Lions, tigers, and butt plugs—oh my!

by Katherine Burns / Beacon Staff • April 7, 2016

The room filled slowly, but steadily as students entered in groups, chattering and pointing excitedly at the display of dildos, butt plugs, floggers, condoms, and more. On the screen above the array of items there was an image of the movie the Wizard of Oz, captioned “Lube, Vibrators, and Sex Toys—Oh My!”

Aida Manduley, a sex educator and activist, stood next to a table of intimate products ready to launch her workshop.

“My name is pronounced ‘I demand a lay,’ which I think is fitting for the topic,” she said, turning toward the crowd. “But first, I think someone had a question?”

“Can you wash a butt plug in the dishwasher?” a voice called from the back.

The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, located in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, presented a sex toy workshop hosted by Emerson’s Alliance for Gays, Lesbians, and Everyone as part of EAGLE’s annual Queer Spring, held from March through April. CSPH is dedicated to sexual education, and Manduley, the special projects consultant for the center, hosted a candid conversation for a crowd of 40 students.

Casey MacPhail, a junior visual and media arts major, and the co-president of EAGLE, said he wanted to make sure the workshop was both comfortable and interesting for students.

“[We were] looking for the students of Emerson to get a chance to be informed in a fun way, because I feel like a lot of students coming to Emerson haven’t had a great sexual education,” MacPhail said. “I think some people definitely had the beginnings of it, but I think it’s good to keep learning throughout.”

Manduley prefaced the workshop, explaining she would use inclusive language, referring to body parts rather than genders.

Manduley talked about racism in the industry, and gave information about stores that had different skin tones and colors for more anatomical products. She explained how sex toys could help people with gender dysphoria and people who have experienced sexual assault.

“It’s not just about orgasm, but about social justice and the way we exist in the world,” Manduley said.

Danika Frank, a sophomore writing, literature, and publishing major, said she liked how inclusive the workshop was.

“I’m all about sex positivity, especially because it’s a queer organization putting it on,” Frank said.  “I know that it’s something that’s important, and that I’m probably going to get really reliable information and information that isn’t always available to queer people.”

Manduley said in an interview that her upbringing and activism lead her to her career today.

“As a queer person growing up, I realized that most of the education about sexuality that I was getting wasn’t really speaking to my experience,” Manduley said. “Then I kind of got into sexual education and I realized, ‘Wait, these two things can get put together.’”

Throughout the workshop, Manduley went over the different types of toys and gadgets, and what to consider when making a purchase.

“It’s not just about the physical risks, it’s about emotional risks,” she said. “There’s a lot more to think about than ‘Does this fit?’”

She repeated that sex toys are for everyone who is interested in them, not just people with queer identities.

Manduley passed around toys for students to look at and feel, including a vaginal stimulator shaped like two large fingers, and blueberry-flavored lube that the crowd was able to taste.

As Manduley was describing how the finger toy could be used, a student raised their hand and said, “Isn’t the g-spot a myth?”

Manduley went on to explain that because of sexual taboos, many elements of pleasure have yet to be discovered or understood.

“There’s a lot of research that we’re missing,” Manduley said. “A lot of it’s based in anecdotal research, so there’s a lot we just don’t know.”

The workshop included prizes that were laid out on the table as part of the demonstration, and students could win these sexy tokens by answering questions and reading informational blurbs. Manduley said in an interview she enjoyed the energy of the crowd, and how engaged they were.

“Each school has a different flavor, so to [be able to] speak very candidly about my personal preferences as a queer person, I love speaking specifically to groups that are coming from a queer or trans place,” Manduley said. “I’ve been talking about vibrators and orgasms and lube for years at this point so it’s not new, but to see people who have not had that discussion before get so excited just makes it feel new again.”