I recently found out that Target carries a robust line of vibrators. I discovered this as my 14-year-old daughter and I cut down a side aisle while shopping for this year's meagre list of school supplies. I was chugging towards the Q-Tips and peel-off face masks, looking at the vitamins and supplements shelves on the other side when Anna said, "Momma, what is that?"
It was not, as sex toys go, anything earth-shattering. None of them are 14 inches long or require a marine battery. But she looked shook. And rather nonplussed about the fact the box was referring to them "personal massagers.” She had questions. A lot of questions.
So, as tactfully as one can in a busy Target on a Friday night, parked in the family planning aisle, I answered them.
We talked about what each one would be used for, where they can go, the importance of lubricants and keeping toys clean. Matter-of-factly. Because, while some topics got pinned to discuss at home and not in a retail setting, vibrators aren't weird. They aren't a secret or a source of shame. While I'm not used to seeing them across from the Flintstone's Chewables, there's no reason they should need to be purchased secretly, at great expense, and shipped to your house in plain brown packaging.
There's a lot of talk in the media and society at large about teaching our kids about sex and sexuality in a different way. About removing shame and fear, giving them a platform to find their own healthy relationship with their body and what it wants. We hear and talk about consent. But there's still a lot of folks with both a heebie and a jeebie when it comes to talking to their kid about sex outside of the rules and limitation. There's a lot of discomfort around allowing your kids to learn that sex is nice.
It took a minute to find age- and relationship-appropriate language to use and a little brief blushing from both of us to get over the initial hump of discomfort, but I never considering being anything other than frank and honest with my teenager. Yes, we talk about the true risks and dangers, why teen sex is a bad idea but not as bad as unprotected teen sex and that pregnancy is a possible even with protection literally any time. About the emotional load that comes with sexual contact. But then we have to be able to talk about birth control methods and options. About oral and anal sex and what that means. We need to share all facets of sexuality with our kids, not just the doom. If we're not talking about all of it, we're not really talking about any of it.
This also reinforced for Anna that I'm a resource. I've always told her that I'm the best resource. I want her to feel just as comfortable asking me about sex as she does asking about how to get rid of a pimple or wash her clothes or how to improve her bio paper. All are topics where she needs help and has questions and otherwise would rely on other teenagers or the internet for information, which I've long enforced is not a winning plan.
I've seen a lot of strong negative reactions to this new product line on Twitter, anger that families should be exposed to these shameful products and be forced to have frank conversations with their kids (or, even crazier, have to redirect their kids if there isn't an age appropriate way to be forthcoming).
I'd suspect it was the same when they started carrying lube or alternative feminine hygiene products. I haven't seen anybody come out in support of having these options be readily accessible at an affordable price. I haven't heard a parent suggest that allowing teens this knowledge (and avenue, if they've got thirty-odd bucks) might continue to help reduce teen pregnancy or give our girls more agency and knowledge of their body.
This year has been a weird one. I did not expect Target to throw me this curve ball. I hope I used that big ol' two-pronged vibrator to knock this one out of the park.
Kellie has loved Milwaukee since before loving Milwaukee was cool, and knew this was the place to settle down and raise a family. She’s got an opinion about almost everything and loves to pick up new fun facts. Kellie keeps busy as the Group HR Manager for Saz’s Hospitality Group, a hometown favorite, by teaching at Mount Mary, getting involved in her community and trying to play catchup on her reading pile, though she’ll never say no to a nap. Most days, she’s also trying to talk herself out of or into running another half marathon. Kellie lives in Wauwatosa with her partner Rob, who is an owner of Vennture Brew Co, and her daughter Anna.