16 de Febrero: Del silencio a los juguetes sexuales
Somewhat surprisingly, two articles came out in the “Society” section of La Paz’s La Razón newspaper yesterday focusing on sex toys. In a country where so many individuals report such difficulty in talking about the “life-and-death” aspects of sex–such as pregnancy and STI prevention–it struck me as amusing to run into these articles, which focus explicitly on the pleasurable aspects of sex. The articles review the top-selling sex toys for different cities and offer advice to couples who are thinking about using them. (Evidently, in Santa Cruz, couples prefer penis-pumps that temporarily lengthen the penis, while in La Paz, people prefer vibrators and “new and unusual” toys.)
In some ways, I suppose it isn’t all that surprising to encounter these articles in the La Paz press. Like any newspaper, La Razón clearly hopes to titillate and shock its readers–this sort of reporting sells papers. What is less surprising about these articles, however, are their more subtle aspects, which reveal distinctly conservative messages about the “appropriate” use of sex toys. The first of these articles provides an overview of types of sex toys and their sale across the country, while the second offers “expert” opinions on negotiating sex-toy use within couples. (All translations are my own.)
The title of the first article, “Novel sex toys most seduce people from La Paz,” is probably sort of a jab at cruceños–people from Santa Cruz, who are in cultural and political rivalry with local paceños. This article adopts a sort of cavalier attitude toward the topic of sex toys, one that (probably erroneously) assumes that its readers are already on the up-and-up, and are simply curious to learn what toys are favored by the inhabitants of Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, and other cities. The reporter informs us that some of the latest and greatest sex toys are imported from the U.S. (like everything late-and-great, right?); that young people are more nervous to approach sex shops than adults, and that proper hygiene is essential in the use of these devices.
Actually, all the information in this article is useful, and can probably only do good in getting paceños to talk about sex and pleasure. A glaring omission in this article, however, is any discussion of masturbatory sex toys for solo use. These are sex toys than men and women may use while alone, in part to pleasure themselves, but also in part, to learn about their own sexual desires and fantasies–information that they can later share with their partners. The moral of this article is that sexuality and sexual pleasure are to be shared with partners, but not to be explored alone.
Somewhat ironically, the second article, entitled, “The use of sexual products should be mutually agreed upon,” is accompanied by this picture:
This “latex vagina in the form of a vampire mouth” is probably often used by men for solo acts of masturbation. (I can’t resist pointing out the somewhat disturbing correlation between a vampire-mouth vagina–ie. blood-sucking, life-sucking, generally perilous–and some men’s fears of female sexuality as emasculating and as a “trap” for the unsuspecting bachelor.)
Despite the picture of the masturbation sleeve, this article also ignores the possibility of solo sex-toy use. In fact, the entire article focuses on the advice of “experts” to speak openly with our partners about the use of toys. In general, this seems like very good advice. However, the experts quoted here offer so many warnings about the potentially terrible reactions of our partners to our own interest in sex toys, that their advice is hardly encouraging.
The opening line reads, “The use of a sex toy to fulfill the sexual fantasies of a couple should be the result of mutual agreement, so that humiliation and disgust do not result.” One Puerto Rican sexologist asserts that the use of sex toys “‘is not the result of a mental disturbance.'” (Well, I didn’t really think it was, until you said that…) Bolivian sexologist José Luis Harb remarks, “‘As long as it is mutually agreed upon, that it doesn’t hurt any third party, that there is harmony in the couple, and that it does not generate any dysrhythmia, it is okay.” Yikes!
Even the proprietor of one of the local sex shops was merely lukewarm in his recommendation of sex-toy use: “The use of sex toys can help couples enjoy [sex] more, of course, assuming that the other person agrees with this and that no one gets upset.” In the closing paragraph of the article, a final expert warns, “the use of sex toys can become a problem when one person becomes humiliated or hurt due to their partner’s use of a sex toy without his or her consent.” So, who’s up for using sex toys now? Anyone??
This article uses a tactic that is typical of some conservative sectors around the world–of supposedly providing “information” about sex, while masking this “information” in fear and shame. Recently, a Bolivian friend remarked that the sexual education he received in his conservative high school consisted of being shown the films Kids and Trainspotting without any accompanying discussion or debate. Like abstinence-only education, these tactics do not have the effects of creating sex-positive cultures or reducing teen pregnancy or abortion rates. Instead, they incite feelings of fear and shame and force sex into the closet, where open discussions of birth control, sex toys, and STI prevention become impossible. So, thanks, La Razón, for your hip and racey articles on sex toys–and for effectively scaring me out of using them.