The University of Good Vibrations

Good Vibrations has always done some form of outreach into the community, not just to promote itself as a business, but also to provide our own unique perspective on sex information and education. This tradition was started by our founder, Joani Blank, even before she began to hire the crew who later became the core of the Good Vibes you know today. I was among the last hired when we were still small, a dozen or so women running one store, a small publishing company, and mail order. It was logical for me to do outreach presentations — with my sex education and public speaking background (I had been both an AIDS educator and a gay activist), not to mention my missionary zeal for sex toys, I soon began carting a box of vibrators around and showing them off in college sexuality classes.

College-level sex ed has benefitted in many parts of the country from an interface between non-academic sexuality activists and educators. Professors can lecture from the book and then invite speakers in to finish off the job of making variation and diversity human. When I was just seventeen I began to do these kinds of talks, discussing bisexuality and gay identity, being asked the most outrageous questions imaginable, learning that my and my friends’ experience in the real world was a kind of expertise that didn’t have any other educational parallel. I still feel that way, although now, of course, I’ve read the textbooks too, so I keep visiting classes whenever I can, whether under the aegis of Good Vibes or just as myself.

Picture the hot water a prof might get into bringing my basket of dildos and vibrators into a classroom! In some parts of the country, I imagine that’d earn her or him a one-way train ticket. But inviting a guest speaker is another matter, and many instructors do so. I’ve lectured about sex toys (waving them in the air while I spoke, even) at universities, colleges, even a Catholic college, a medical school, and a law school. (The latter two invitations were from student organizations, who often take matters into their own hands when they think their education is incomplete!)

My favorite lecture, though, is one I do every semester at San Francisco State for the Variations in Human Sexuality class. I show clips of erotic movies made by women and talk about the intent and aesthetics of lesbian and feminist porn. All the videos I show are available at Good Vibes, so students can do everything from a term paper to an evening away from the books — and they’re able to ask questions, note what seems interesting and different from male-produced porn, and learn a bit about the economic constraints that face small women-run companies compared to the adult industry juggernauts with which they compete.

Another great favorite is lecturing at UC Berkeley, where students have organized classes in female sexuality and erotic literature. Most schools no longer have a program that allows supervised students to teach classes — they were far more common in the ’70s than now, and in fact I got my teaching start in one — but Berkeley still does, and these are the most intelligent, lively groups to which I speak.

Lecturing to students is a pleasure because they’re usually curious, interested, and often alert to the “big picture” implications of using toys — we routinely discuss safe sex and other health issues, partner communication, sexual diversity, and the positive role of pleasure. Whether in a sexuality class, a health sciences class, or a psychology seminar, the University of Good Vibrations is at work helping to spread information to the teachers (and the vibrator users!) of tomorrow.

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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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