The first time I bought a vibrator, I was 24 years old.
I had finally come out of the closet, begun dating my current partner, and felt I was (almost) ready to explore my sexuality and sexual preferences.
But in all honesty, I didn’t know the first thing about where to begin. After much cajoling, I went to my local sex shop with my partner and some friends, looked at all the intimidating varieties of vibrators, went home, and promptly ordered a simple silver bullet online.
I was scared, nervous, and confused, but at least I had taken another step towards embracing sexual pleasure.
As with exploring queerness, however, I quickly realized the process would be a complicated one.
The first time I ever used a vibrator I panicked.
Whenever I neared an orgasm I would abruptly stop, unfamiliar with the sensation, unsure about what was going to come next, and frankly, too terrified to find out. It took many tries, a lot of talking myself down from the ledge, and frantic messages to my partner before I finally came.
It was glorious. And it had only taken me 24 years.
In retrospect, the many years I spent working to get to this point are an indication of a deeper problem that continues to rear its ugly head in matters surrounding my sexuality. I still panic during sex and I have many hang ups regarding my body and sexual desires.
There are many underlying reasons for this, and I have only just begun to pull them apart.
One important reason is that we as a global culture do not actively discuss female-assigned at birth (FAAB) sexuality and desire. Through mainstream media’s depiction of cis and heteronormative relationships (because depictions of queer, trans, intersex, and non-binary individuals are almost nonexistent period, let alone with any emphasis on sexuality and pleasure) one gathers that cis men are obsessed with sex and masturbate constantly, while cis women conjure excuses for why they are not in “the mood.”
Growing up, I rarely saw or heard conversations about FAAB* individuals enjoying sex, wanting sex, or experiencing arousal—this was a domain exclusive to cis men. The only time discussions about FAAB people and sex occurred was in the context of slut-shaming: the Madonna-Whore dichotomy was reinforced and recreated.
Today, much like then, even when “sluts” are discussed it is through the lens of the male gaze. FAAB sexuality seemingly exists to be consumed by cis men, and in the end, it is they who are punished for pursuing any form of sexual pleasure.
This feeds into another problem, one exemplified by my internet search history prior to that fateful trip to the sex shop: I had no frame of reference for FAAB masturbation. Growing up, the idea had never even entered my mind. Touching myself was certainly a component of puberty (over my underwear, the much needed protective barrier between me and my genitals) but I didn’t associate that touching with sexuality or desire.
It was simply something I did.
Conversations about the clit and the mythical existence of the G-spot would later confuse me. I had thought they were the same (they’re not) and assumed that they might look a bit like tonsils hanging inside my vagina (they don’t.) In contrast, cis male sexuality wasn’t as much of an enigma. I knew what a penis looked like and understood (for the most part) what a penis might need when aroused.
As a society, we stigmatize women and their bodies to such an extent that women have no real idea of their own capacity for pleasure or need for satisfaction. Years may pass before we even realize that many of us have deeply-rooted issues we need to work on, or just how desperately we need to unlearn all the patriarchal dictates that have governed and shaped our lives.
In this vein, one important thing I’ve realized over the years is that we do not discuss vaginas.
In fact, almost the world over, “vagina” and all of its colloquial nicknames are viewed as dirty words. As a direct consequence, many people assume their “down there’s” are a cavernous, dark, dingy place that we are not meant to engage with.
While I was growing up, vaginas were only alluded to in the context of virginity. Our vaginas housed a precious flower, we were told, one to be protected at all costs.
For me and my “flower”, the ship has sailed.
Sex was and still is a process, but that’s a story for another day. But even receiving sexual pleasure can be made complicated by one’s ingrained fear of vaginas. Oral sex, statistically one of the easiest and most reliable ways to provide FAAB people with pleasure, is often dismissed as being repugnant. For all women and FAAB individuals, fear of allowing a partner the proximity to a part of them they fear can be an anxiety-laden experience.
To this day, oral sex makes me anxious.
I’m afraid that my vagina is unclean, produces a smell, and might otherwise turn off my partner. Having spent enough time enjoying performing oral sex on vaginas, I definitely know that this isn’t true.
But it’s a feeling that is hard to shake.
And one thing that has helped me make progress towards loving myself is actually showing myself love and pleasure. By touching and exploring my vagina, I understand my body better and have come to unabashedly believe that all vaginas, including my vagina, are strong, beautiful, and sexy.
Ridding myself of this internalized stigma and shame is a work in process, but I have come a long way.
This piece is written anonymously in no small part because of deeply internalized issues with sexuality and desire. Like many other people struggling to embrace their sexuality and bodies, I still have to work on being out and vocal about myself, my opinions, and my experiences.
I hope to one day speak about these issues loudly and proudly, to be my unapologetic and authentic self. But while I work on expediting that process, I wanted to do my small bit to destigmatize my (and hopefully your) sexuality, desires, and body. Read up on masturbation, buy a vibrator, and question things you have been taught.
This is critical if we are ever to love ourselves as we truly are.
*Note: The author understands that not all people with vaginas identify as women and that not all women have vaginas. In an effort to underscore this, the acronym FAAB, or, female-assigned-at-birth, appears in this piece when referencing individuals with vaginas, and the words “women” and “woman” are used when referring to women, trans and cis alike.