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All that buzz 

I have never overheard anyone having sex. My friends have, but I myself have never been subjected to the moans, sighs and squeaking springs that suggest some couple in the next room has just moved 7 inches closer to God.

This lack of evidence doesn’t prevent me from being nervous about being overheard myself. You’d think I would have had more reason to be nervous when I was dating. But in the absence of a boyfriend, it’s the telltale buzz from my apartment that I fear cuts through the walls. I wonder if my neighbors think I have a carpentry shop in my room, or that I’m a caterer, Cuisinarting for wedding parties and bar mitzvah crowds. Maybe they think I raise hornets.

I’m pretty sure I’m not single-handedly keeping the vibrator industry in business, but I can’t say for sure; vibrators are something no one ever talks about. And while I understand the taboo, I owe that device more gratitude than embarrassment.

My appreciation increased when I realized how easily it could’ve been taken away from me if I’d lived in Alabama. A state law passed there last year prohibited the sale of vibrators and other "harmful" sex toys under penalty of a $10,000 fine and a year in jail or "hard labor." That’s some interpretation of "penal code."

Fourteen other states have similar laws but, according to a report by ABC News, most don’t enforce them. I find it upsetting that anyone in this country could be subjected to this kind of Orwellian idiocy.

"Why?" is the most obvious question, and the most obvious answer is that some legislators have pens that are mightier than their personal swords, and the idea that women can satisfy themselves is emasculating and intolerable to them. That may be getting a little personal, but so is telling people how they can masturbate.

Which brings up the law’s screamingly sexist nature. It’s impossible to prohibit the use of male self-stimulators, unless the state decides to go Iranian and cut off the hand that commits the crime. If that happened you’d probably see some Alabama legislators looking like Luke Skywalker after he found out who his daddy was.

Let’s not forget, too, that while this attempt is being made to curtail the sexual satisfaction of women, the male sex aid Viagra was practically greeted with ticker tape parades. Science lends men a helping hand while government takes one away from women.

The sale of vibrators, not their use, was illegal through this law, which six Alabama women challenged in court, saying it violated their privacy rights. But you can’t use one if you can’t first buy one; nobody gives vibrators away like promotional pens (although it would be great to get a free one that says "Craftsman Tool Club" on the side of it every time you apply for a Sears charge card). If anyone had set up a smuggling operation to bring the much-needed devices to our sisters in the Lobotomy State, they could have counted me in.

ABC said that even in China the sale of vibrators is state-approved by the Beijing Family Planning Commission, with the items available for purchase at a state hospital sex shop.

Sex therapists know that vibrators can be and have been helpful for more than 100 years.

I don’t want to be the spokesmodel for Good Vibrations (maybe "hand model" would be a better term), but they do nothing but good. They’re cheaper than therapy, easier to set up than an iMac and they’re idiot-proof: As long as you’re not sticking them up your nose, your satisfaction is guaranteed.

And they could save your life. Single people whose hormones have gathered enough strength to whip a house into a tree frequently settle for company that would be unacceptable at any other time. If you can feed yourself, you can hold back for the main course; if you’re starving, you’re going to grab the first stale cracker you find lying around. Maybe even one from Alabama.

Yes, there are some things an actual human being can offer that a machine can’t. A machine isn’t much fun to curl up next to, and you can’t give anything back to it, which is half the fun.

But the vibe has some perks humans don’t have. It’s got no family and no past. It’s going to be there for you, because it lives in the drawer. There’s never any need for debate; it’s get-in-and-get-out, like an efficient shopper. And if you don’t like it anymore you can throw it out the window.

Fortunately, after the lawsuit by those brave six women, the law was overturned by a sensible judge who said it had "no rational relation to a legitimate state interest."

The most keen-eyed observation on the whole affair comes from Bill Winter, director of communications for the Libertarian Party, who said that his group suspects "the thrill people get from sex toys is nothing compared to the thrill politicians get from controlling other people’s lives."

Hear, hear. Just don’t do it outside my door.

Shaken, not stroked

A century of vibrators? The Antique Vibrator Museum traces their lineage back to an 1869 steam-powered model, a laborsaving device for doctors inducing "hysterical paroxysm" (translation: orgasms) in the treatment of "female disorders." Twenty years later, the battery-operated models arrived and proliferated in doctors’ offices, and later still, homes.

That vibratory history has reached new heights with the publication, after 20 years of research, of Rachel P. Maines’ The Technology of Orgasm: ‘Hysteria,’ the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction (Johns Hopkins Press, 1999). Maines, who published some of her earlier research on the subject in the journal of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, traces the rise of vibrator (among the first appliances electrified for the home) and its abrupt decline in the ’20s, apparently scandalized as a prop in stag movies. Sure, the devices survived on the market as "muscle relaxers," but was that ever the whole story?

Sexual liberation and the women’s movement have brought a revival of the unabashed sexual uses of the little shakers. Styles have proliferated from high-tech sleek to anthropomorphic. But for a dose of nostalgia – strictly therapeutic, of course – check out the California-based museum’s classic era contraptions at

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Speaking of Love & Sex

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March 25, 2020


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