Sex Stories is an ongoing series focused on the relationship with our sexual partners, our community, and ultimately, with our physical and spiritual self. In this weekly series, we will feature short and long prose, that examines the layers of sex (or none at all) during a pandemic. This series aims to not only demystify the sexual experience for folks right not, but hopefully, narrows in on the reality that sex is an integral aspect of our very unique pandemic journeys. No matter where you are physically, spiritually and mentally, our hope is that by sharing these stories, we will all continue to hold each other.
Getting To Know Me
“On my 32nd birthday, in the year [from hell] of our Lord 2020, my partner gave me a gift: a whirring bit of magic that fit in my palm, aptly named “Pom.” …
I unwrapped with anticipation, taking it from the delicate bag that bore a stitched little face, with wide eyes and an O-shaped mouth. I held it with reverence and flushed cheeks.
The vibrator’s smooth silicone texture was oddly reminiscent of a penis. The purple hue was more fitting for its category—Sex Toy, the naughtiest of words. From the backseat as a child, I remember seeing them in flashing lights along the dingy, industrial sections of town off the interstate. They blinked on and off, like strange holiday décor, next to the giant neon lingerie-ed leg moving up and down, beside signs like GENTLEMAN’S CLUB and PEEPSHOW. In the dark of night, I could see their red, green, and blue reflections flashing across my mom’s face in the front seat, yet it was as if they did not exist because we did not speak of them.
I first discovered masturbation in the second grade, from a classmate who simply referred to the act as “doing it.” She told me exactly what to do, and, dutiful student I am, I promptly went home to make my first self-stimulation attempt. As tingles flooded my body, my mouth in that O shape, I felt like I had uncovered the hidden gem of my body, as if my body and myself had somehow become one. But as amazing as my body felt, my brain wondered if it might be wrong. My classmate, who ostensibly carried no shame about the act, would touch herself under her desk and in gym class. I marveled at her audacity, but our teachers were appalled. They spoke to her parents about it, and she came back to school whispering the truth to me, “My mom says it’s from the devil, and so I have to stop.” I stared at her with wide eyes, unsure if I believed that something that could make my body ZING so powerfully could be satanic—or perhaps that’s why it was?
The second time I learned about masturbation was from Dr. James Dobson, an evangelical Christian author, psychologist, and the founder of the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family. I was 9 or 10, and my parents wanted help explaining to me the turbulence of puberty. Apparently, an older white man was best suited to the task. My mom took me on a weekend trip and we listened to the audiobook Preparing for Adolescence. I couldn’t meet my mother’s eyes as Dr. Dobson described the act of sex, only between a man and a woman and reserved for married folks. He explained that masturbation was a controversial topic, that the Bible didn’t have a clear stance, and that readers should ask God what to do. He ended by adding that he “hoped we wouldn’t feel the need for it.” Thus, began my tumultuous relationship with masturbation. It was a self-soothing practice when I was anxious—a common theme of my childhood—but was immediately followed by shame, along with prayers for forgiveness to ensure good standing in my membership to God’s kingdom.
When I was 11, we moved to a new city and my parents began attending a more conservative church. There, I was told that masturbation was not part of God’s design, that self-stimulation could not exist without pornography, or at least sexualized fantasies, and that both set inappropriate expectations for a marital sexual relationship. Sexual purity, my youth pastor explained with a self-conscious tone and red face, did not permit any sort of self-exploration. To be sexually pure, I was to present myself “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, and to be holy and blameless,” according to Ephesians 5. My body was compared to a gift, carefully wrapped—presumably by God—the paper taped down firmly until my wedding, when my husband would unwrap me. If I veered off the path of purity, the tape would become less sticky and I would thus become less presentable and desirable. (Heaven forbid I offer a body that was no longer sticky.)
I tucked my desires away into the box I would give to my husband one day and decided to abstain from masturbation. My body, its signals, its tender spots, its needs, would have to wait for marriage to be uncovered; and even then, that was for my husband—my body would be his.
Somewhere around age 30, for various reasons, my partner and I left our church. We had been married for eight years but I struggled to connect with my body sexually and emotionally. With my therapist, who specializes in a body-oriented approach to therapy, I discovered how much body shame I carried. Body shame messaging is widespread, but for me, its foundations were strongly rooted in the evangelical church, where I’d long heard New Testament Bible verses recited about how “the flesh” and all her desires could not be trusted.
As I unwrapped the vibrator on my birthday, the familiar shame surfaced. I recalled the secretive moments I’d stolen away in my bedroom as a child, how dirty I’d felt exploring myself. Still, I plugged the vibrator into the charger by my bedside and waited. A few days later, I decided to give it a try. I wouldn’t do it lying down—that felt like too much commitment. Standing up, I unplugged it, pressed the “on” button, and warily held it between my legs. Within a mere minute, my body was fluttery. I looked at this new friend in my hand. “For real?” I said out loud, astounded. Orgasm was possible for me during sex but not predictable, and this was the quickest I’d climaxed in years.
Over the next few weeks, I found myself reaching for my buzzing buddy every few days to continue getting to know myself. I learned the vibrator’s various modes and how to make the experience last longer than that initial quickie. The shame began to fade.
At some point, I decided it might be fun to try it out in marriage and reintroduce it to my partner who had so lovingly gifted it. I typically don’t enjoy shower sex as much as my partner because he gets off, but I never do. With the vibrator, we both enjoyed it. Afterwards, as I rinsed off the Pom, I turned to him sheepishly. “Are you intimidated by this thing?”
“What?” he said, surprised. “No, it’s like I have a magic hand.”
I laughed. As he toweled off, he added, “Honestly, the vibrator makes me think that maybe women’s bodies are simpler machines than people give them credit for.”
Exactly. We just have to get to know them. And, obviously, sex toys help.”