Words by Kathleen O’Neill

In my high school, if you wanted to buy a friend a truly hilarious present for her birthday, you would gift her a vibrator.

This was not a common occurrence, mind you. For most of us sixteen year olds, the vibrator was an abstract concept. We knew what they were for, we knew where they went—but the idea of using them casually seemed so mythical.

Nevertheless, despite the shrieks of horror and gags of phallic distaste that came with unwrapping a sex toy in our Lynx-ridden locker room, I couldn’t help but notice the vibrators were never thrown away. Rather, amidst the commotion, they would be stowed away, hidden into a school bag and zipped tight. The only reason these memories are so clear for me now is I can still remember my jealousy. To this day, I wonder what became of those vibrators and their owners. Was the plastic covering ever discarded? Did an unassuming parent ever discover the secret toy? And most importantly, did my peers ever use them?

Back then, I had more than a few questions concerning masturbation, which often ended up piled against one another in confused disarray. I didn’t know where to find the answers, and I didn’t know who to ask. It wasn’t that anyone had ever told me to keep my secret habit to myself, I just did. We all did. Still, I found myself wishing on more than one occasion that a box wrapped in tissue paper would appear, as if by magic, in my school bag. It never did.

For the greater part of my teenage years, masturbation was a topic that I thought I would have to take to the grave. I felt ashamed, and worse, I thought it was ruining my body. With a paranoid, empty internet history and a want for more informative sex education classes, the strange muscle spasms under my bedroom sheets terrified me.  The comfort of knowing the intricacies of my body was twisted by the fear that I associated with my self-pleasure, turning that comfort into sickening guilt.

I was only able to talk openly about masturbation when I was 19. As a young adult at university and far from the verandas of Brisbane, I discovered other people happy to share their opinions on masturbation. What’s more, I met people who enjoy masturbation. It was akin to discovering that other people were growing pubic hair too—the relief was dazzling.

Yet despite the new liberation I felt going solo, I had always put the idea of purchasing my own vibrator into the ‘too hard’ basket. Although I can only speak from anecdotal experience, the vagina can be a bit of a mind-fuck when trying to work the thing. Orgasms take practise and patience—stressing and over-thinking the situation does not help. A friend of mine has told me on more than one occasion that the term is mindfulness—mindfulness helps you orgasm. Knowing your own body is essential—and toys can be an excellent introduction to your vagina, and your best friend the clitoris.

So, in order to write this article with genuine bravado, I thought it was time to take this vibrator matter into my own hands and buy the damn thing. Finding myself in a sex shop for the first time, however, I never expected to feel so clueless. Elated and yet completely bewildered by the variety of penis shaped, well, everything, I quickly realised that the task of choosing a vibrator would be more complex than one size fits all.

Judy Blume (my sole adolescent consoler) and her fictional character Deenie could not help me this far. Though I was able to muster the courage to peruse a sex shop filled with pleasure devices, I couldn’t help but question my motives. Was I genuinely here for myself, or merely here to write an article about bullets, rabbit ears and spike-ridden vibrators seen only on the set of Alien? Given the presence of the two friends that I had brought along, I guess it was the latter. If it weren’t for this article, I would still probably be without a vibrator.

After thinking on the topic for a couple of weeks now, it’s taken me a while to fully recognise the taboo of masturbation and how it has affected me personally. Despite my willingness to confront secrecy and years of guilt, the pornographic stigma of a toy that was designed for my own pleasure has left me in a state of self-defence. Taking the piss out of the situation and myself, I couldn’t help but feel liberated by my purchase, yet at the same time, with my inconspicuous blue bag, a little humiliated. Just like those girls in high school, I too have found myself with a vibrator—thanks to an excuse.