More than 50 percent of women have used a vibrator in their lifetime, but the topic is frequently cloaked in shame or reduced to a kink. Now, sexual wellness company Maude, backed by Dakota Johnson, is pushing the necessity — not novelty — of vibrators by ditching the word “toy.”
"For too long sexual health has been poorly marketed, hyper-aggressive and highly gendered," Johnson, a co-creative director and investor for Maude, told InStyle, promoting the brand’s “This Is Not a Toy” campaign, which encourages women to post photos of their vibrators on social media. "Often the use of language surrounding sexual products is antiquated, gender-specific and belittling."
“Vibrators and devices have been called ‘toys,' a connotation that trivializes their basic benefit: to provide stimulation that improves sexual wellness and feelings of well-being,” Maude founder Éva Goicochea tells Yahoo Life in a statement. “By reducing them to juvenile novelties, people’s needs and satisfaction are often being unmet and overlooked. Moreover, stigmas are being perpetuated (and yes, they’re banned from being advertised on Facebook). Maude is taking a stance against this outdated language furthering our commitment to creating safe, inclusive sex essentials for all.”
(A spokesperson from Facebook tells Yahoo Life that advertising guidelines prevent companies from monetizing sexual products that enhance pleasure, reflecting its policy that “ads must not promote the sale or use of adult products or services.” The platform does allow contraception and family planning ads if targeted to people 18 years or older that don't "focus on sexual pleasure.”)
The reported history of the vibrator dates back to the Victorian era when doctors treated female anxiety and depression (then known as “hysteria”) with genital stimulation via vibrating devices — although in 2018, two historians claimed there was no evidence for the widely-popularized anecdote.
But Maude wants sexual wellness taken seriously. “Our take is, sex products are basic and here to help you have a healthy sex life and if you treat devices like novelties, you’re saying they are not necessary and that women’s pleasure is secondary,” says Goicochea.
Research on the female orgasm could settle this argument: According to the Kinsey Institute, a world-renowned research center on human sexuality located at Indiana University, “Women are much more likely to be nearly always or always orgasmic when alone than with a partner," and "Men are more likely to orgasm when sex includes vaginal intercourse; women are more likely to orgasm when they engage in a variety of sex acts and when oral sex or vaginal intercourse is included." In 2011, a viral study published in the journal Hormones and Behavior introduced a theory for the pleasure disparity: When the clitoris is spaced less than 2.5 centimeters from the urinary opening, female orgasm through intercourse is likelier.
Study co-author Elisabeth Lloyd, a science historian at Indiana University, Bloomington, tells Yahoo Life that only eight percent of women can orgasm during intercourse without manual assistance. "Our research also explains why lesbians have higher orgasm rates than straight women," she says. But the findings shouldn't feel discouraging, Lloyd's co-author Kim Wallen, a professor of psychology and behavioral neuroendocrinology at Emory University, told the Los Angeles Times in 2008. “Maybe it could allow couples to be a bit more inventive in how they have sex.”
That’s where sexual props — and their legitimate purpose — could shine. Last year, online sales of vibrators and other sexual props boomed, according to the New York Times. And 2009 research by Indiana University found that using a vibrator was associated with improved sexual health and "more positive sexual function" relating to desire, arousal and lubrication, for example.
According to Lloyd, understanding the complexity of female orgasms (the facts of which are the antithesis to Hollywood depictions) are good for both men and women. "I want to get the word out."
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