To the college student of the Internet porn generation, the phrase “sex toy party” may evoke images of oily women piled on the floor, moaning with a colorful assortment of phallic, vibrating objects. (Maybe add a few nearly-silent men, their faces strategically oriented away from the camera.) But Princeton Pro-Choice Vox’s annual sex toy party, held in (and co-sponsored by) Terrace this past Saturday, was distinctly non-pornographic: two representatives from Philadelphia’s Passional Boutique, vendor of fetish wear and other sexcessories, opened with a discussion of female pleasure, entertained questions, and then encouraged the perusal and purchase of their colorful assortment of phallic, vibrating objects—packaged tightly and sanitarily in plastic. All participants were fully clothed, many even in black suits or dresses and shawls, having just left the concomitant freshman formal. There was a raffle.
Attendance was initially modest; the presentation began five minutes late and with only a dozen audience members, spaced along the couches that circumscribe the Terrace library, babbling nervously or otherwise refusing eye contact. But as the speakers—one flanked by brunette curls, bespectacled, and especially eloquent; the other with cropped hair and a cheery giggle—proceeded, students continually filed into the room, forming rows on the floor, and then a huddle in the doorway, and then, finally, a population behind the presenters. (Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, Princeton Pro-Choice Vox President, dispensed raffle tickets at the entrance.)
All but the latest arrivals, sitting or standing behind the speakers, were treated to two large posters of female sex organs: an external view (what you would see if a woman spread her legs before you, labia flaring, and your eyes were crotch level) and a cutaway view (more medical, with an array of internal organs represented as empty ovals). But their props were often far more interactive; when they discussed, for instance, the G-Spot, an elusive erogenous zone, they passed around a FleshLight with caramel-colored “flesh” and encouraged the audience to feel the spot for themselves. When they mentioned vibration as a reliable way to stimulate the clitoris, they passed around several small vibrator models for everyone to test buzz. On their hands.
Although tinkering with sex toys in a roomful of strangers was novel and exciting, the information the toys accompanied was far simpler. We learned about female orgasm (hint: it often has to do with the clitoris) and erogenous zones (including secondary areas like the small of the back or, unbeknownst to me, the “shelf” of the butt). We brainstormed ways to stimulate the clitoris but were told that, of course, every woman has different preferences. We brushed up on anatomy (recall aforementioned posters). A diagram of clitoral “legs,” or internal structures tracing, from the urethra, either side of the vagina, shocked many; otherwise, however, there were few surprises. I thus found the official presentation title—”Blow Her Mind”—a little misleading; everyone was having fun, but few were learning new ways to please their female partners or themselves.
This might have been a function of the crowd; those already invested in female pleasure were most likely to attend. The audience was, first of all, large (Amelia, after the event, told me that she distributed seventy raffle tickets), and, given the limited space of the Terrace library (where _Nassau Weekly_ meetings are held on Thursdays at 5:30 p.m.), it was also dense. But the character of the crowd was more notable; attendees were vocal and almost uniformly interested in the nuances female pleasure. Countless fingers, their owners giggling, plunged shamelessly into the FleshLight’s faux vagina in search of a faux G-Spot. Many admired the craftsmanship of and floral decals on one particular (and particularly pricey) vibrator that floated around the audience. And everyone was excited when the Passional speakers raffled off two sex toys, one of which was a sizeable dildo.
While this enthusiasm alone is not particularly surprising in light of the inherent self-selection (attendees, after all, chose to forgo a Thursday night pre-game to attend an event in a library), when coupled with the audience’s size, it may be symptomatic of a thriving culture—or, at least, an attitude—of sex-positivity on campus. (By sex-positivity, I am not referring to participation in a so-called “hook-up culture;” I refer only to the notion that consensual, safe sex is healthy—not shameful.) The sex-positive dialogue group Let’s Talk About Sex (LeTS), for instance, which Amelia and sophomore Cristina Stanojevich launched last spring and whose title entirely conveys its function, drew almost fifty weekly participants last semester. But far from being a group of white, female, upper middle class feminists, this group represents a remarkable diversity of sexual orientations, gender identities, religious views, and sexual practices.
Sex-positivity has enjoyed an especially visible year, largely thanks to a number of campus controversies carried out, most frequently, in the back-and-forth columns and comments in _The Daily Princetonian_, Fall semester began with The Anscombe Society’s push for a Center for Abstinence and Chastity, which most students—along with President Shirley Tilghman and the _Prince_’s Editorial Board—opposed. Although Anscombe’s project certainly didn’t speak to sex-positivity, the conversations it started certainly did; Equal Writes received a spattering of related posts, the _Prince_ received a collection of columns, and comments on those columns exploded. (Anscombe also opposes LeTS’ more recent initiative to explore, academically, the seeming paradox of feminist pornography because the latter group plans to screen short clips of such films. But this opposition has only given the event more attention, which, hopefully, will translate into better attendance.)
February’s consent controversy raised a different set of issues surrounding sexual awareness. Freshman Iulia Neagu’s _Prince_ column “The real ‘Sex on a Saturday Night,'” in which she makes a number of contentions statements on the dividing line between drunk sex and date rape (at one point, she remarks of a girl who blacks out from drinking, has sex with a frat boy, and wants to accuse him from rape: “She knew what would happen if she started drinking.”), has received, to this date, 442 comments. Students responded with dinner discussions, blog posts, letters to the editor, and additional columns. They responded passionately. They responded to clarify the nature of consent and, consequently, to create a healthy and positive sexual culture on campus.
Given this climate of support for, well, sex—and the assumption that many of these supporters attended Vox’s sex toy party—the presentation, perhaps, serves a purpose beyond educating us on the location of the clitoris. (It’s above the vagina.) Instead, we should examine what, at its heart, the event represented: it was a forum for college students, who have maybe already figured out that women can and do masturbate, to communicate about sex with someone other than their partners. As the audience, together, learned (or didn’t learn) that many women enjoy anal stimulation, and that some may ejaculate, and that others do not enjoy oral sex whatsoever, they enjoyed an environment where openly discussing female sexuality carried no shame.
This shamelessness, however, was most apparent after the presentation, when the audience formed a cloud around Passional’s table of sex toys, erotic books, and lube for purchase. Some marveled at the heft of the Hitachi Magic Wand; others toyed with tiny vibrators that doubled as flashlights. I saw concave toys for the G-Spot and toys with flared bases for the anus. Many attendees invested. If Passional’s genital diagrams and sex ed.-style presentation gave its viewers little new information, the viewers’ new toys will more than compensate.