A girl I once knew--- lost, some years ago, to the ranks of the gender warriors and the Social Justice Cult ---wrote at her blog not so long ago that she'd just received her first subscription box from a site called UnboundBox out on the web. She was thrilled about receiving it, and she made a point of thanking the company. I took a quick look at the website, and found that what she'd subscribed to was a quarterly service that sends out gift boxes with half a dozen "provocative" items--- i.e., a selection of sex toys and gels.
Well, why not? There are subscription services that provide monthly or quarterly boxes with clothing or shaving tackle or books. A subscription service that sends out gift boxes of sex toys isn't really that different. I only glanced through the UnboundBox.com website, but from what I could tell, they do market high-end and highly-reviewed items. I can't criticize the idea of the subscription box, and I can't criticize the idea of sex toys, even though as a male, I don't have any emotional connection to the idea.
I'll just note in passing that the closest thing I've ever owned to a sex toy was a small selection of riding crops, and I bought those at an equestrian sports supply house and not a sex toys shop. I can imagine going to a sex toy shop with a young companion some late evening, but we'd be shopping for her--- I'd just be there to offer support and the occasional tentative comment on colours or styles. I'm male, and the toys that are designed for males seem to be either ghastly (artificial vaginas, powered or otherwise) or grotesque (the Inflatable Love Sheep). Sex toys simply aren't for males...or at least straight, non-Scottish males. I can't imagine a similar box arriving for anyone male.
So, the girl I once knew is thrilled with the box she received, though she didn't provide an inventory. The inventory would've been worth a look, of only for the semiotics.
My bookshelves are full of books with checklists and lists of tribal markers--- the Official Preppy Handbook, the Sloane Ranger Handbook, Paul Fussell's "Class", Pierre Bourdieu, U and Non-U. There are markers for every tribe, every social group: on Wednesdays we wear pink. Everything has its own markers for class, for in-group and out-group. I really do want to know what the semiotics of sex toys are.
Some of that must be ideological. How can it not be, here in the age of the gender wars? Some sex toys must be "problematic" and ideologically suspect. I'm thinking that there may well be lines drawn between vibrators and dildos on that, that it would be easy to argue that a vibrator (especially something like the Hitachi Magic Wand and its cousins) is designed specifically to provide female pleasure, whereas a dildo is too much like a mere (oppressive) penis. I wonder if there isn't a class line, too...though it can't be a simple one. A vibrator is hi-tech and expensive, but a dildo can be a hairbrush handle or a Corona bottle. Still...a dildo can also be something hand-crafted---- something artisanal. A high-end dildo can be a bit like a small Brancusi sculpture, and it's easy to imagine a shop in Portland or Bushwick selling artisanal dildos to trust-fund hipster girls. M. Bourdieu may not have been thinking of dildos, but they're as much markers for social capital as books or wall hangings.
Everything social devolves into cliques, sooner or later. There are people and institutions that use Gerber multi-tools and those that use Leatherman--- and each looks down on the other. Tribal markers--- and markers that come with extensive rationalizations. It's never just about actual efficiency or utility. Those criteria are never the key. Sex toys can't be any different. But would it just be a line between vibrators and dildos? Gels and lubes--- would there be lines between those who like flavored gels and those who reject them as promoting the idea of oral sex and hence of female submission? Lingerie seems like a obvious area--- Frederick's versus Victoria's Secret along lines of economic class as well as aesthetics and social class, lingerie wearers versus those who see lingerie as a tool of oppression.
Remember--- it's never about the freedom to choose. In the end, almost no one really believes in such a thing. They really want the freedom not to choose, but the freedom to choose whatever is right, the freedom to insist that their own tribal and class markers are not just theirs, and not just better, but right--- and that others are wrong. Society operates by exclusions, and sex toys aren't any different from clothes or music.
There's a girl tonight with her first subscription box of provocative toys. I'd give a lot to know what she sees in them, what the items represent to her, and what she reads into having them. It's not just that they'll induce orgasm; that may be the least of it. I'd like to know what girls read into sex toys, what tribes they mark and how the toys are deployed as displays of cultural and ideological capital against out-groups. It's always the semiotics that counts--- always the semiotics of the object more than the object itself.