I wasn’t the first person to enjoy my very first vibrator. No, that honour went to the creepy gentleman behind the counter whose penis seemed to live vicariously through my new florid-pink jelly vibe – he eagerly showed me how to grip the shaft, insert batteries and twist the speed knob this way and that, this way and that, until I had a little lump of bile in my throat.
Ah! Those little shops of horror we know as Adult World. I don’t know one woman who goes weak at the knees at the thought of stepping into a wank warehouse like this to purchase an intimate item.
Which is why it bugs me that the Carte Blanche insert (24 Oct) about sex stores for women could only feature two women-oriented ‘sensuality boutiques’ – Whet in Cape Town and The Bedroom in Durban -- in the whole of South Africa that have enough clout as viable, long-standing businesses.
Women form a rather large and growing consumer base, so I’d imagine their money and pleasure would make a compelling business argument for women-friendly sex stores. If Ann Summers worked in the UK, surely we can do it here?
No place for pleasure
Oh but I forget.
Saffa women don’t like sex, talk about sex, want sex or have any desires beyond working, cooking, cleaning, praying and playing mom. And if even if they do, ordentilike mense sure don’t want to hear about this smut. Or be near any stores catering for it. If they are, they’ll be sure to complain bitterly until the company owners buckle under the Godly pressure. I mean. Siesa. It’s a wonder Woolworths still manages to sell saucy underwear.
This short-sightedness (by mall owners in particular) bothers me for two reasons.
Firstly, it inadvertently perpetuates the stereotype that women are sexually inhibited (what kind of libertine are you if you can’t walk into an Adult World without sniggering or balking) and that sex can only be relegated to the corner of filth; and secondly, women who do walk into these sex stores don’t know what they’re buying and end up with products that are potentially very harmful to their health.
Novelty toys versus the real deal
If I’d checked the packaging on my first made-in-Taiwan very jelly vibe I’d probably have found the words ‘novelty toy’ somewhere.
See, those kaleidoscopic, glow-in-the-dark, glitteratti latex/jelly/rubber toys that line the walls of the average sex store are made in China using cheap and potentially toxic materials (including cadmium and carcinogenic phthalates) that are readily absorbed through the delicate linings of the vagina or anus. What’s more, the material is very porous (making it a breeding ground for bacteria) and very unstable (so it breaks down after awhile leaving bits of toxic material in places you don’t want bits of anything).
Tagging these toys with ‘novelty’ status means that manufacturers don’t have to take responsibility for where or how you use their products – or the reactions you may have to them.
But these are usually the toys cash-strapped South Africans can afford. And generally the only toys stocked in places like Adult World. The higher end, better designed and quality toys (majors found in SA include Fun Factory, Nexus and Lelo) are really only to be found online or at ‘speciality’ stores – those catering to the gay and fetish market, or women’s sensuality boutiques – all two of them.
Not allowing these stores to mainstream means that these products remain prohibitively expensive for the average Saffa and keeps information and education about sex and sex products behind closed doors. It’s a form of censorship, really, that can physically harm people. A case of you don’t know what you don’t know can give also give you cervical cancer (did you know that certain jelly rubber toys melt into eachother on contact?)
Check out information on the materials your sex toys are made of here.
Get smart, play smart
Jelly, latex and rubber toys may have their place in your goodie box, but if the sheen has left your jelly toy and the surface has gone dull it’s time to throw it out or start using it with condoms. In fact, use a condom on any porous material. It’s something I’ve always done and it minimises clean-up time after.
If you have a latex allergy or you can afford to buy better quality, you’ll want to go for silicone (medical grade – don’t be fooled by cheapies with the words ‘silicone’ or ‘sili-gel’; and real silicone is always opaque ), glass or acrylic products. They’re generally more expensive, but are non-porous, non-toxic and won’t give your insides a chemical peel. Personally, I love silicone goodies.
This information is available online, but for myself, I know it’s so much nicer to speak to someone face to face. Someone who knows what she’s talking about. If you find yourself in the area of one these sensuality boutiques – go check them out. Support them. Speak to the women there. Ask the questions, look at the products. If enough of us empower ourselves and support these businesses, women’s sexuality may one day be acceptable enough to have a Whet or a The Bedroom in a mall next to CUM books. Wouldn’t that be grand.
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How many of you haven’t bought a dildo or vibrator because the thought of where you’d have to buy one actually makes your skin crawl?