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No Labels Needed: Take Pride in Your Pleasure Products

By Sarah Brynn Holliday of formidablefemme.com

 

I'm going to tell you what I tell my Introduction to Sex Toys students at the beginning of every workshop. As you explore with sex toys, keep three things in mind: sex toys have no gender, sexual orientation, or relationship structure.

Sounds obvious, right? Sex toys are tools, objects, and products. They don't enter into relationships or examine their own gender or sexuality. They're created with a purpose in mind, but we create their meaning in our own lives. You wouldn't know that, though, by the way countless sex toys are marketed "for men" or "for women", as "lesbian sex toys" and "gay sex toys" and "for couples."

With the rare exception of large strokers or other hyper- anatomy-specific products, all sex toys are for all people and all bodies. For example, any sex toy can be used among couples or multiple partners; it doesn’t have to be expensive, remote- or Bluetooth-controlled, or used during penetration. If there's a sex toy you like using with your partner(s), that is as much of a "couples' toy" as any other.

In the six years I’ve freelanced as a sexuality speaker and writer, I’ve seen more and more of the industry embrace the belief that placing certain kinds of sex toys in a box isn’t actually progressive after all, but unfortunately, the idea does persist. The truth is that categorizing certain sex toys as "gay" or "lesbian" and others for "men" and "women" isn't just inaccurate. It's inherently harmful.

Because comprehensive sex education isn't mandatory in the United States, far too many people grow up without all the information they need about their bodies. For trans and queer people like me, that means we often only learn bare bones language about gender, sexuality, and sex, if we learn anything at all. We all have to actively seek out sex toy education, but many of us never even know there’s more to it than simply picking out a toy.

When we look to the most readily available model for that information—a sex toy shop—we may see that bare bones language we learned in school commodified to sell products, leading us to believe there’s one true way to enjoy and experiment with sex toys. Thankfully, that’s not the case at all: there are endless ways to explore.

I came out as queer around the time I first started to get curious about sex toys. A junior in college, I began to search online for products and found category after category of “lesbian” sex toy pages filled with strap-on harnesses and double-ended dildos. I wasn’t a lesbian, but I had to frustratingly assume I was in the right place. The categories were (and still are) reductive, but I was a novice in the sex toy world and assumed these were the “proper toys” to use with a partner. It took me a while, but I’m so glad I eventually figured out that anything that brought me and my partner pleasure was great. It wasn’t a “lesbian” sex toy, it was a sex toy for us.

When I came out as agender last year, I felt that rush of deep frustration all over again. I’ve long worked as a consultant to help sex toy companies approach their marketing strategy in a gender-inclusive way, but here I was, having just shared this new understanding of myself with the world, and still receiving toys in the mail labeled “for women” simply because they were primarily designed for people with vulvas in mind. It felt like a deeply personal affront in a way it hadn’t before.

I never want anyone to feel confused and uncertain about what kind of pleasure they have the right to access like I did when I first came out—just like no one should ever be made to feel excluded because of binary, exclusionary labels on sex toy packaging. We all deserve to use the toys that suit us best, regardless of who they were designed or marketed for and get creative with our play.

So, for Pride Month this year, let’s celebrate all of the incredible LGBTQ+ educators pushing the sex toy industry toward inclusivity. Check out Betty’s Pride Shop. If your local sex shop unnecessarily categorizes toys, let them know there are other ways to market their products. And, most importantly, take pride in yourself and what brings you pleasure—no labels needed.


 

Sarah Brynn Holliday (they/them) is a sexuality writer, speaker, and sex toy company consultant based in Salem, Massachusetts. Sarah is the Femme-in-Chief at formidablefemme.com, where they write about trauma and sexuality, navigating the world as a non-binary queer femme, and the sex toy industry. Sarah was featured on MTV News in 2019 and has spoken at numerous colleges across the United States.