It was the start of the last semester of my undergraduate education, and the day was passing normally enough. I sat in the back row of a large lecture hall as the room filled up, faster than I had anticipated. I took out my lined paper and pen. It was my first lecture of what the professor standing several rows away from me would simply dub, “Feminism 101.”
Yes, I was a fourth year student in a first year class, not even enrolled in a program remotely related to feminism. Still, I felt as though this would be a refreshing change of pace for me. As a Wiccan, a religious system that typically champions women, and simply as a young woman myself, I also wanted to strengthen my feminist politics and equip myself with both the knowledge and vocabulary that would help me to become a better-informed citizen of the world.
The introductory class was excellent. The wonderfully quirky professor mentioned optional extra-credit assignments that she recommended we all at least try to complete, and she gave us our first just before we all exited the room. “Perform an outrageous feminist act,” she said, smiling up at us in her brightly patterned dress from the podium. She suggested speaking up about something, attending a rally, or starting a conversation with a stranger. All we had to do was write a couple paragraphs about what we did to submit to her.
Being the type-A student that I am, my mind immediately started buzzing with ideas as I zipped up my coat and headed to the bus to go buy the books required for the course. Nothing seemed to really jump out at me as I was jostled side to side by other passengers. I found the bookstore. I bought my books. It was only as I stepped out the door into the frigid air and looked around to get my bearings…that it clicked.
I had spotted a sign bearing the street name that I had heard whispered between girls before. Just around the corner from this bookstore was a well-known sex shop, Venus Envy. Although it had a focus on education and sexual health, it still sold all of the paraphernalia that made it a taboo place for some. I found myself walking to the corner, then turning right.
What are you doing? / Shhh, I’ll just go see if it’s open. / Someone’s going to see you. / Well haven’t I wanted a vibrator for a while?
The inner mental battle waged on as I walked quickly to the store. I felt like Gollum when his two personalities argued back and forth. (Lord of the Rings reference, anyone?)
You see, I’m a virgin by most people’s standards on this planet. I’ve never been intimate with anyone other than myself and I think that’s fine. I have dated a couple of people in the last few years, but these relationships never lasted longer than a few months due to my special knack for cutting loose and running before I can get hurt. Though I’ve been mostly successful in not getting my heart broken while still having some male company from time to time, I haven’t had sex. That doesn’t mean that the desire to have it isn’t there or that it’s going to go away just because I haven’t found the right person yet. I definitely find myself getting hot and bothered if I go too long without alone time with some erotica. I’m a bit shy to talk about sex, especially my own sexual experiences (or lack thereof) with people I don’t know well enough. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m a prude. I simply want to find the right person, then I’m sure I’m going to be having lots of it.
Until then, all I have is myself and that’s alright. I’d simply like to spice up my experience a bit, you know?
The store looked empty, and there was a sign: “We’ve moved!” – with a small map depicting the new location less than a block away. I was in too deep at that point (pun perhaps intended) to turn back, so I rushed across the street in case that friend from class was leaving the bookstore and might spot me, slipping in the door just when it seemed there was the least amount of people nearby on the sidewalk possible.
Inside, the ambiance was surprisingly light and airy, with an industrial chic feel to it. Two pleasant-looking women were helping someone buy a book at the front desk. This was nothing like what I had pictured, and I was immensely relieved. I set my bag on a chair for a minute to blow my nose, buying myself some time. It was slowly dawning on me that I had in fact done it, I was in a store whose whole purpose was to facilitate sex, and I was going to get a vibrator. Both unfortunately and fortunately, I was alone. There was nobody familiar with me along for the ride, but somehow I felt like I had to do it alone. I could ask the questions I wanted to without being judged and questioned later. It was an oddly freeing moment, yet I was still concerned as I looked around and recognized basically nothing on the shelves and walls.
I must have looked bewildered, because one of the employees came over to me from behind the desk. The book buyer had mercifully left – I didn’t want anyone to see this if I made a fool out of myself. “How can I help you today?” she asked kindly, her eyes meeting mine.
She knows. You look just like the typical virginal girl next door and you know it. / Shut up!
My brain wasn’t helping things.
I nervously explained that I wanted a vibrator, that it was my first one, that I really didn’t know anything about them, and that I didn’t have too much money, being a student and all. I could feel my cheeks getting warm as I stumbled through the words, but pressed on.
Honestly, thank goodness for this woman. She walked me through the whole thing professionally and politely; I owe my current complete sexual satisfaction to her. She treated me like my desires were perfectly normal. I asked questions about material and the difference between water-based and silicone-based lube; she answered with an excellent explanation that I’m sure I’ll remember for years. She made great conversation at the till and gave me some very comprehensive information about how to keep the vibrator clean, even giving me an information sheet she recommended I keep. I walked out of the store feeling more in control of my body and sexual health than ever before. Despite already being almost 6 foot, I felt at least twice as tall.
For a long time, I was instilled with the idea that masturbation was dirty, wrong, and that girls shouldn’t be doing it. I even got the impression that masturbation was like a rite of passage for guys, while all us girls have is some painful bleeding and… hooray? Eventually, I couldn’t stop myself and I came to realize that this was the perfect solution to all of the sexual frustration that I had been feeling but didn’t know what to do with. Sex is serious – it can lead to STIs, AIDS/HIV, other serious illnesses, and pregnancy. I’d like to think that I can make the choice to have it when I feel safe and secure with someone, whether that be next month or next year, and that there’s a pleasurable alternative in the meantime that won’t lead to any of the above if used correctly of course. It’s my body and my choice, nobody can or should be able to inform me otherwise.
Hence the sudden trip to the sex shop.
The experience was far from terrifying in the end. Looking back, I wish I had been more confident in the store, but I think my reaction was typical and nothing to be ashamed of. What was most important was that I had finally completely shunned the misconceptions promoted by society that had been floating around in my head for years. It truly felt great, not just between the sheets. It was an empowering and uplifting experience for me to finally take charge of my sex life.
Maybe this was taking my professor’s suggestion a little too seriously, but it was exactly the push I needed. Maybe we should all “perform an outrageously feminist act.” Doing so just got me a vibrator and a sexual awakening. What will the result of yours be?
[Contributed by “Claire”]