Browsing posts from the category Musings


The problem with identity-based sex toy categories

Perhaps you’ve seen these category labels in online sex shops before: “gay sex toys,” “lesbian sex toys,” “sex toys for women,” “sex toys for men.” Some retailers take this approach because they assume it makes it easier for the consumer to find a toy that suits them.

At She Bop we disagree, which is why we were impressed by this lovely article by Cory Silverberg, “Identity Based Sex Toy Shopping.” This article deftly explains why categorizing sex toys based on gender identity or sexual orientation is problematic. These categories are centered around assumptions and stereotypes. They are limiting at best — and offensive at worst.

Categories such as “gay sex toys” and “lesbian sex toys” are not only useless — they’re insulting. Often these categories exist to set queer people apart from other shoppers, implying that only a handful of toys are available to them, whereas the entire catalog is open to straight/non-queer shoppers. And, as Silverberg puts it,

Knowing someone is gay tells you something about who they may be having sex with (if they are even having partnered sex at the time), but it tells you nothing about how they feel pleasure in their body, what parts of their body they like to engage when having sex, or what the context or details of the sex play are . . .

If I am a lesbian, and I start my sex toy shopping by clicking on the “lesbian sex toy” category on some sex shop website I am immediately narrowing my options based on someone else’s (usually misguided and narrow-minded) understanding of the kind of things lesbians find sexually pleasurable.

A similar issue exists with “sex toys for men” and “sex toys for women.” These categorizes are extremely insensitive to those who don’t fit into the gender binary. They also assume that gender somehow dictates the type of toy a person will like, and that simply isn’t true.

. . . we shouldn’t confuse anatomy with gender. Not everyone who is a man has the same body parts. All women don’t feel pleasure in the same way from the same areas of their body. And you’ll notice that for the most part when companies and retailers talk about gender they only give you the two options. Plenty of us experience gender as something more complicated than a choice between column A and column B. You can say the same about our potential for sexual pleasure.

Part of being sex-positive and feminist means never making assumptions about customers. Category labels such as “sex toys for men” and “lesbian sex toys” just make far too many assumptions for our liking.

You will notice that in our online shop, we categorize toys mostly by type (vibrators, dildos, anal toys, etc.) and sometimes by body part (our “Penis Toys” category lists cock rings, pumps, and extenders). We also have a “Gender Expression” category that includes packers, binders, and other items. Our “We Bop” category includes an array of toys that couples of all flavors can enjoy — the Share and We-Vibe, for example, can be used in different ways by different couples.

Of course, “We Bop” is also a fun play on our name, and a reference to the song we got our name from: Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop,” which is about sexual empowerment for everyone.

She bop – he bop – a – we bop
I bop – you bop – a – they bop
be bop – be bop – a – lu – she bop


Brain scans pinpoint female sexual response

This graphic just about says it all:

60 years after mapping out the male brain in response to sexual stimulation, scientists have finally scanned the female brain. The findings? Stimulation of the clitoris and stimulation of the vagina each activate different regions of the brain’s sensory cortex. And nipple stimulation causes the genital area of the cortex to light up, which scientifically explains the very obvious fact that nipple stimulation is erotic. Thank goodness!

The research was conducted first by a team at University Children’s Hospital in Switzerland, where the team used functional magnetic resonance imaging to pinpoint the area of the sensory cortex that responds to clitoral stimulation. The position of the clitoris on the sensory cortex corresponded pretty closely to the position of the penis in men.

A second team of researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey picked up where the others left off, determining the positions of the clitoris, vagina, and cervix on the sensory cortex as women stimulated themselves. Sadly, they only stimulated “the front wall of the vagina generally,” so no word yet on what G-spot stimulation does in the brain.

This is definitely a “well, duh” news item, but at least researchers are finally taking more interest in female sexual response!

  Musings      ,  

LGBT history coming to California school textbooks

California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a groundbreaking bill that requires public schools to include the historical contributions of LGBT individuals in their social studies lessons. The law — entitled the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act — could begin taking effect as soon as the 2013-2014 school year.

California will be the first state in the nation to require schools to revise textbooks and procure teaching materials that cover the contributions and roles of sexual minorities throughout history. It will be up to the school boards to determine how — and at what grade level — to implement these changes.

Unsurprisingly, phrases like “homosexual agenda” and “sexual brainwashing” are being tossed about by critics of the bill, and opponents have already begun collecting signatures for a ballot referendum to overturn the bill.

Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco, the author of the bill, had this to say about the bill’s critics:

There is a lot of distortion. Some people are saying we are trying to sexualize education. This is not about sex. This is about history. It’s about a chapter of civil rights that is currently being censored . . . We learn about Martin Luther King Jr., who fought for civil rights, but not about Harvey Milk, who also fought for civil rights and was also assassinated.

It is worth noting that California law already requires schools to teach about women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, European Americans, American Indians, and entrepreneurs. Other topics, such as the Holocaust and the Irish potato famine, are also required by the Legislature.

  Musings      , ,  

TSA a-okay with sex toys

Two emotions I felt while reading this article: relief and amusement. Finally, acknowledgement from the Transportation Safety Administation (TSA) that, for them, sex toys are no big deal! Even BDSM toys — whips, floggers, chains, leashes, cuffs, and restraints — are fine to pack in a carry-on bag.

Sex toys are not only legal to travel with; they’re expected. Inspectors know a vibrator when they see one, and they will not confiscate it. However, travelers should remember that inspectors are trained to keep an eye out for electronic devices.

The best solution? Just don’t be nervous. If you need a little pep talk, remind yourself that vibrators are common — roughly half the women in the U.S. own one, and vibrators have been around longer than airplanes. If asked about your toy, stay calm and give a straightforward answer; “that’s my dildo” is perfect. Don’t lie about what the toy is.

There is one ominous category of items that is acceptable only for checked luggage, but not carry-on luggage: “billy clubs, black jacks, brass knuckles, nunchakus and martial arts weapons.” This category includes “anatomically correct cylinders of roughly a foot or so in length,” or any sex toy that could be defined as “club-like.”

A prime example of such a thing would be the njoy Eleven, a massive, 2-pound stainless steel dildo. Hilariously, the TSA spokesman was asked specifically about this toy, and he said (presumably in a very official tone of voice), “We would call that a baton-like item. It could be considered a weapon.”

Generally, anything under 7 inches in length does not fall into this category, and thus is fine to bring in carry-ons. Just be sure to remove the batteries from your vibrator and follow the 3-1-1 rule with lube.

  Musings      ,  

Finally! A bra guide for queer folks!

Yes! Lesbian social commentary website Autostraddle put together something that was sorely needed: a guide to bra shopping for those who identify as queer. The Bra Issue: Queer Fashion Guide For Various Shapes, Sizes and Gender Expressions is a guide to navigating the wide world of bras, whether your gender expression leans feminine, masculine, neutral or somewhere in between.

The in-depth guide features tips for finding a style of bra that fits correctly and makes you feel fantastic. The staff present their top picks for small boobs, large boobs, femme/girly shoppers, gender-neutral shoppers, and butch shoppers.

There’s also a section on binding that mentions binder/compression shirts like the ones we carry (Tri-Top Chest Binder and Double Panel Compression Shirt Binder).

But this isn’t just a bra guide. Interspersed between the bra recommendations are a few personal essays: “What’s A Butch To Do” and “What To Do With Boobs from a Queer Fat Femme Perspective.” Both are great reads. A quote from “What’s a Butch To Do”:

I want to seduce MYSELF and feel confident and sexual and powerful with a Special Lady. I want to hypnotize her with my boobs. I cannot do this in a flowery lace Balis Minimizer that my mother forced me to wear my entire life ’cause I carry 38Ds . . . we just need a designer to understand for the masculeeene lady – our femininity is IN our masculinity and someday I hope there is a bra that supports that.

See what I did. Supports that. Our boobs.

Har, har. Autostraddle also has a queer swimsuit guide and underwear guide. Totally awesome.


Masturbation myths to blame for sex toy double standard

Female masturbation and sex toy use have become more mainstream in the past few years, yet there is still a pretty pervasive stigma when it comes to a man using a sex toy for masturbation. This thoughtful article by feminist blogger and gender studies professor Hugo Schwyzer examines this sex toy double standard — and why it continues to prevail.

It all traces back to myths about male and female masturbation. One such myth is that “real men have sex with real vaginas.” According to this myth,

. . . male masturbation — and especially a “penis sleeve” . . . signals a “lack of sexual success.” Male masturbation, in other words, is about relieving frustration — and for too many people, frustration is a consequence of failure. A sexually successful man should have enough sex (with women, of course, as our myths tend to exclude gay and bi men) that he only rarely gets “frustrated.”

But that’s not the only myth at play. Schwyzer spoke with sex educator Charlie Glickman to get his thoughts on the subject. Glickman believes that male sexuality is traditionally viewed as simple, whereas female sexuality is seen as complex, and this leads to a skewed perception of both.

Female sexuality is seen as complicated and mysterious, he told me, while male sexuality is seen as simple. Men learn to masturbate early, and usually quickly, worried that they’ll get caught. As a result, Charlie said, many of the men he works with still masturbate the same way at 40 that they did at 14. The focus is on “getting off” fast, not on drawing out ecstasy. Though many women do masturbate for quick relief . . . a focus on prolonged pleasure rather than simple release is still viewed as female.

Charlie pointed out that he’s never heard a gay man complain about a male lover who masturbates. But some women are threatened by their boyfriends or husbands masturbating, frequently because they’ve been raised to believe that it’s their job to be the pleasure provider in the relationship. As long as we believe that men masturbate out of a simple lack of opportunity for “real sex,” then women will believe that masturbation is a kind of rejection . . . On the other hand, plenty of folks believe that women’s sexuality is so intense and mysterious that men can rarely hope to satisfy it. So a woman masturbating with a wonderful toy she bought online is doing for herself something no man can — but a guy rubbing one out by himself is “depriving” his female partner of what is rightfully “hers.”

Read the whole post — it’s wonderful. There is not enough conversation surrounding this issue, so it’s good to see someone tackling it so eloquently.

It’s important for us to view these myths as what they are — to realize when they are influencing us, and to actively reject them. Sex toys for men are awesome, and they serve the exact same purpose as sex toys for women: to make sex with ourselves and with others more interesting and fun.


Help fund a documentary about Buck Angel

We’re huge fans of transgender activist, educator, and porn performer Buck Angel. We welcomed Buck into our community in March of last year for a DVD signing, and we had a blast! We also proudly carry quite a few of his revolutionary movies: V for Vagina, Buckback Mountain, The Buck Stops Here, and Even More Bang for Your Buck.

For the past 6 years, a documentary film crew has followed Buck and documented his extraordinary life and work. The footage is wrapped up, but the crew needs to hire a talented editor in order to hopefully submit the film to festivals in the fall — so they created a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of gathering donations. They have already reached their original goal of $6,000 in donations, but would ideally love to have $9,000.

This exciting documentary, entitled Mr. Angel, explores important issues of gender identity, body image, sexuality, health, and survival. Here’s a portion of the description of the project, and you can view a trailer and more info on the campaign page (trailer begins at about 1:50).

‘Mr. Angel’ chronicles the extraordinary life of transgender advocate, educator and porn pioneer, Buck Angel. His in-your-face style of activism has audiences challenged and outraged by his insistence that he is simply “a man who happens to have a vagina.” Buck has spent a lifetime facing relentless opposition and yet lives his truth with no apology. This feature-length documentary explores the source of his unwavering message of self acceptance and his drive to publicly confront the male/female binary head on. This is a story of amazing perseverance, empowerment, and an unlikely hero.

For the past 6 years, we’ve followed Buck struggling to create a new genre in the adult industry and working as an advocate and educator who is passionate about health, body image, and basic human rights. We’ve also documented his relationship with his wife, Elayne, and their life together with their seven dogs in the Yucatan. From home, the film follows the couple on trips to Berlin’s Porn Festival, to Philly to conduct body image workshops, to Yale University for a safe sex presentation, and to the Porn Oscars in Las Vegas.

There are all kinds of goodies available as rewards for different donation levels; pledge $30 or more and you’ll receive a digital download of the film when it’s finished! The final day for donations is July 10.


The history of sex toys

Have you ever wondered how sex toys came to be? Well, the story involves dubious medical conditions, goat eyelids, hilarious magazine ads, dragon tongues, and a cast of characters that ranges from a former police officer to a ventriloquist. Intrigued? Read on…

A long time ago — 1000 A.D.

Nobody knows quite when the dildo was invented. It likely dates all the way back to the Upper Paleolithic period. Phallic objects from this period are sometimes labeled by archaeologists as “batons,” but they might very well have been used for sexual stimulation. One particular 20-centimeter siltstone phallus, estimated to be about 28,000 years old, was discovered in a cave in Germany.

Dildos can also be found in Greek vase art from the 6th century B.C., in depictions of both group sex and solitary female masturbation. Around this time, an early version of the dildo called the “olisbos” was invented in the Greek port of Miletus. Olisbos were sold by traders around the Mediterranean.

Olive oil may have been one of the first lubricants. It was promoted for contraception starting in about 350 B.C.

Ben wa balls were invented around 500 A.D. These little balls — some solid, some hollow with “clappers” inside that created a ringing sound — were inserted into the vagina. They were originally meant to provide pleasure to a man during intercourse, but their ability to improve the pelvic floor muscles was eventually discovered.

1000 — 1800

Cock rings first appeared around 1200 in China. They were made from the eyelids of goats… with the eyelashes still intact. These cock rings were flexible and had to be tied around a man’s erection. Why the eyelashes? Well, they were thought to amplify the pleasure of sex.

Around 1400, the word “dildo” was coined — perhaps from the Latin dilatare, “to open wide,” or maybe from the Italian diletto, “to delight.” Dildos in this period were made of wood, stone, leather, tar, and other firm materials, and required a copious amount of lubrication (again, olive oil) for pleasurable use.

By 1600 or so, cock rings had evolved quite a bit. They were now stiff ivory rings that Chinese men used to maintain their erections. The rings were ornately carved, usually with depictions of dragons. Over time, the dragon design became more and more intricate, until finally the dragon’s tongue extended beyond the ring, creating a nub that stimulated the clitoris during intercourse.

A primitive version of the vibrator popped up in 1734; it was powered by a hand crank.


Not much is known about the history of the butt plug, but during the Victorian era, one European doctor suggested that his patients insert a wooden egg anally. It was believed that pressure against the prostate gland would guide semen back to the bladder, thereby preventing “wasteful ejaculation.”

1869 was a landmark year in the history of sex toys. For centuries, doctors had been treating women for a plethora of illnesses (most notably hysteria, which had symptoms very similar to those of sexual arousal) with what they politely called “pelvic massage.” The point was to induce “hysterical paroxysm” — yes, orgasm — in the patient.

Hysteria was a recurring condition, of course, and doctors grew tired of the time-consuming treatment, complaining of fatigued wrists and hands. In an effort to aid them, an American physician named George Taylor, M.D. invented a hulking, steam-powered device called the Manipulator. The engine of the machine was so monstrous that it was hidden in another room, while the apparatus was threaded through a hole in the wall.

Thankfully, the Manipulator was usurped by the first electromechanical vibrator, invented in 1882 by British physician Joseph Mortimer Granville. This vibrator was battery-powered and came with several attachments with which to vary the sensation. Granville did not approve of his device being used on women; he insisted it was for massaging men’s skeletal muscles. But it was too late; the vibrator was off to a running start.

1900 — 1952

As electricity entered homes around the U.S., the plug-in home vibrator experienced a surge in popularity. In fact, vibrators were the fifth domestic appliance to be electrified, right behind the sewing machine, fan, tea kettle, and toaster, and about a decade prior to the vacuum cleaner.

Consumer magazines such as Home Needlework Journal and Woman’s Home Companion featured advertisements for vibrators, touting them as wonderful health and relaxation tools that could cure headaches, wrinkles, and nerve pain. Yet there was an element of playfulness to some of the copy — for example, “all the pleasures of youth… will throb within you.”

Sadly, all of that cheerfulness came crashing down in the 1930s. The vibrator had become more and more prevalent in pornographic films, and manufacturers could no longer pretend that their products were innocent “massagers.” Vibrator advertisements vanished.

In 1952, the American Medical Association concluded that hysteria was not a true ailment. This was the final turning point — the vibrator could no longer hide behind its medical use.

1960 — 1990

In 1966, a middle-aged ventriloquist named Ted Marche pioneered the manufacture and distribution of rubber dildos and other sex toys. By 1976, Marche Manufacturing had sold nearly five million toys — and paved the way for countless others.

The Hitachi Magic Wand, made by Japanese manufacturing firm Hitachi, first appeared on the North American market in the 1970s. The Magic Wand’s stated purpose is to massage sore muscles and nerves, but its use in porn eventually made it famous among sex toy users. To this day, few sex toys are as well-known and well-loved as the Hitachi (although it underwent a name change and now has competition).

In 1980, KY jelly finally went over the counter as a sexual lubricant. Since its inception in 1927, it had been used by physicians during pelvic exams. This opened the flood gates, and a huge variety of lube is available today, including special flavored and stimulating gels.


Things really began speeding up in the ’90s. Vixen Creations, San Francisco-based manufacturer of 100% silicone sex toys, was founded in 1992. German company Fun Factory, known today as the company that makes cute, brightly-colored toys, came along in 1996. Tantus joined the party in 1998.

The rabbit vibrator, a type of dual-action toy named after the shape of its clitoral stimulator, experienced an explosion in popularity in 1998 when it starred in HBO’s multi-award winning TV show, Sex and the City. Even recent interest in this type of toy can be attributed to the single episode in which Charlotte becomes obsessed with her rabbit.

1998 was also the year the Fleshlight male masturbation sleeve was patented (hilariously, the patent calls it a “device for discreet semen collection”). A former police officer named Steve Shubin came up with the idea when his wife had a high-risk pregnancy and the couple was advised not to have intercourse. Shubin hired models, took casts of their genitalia, then re-created them in a flesh-like material. He disguised each realistic sleeve in a faux flashlight case, and the name “Fleshlight” was born. The Fleshlight is now the best-selling male toy of all time.

2000s — today

Business is booming! Luxury Swedish sex toy company LELO was founded in 2003, and they were the first to create a rechargeable vibrating cock ring, as well as a USB-rechargeable clitoral vibe. Jimmyjane, another manufacturer of high-end toys, was founded in 2004. Stainless steel sex toy manufacturer njoy and wooden sex toy company NobEssence followed in 2005. In 2006, a former Apple employee partnered with her husband to create the world’s first music-driven vibrators.

In 2008, the public was introduced to the first sex toy that remembers what its user likes, the now-discontinued Je Joue SaSi, causing awe among consumers at how advanced sex toys have become.

Now, the market for luxury sex toys is fierce, and innovative toys (such as the Sqweel, Cobra Libre, and Stronic Eins) are being released often. The traditional rabbit vibrator has evolved and been re-imagined. Many vibrators are rechargeable, waterproof, and powerful, all at the same time. And dildos now come in a vast variety of materials, although they always have — but supple pure silicone is definitely an improvement over tar.

Where are sex toys headed next? Some predict advanced phone apps, virtual sex, and biometric controls that respond to moods, body heat, and even brainwaves. Others simply imagine an increase in hygienic materials and eco-friendly options. What would you like to see?


Swedish guest house offers more than beds

Now this is my kind of hotel: a guest house in Sweden offers sex toys and the services of an orgasm coach to guests. The owners of the Venusgarden guest house are Ylva Franzén, author of Orgasmera Mera (Orgasming More), and her husband, Åke Fridell. The hotel features three themed bedrooms: Kamasutra, Venus, and Tao.

When was the last time you saw something like this in the website description of a hotel room? This one’s for the Venus Room (pictured):

On the exclusive mirrored table there is every imaginable massage oil, lubricant, tickly feather, love game, sex toy and incense to enhance the atmosphere, a tray with aphrodisiacs including a magic pill which will work wonders for him and of course the bible of the house: Orgasming More. You can try the love swing in the ceiling and pick whatever you want to take home with you from the erotic kit.

Another room features an “ingeniously placed mirror where every move can be watched if you like,” and urges guests to “pick your choice of the love toy for the night to take home with you as a memory of the night passed in love.” Or perhaps more than a single night, as another description reads, “relax and make love for three days like the Indian gods.” Well, okay then!


Third gender category to be added to Pakistani identity cards

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has done something quite radical: they’ve agreed to add a third gender category to their national identity cards. Surprisingly, there has been little opposition to the ruling, neither within the registration authority nor outside it. This may be because trans people — of which there are an estimated 50,000 — are generally accepted as part of the fabric of Pakistani society.

However, life is not easy for trans people living in Pakistan. This BBC article profiles Shehzadi, a Pakistani trans woman who left home as a teenager. While she appreciates living in the trans community, she says, “People don’t understand, and they abuse us. It’s hard to get somewhere to live, or even to move about normally. I get teased when I stand and wait for a bus.”

Many trans people have trouble finding work as well. Pakistan’s Supreme Court is attempting to remedy this; they recently announced that trans people should be allocated a certain number of government jobs. Shehzadi now works as a tax collector. “We knock on the doors of people who haven’t paid their taxes,” she says. “We stand on their doorstep and give them trouble and make a spectacle. Then to stop us attracting attention, they pay. I love the job, life’s going well!”

While these changes are certainly a step forward for Pakistan in recognizing gender non-conformity, they do not change everything. As Shehzadi somberly explains, “However much we say we are a close community, and call each other ‘sister’ and ‘mother’ it is still a lonely existence.”

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She Bop is a women-owned sex toy boutique specializing in body safe products and education. Our mission is to promote healthy and safe sexuality by offering quality products and educational workshops in a fun and comfortable environment. She Bop welcomes people of all genders and sexual orientations.

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