On Suttard, Fundamental Incompatibilities, and Happy Ever After

This post contains spoilers for all five seasons of The Bold Type! Stop reading now if you don’t want to be spoilered.

Like many fans of Freeform’s The Bold Type, which just finished its fifth and final season, I was rooting for a happy outcome for Sutton Brady-Hunter and Richard Hunter (known collectively by the fandom as “Suttard.”) They’re the best straight couple on the show by far, from their Bluetooth vibrator sex date to their incredible Paris reunion in the season 2 finale.

At the end of season 4, the newly married couple have a blow-out argument when Sutton realises she doesn’t want to have children, causing Richard – who longs to be a dad – to leave her and then (at the beginning of season 5) begin divorce proceedings.

Over the course of the final season, Sutton destroys her wedding dress, throws a “divorce party,” starts therapy, and quits drinking in an attempt to get over Richard. Then they meet up to swap divorce papers, predictably fall into bed with each other, and Richard realises how much he loves her and that he doesn’t want a life without her, even if it means giving up his dream of having children.

So far, so romantic? But…

Fundamental incompatibilities

No two people will ever be perfectly aligned on every issue or desire. That’s impossible because we’re all multifaceted, nuanced, and complex creatures. But there are, I believe, a few fundamentals. Things you need to agree on (or at least be genuinely, wholeheartedly happy to compromise on) in order to have a functional relationship.

Having children is one of those things. (Others might include getting married or not, being monogamous or not, and possibly even political affiliation.)

Some things are just deal breakers. Some things should be deal-breakers. Because in reality, much as we want to believe that love conquers all, it doesn’t. Love doesn’t conquer wanting different things in uncompromisable situations. You can’t have half a child. You can’t be half married. Love, however real and powerful, doesn’t make these incompatibilities go away or create the potential for a compromise where there is none.

Fairytale endings: fantasy vs. reality

I’m glad the writers chose to end The Bold Type the way they did. Ultimately, this show is escapist fantasy – a Sex & the City for millennials with little grounding in the real world. Suttard fans were crushed when the couple split up and were rooting for them to get back together and somehow find a way through their conflicting desires.

The writers gave us what we wanted. Find me a single fan who didn’t let out a collective “awwww” at this moment:

GIF of Richard Hunter and Sutton Brady (Suttard)

But it really is just fantasy. In reality, fairytale endings like this don’t happen. Or if they do, they cause intense resentment and bigger problems down the line.

I admit that I struggle to relate to Richard, personally. As someone who decided early on that I will be childfree for life, I find it very difficult to imagine wanting to have children more than wanting to be with the person I love. (And my god, these two really do love each other – Meghann Fahy and Sam Page have incredible on-screen chemistry!)

But many people do feel like that, and it’s valid and real. Many people want to be a parent more than anything, even if it means they can’t be with the person they thought was their forever person. And those people can’t just switch that off the way Richard seems to in this too-neat-to-be-real happy ever after.

Happy endings don’t exist

A much younger, more naive version of me thought that I’d find a happy ending someday. When I left my abuser and fell in love with Mr CK, I wondered if I’d found it – if everything would be plain sailing from here.

What I can tell you now, years later, is that no. I hadn’t found a happy ending. Not because this relationship isn’t wonderful. It was then and it is now. But because happy endings of the fairytale kind don’t exist.

Real relationships require constant communication, ongoing compromise, and recalibration as you both grow and change. You can decide to be together, to commit, to go all-in, but that doesn’t take away from the very real work required to make love work long term.

Love is messy, love is nuanced, love is the best thing in the world. But it is not magical. It does not remove all obstacles or effortlessly sweep them aside. And some obstacles are too big to overcome.

So I’ll enjoy the Suttard happy ending for what it is: escapist fantasy wrapping up five seasons of escapist fantasy. But I’m glad it’s not real. Because as much as I want someone to love me for the rest of my life, I would never want them to give up their greatest dream to be with me.

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Four Fun Queer Quotes for Pride Month

Hey everyone, happy June! And more importantly, happy Pride Month! I wondered what I wanted to write about for the beginning of June. I considered delving into The Discourse about kink at Pride, or writing something about rainbow capitalism and corporate sponsorship and arms dealers pinkwashing their murder-corporations, but all those things have been said many times and much better than I could.

So instead I thought I’d bring you a little queer joy in the form of four of my favourite TV and movie quotes about being LGBTQ+ and tell you a bit about what they mean to me.

This post may contain plot spoilers, so proceed with caution if you haven’t seen any of these things yet.

“Any queer space is your space” – Oliver Grayson, The Bold Type

Oliver Grayson and Kat Edison at a queer party in The Bold Type

Kat Edison on Freeform’s The Bold Type is one of my favourite bisexual characters (and YES they actually say the word on the show!) Her ex-girlfriend, Adena, asks her not to attend a queer event because “some lesbians take issue when other people infiltrate their space.”

Adena eventually realises why this was shitty, biphobic behaviour and apologises. But in the meantime, Kat seeks advice from her gay colleague and friend Oliver, and this is what he tells her.

It’s a truly heartwarming moment of queer POC solidarity and it’s something I think all bi+ folks need to hear. We’re often erased from queer spaces, even by our own communities, and told we don’t belong because we’re “not queer enough” or can “pretend to be straight.”

This is for all my bi, pan, omni, ace, aro, trans, non-binary, and other pals who have ever been told Pride isn’t for you: any queer space is your space. Everyone’s favourite Gay Fashion Dad said so.

“Terrific. Let’s bring down the government.” – Steph Chambers, Pride

Steph in the movie Pride

Pride (2014) is one of my all-time favourite movies. It gives me hope and makes me cry all at the same time. It reminds me of all the things our queer elders fought for, struggled for, died for – and why it is so vital that we keep fighting.

Steph says this line in her typical sardonic, bordering-on-deadpan fashion just after the Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners group has been formed, and to me it sums up the spirit of the whole film. Pride is about two disenfranchised groups, queer people and striking miners in a poor village, joining forces to support one another and fight back against oppression. And in a world of more hate and division than ever, this is a message and an ethos we need to remember.

Pride is a protest. Pride has always been a protest. It isn’t about assimilating into respectable white middle-class cishet land. Pride is about being who we are unapologetically and without backing down, no matter what the government has to say about it.

“It’s not a phase, I’m not confused! Not indecisive, I don’t have the “gotta choose” blues!” – Darryl Whitefeather, Crazy Ex Girlfriend

Darryl Whitefeather "Gettin Bi" from Crazy Ex Girlfriend. For a post about queer quotes.

I know it’s got some problematic elements but CXG broke a lot of new ground. It handled a lot of difficult issues with the mix of humour and sensitivity that is so, so hard to get right.

And one of the things it did amazingly well? Representing not just bisexuality, but coming-out-later-in-life male bisexuality. Gettin’ Bi is Darryl’s coming out song, and it’s the “middle aged man dancing and singing to celebrate his sexuality” anthem I never knew I needed.

The song dispels many myths about bisexuality, including that we are inherently promiscuous (some of us are, some aren’t) or that we’re going through a phase and will eventually “pick a side.” It’s fun, it’s joyful, it’s charmingly awkward (this scene takes place in a workplace meeting) and it’s just delightful.

“Sexuality is fluid. Whether you’re gay or you’re straight or you’re bisexual, you just go with the flow.” – Shane McCutcheon, The L Word

Shane from The L Word, sexuality is fluid queer quote for Pride Month

A lot of things about The L Word have not aged well, sadly. Its treatment of trans character Max was deeply problematic, as was its erasure of bisexuality (and occasional outright biphobia) after season 1. I hear the new Generation Q has fixed many of these issues, but I haven’t watched it yet because I promised to watch it with my bestie and we haven’t seen each other in a year and a half because *gestures at the pandemic.*

But before The L Word went sideways into biphobia and occasional complete batshittery, it gave us some great moments including this wonderful quote from Shane.

I was 17 and just starting to peek out of the closet when I first saw this show. I didn’t really know if I was straight with a little idle curiosity, or gay while having inexplicably fallen for a man, or (*gasp*) actually bisexual. This line felt like permission to accept that my sexuality might change over time, and that it was okay and normal if it did.

What are your favourite queer joy quotes for Pride Month, loves?

Anal Doesn’t Hurt at All… On The “Cool Girl” and Sexual Expectations

I’ve been rewatching all four seasons of Crazy Ex Girlfriend over the last couple of months.

Fair warning, this post contains spoilers for all four seasons of the show, so if you haven’t seen it yet then you might want to skip this one.

Early in season 1, main character Rebecca attends a yoga class taught by Valencia, her love interest Josh’s long-term girlfriend. Naturally, the class turns into a musical theatre style song-and-dance routine which exists entirely in Rebecca’s mind. In this case, the song is I’m So Good at Yoga, a Bollywood parody in which Valencia boasts about all the ways in which she’s better than Rebecca. (“I kiss my own pussy, can you do that?”)

It’s a pretty funny scene that will speak to anyone who has ever had an overactive imagination about all the ways in which other people are judging them. But since this is a sex blog, I want to talk about this one throwaway line I wasn’t able to get out of my head after my rewatch:

“Anal doesn’t hurt at all /
Most times I prefer it.”

Given this show’s razor-sharp, on-point social commentary on everything from mental illness to dysfunctional workplaces to parenting, there is simply no way that creator Rachel Bloom didn’t know exactly what she was doing with this line. And that’s what I love about it – it’s another example of this show’s ability to pack SO MUCH into just a few words.

For me, this is a statement on the idea of the “cool girl”. Remember that expression, we’ll come back to it in a minute.

Sexuality policing and the male gaze

In this scene, we see the extent to which Rebecca’s insecurities are focused on what people – especially men, and most especially Josh Chan – think of her. One of the main ways in which she conceptualises Valencia as “better” than her is Valencia’s seeming willingness to behave like a male sexual fantasy. (Which makes it all the more pleasing when – big spoiler incoming – Valencia both becomes a much nicer person and comes out as queer, settling down with a girlfriend, in later seasons).

Unfortunately, we live in a world where women are judged on how well they service the heterosexual male gaze. We’re taught to judge ourselves and each other on our looks from early childhood. It’s no accident that 78% of girls dislike their body by the age of 17 (including 40-60% of elementary school girls). (Source.)

As we get older, our sexuality is policed, too. Be available, but don’t be a slut. Service male desires, but don’t have your own. Be simultaneously a virgin and a whore. The expectations put on women and those perceived to be women are immense, contradictory, and devastating from a mental health perspective.

The “cool girl”

If you’re a women or perceived to be a woman, you might have been described as a “cool girl” (or wished to be one) at some point.

So what is the cool girl (CG)?

Simply put, she’s a cis heterosexual male fantasy who doesn’t actually exist. The CG is down for whatever most pleases the men around her. She eats burgers without worrying about her figure (but is still a size four, of course.) She’s “one of the boys”, but still wears high heels and a full face of makeup. She’s “sexually liberated”, but only in so far as it pleases men. Her sexuality is about their desires, not her own.

The thing is, going back to Crazy Ex Girlfriend for a second, is that when we get to know Valencia, it becomes apparent that she is so much more than just a CG. She’s pretty one dimensional and dislikeable in season 1, but we come to realise that that’s more due to Rebecca’s projection than her actual character. (Let’s be real, I’d probably also come across as a mega bitch if my partner’s ex reappeared in town after ten years with the express intention of breaking us up.)

But Rebecca is so insecure that she conteptualises Valencia as the CG – hot as hell, sexually adventurous, every man’s dream. But the viewer, and Rebecca, later get to see that Valencia is actually just as insecure and just as much a victim of the patriarchy. She has desires, needs, and vulnerabilities just like anyone else.

So about “preferring” anal…

For me, this particular line was entirely about Rebecca positioning Valencia as a cool girl who, naturally, would enjoy the same things cishetero men are supposed to enjoy. Naturally, the perfect CG would not only do anal, she’d prefer it.

Anal sex was a particular point of contention in my first sexual relationship. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that my boyfriend was pretty obsessed with the idea (bearing in mind I was fifteen years old the first time it was brought up.) Much later, I reluctantly did it because I thought I was supposed to do it. Because the women he watched in porn did it, the women he read about in magazines did it, the other women he’d been sneakily flirting with said they would do it.

Authentic desire vs. mainstream pornification

I’m pro-porn, as long as it’s consensually produced and the performers remain in control and are compensated fairly for their labour. However, I also recognise that the mainstream porn industry has a lot to answer for, and one of those things is the fact that many teenage boys now think that pressuring their girlfriends for anal is normal.

Anal sex should be approached like any other consensual kink. If you’re into it, awesome – have fun. If you’re not, that’s totally cool too! I actually did come to enjoy it after those negative early experiences (much later and with a different partner). But that was only able to happen in a space of safety, care, and zero expectations.

I wish we could think of sex as a vast menu of potential options to choose from, rather than a space where certain acts are accepted. I have a lot of respect for Dan Savage and his work, but every time he says “oral comes as standard” it makes me cringe. There shouldn’t be any standards, beyond informed consent and mutual pleasure!

If we’re into anal sex, we should be able to express that and enjoy it free of shame or stigma. But it should be considered equally fine to say hey, anal actually does hurt and I actually don’t like it. When mainstream, male gazey porn is the first introduction many young people have to sexuality, especially when it’s not accompanied by comprehensive sex education, we end up in a place where young men come to expect a certain kind of “performance” from their sexual partners.

If you absolutely need a certain sex act in your life to be fulfilled, you’re within your rights to (and probably should) seek out partners who are also into that thing. (See: why I won’t date entirely vanilla people. There’s nothing wrong with vanilla sex and I enjoy it sometimes, but I need regular kink in my life to be happy and satisfied). But I really want to do away with the idea that any sex acts – penetration, oral, hand stuff, anal, kink – are expected or standard.

Sexual compatibility matters. But what that means will vary for every couple and every individual. Authentic expression of desire is what we should strive for, not matching some impossible male gaze standard.

Cool Girls don’t actually exist, and I love the way Valencia’s character arc slowly dismantles the idea one piece at a time.

I wasn’t expecting this piece about a throwaway one-liner in a TV show to run over 1300 words, but here we are! If you enjoyed this, you can always buy me a coffee to show your appreciation. Oh, and don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter!

All the Things “You, Me, Her” Got Wrong About Polyamory

SPOILER ALERT! This post will contain spoilers for You, Me, Her seasons 1-3, so if you care and haven’t watched yet, click off this post now.

You may remember my ridiculous quest to recap every episode of this stupid show, which fizzled out somewhere in the middle of Season 1 because I ran out of time, energy and fucks to give? If not, go read them. It’s snarktastic, I promise you.

In case you haven’t seen it, You, Me, Her is an American comedy-drama series following suburban married couple Jack (Greg Poehler) and Emma (Rachel Blanchard) as they enter into a polyamorous triad relationship with 25-year-old college student and escort, Izzy (Priscilla Faia).

Instead of reviewing this mess one episode at a time, I thought I’d bring you all the things I think it got wrong about polyamory – so far – in one easy post.

1. Izzy would never date these two idiots.

Izzy is a beautiful, 25-year-old college student who is escorting her way through university for the money. When Jack hires her for a date and then Emma later (having found out) does the same thing, she inexplicably decides she’s super duper into both of them for some fucking reason. That would never happen. Any sex worker in Izzy’s place would do her job, take the damn money, and leave this pair to work out their shit in suburban hell by themselves.

2. It’s PORTLAND, not the Bible Belt.

This show is set in Portland, Oregon – a city famous for being super-duper liberal and where I know for a fact there’s a huge polyamorous community. Sure, there are some conservative people there (they’re everywhere, sadly) but the idea that being out as non-monogamous – or even bisexual – in fucking Portland would totally destroy Emma’s life is patently unrealistic. If they wanted that narrative to work, they should have set it in rural Alabama or something.

3. Being bisexual is apparently a worse crime than cheating.

There’s a scene in their therapist’s office where Jack shames the hell out of Emma for telling her bisexual origin story and having slept with women before they met. Seemingly forgetting he cheated on her with an escort about, ooh, a week before. (Also, Emma later declares that her bisexuality “wasn’t a thing,” despite having relationships with four – FOUR – women! That is definitely “a thing”.)

4. Partners are not commodities that you have to share out equally.

Jack and Emma agree that they each get “two nights with her… I mean you” per week. They then have a debate about who “gets” her first. This is gross beyond belief. She’s a human being, not a pie that you both want equal numbers of slices of. Ugh.

5. Dating someone new isn’t how you inject sexual spark back into your ailing marriage.

Jack and Emma’s idea is that they’ll each go on dates with Izzy, then come back fired up and ready to ravish the hell out of each other. That’s not how polyamory works. That’s not even how feelings or sex drives work! And it’s, once again, objectifying as all hell. They’re basically using her as a human sex toy. Also, Jack gets mad when Emma comes back from a date and isn’t up for fucking him right there and then. Your partner doesn’t owe you sex just because they just went on a date with someone else!

6. Jealousy IS inevitable. That doesn’t mean courting it is good for your relationship.

Jealousy is normal and fine, as long as you deal with it in a healthy way. Trying to make your partner jealous deliberately in order to… what, make them want you more? is a REALLY bad idea. And half the time seems to be these idiots’ entire game. Jack and Emma use Izzy to make each other jealous. Izzy uses Andy (who is a dick but seems really into her) to make Jack and Emma jealous.

7. Treating someone like crap then chasing them through an airport isn’t romantic!

Jack and Emma treat Izzy like total crap for the entire show. One romantic gesture (chasing her through an airport to “bring her home”) isn’t going to make up for that or for doing any of the actual hard, complicated, difficult work of making a relationship between three people work.

8. Polyamory isn’t just for rich white people!

Jack and Emma are the classic middle-aged, upper-middle-class, professional married pair I’d expect to see at a swingers’ club. Nothing wrong with that, except that the polyamorous community is actually hugely diverse. Trust me, we’re all bored as hell of seeing every representation of polyamory reduced down to “rich white people who don’t enjoy sex with their spouses any more”.

9. Even in polyamory you can’t expect someone to fall for two people in the same way, at the same rate, at the same time.

And that’s EXACTLY what Jack and Emma expect of Izzy. At one point, it becomes apparent that Izzy’s connection with Emma is growing stronger while her connection with Jack is developing at a slower pace, and Jack throws a hissy fit to the point of fucking off for several days. This is exactly the kind of expectation inexperienced unicorn hunters put on new partners, and it’s grossly unfair.

10. Sex doesn’t solve your problems. Communication does.

Whenever these three have a problem, they just fuck and it all goes away… until next time. Sex is great but it’s not how you fix your problems. Only actual, honest, open and respectful communication can do that.

11. You don’t have to live with all your partners!

Jack, Emma and Izzy move in together almost the moment they’ve decided to give a triad relationship a go. Not only is this the mother of all bad ideas, it’s just… not realistic. Just as most monogamous people wouldn’t give a new date the keys to their house before things were pretty stable and established, neither do polyamorous people. And regardless of relationship set-up, the “three people sharing a double bed every night” trope is… sweet but unrealistic. Trust me. I can only manage it even in my King bed for a night or two. You can still be polyamorous if you don’t want to live with all your partners, now or ever.

12. Extremely conservative, homophobic parents don’t come around in three seconds flat.

Emma’s parents go from hyper-conservative, openly-homophobic bigots who only care about her having babies, to being totally chill with the accidental dropping of the polyamory bomb in… yeah, less than five minutes of screen time? (Which equates to about an hour in plot-time). People can come around, of course. People question their assumptions when they are directly confronted with them by someone they love. But it usually takes more time than this. Sometimes much more.

13. And finally… NOT ALL POLYAMORY IS A FUCKING MFF TRIAD.

Are we all sick of this very specific picture being painted yet? Good, me too. Let’s move on to something more representative and less relentlessly cishet-male-gazey. Please.

So what’s next? This show has been renewed for seasons 4 and 5. I hate this about myself, but I already know I’ll watch them all. Maybe I’ll even live-tweet them.

Did you enjoy this post? If so, please buy me a coffee!

Ten Fun or Meaningful Things to Do On International Celebrate Bisexuality Day

Did you know that September 23rd marks International Celebrate Bisexuality Day? Also known as Bi Visibility Day, ICBD is observed by members of the bi community and our allies and supporters, and is used to campaign for greater bisexual visibility, to celebrate bi history and culture, and to show pride in our identities and those of the bi people we love.

If you’re low on energy today, or this is the first time you’ve heard of ICBD, here’s some easy and fun ways you can celebrate and make a difference!

1. Wear something purple

Purple is the internationally recognised colour of bisexuality. I think this originally came from the idea of purple as a mix of pink (gay) and blue (straight), which is a little problematic. But, hey, we have our own colour!

If you don’t have the energy to do anything else today – and that’s A-okay! – then why not put on a purple shirt, scarf, shoes or other accessory to show your bi pride?

2. Tell the bi folks in your life that you love them

If you’re monosexual (gay or straight), this is a great time to reach out and support the bi people in your life. A “happy bisexuality day!” from a gay or straight friend has never failed to make me smile on September 23rd.

And if you’re bi, reach out to your fellow bisexual friends, partners and allies, wish them a happy ICBD, and maybe get together for some cake?

3. Share bi content on social media

A retweet, a share or a comment goes a long way towards supporting the visibility and normalisation of bi people on social media. Obviously your comfort levels will vary, and I would never ask someone to out themselves if they weren’t ready or put themselves at any risk, but if you can safely post on social media about queer issues, try these on for size:

“Did you know September 23rd is International Celebrate Bisexuality Day? Just popping up to remind y’all that I’m still bi, regardless of my relationship status! I’ll be wearing purple to show my pride today. Will you wear something purple to show your support?”

“Did you know September 23rd is International Celebrate Bisexuality Day? I’m (straight/gay), but I support my bisexual friends! I’m wearing purple today in solidarity. Will you?”

4. Bust some myths

Hear someone say that bisexuality isn’t real, that bisexuality erases trans folks and enforces the gender binary, or that people can only be bi if they’re attracted to men and women exactly 50/50? Bust those myths! If it’s safe to do so, speak up! Explain why they’re wrong (see the linked articles for inspiration). Stand up for the bisexual people in your life and don’t tolerate biphobia when you see it.

5. Consume some bi media

Read books by bi authors (Virginia Woolf, Alice Walker, Robyn Ochs, Rachel Kramer-Bussell, Jennifer Baumgardner…). Listen to music by bi artists (Freddie Mercury, Lady Gaga, David Bowie, Pink, Amy Winehouse…). Watch films or TV shows with bi storylines (try Imagine Me & You, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Call Me By Your Name, the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, Loving Annabelle, Steven Universe…). Share content by your favourite bi bloggers, vloggers, indie writers and content creators (I’ll be doing a separate post on this later).

6. Give your favourite bisexual some cake

It’s well known that bisexuals love cake. It’s our little way of reclaiming that stupid “have your cake and eat it too” expression. Today is a great day to give your favourite bisexual (even if that’s yourself!) some cake.

7. Donate to causes that support bi people

LGBTQ+ causes have historically been pretty shitty about including either the B or the T in their work. Thankfully, this is improving, and there are now organisations specifically dedicated to improving the lives of bisexual people.

The Bisexual Index highlights and combats biphobia, works for bi inclusion in events such as Pride, and connects bi people to resources and community. They also have super-cute merch.

Bisexuals of Colour is a fantastic group for Black, Minority Ethnic and Mixed Heritage bisexual people. Check out their Tumblr and donate via Paypal (bis.of.colour at gmail dot com).

Biscuit is an online magazine and organisation for “modern bisexual women, femmes and those assigned female at birth”. If you experience life at the intersection of misogyny and biphobia, Biscuit is for you. You can donate at their homepage.

MindOut are the LGBTQ-specific arm of Mind, the UK’s mental health charity. Did you know that bisexual people are among the most likely to struggle with a mental health issue at some point during their lives? MindOut is dedicated to combating mental ill health within the LGBTQ+ community and as far as I can tell their bi inclusion is fantastic.

8. Subscribe to a bi magazine

Bi Community News keeps you in the loop about all the fun things happening in the UK-wide bisexual scene – and it’s only £12 for an entire year!

9. Support bi and queer porn makers

You know by now that you should be paying for your porn, yes? Well, what about awesome ethical feminist porn featuring real queer women having real sex? Check out Crashpad Series and Ersties to support awesome women-owned-and-created porn.

10. Plan to go to a bi event

Going to BiCon in 2019? It’s the highlight of the bisexual year and I really recommend checking it out if you can! Failing that, there are regular bi groups in cities up and down the country – check out this list and find one near you, and make a plan to go along. You’ll  be sure to make some friends and allies.

What are YOU doing to celebrate ICBD? Tweet me or comment and let me know.

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions, as ever, are my own. If you want to support my coffee-and-cake habit for bisexuality day, you can do so via Ko-Fi.

A Very Brief Look at Sex Toys in Popular Culture

[Update: DivaInner, the company who sponsored this post on sex toys in popular culture, appears to have closed down. I’ve removed dead links but am leaving the post up for reference.]

Despite its problematic elements (and OH GODS there are a lot, TW for biphobia, transphobia and racism in that link,) Sex & the City was groundbreaking for its time. In 1998, when the episode “The Turtle and the Hare” aired featuring the women discovering the Rabbit sex toy, a frank discussion of vibrators on a prime-time, hugely popular TV show was a big deal.

A few years later came The L Word – queer women’s answer to Sex & the City, which I devoured when I was in my late teens, low-key ridiculous though it undoubtedly is. Alice asks her girlfriend Dana to penetrate her with a strap-on. Sex toys then feature as a recurring theme throughout their relationship.

But let’s face it, the portrayal of sex toys in popular culture hasn’t been hugely positive.

In the fairly recent past, sex toys in movies and TV were treated as the butt of a joke. 2001’s Not Another Teen Movie, for example, famously opens with Janey getting caught masturbating by her entire family (and for some reason a few random children and a priest.) The idea of a woman masturbating – especially a geeky, not-classically-beautiful young woman – is supposed to be hilarious in itself. The “Rabbit” episode of SATC depicts Miranda’s friends shaming her for using a vibrator instead of having sex with a man. (“You can’t take it home to meet your parents!”) Later they stage an intervention to stop Charlotte using hers, treating her like an addict.

In The L Word, Dana’s shame around using toys is an ongoing theme in the depiction of her relationship with Alice – including a cringe-inducing scene where they go through airport security. (“Yup. Nipple clamps.”) Later, a jilted Alice dumps out a box of toys in front of Dana and her new girlfriend, who recoil in disgust. It’s a dildo, guys! It’s not going to hurt you!

Thankfully, things are starting to improve.

The wonderful Sense8 features a beautiful scene of two women having sex using a strap-on dildo (and one of the women is trans!) Netflix’s Grace and Frankie feature the two main characters trying to design sex toys for women over 60 – and older women’s sexuality is not treated as gross or as a joke. And, of course, Broad City’s pegging scene became such an instant classic that there is now a line of sex toys themed around the show.

This is all a great start. I’d really like to see more positive portrayals of sex toy usage in popular culture going forward. Give us joyful depictions of female masturbation, divorced from shame or guilt or narratives about being addicted, a nymphomaniac, or unable to find a man. Give us sex scenes in which partners reach for toys and no-one thinks it’s weird, gross or offensive. I’d even like to see vibrators casually sitting on female characters’ night stands without it being a big deal.

Popular culture has begun to catch up, but still has a way to go in the sex positivity realm.

Luckily, sex toys themselves have (s0metimes) improved tremendously in the last twenty years. The infamous 1998 SATC “Rabbit” is made of some kind of translucent jelly material, which is certainly not body-safe. Jelly toys are softened with phthalates, plasticiser chemicals which are now banned in children’s toys in many countries as they are known carcinogens. They’re also horrible for the environment! Unfortunately, the adult product industry remains largely unregulated, allowing unscrupulous manufacturers to keep making cheap, dangerous sex toys. There have been documented cases of people getting chemical burns in their genital area from unsafe toys!

Fortunately, there are reputable adult brands out there dedicated to offering body-safe and eco-friendly toys. DivaInner is one of them, creating intimate products out of exclusively premium, body-safe materials such as non-porous, phthalate-free silicone! Despite the silly stereotypes, it’s impossible to get addicted to a sex toy – so you can let go of your inhibitions and have as much fun as you want.

This post was sponsored by DivaInner. As always, all opinions, as ever, are my own. Header image is a screenshot from Sex & The City and used for illustrative purposes only.

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