Standing at a crossroads in my five years of marriage, I decided to buy my first vibrator. At the time, I was hemming and hawing: should we split or shouldn’t we? There were reasons on either end of the conversation. We had history and a baby. Who else would put up with me? And of course, there’s the baby. We didn’t we get along most of the time, also did I mention the baby?
The life we’d built together over the past five years seemed strong enough to hold us in this difficult time, but was the best reason to work things out? Reasons to leave and reasons to stay sat equally divided on the scales of my heart.
While I tried to figure out my love life, I also helped a friend pull off a GenderQueer Celebration, an event celebrating bodies of all heights, widths, shades, and genders and raising money for my friend’s transition from female to male.
Preparing for the celebration I spent hours calling adult toy shops for donations for the event’s silent auction. I was surprised how I could talk so frankly about a world I hadn’t explored. After the celebration, a friend who’d won one of the gift certificates to a sex toy shop asked if I would go with her to redeem it. She was a social worker at the time.
“I’ve been telling my clients they should get to know themselves, and I’m realizing I should probably take my own advice,” she told me.
Sure, I’d said. Let’s go be adults.
Because a vibrator seemed like a completely adult thing to do. It’s a declaration: I’m a 21st-century lady who knows my way around my own hoohaa…also I refer to it as a hoohaa… In the store I tried not to goggle at the colorful, veined phalluses, phalli?, that sat on displays in the center of the store. My friend and I giggled, as a sales clerk asked if we needed any help. We definitely did.
The sales clerk was the most sex-positive person I’d met up to that point. She was pleasant, informative and very matter-of-fact. Showing us a bright blue number buzzing at full blast, she offered it to each of us, saying “Feel that power? This one’s great for when you want to fuck the shit out of something.” I turned it off before handing it back to her.
In the end, I purchased a starter’s kit for folks unfamiliar with battery-powered pleasure and, like the nerd I am, a book on how to masturbate, Getting Off: A Woman’s Guide to Masturbation. I’m nothing if not thorough.
I read the book and learned all the unsexy names for my lady parts and was encouraged to give them cool nicknames. Studying various techniques, I picked a few that seemed simple enough to start off with and after a few days of study decided to give it a try. I waited for a night when my son was with his dad, my sister was at work and I had the apartment all to myself.
At the book’s suggestion, I tried to create a sexy mood. Candles. D’Angelo. A scented bath. Everything was ready except for me. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was doing something bad, something shameful. Also, the buzzing and splashing sounds were too loud and kept pulling me out of my body. The bath water started to chill. I figured tonight wouldn’t be my night and I’d just try again later.
I turned on the shower to wash away the film from the bath and as I moved the loofah over my arms and belly, thighs and ankles, I felt something begin to build. I decided to keep with it, and by the end of that shower I’d had my first mind-stroking, feet-lapping, spine-collapsing and extending orgasm.
Laying in the quiet aftershocks, I remembered Audre Lorde’s words from “The Uses of the Erotic” in Sister Outsider:
The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.
With those shuddering spasms I was reminded of the deep pleasure I’m capable of, the deep longing I can hold, the yearning I can build for a release that is years in the making. And the afterglow, the easy comedown, and utter relaxation. That was satisfaction. That was contentment. That was my answer to the should we or shouldn’t we.
My capacity for joy far outstretched the broken promises of a failing relationship. That total release helped me realize that, though it can be complex and unnecessarily coupled with feelings of shame or embarrassment, there can be exquisite joy in letting go.