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Do we Live In a Sexualized Society?

Last week, our MD was invited to join the panelists on the FPA debate "Do We Live in a Sexualized Society?" Here's how she opened:

When I first started thinking about the question “Do we live in a sexualized society?” I must admit to ping-ponging around with much divided emotion. It’s hard not to, when little girls are skipping around in porn star tee shirts and padded bikinis, demanding boob jobs…. Certainly I have noticed quite a dramatic sea change in the 20 years I’ve been running Sh!, which for those of you who don’t know, is the UK’s first and only sex shop from women. When we started, a woman owning a vibrator was seen and portrayed as sex starved, sex–crazed, bitterly single or just plain sad, whereas nowadays a woman NOT owning a vibrator is seen as unusual and perhaps prudish…. Is this evidence of the sexualization of society? And the 2nd question MUST be - if “yes” - Is that a bad thing? Looking back at the history of the vibrator might help us in this debate…. The vibrator was first invented in Victorian times as a medical device for doctors to treat ladies with “hysteria” ….by giving them orgasms. This would relieve women, who of course were not considered sexual, of their symptoms: anxiety, irritability, erotic fantasies, "excessive vaginal lubrication" and "pelvic heaviness’ …..for a few weeks at least – unsurprisingly hysteria was a re-occurring condition! Many people are surprised to learn the vibrator is a Victorian creation, when the very term “Victorian” is synonymous with being respectable and genteel. But, the bottom line is that the Victorians were OBSESSED by sex. This is an era when table legs were covered for fear of being too suggestive for uncontrollable male desire… When little boys were sent to bed with electro cution devices strapped to their penises… When it was a widely accepted belief that an STD could be cured by having sex with children… And when a virgin could be bought for 5 pounds… In the 18 60’s, the same decade the vibrator can into the world, the age of consent was 12-years-old. Victorian society was indisputably sexualised. In my opinion, to a more damaging degree, than thongs on dolls and sext-ting between teens…. Vibrators “came out” (albeit briefly) as what they truly were – providers of sexual pleasure, in the 1920’s when they started appearing in “stag films” – or to use the modern term, porn films. The *roaring* 20’s, was a time of great sexual liberation; Marie Stopes opened the UK's first family planning clinic.. A gay subculture began to develop in cities… Women were given the vote, as well as many other rights, which legally made them people in their own right, for the first time… As hems rose, sexual constraint lowered. Modern vibrators re-emerged into mainstream society in the 1950’s when, disguised as massagers, nail buffers and even vacuum cleaner attachments, they were sold widely in mail order catalogues. Interestingly, this also coincided with a time when women were forced back into convention, and longer skirts, after the relative sexual & gender freedom they’d enjoyed in the war. But the vibrator really came out, and stayed out, OPENLY, as a sexual plaything in the 1960’s, the *swinging* 60’s, probably the most liberating, and *liberated*, decade ever: Women’s liberation, Gay liberation, Black power, Reproductive freedom, The freedom to explore one’s sexuality outside of the confines of heterosexual marriage… Certainly, naked hippies protesting against war, and mini skirted, bra-less women, provoked alarm amongst conservatives, but the lasting influence of this decade is surely, UN-DENIABLY positive. The fact is, that when sexuality reaches saturation point, there is a religious and puritanical backlash. The word “sexualized” is a very emotive term. But the truth is, EVERY era is sexualised. It’s up to US to decide if we want our era to be one of liberation or restriction. It’s AS important for a woman who doesn’t own a vibrator to feel in tune with her society, as it is for a woman who DOES to feel good about owning hers…..For little girls to aspire to wearing “When I grow up I want to be a scientist” t-shirts…. This is liberation. We need to use this amazing era of technological advancement, with more communication & information open to us than ever before, for a positive good, to deliver more freedom & choices. I believe this is possible. I want people to look back on our society to say “that was an era that changed the world – for the better”

The debate raised many interesting ponts from panelists and audience alike - look out for our MD's follow-up blog post on her feedback and impressions....



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