Like gay marriage, marijuana use and tattoos, public perception of female sex toys is not what it used to be. While male sex toys still weigh heavy on the shame scale, a female pleasure device is mostly seen as a cute novelty. Encountering one while snooping is comparable to finding a rutabaga in the fridge or a Kid 'n Play record on the shelf: more "Oh, that's interesting" than "You filthy slut."
In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play, which opens tomorrow at the Bug, takes us back to a time before female sexuality was acknowledged, when the buzzing phallus was used to treat women for "hysteria" -- and once its alternative uses were made known, was vilified as an unmentionable weapon of evil, a disgusting appliance of hell-bound harlots.
In honor of this theatrical monument to the social evolution of female sexuality, we are proud to present this brief pop-culture history of the vibrator:
Mad Men's Peggy Olson turns the Electrosizer into the Rejuvenator
In Mad Men's season one "Indian Summer" episode, proto-feminist go-getter Peggy Olson is assigned the marketing campaign for the Electrosizer, a type of vibrating granny panties designed for weight loss. Though the assignment is handed her half as a joke targeting Olson's sudden chubbiness (no one, not even Peggy, is yet aware that the weight gain is due to pregnancy), she characteristically takes on the assignment with an astute self-determination. Giving the device a bedroom test drive, Olson quickly discovers the Electrosizer's unexpected awakening of her erogenous zones. She later pitches the device as the Rejuvenator, adding the tagline "You'll love the way it makes you feel." As eloquent dreamboat Don Draper explains to his bewildered colleagues, the Rejuvenator "provides the pleasure of a man, without the man."
While Cindy Lauper never specified whether her 1984 ode to female masturbation championed a vibrator or the classic, manual approach, the song did spark a nationwide conversation about female mono-pleasure. In the song, Lauper confesses that she "may need a chaperone, because I can't stop messing with the danger zone," a line that led Tipper Gore to put the track on her infamous Filthy Fifteen list, an ominous collection of decidedly vulgar songs that rated Parental Warning stickers on CDs. (Note: The number-one track on the Filthy Fifteen was Prince's "Darling Nikki," another song that features female masturbation.)
William Burroughs + fictional dildo = Steely Dan
Neither sex-positive nor sex-negative, the world of William Burroughs has always existed in some nether region of human sexuality -- a place not of shame or arousal, just...disturbance. And there's no better example of this than in his 1959 masterpiece, Naked Lunch, a book that not only caught the attention of the courts that banned it for obscenity, but also of a group of early-'70s jazz-funk musicianslooking for a band name, who found it in this line: "Mary is strapping on a rubber penis. 'Steely Dan III from Yokohama,' she says, caressing the shaft."
Sex and the City endorses the Rabbit
When the typically prudish Charlotte becomes so obsessed with her Vibratex Rabbit Pearl vibrator that she begins canceling plans to stay home for some "me time," her glamourpuss gal pals stage a predictably quirky dildo intervention. When the episode aired in 1998, it raised the eyebrows of conservatives almost as much as it did the sales of the Rabbit Pearl vibrator; the "Rabbit and the Hare" episode is now considered a milestone in discussing female sex toys on television (even if it was on HBO).
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This week, though, on Dan Savage's Savage Love podcast, sex-positive entrepreneur/Smitten Kitten founder Jennifer Pritchett directly attacked the Rabbit Pearl for containing dangerous levels of the toxin dioxyl-phthalate. "The levels of phthalates in children's toys that people start to worry about is one-tenth of one percent," she said. "We sent [the Rabbit Pearl] to a lab in California, they deformulated them and we found that the [vibrators] were 60 percent dioxyl-phthalate."