The first time I visited San Francisco’s Good Vibrations sex toy store, in search of the perfect bachelorette-party gift, I walked in naively thinking that I could buy a pair of fuzzy handcuffs and some naughtily shaped cookie cutters and be on my way. But I ended up staying for a lot longer, out of pure fascination.
I’d been to other sex-toy stores before, but I’d always felt like I was one of the products on display. As a woman trying to shop in the sort of place that sold mostly nudie magazines, straight-porn DVDs and blow-up dolls, I had often gotten the sensation that the male customers (there were rarely any women) were checking me out for my price tag.
Here’s the thing about being a woman shopping at a sex-toy store. We have to feel safe. We have to feel free to explore our sexual fantasies. And we have to feel like it’s OK to think of sex as fun, without being deemed slutty.
It’s the sex-positive, queer-friendly, feminist atmosphere at Good Vibrations that makes it different than other sex stores. Good Vibrations was opened by Joani Blank in 1977 to offer accurate sex information and good-quality sex toys in a friendly alternative to conventional adult bookstores. Now with several locations and its own line of sex education films, it has been the hub of San Francisco’s diverse sex scene for more than three decades.
Good Vibrations celebrates sexuality in all forms. I can browse everything from vibrators to anal beads to paddles and not feel like other customers are creepily watching me. I won’t be judged if I decide to buy a purple glitter dildo, just for fun.
Good Vibrations also offers sex education and health workshops so that you can learn how to properly use anything it sells. After all, you can’t just go sticking something in your hoo-ha without understanding what the toy does once inside — and also how to properly remove it. No one wants to end up as a sad urban sex legend.
The lectures at the store transformed my way of thinking about sex. I recall when celebrity sexpert Susie Bright gave a talk at Good Vibrations about the feminist power of vibrators. I had an epiphany: I didn’t need to put up with bad sex partners anymore. I could be in charge of my own ecstasy and not have to date a freeloading drummer to reach orgasm. Good Vibrations makes me feel as though I’m leading my own sexual revolution.