Monday, July 5, 2010

Foreign bodies.

Please note that this post contains no names, or ages, or identifying details. I'm not even going to specify which states these incidents occurred in, and I will say that none of them were recent. I'm just going to name off some objects and some orifices and you can take it from there, okay?

Chicken wing. Anus. (Claimed they "ate it too fast." Which, if it were true--and my 5th grade understanding of digestion suggests not--is almost worse.)

Pocketknife. Vagina. (Folded. Phew.)

Bic pen. Urethra. (Left in for over a year and only removed when the calcification around it had filled the entire bladder. Also, the cap was on.)

What do these incidents have in common, besides being totally wacky and shocking and producing comedy-gold X-rays? They all could have been prevented by a five-minute consultation with one of the helpful folks at Babeland or a similar establishment. Unlike some of my coworkers, I don't think the crazy part is putting objects in your anus or even urethra--I'm no one to be casting stones and I bet you aren't either--it's using the wrong objects. Sex toys, at least the good ones, are specifically made in materials that can be made clean enough for your body and in shapes that are less likely to damage your body.

Sex toys are also expensive, hard to obtain in rural and/or conservative areas, embarrassing to buy and own, and it's very difficult to get basic education on them unless you really seek it out. Stuff like "silicone is neutral for your body, but jelly rubber has scary chemicals" or "anything that goes in your anus needs a base big enough to keep it from going all the way in"--you don't learn this at school, you don't learn it on TV, you don't learn it from porn, and you don't even learn it from a lot of sex toy sellers! Joe-Bob's Adult Books and Smoke Shop (both the brick-and-mortar and online incarnations) usually carries unsafe toys and sells them with no attempt at education. Joe-Bob is also located in a blacked-out shack in the worst part of town and charges $30 for a lump of poorly-made plastic.

Whereas a cucumber is 50 cents, a tube of Vaseline is a buck, you can get both at the corner Safeway, no one can judge you for having them in your house (unless they're sitting together on the nightstand), and 98% of the time you'll get lucky and have nothing but fun. The other 2% secures your place in The ER Hall Of Legends.

But it's a preventable 2%. Here are my if-I-ruled-the-world recommendations for promoting sex toy safety and sanity:

1) Get rid of sex toy bans. The fact that sex toys are still illegal to sell in Mississippi, Alabama, and Virginia is ridiculous. These are totally inappropriate and intrusive laws.

2) Get rid of zoning regulations that force sex shops to only operate in Outer Shitsville. A sex shop is as basic a need as an auto-parts shop and ought to be as easy to find. Also, if the shops were allowed to operate in nicer areas, they'd be less likely to be intimidatingly skanky in appearance and clientèle, and the stigma in visiting them might be less.

3) Allow or promote the sale of sex toys in non-sex shops. This is already happening to a very small degree with more interesting lube selections and a few non-explicitly packaged vibrators in drugstores, but I'd like to see a lot more options in stores that no one is embarrassed to enter. (What about the children? Put stuff in opaque boxes on high shelves and the only kids who'll catch on are the ones who already know.) Not only would this further reduce stigma, but the competition and mass market might lower prices.

4) Ban the sale of unsafe sex toys. This is kind of a murky thing because there are a lot of toys that are only safe if you know what you're doing, and I wouldn't ban those. (How could I. Really.) But there are some toys that are just low-quality--toys made of toxic or unknown materials, toys prone to breakage or electrical faults, toys sold for anal use with no base or other retrieval method, those stupid numbing anal lubes--and I would ban those outright. Medical device manufacturers face standards on what they're allowed to sell for use inside a human body, and sex toy manufacturers shouldn't be able to play the blatant fiction of "it's just an adult novelty!" and be exempt from regulation.

EDIT: In the interest of avoiding government regulation, this should ideally be done by an independent authority analogous to Underwriter's Laboratories, which does not have the power to ban things per se, but whose approval greatly impacts the market viability of a product.

5) Educate people about sex toy safety. I know this is super politically difficult because sex ed is supposed to be all about responsible and serious things like diseases and babies, and something like sex toys--well, that's just dirty. But abstinence-only sex toy education is about as useful as any other kind of abstinence-only. You can't tell Chicken Wing Dude not to shove things up his ass. That's his thing, and by God it's his right, and anyway he's going to. It would make a lot more sense to point him towards a good buttplug.

I'm not sure if I can go so far as to say this education should happen in the schools (although it really should), but it should at least be more available to adults. If I were In Charge Of Things I would send out free pamphlets on sex-toy safety to every store that sold sex toys and to every primary-care doctor. Go in for your physical, come out with a little packet on "things that are okay and not okay to stick in your special places." Obviously lots of people won't read it or won't follow the recommendations, but it beats the hell out of no education at all.

EDIT: 6) Legalize sale of sex toys to minors. At least the drugstore ones. Masturbation (and experimentation with peers) are not statutory rape, and access to sex toys reduces the risk of kids using inappropriate objects or accepting offers from creeps to buy sex toys for them.

And that's my sex toy utopia. It's a world where people have the access, affordability, destigmatization and education necessary to not get chicken wings stuck up their asses. Or at least not as often.


  1. Great post.

    About 4), while it would probably be very difficult to establish any type of nationwide sex toy regulation, and I would be opposed to such a law anyway, it may be more possible for the higher end manufacturers to establish some type of industry board and issue "seals of approval" to the high-quality and safe toys, so that a person unfamiliar with sex toys could be assured of buying a safe, well-designed toy.

    I would also be in favor of such an industry board recommending/requiring that manuals/pamphlets be included with its products. These manuals/pamphlets could also point out unsafe or dangerous sex toys and sex toy practices.

  2. K.A. - The regulation one makes me nervous too--I worry that the people doing the regulating would start banning stuff because it was "obscene" rather than unsafe or because they didn't understand/accept the particular kink it was for.

    But on the other hand I worry that a "seal of approval" committee would end up only giving the seal to shmancy "high-end" $150 vibrators made by their buddies, and tons of crap would still be sold.

    I guess maybe the best solution is something like Underwriter's Laboratories, which is nongovernmental but has some degree of authority and objectivity in their approval process.

  3. The pen made me shudder. A year?!?!?!

    Instead of outright bans, I'd be ok with clear, visible labels on all toys about the materials and their safety (like the listings on every product at If we can require ingredient labels on all food products, medications, and cosmetics, we can make them mandatory on other things that are meant to go inside bodies, too. Allergen warnings would be a plus, too. Nickel allergies suck. Cleaning instructions would be great, too, so the uninformed can easily find out which products can be boiled to sterilize, etc.

  4. Artsynomad - I agree with the food analogy as far as ingredient lists, but there's also stuff you just aren't allowed to put in food--saying "but it's clearly labeled that our cookies are made of industrial vinyl" isn't good enough.

    The combination of the lower price of dangerous materials, and the thought "if it really wasn't safe they wouldn't sell it," means that merely providing information isn't always enough.

  5. Good points all around, but lets start with the basics of acceptance. Humans made smallpox extinct in the wild(theoretically) and are working on Polio. 2 diseases that are easy to catch and hard to treat. Lets campaign to kill diseases that are hard to get(you have to fuck) and easy to treat. They happen more often. Clamidia is more common than the common cold. These diseases are ignored because you have to have SEX to get them. Baby steps.

  6. Ok, not to kid about the second half of the post (which is very interesting), but the pocket knife example reminds me of a continued image in Toni Morrison's "Jazz." It wasn't Toni was it? Oprah maybe? Gail, for god's sake, say it wasn't Gail!

  7. What is dangerous about numbing anal lube?

  8. Holly, good points. A UL-tested and certified toy would be so badass, I'd buy such a toy on prinicple alone.

  9. Comrade, I'm guessing the danger lies in not being able to feel the damage you may be inflicting on a delicate area. Pain exists for a reason.

  10. Medical device manufacturers face standards on what they're allowed to sell for use inside a human body, and sex toy manufacturers shouldn't be able to play the blatant fiction of "it's just an adult novelty!" and be exempt from regulation.

    Which started as a reaction to your point #1, I would guess.

  11. I am with most of this. But don't put the sex toys on a top shelf where kids can't see them.

    I am a big believer in

    "That's a dildo Johnny (of course he is called Johnny). Adults something put those in their anuses and vaginas because it feels nice. You won't feel the urge to do that for years."

    Progressive parent.

  12. Interestingly, in Baltimore, there is a very nice little sex shop in a very nice part of the city. It's called Sugar, and it's this quiet, small store with very high-quality toys.

    I'm not sure what the zoning laws are, but obviously the possibility exists in some cities, and - shocking! - your hypothesis is supported by, at the very least, this datum.


  13. Comrade, I'm guessing the danger lies in not being able to feel the damage you may be inflicting on a delicate area.

    Oh, yeah, that makes sense. Tx.

  14. Ace post.
    Aside from sex toys, I can't think of any point in my Sex Ed classes when female pleasure and arousal were mentioned. We got the full monty on the male orgasm though! Thank goodness my family had some imput into my education but so many people rely on the schools and doctors.

    Fascinating stuff when it comes to the laws on sex toys.

  15. These examples were all men, I take it?

  16. I've always thought that ending a ban on sex toys in certain states would lead to safer products. That way a company couldn't claim to sell a product as 'novelty' because they have to get around the law.

    Just a side note. Janeane Garofalo is saying that Brazilian waxing is wrong. I wonder if this will be covered in the sex blogosphere? It's the 'myth' part that she mentions that makes me laugh the hardest.

  17. Progressive parent - Too progressive. I mean, I agree in principle that sex shouldn't be some big secret from kids, but that's going to be one hell of a harder sell to CVS.

    Sarah - Arousal and orgasm of either sex weren't big points in my sex ed classes. Sex seemed to be this tremendously risky thing that you did for no particular reason. Low self-esteem, maybe.

    Bruno - Not the one with the vagina.

    Sarah - God I'm sick of the "shaving is like being prepubescent" thing. Among other arguments, the taboo against sex with prepubescent kids is because they can't give meaningful consent, not because they're hairless! The hairlessness is totally a side issue there.

  18. I certainly agree that the "sex tax" (paying three times as much for a shoddy sex toy) should be eliminated--and stuff for pleasure should certainly be as well made as medical stuff.

    One of the amusing things about being a pervert is seeing what you can convert and use for sex cheaply.

    I worry about regulation--from the point that any law, ultimately, ends up being enforced by force by agents of the state, which squicks me. I'd certainly be down with a UL of sex toys, that'd be cool. And I certainly agree that one should be able to doink without fear of death.

  19. 4) Regarding numbing lube: If you need it, you're doing it wrong.

    Chemicals found to be unsafe for use in food containers should be restricted for any contact use in general.

    2/3) It would be great if drugstores would expand on their "personal lubricant/family planning" sections. National Chain where I get my prescriptions already has vibrating cock rings from certain condom makers, marketed as a condom accessory and displayed with the condoms. The packaging blends in and obfuscates the fact that it's a sex toy, unlike the "IRON COCK XXX" packaging you'd see in a sex shop.

    5) I think toy safety should be included in public school sex ed, and minors should legally be able to buy/own toys. I don't think there's any laws in regard to masturbation by age. Minors can buy condoms (intended for partner use) despite statutory rape laws, so why not toys (intended for self use)? If parents are worried about the corrupting influences of porn and perverts at shady sex shops, make it only legal for drugstore-like establishments to sell toys in neutral packaging to minors. (Baby steps, porn can be tackled in a few hundred years maybe.)

    As a teenager, I didn't have access to real toys and used anything interestingly shaped that I found around the house. Some of those objects were glass, but I had enough common sense not to use anything delicate like a lightbulb. Everything was thoroughly washed. I 'lost' plenty of objects, but tried not to panic and always figured out how to retrieve them. I was smart and lucky enough to make it through puberty without giving myself any infections or becoming comedy gold in the ER. Most people probably experimented the same way I did. It's stupid that people are left to guesswork. I'm sure the rest of the household wouldn't want to touch that spatula/bottle/etc if they knew where it had been. (Something to think about if you wouldn't want YOUR little angel to get a toy.)

  20. I'm glad the anti-hairless link made you as angry as it did me, Holly. I've always thought that it's a stance that says the only difference between children and women their pubic hair.

  21. It's not actually illegal to sell sex toys to minors (last I checked, anyway - I'm sure conservative state legislatures will be jumping on that one of these days). It's just illegal for minors to enter stores with a large stock of porn. If sex toy shops stocked more toys than porn and set the porn up in a special curtained section like they do at movie rental places, teens could walk right in and get a nice vibrator or whatever without showing any ID. There are a couple of stores already set up like this - Smitten Kitten in Minneapolis, for instance. They don't sell jelly toys, either, which is even better.

  22. Hershele OstropolerJuly 6, 2010 at 4:43 PM

    There's a highly regarded sex-toy shop around the corner from where my grandmother grew up.

    Mind, she'd long since moved elsewhere by the time it opened. There's also have a branch in a neighborhood I associate with a mixture of strollers and snobbery.

    On the subject of minors--the grandmother branch has a sign saying 18+ (I think, or is it 21+?) and opaque curtains; the yuppie-parent branch has neither that I recall.

  23. Hershele - since it's the porn that makes entering the stores illegal for minors, I'd assume it's only 18+ country-wide. It'd be kind of silly to be legally filmed in porn but not legal to buy the porn for another three years.

  24. srsly how is mr bic pen not dead? what was he pissing out of?

  25. Hershele OstropolerJuly 7, 2010 at 12:33 PM

    It may have been a store policy, though, intended to be even stricter than the law just to cover their asses.

  26. i live in nyc and i still pass sex stores on "shady streets" near times square with signs that say 25+ to get in. i wonder what the hell kind of porn/toys they're selling there.

  27. Hershele OstropolerJuly 8, 2010 at 11:41 AM

    insomniac anon: Presumably the kind that won't sell on its own merits.

    Also, I thought Giuliani got rid of all the porn near Times Square. Too close to Disney and all.

  28. I'm not so sure about the illegality in Virginia. there's a store near me that's been there for at least 25 years.

    correction: Since 1975

  29. Anon,

    Late to this party, but my understanding from my VA and kink activist friends is that you can essentially buy whatever you want, but can't acknowledge that you're buying it for the purposes of sexual arousal. It's a sex-ed aid or (my favorite) a cake topper.

  30. Hershele OstropolerJuly 11, 2010 at 11:12 PM

    Sort of like bongs, then.

  31. Am I the only one who can't look at this heading without thinking of the opener to the latest Mel Gibson tirade? Oh, Mel....

  32. I think I want to live in your world, Holly. Sign me up!

  33. You are the first person I've come across who's expressed agreement with the sale of sex toys to minors. I'm 16 and wish I could get hold of a vibrator. Masturbation is awesome-you can't get pregnant, you're very unlikely to get any infections, and you don't need to get anyone else in on it, which can just get complicated.
    And I think education about even the existence of sex toys and female masturbation would be great-hells, even a definition of an orgasm would be a start, no one at school ever told us about that (and I get the feeling sex ed in the UK, while pretty poor, is way better than that available in most places in the US).
    Also, living in the UK, I didn't realise sex shops were restricted on location in America. You don't exactly get loads of them on high streets here, but there's an Ann Summers in most town centres, and they don't go at all out of their way to hide what they sell.

  34. no, really, what is wrong with numbing anal lube? if your new to anal sex or just experimenting with it, it can be really helpful to just take some of the sting out of the sensation. I've used it before and never had a problem. sorry, partly just curious because i've never had/heard of problems with it.

  35. Anon - The problem with numbing anal lube is that you shouldn't need it--anal sex shouldn't sting at all. And if it does cause pain, it's best that you feel it, so you know if you're getting really hurt.

  36. Holly - In France, there are zoning laws that prevent the opening of sex shops around schools. As a result, it is very difficult to open one in a dense city such as Paris. Some months ago, associations linked with a Catholic highschool got one closed; there had been absolutely no inconvenience from the sex shop to their school or students, it was just for the sake of closing it... The court had to apply the law.