Should Parents Give Teens Vibrators?

Learning how to masturbate doesn’t have to be a gateway to sex.

By Jessie Schiewe

An image of a sex-education classroom that you won’t find in any school, anywhere (which is a shame).  Art:  Zita Walker

An image of a sex-education classroom that you won’t find in any school, anywhere (which is a shame).
Art: Zita Walker

I was 17-years-old and on the cusp of moving across the country to start my first year of college when I got my first vibrator — from my mom. Technically it wasn’t even a real vibrator.

Instead of buying it from a sex shop, my mom went to the Brookstone store at our local Los Angeles mall and bought me a battery-powered body massage wand. 

Made of white plastic, it looked like a cordless microphone or one of those wands they use during ultrasounds to see still-gestating babies, and it weighed as much as a pineapple. Compared to the bright colors and playful shapes of most vibrators, mine had a decidedly unsexy sex-appeal to it that would have alerted most people to the fact that it definitely was not a sex toy.

Except, as a novice both to sex and masturbation, I didn’t know any better. I figured every vibrator looked like mine. 

Though my mom likes to tell the story of how, when I was 5, I spent the duration of some kid’s birthday party with my fingers under my dress fingering myself because “it felt good,” my relationship with the art of self-pleasuring was nil before my mother gifted me the vibrator. I was too keen on being a straight-A student, too busy developing an eating disorder, and too sheltered from having had cancer when I was 11 that I never took the time to experiment with my own body. 

In fact, I didn’t even know what masturbation was — let alone that I could do it — until I was 15. I had been studying abroad in Mexico that summer, part of a cultural immersion program that involved living and taking classes with other 14- and 15-year-olds from around the country, especially the South. 

Other than our shared interests in learning Spanish, I didn’t have much in common with the other girls. I was Jewish; they were Christian. My parents and those of my friends were weed-smoking, art-collecting Democrats; theirs were pro-life, anti-gay Republicans. I was a vegetarian and a hip-hop head; they liked country music and dreamed of being high school cheerleaders. 

In terms of sexual experience, they were also leagues ahead of me. Many of them had already been on dates or had boyfriends. Some were no longer virgins. One had already had an abortion. Meanwhile, I’d still never been kissed. 

When your mom gives you a “vibrator” but doesn’t tell you that it’s really a body massage wand. (  Brookstone  )

When your mom gives you a “vibrator” but doesn’t tell you that it’s really a body massage wand. (Brookstone)

I learned most of this during a game of Never Have I Ever we played while on a camping trip. The rules of the game were that everyone held up both of their hands and when someone mentioned something you’d done, you put down one finger. Whoever reached two fists — or, no fingers in the air — first, won. 

Being teenage girls, most of their “Never have I ever…” claims were sexual in nature. Merely by watching others’ hands to see if they’d put down a finger, I was able to find out who had had sex, or given a blow job, or seen porn. 

By the end of the game, I had the most fingers up, inadvertently revealing to the others just how much of a newb I was. I guess you could say I lost, but it didn’t feel that way. Even though I was older than half of the girls, I suddenly found myself on the receiving end of advice on everything from French kissing with braces on to how to freak-dance with a boy. 

When they discovered that I’d never masturbated, had never even thought about it or known anyone who’d done it, they provided me with a list of baby steps. 

“Start in the shower or the bath,” Lauren, a 14-year-old from Houston, Texas, advised me. 

“Or, if you have a jacuzzi, go up really close next to the jets,” her friend Claire piped in. 

It was a revelatory night for me. Though I had no interest in actually putting their advice to the test, it opened my eyes to the fact that my vagina could be used for more than just peeing or bleeding, that it was OK to explore down there, and that other girls were doing it, even those younger than me. 

I ended up being too scared, too weirded out and embarrassed to try masturbating until college. It took a few more years after that before I was ready to have sex, and about five years after that before I had my first orgasm. 

I’m now 30 and know my body much better. What my vagina likes is no longer a mystery to me. What makes it happy and what causes it pain is not a guessing game. It was a multi-year journey getting here, and one that I can’t help but wonder if I should have started earlier.

There are those who would agree with this. Nadia Bokody is an Australian sexologist who has made waves in recent years for saying that parents should give their teenage daughters vibrators so they can start masturbating at younger ages. Though some might think of them as gateways to sex, Bokody argues that vibrators can teach teens things about their bodies that they won’t learn in health class.

“The sex education curriculum in schools really lets young people down — young women especially, because it doesn't provide any understanding around female sexual pleasure,” Bokody told the Mirror Online last March. 

“While boys learn about boners and wet dreams, the focus for girls is largely on menstruation and preventing unwanted pregnancy.”

By giving teens vibrators, parents aren’t so much encouraging their daughters to have sex as they are giving them the chance to safely and positively explore their bodies. Of course, they’re probably going to have sex eventually, but maybe by giving teens vibrators — and all of the fun, good feelings they offer — parents can help delay that for a few years. And, when that day finally comes, the thinking is that those young women will feel more comfortable and have an overall better experience.

"I talk to women in their 40s who still don't know what an orgasm feels like. Women who have been in 10+ year marriages who fake their climaxes because they're too ashamed to communicate with their husbands about it,” Bokody explained. "That shame starts in childhood when we demonize masturbation and sex and shroud their bodies in mystery and stigma.

“Given the choice, wouldn't you prefer your daughter touch her own body first, before letting another person touch it?"

My mom certainly seemed to be of that mindset when she gifted me that vibrator as a teen. Sure, she could have given it to me a few years earlier, allowing me to seem like less of a dork during that Mexico trip and sparing me from some awkward, this-doesn’t-feel-good-at-all sex during my first years in college. 

But I’m not complaining. Really, if anything, I just wish she’d told me the truth sooner. Because, I’ll be honest: It was years before I realized I was using a body massage wand — not a vibrator — to get-off.

 

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