Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy; Hallie Lieberman
Once only whispered about in clandestine corners, vibrators have become just another accessory for the suburban soccer mom, showing up in all manner of pop culture, from sitcoms to talk shows to the pages of glossy women’s magazines. But how did these once-taboo toys become so socially acceptable? The journey of the devices to the cultural mainstream is a surprisingly stimulating one.
In Buzz, Hallie Lieberman—who holds the world’s first PhD in the history of sex toys—starts at the beginning, tracing the tale from lubricant in Ancient Greece to the very first condom in 1560 to advertisements touting devices as medical equipment in 19th-century magazines. She looks in particular from the period of major change from the 1950s through the present, when sex toys evolved from symbols of female emancipation to tools in the fight against HIV/AIDS to consumerist marital aids to today’s mainstays of pop culture. The story is populated with a cast of vivid and fascinating characters including Dell Williams, founder of the first feminist sex toy store, Eve’s Garden; Betty Dodson, who pioneered “Bodysex” workshops in the 1960s to help women discover vibrators and ran Good Vibrations, a sex toy store and vibrator museum; and Gosnell Duncan, a paraplegic engineer who invented the silicone dildo and lobbied Dodson and Williams to sell them in their stores. And these personal dramas are all set against a backdrop of changing American attitudes toward sexuality, feminism, LGBTQ issues, and more.
What bravery must Hallie Lieberman have to have said “I’m going to be the first person to pursue my doctorate in the history of the sex toy.” I can’t imagine walking into a professor’s office to say that! Bravo to her.
I know the personal is political but wow does Buzz get personal. The history of America’s sex toy industry is as fascinating as you might imagine, ranging from a man pursued by the Federal government under RICO to a bisexual woman who went from hosting masturbation workshops to opening one of the first feminist sex shops. Feminism is everywhere in Buzz, but also advocacy for the sexual experiences of the disabled and the rights of gay couples.
Lieberman also takes the story of America’s sex toy interest from garage manufacturing to sales at Macy’s. Seriously, this book covers all kinds of ground! I definitely recommend this one when you want a non-fiction read that doesn’t get too serious, but still covers surprising depth. Even if I was giggling to myself at that cover every time I pulled Buzz out on my train rides.