerness. This misunderstanding starts with language. Where are the sex toys specifically branded for bisexual, pansexual, and queer people? Are queer people who do not identify as gay or lesbian allowed to use sex toys? What about straight folks who enjoy strap-on sex or anal play? Are gay and lesbian people only allowed to use the certain toys listed in their specific category? Of course not. Any toy can be used by queer folks, not just anal beads, plugs, strokers, or strap-ons – people of all sexual orientations can use any toy they like, but these questions expose the ridiculousness of such separatist branding.
The most common arguments I hear in favor of categorizing sex toys by sexual orientation (and gender) relate to targeting, marketing, and SEO. To me, this boils down to one thing: does your company prioritize marginalized people, or does your company only care about making money at the expense of queer people’s identities? By simply classifying toys according to what they are (what a novel concept!) instead of who you think they will appeal to, your company will move towards inclusivity and attract folks who do not feel alienated by your branding. It’s a win-win all around.
Sex toys are for everyone. It’s that simple.
If you own or work at a sex toy company and want to do a deeper dive on centering queer and trans people in your business model, you can contact me to discuss my consulting fee.