When Is a Sex Toy Not an Instrument of Pleasure?
There’s a simple answer to this: when it’s used as a spoof, a joke, or something with which to humiliate someone else. The gag gift is sex toy-as-novelty — not something to use, but to wave around at a bachelor party or office shindig while all your friends or co-workers crack up. (Please note that the office party version of this scenario pretty much adds up to a sexual harassment charge, if people in the room really don’t want dildo sightings to be part of their job description.) When they’re used as humiliation — giving a big rubber dick to a small-penised person, for instance — they’re even less pleasure-centric, except when a person (you know who you are) actually gets an erotic rush from such things.
Then there’s the complicated answer. And I’ll tell you, I’ve been a trained sex toy professional for over twenty years and a PhD in sexology for over a dozen, and a person in my position can be lulled into thinking that she’s seen just about everything¦ til today, when sex toys got the biggest national news boost since Alabama outlawed the vibrator. But it wasn’t about how fun vibes are to play with, solo or with a frisky friend; no, this is one odd sex toy mention.
James O’Keefe, a young conservative activist, was last seen all over the news in late 2008 dressed as his fantasy of a pimp, dragging his attractive and skimpily-dressed gal-pal around to ACORN offices to try to get the anti-poverty nonprofit in trouble (and boy, did he succeed: his strategically-edited hidden cam pictures led to much political bloviating and the death of the organization). Then he and his friends got a little ink when they tried playing Watergate at the offices of Senator Mary Landrieu. But today takes the “media activist” cake — O’Keefe was trying to get CNN correspondent Abbie Boudreau to come conduct a private meeting at his “office,” really a boat which he and his co-conspirators had tricked out like a palace of seduction. Sex toys scattered around, apparently, including fuzzy handcuffs –that’s right, even right-wing media pranksters with unorthodox methods and dubious morals seem to know that those are safer than the hard metal cop kind– plus mood music, nudie pictures, and strawberries and champagne.
Sounds like the kind of Love Boat we’d love to sail on, right? These right-wing kids know how to party!
But attractive as O’Keefe might in fact have found Ms. Boudreau, the feeling was not likely to have been mutual, and the real idea here was to make a video that would embarrass her and CNN, sort of a retaliation for a documentary she’s been working on about young right-wing activists.
Said young activists have blustered their way through their plans’ revelation, and the press, while clearly seeing this as a skeevy situation, has mostly tried to report it as though the prank had been committed by actual political operatives. Media Matters, though, had harsher words: “Lying to a reporter in order to lure her onto a boat under false pretenses, then secretly recording her reaction to being confronted in an enclosed, unfamiliar environment by a strange man with handcuffs and sex toys, all while disparaging her as a ‘bubble-headed-bleach-blonde,’ is not a ‘stunt.’ It is the vicious, misogynist act of a twisted person whose 15 minutes should have expired long ago.” (One: “Strange man”–hell yeah. And two: Also, I’d add, the action of someone who didn’t understand just who’d be in an embarrassing position there. I’ll spell it out: he would. The camera would catch him trying to seduce a trapped, unwilling partner: He wouldn’t just look like a jerk, he’d look like an idiot.)
Beyond the right/left politics of the thing, here’s the teachable moment I want to reinforce. Sex toys are for fun and pleasure. They’re not created –and we certainly don’t sell them– to use as tools of embarrassment, humiliation, sexual harassment, punking and blackmail — of CNN or anybody else. This love boat was the tawdriest, saddest setting I’ve ever seen for the items I’ve devoted most of my adult life to promoting. I’m just glad (and it’s rare that I would say something like this) that he didn’t get them* from us.
* How do I know he didn’t? Because we don’t sell fuzzy handcuffs — artisan-made fuzzy cuffs, yes, but mass-produced fuzzy handcuffs, no. I rest my case.