Some Thoughts On Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day has always been a big deal around Good Vibrations. Long before you could buy heart-shaped merchandise virtually everywhere, the lovers’ holiday brought shoppers to us by the score. Sure, you can always fall back on a Hallmark card, a bouquet of roses, or a box of candy: those things telegraph romance, at least a particular version of it. But it’s not a very well-thought-out or customized version, nor do these things especially celebrate the erotic. Long-term partnered love can sometimes thrive with the sexual heat turned down to simmer. But romance turns up the heat, and Valentine’s Day celebrates romance.

Sex is our business, of course, and we see (and represent) it in many varieties. We know it’s possible, in fact pretty common, for people to enjoy sex outside of committed relationships; we actively encourage people to enjoy sex all by themselves. (Which reminds me — National Masturbation Month is almost here. I hope you’re in training for the Masturbate-a-thon!) There’s no question that positive sex can have as many facets as a jewel, that folks are as erotically individual as so many snowflakes, and the one right, “normal” way to have sex just doesn’t exist. That said, hot and romantic sex with a partner you love (and lust for) remains high on most everybody’s list — and that’s why Valentine’s Day brings people out of the woodwork and into Good Vibes. Folks want to celebrate this holiday erotically.

Over and over, speaking to the public about sex-positive philosophy, the basic “Sex — rah rah rah” message, I’ve heard people become angry and defensive. “But what about love?” they demand, as though talking about sex cancels love from the equation. This tells me, among other things, that love is still a code word many, especially women, use when they want to refer to sexual desire. Even today, love serves as an excuse for sex. Just speaking clearly about sex need not imply that love isn’t also present, even primary: the context for the sex, the reason for it, the element that may make it transcendent. Talking about love isn’t threatening: it is supposed to be status quo (though too often it is not), and it is also supposed to disguise the sex and render it acceptable and appropriate.

Indeed, sex-with-love can be a challenge to represent; though supposedly the norm, it is also privatized: at home with the drapes drawn, a universe of two with no one else in it. It assumes intimacy, an unbreakable dyad. Never mind that romantic triads can form little universes of three — no Hallmark cards for that! — or that many lovers work hard to create passionate, intimate, sustainable open relationships. The love duo, the pair-bond, is one of the most powerful cultural icons we have. And of course it’s worth celebrating — when chemistry and interpersonal skills line up with love and lust, it’s a deeply powerful experience.

But the mythos that accompanies this love/sex nexus creates an ironic problem for many couples. If romantic sex is supposed to be the pinnacle, how come so many people who love each other don’t have great sex all the time? Partly it has to do with the chemistry and social skills I just mentioned: if they’re missing, the sex and the connection won’t be as deep. But it also has to do with lovers’ understanding of sex and of the body — in short, it has to do with sex information. The myth is that true love makes for a passionate sexual connection, but love doesn’t cure between-the-sheets clumsiness and ignorance. No matter how much people love each other, if they don’t learn how to communicate, give, and share information, their sex lives may not be all they dreamed about when they dreamed about falling in love. On top of that, even sexually sophisticated couples can forget to prioritize eroticism, and then wonder where it went. If the pilot light goes out you have to re-light it; waiting for it to light itself won’t do it.

So for Valentine’s Day, it makes as much sense to share a book or video with your lover as a box of chocolate, or to give a bouquet of sex toys instead of (or in addition to) roses. Any erotic purchase lets lovers recommit to eroticism — no matter what the item, if it says “I cherish my sex life with you,” it’ll do that Valentine magic. And that’s why customers come to Good Vibes — because anything you get here sends that message more clearly than a heart-shaped pillow or even a pear-shaped diamond.

But let’s not leave it there — Valentine’s Day, if it’s a holiday about love and eroticism, shouldn’t only be for couples. Let’s go back to square one and remember that if we don’t love ourselves and cherish our own eroticism, we won’t have all that much to share when Ms. or Mr. Right (or both at once) come along. We each have a relationship with ourselves — it preceded our relationship with any lover and will probably outlast them all, too. So if you’re single (and even if you’re not), don’t forget yourself on Valentine’s Day. Leave yourself a love note on the mirror. Take yourself out to a nice lunch. Light a candle and take a bath. Buy yourself a toy. Rent a sexy video. Make selflove, as Betty Dodson calls it.

Have a happy, loving, sexy Valentine’s Day, no matter how many — one, two, or more — you celebrate it with.

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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