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Women's History Month: Vibrator Nation Edition

By: Good Vibrations

We Can Do It Women GIF by buzzfeedladylikeIt’s probably a coincidence that Good Vibrations launched during Women’s History Month—back in 1977, the year of our founding by sex educator Joani Blank, the entire month of March had not yet been given over to centering and celebrating women’s history and contributions. But it’s a great and relevant month to celebrate our birthday!

There had long been an International Women’s Day (established in 1910 at a European conference—apparently the USA dragged its feet a little and we didn’t really embrace it til the ‘70s). And in the late ‘70s, around the time of our emergence as only the second women-founded sex store in the US, our home state of California declared a Women’s History Week. Soon this idea was adopted more widely. Historians and activists developed deeper perspectives and resources about women’s history and the national Women’s History Project began petitioning Congress, which acted in 1987 to declare March Women’s History Month. And so it has been since then.

While the 1980s was in many ways a conservative decade, Good Vibrations flourished and became a true nexus of innovation for women’s sex toys and sexual culture. When I walked into Good Vibrations for the first time (I think it was 1984), the store was the size of a postage stamp and carried relatively few items—because Joani Blank and her staff only wanted to carry things they felt they could endorse. In those days, most sexual products were designed, created and sold by men. By the time I joined the company in 1990 there were many more pleasure products to choose from, in part because Joani encouraged other women-founded companies and carried their wares. Silicone dildos had been invented by Gosnell Duncan over a decade earlier, but women-owned Lickerish and Dills for Does were popular providers of these toys by the latter half of the ‘80s.

At the same time, a women’s erotica and porn boom was occurring. Susie Bright, a Good Vibrations staffer for most of that decade, was also curating a porn collection and editing an erotic magazine, On Our Backs (“entertainment for the adventurous lesbian”). Between Susie and Joani they knew who was writing hot stuff, carried books and anthologies by women, and finally began to edit their own: the Herotica series. As more erotic material was produced, we could carry more of it, which encouraged even more to be created, since there was an obvious market for it.

By the 1990s (and beyond), other women in other places were busy starting sex stores too, including our sibling company Babeland. There isn’t one in every port, but women-founded stores, websites, and companies that create the products they sell continue to proliferate and are  an important part of the sex toy market. I’d argue that these companies hold an outsized role, in fact, as the mainstream industry has changed and pivoted to be more relevant to women as customers.

All this talk about women’s history and women-centric products! Pretty gendered, I know! By the early 1990s Good Vibrations was beginning to be more gender-diverse, hiring men and ultimately becoming more than a women-focused workplace. (Our customer base was pretty diverse from the beginning, because people of every gender identity could appreciate the kind of sex-positive space Joani and her staff created.) It’s part of our history (and not just ours, everyone’s) that women were historically sidelined in almost every realm of life: centering women’s abilities and contributions needed a movement, and bringing women’s sexuality out of the shadows did, too. We are so proud of our place in that history. 

Want to step into the wayback with us and talk more about all this? Then you’ll want to join us for another Conversation with Carol on Thursday, March 25! My guest is the wonderful Lynn Comella, whose book Vibrator Nation delves into exactly this—the rise of women’s sex shops and their role in both the women’s movement and the adult industry. Please join us for this special Good Vibrations birthday event!

--Carol Queen PhD, Staff Sexologist