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 byย 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.ย 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