Getting together with close friends to gossip about each others’ sex lives is not a new concept for most young women. But what about girls coming together to pass around vibrating phalluses, oftentimes with girls they have just met? In-home sales parties featuring relationship enhancement products, or “sex toy parties” as they are known to most, have taken female sexuality to a whole new comfort level. These parties have even made their way onto campus, with more than a handful of dorms joining in on the trend.
“On average I do about one party a week on or around campus. I love doing college parties, I feel like I’m teaching a class,” said Tristen Dodge, the Lansing-area Director for the prominent relationship-enhancement company Pure Romance. Dodge, who is also a member on Pure Romance’s Board of Directors, has been with the company as a consultant for six years. Chances are if you have hosted or attended a Pure Romance party on campus, she probably demonstrated a vibrator or two for you.[handcuffs2]
“It’s really a great opportunity for girls to open up and talk about things they wouldn’t normally talk about,” said Katie Furman, a business and pre-law communication major who has hosted two parties in Armstrong dorm as resident mentor (RM). After attending several parties hosted by her previous RM during her freshman year, Furman decided to keep the tradition once she stepped in as resident mentor. “I’ve also found them to be a good bonding experience for girls in the dorm,” Furman said. The parties she hosts usually bring in 30 to 55 participants, she said.
It may sound strange, even bizarre, to picture throngs of women gathering to discuss such a seemingly personal and private matter, but the trend is indicative of an important cultural shift within American society says PhD. candidate Erika Jackson-Eckerly, who teaches a class at MSU about U.S. women’s history. “I think recently, in terms of culture, women are feeling empowered to embrace their sexuality, which is a huge advancement in the area of women’s rights,” Jackson-Eckerly said.
[Jackson]Although sex-toy parties have been in existence for over 30 years, they have slowly begun to increase in popularity only within the past 5 to 10 years. The success is due mostly to word-of-mouth marketing and ad placement in women’s magazines because most companies do not advertise on television. However, a certain episode of “Sex and the City” featuring the “Rabbit” vibrator is also cited as a catalyst for the popularization of the parties, which prompted a huge demand for the now-famous sex toy. Pure Romance even boasts a 250 percent sales increase within the past three years alone. “This shows women are definitely becoming less inhibited,” Dodge said.
The parties don’t strictly include just bedroom-only toys; Pure Romance also offer books, games, lingerie and a plethora of bath and beauty products for both men and women. The company also has products specially designed for women who experience sexual problems due to certain medications, as well as a product-line made specifically for women who have been affected by cancer. “We want to get the message out that we’re not just about dildos and vibrators,” Dodge said. Sexual intimacy and pleasure are the focus – which are often stigmatized.
One of the major draws of the parties is that they offer a female-only environment in which women ask intimate questions they might not be comfortable asking in front of their partners or in the presence of other males. “Women realize this is a way to promote a safe, comfortable environment where they can get informed advice and have their questions answered,” Dodge said. Pure Romance consultants receive in-depth training from women’s sexual health professionals. Women are then encouraged to learn about their own bodies to better please themselves and be better pleased by their partners, despite the moral-social stigma of female pleasure.
“I think young women don’t feel comfortable talking about their sexuality because of the way they are raised,” said Maren Jepsen, a senior advertising major who has attended three sex toy parties at MSU since her freshman year. “Girls are raised in a different cultural environment than guys. I’ve had more conversations about this with my guy friends than with my friends that are girls, and they are always shocked at how open I am,” Jepsen said. “There shouldn’t be any difference, and I think these parties are showing young women that it’s OK to be sexual.”
The knowledge gained from the parties can have a profound impact on young women’s self esteem. “I can’t tell you how many times I encounter young women who grew up in conservative households who come away from the parties with the realization ‘Wow, I’m not a freak,'” Dodge said.
[Dodge]One can trace the taboo surrounding women’s sexuality all the way back to Puritan colonial times, but it was most prominent during the Victorian era where the dominant belief of the time called for women’s to be passionless. This was the cornerstone for Victorian women’s way of life and held that any form of sexual desire was impure and that women by nature were not sexual beings. In fact, it was during this time that women’s sexual desire was actually branded a disease known as “hysteria,” from the Greek word which literally translates to “suffering uterus.” It was this “disease” that actually led to the invention of the first vibrator, created by American physician George Taylor to treat “female hysteria,” whose symptoms included anxiety, irritability, sexual fantasies and excessive vaginal lubrication.
That’s right. Women’s sexual arousal was considered a disease. It was not until 1952 that the American Medical Association officially declared that “hysteria” was not an actual illness. “Eighty percent of women own a vibrator, but only 20 percent will admit to it,” Dodge remarked of the remnant shame women still feel regarding their sexuality. “We want to chip away that stigma that surrounds vibrators and female masturbation.”
The phenomenon of these “sex toy parties” seems to be more than just a passing fad – after all, pleasure really never goes out of style. The marked participation of younger women in becoming more aware of and comfortable with their sexuality is evident with the prevalence of the parties on college campuses and cities throughout the country. Young women are breaking away from unfounded social stigmas and learning the importance of self-love, both emotional and physical, and that is surely something to celebrate.

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