From the age of 14 years-old, I was an avid Dolly magazine reader. Dolly gave me an insight to a world of maturity, empowerment, and information that I simply did not want to get from my parents when I was a teenager. The right way to pluck your eyebrows. Different types of acne and how to deal with it. How to know if he’s ‘just a friend’. The lowdown on my teen crushes like Rob Lowe, Matthew Broderick, and the entire cast of Beverly Hills 90210 (I’m showing my age now).
And how to masturbate.
Yes, Dolly was the source of eye-opening advice to ensure you were self-pleasuring in the most effective way. Articles like this were the ones you read avidly, hoping you were doing it right, and doing it well. (I’ve always been one for not doing things by halves, and I’m fairly confident that the time I spent on making sure I knew what felt good for me paid off. Or got me off. You know what I mean.)
Anyway, the topic of masturbation simply wasn’t in the day-to-day conversation that most teens have with their parents. So imagine my father’s reaction over the breakfast table one morning when he innocently asked my younger brother what he was learning about in school at the moment.
“We’re learning about masturbation,” kid brother replied (aged 11).
Dad literally spat his cornflakes across the table in horror.
“I never want to hear that word in this house again!” he roared. (Strict Catholic parents have a permanent aura of guilt and shame that hovers over them unlike anyone else I have ever met, especially when it comes to the topic of sex).
“But Dad,” I retorted matter-of-factly (and quoting directly from my own bible, the afore-mentioned Dolly magazine), “masturbation isn’t a dirty word. If you can’t touch yourself with confidence, how can you ever expect to touch someone else?”
My father, at this point, is purple and incandescent with rage.
“That bloody Dolly magazine is banned from this house! What sort of rubbish are you learning from it?!”
Well actually Dad, I was learning quite a lot, which clearly bothered you.
What is it about the topic of masturbation that makes people cringe? I decided to pop into a very mainstream adult sex store to ask the salespeople what sort of customers bought masturbation devices.
First of all, it’s been years since I was in a sex shop. Jesus, how things have changed. The first thing I noticed was how prolific the range of vibrators and dildos there were. There were hundreds of them! The colours alone were exhausting to look at. (How come purple, hot pink, bright orange, and red are the go-to colours for vibrators? Is it in case they get lost and you need to send a search party up your vagina to find them?)
Then there are the ‘realistic’ dildos that are, quite simply, hilarious. A skin-toned veiny cock and scrotum that appear to have been modelled on real men is not exactly ‘pretty’ to look at (all skin tones are covered too, from Caucasian white to deep black or dark brown skin colours).
Then there are the silicone versions, the latex versions, the hard plastic versions, the waterproof ones, battery powered, rechargeable, solar-powered, remote-controlled, wearable, noisy, silent, multi-rhythm, single rhythm, make-you-breakfast-in-the-morning, long, short, round, flat, clitoral stimulus, anal stimulus, vaginal stimulus, all-of-the-above stimulus … so, so many to choose from.
And all priced anything from $10 - $1500. Made in China. Made in Australia. The German ones were the best, I was informed. Apparently they really know their stuff about sex toys (which doesn’t really equate to why so many of them lack a sense of humour. In my humble experience).
The main type of customers who buy vibrators or dildos?
“Couples mostly,” said the saleslady. “But more often than not, it’s the guys buying something for their girlfriend or partner. We don’t get many women coming in here by themselves, unless they are buying something as a gag gift or for a hen’s night.”
I thought that was a bit sad actually. Where is the girl power I thought was out there? Surely we are sexually empowered enough that self-pleasure is nothing to be embarrassed about? Why aren’t we encouraged to work out what feels good for us through some healthy self-discovery? Shouldn’t a vibrator be a rite of passage for the sexually awakening teen?
Now that’s a sweet sixteen birthday present I would have very much appreciated.