I bought my first vibrator at thirty-five, off the dusty shelves of a sex toy shop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I tried not to be embarrassed. After all, I was a grown-ass woman. The mother of two children. Certifiable sex-haver. Anyone could look at me and see the mom jeans, sneakers, ruffly blouse and know that I was a Midwestern mother. And as such, it was very likely I had had sex at some point. Still, I parked around back and hoped no one saw my car. Not too far from this sex shop was where I had once attended church with my ex-husband. An Assembly of God church, where pastors preach about the evils of lust, the horrors of porn, the sin of sex outside of marriage — all the new joys I was just discovering. A town of 132,000 people can feel small when you are newly divorced and dating.
The store looked like it was in a perpetual state of going out of business. The fluorescent lights flickering, and the gray walls were studded with empty shelves. The plastic packaging on the wall of phalluses was dusty, and each vibrator bore a small neon pink sticker with handwritten prices, like a garage sale.
I found the most expensive vibrator — a clear plastic phallus with a white handle, for 40 dollars. I figured it would be fine. Just fine. Sturdy and dependable. Effective. Then, I walked up to the counter. The cashier smiled at me. Another woman shuffled in the corner near the lube. She sighed and seemed tired.
I drove home. Opened the package. Got to work.
I was raised Evangelical. Taught to believe that sex was a tool for reproduction. To be fruitful and multiply. It was not about our pleasure. In fact, little in life was about pleasure. Pleasure had ended in Eden. Sex, desire, all felled by one woman with a single bite from a single fruit. Eve’s curse was not only the pain of childbearing, it was also her “desire for her husband.” Her desire, her sex, this was the curse.
“Even if you use protection you could get pregnant,” my mother told me. Desires had consequences. She said she had used birth control for two out of eight of us and look at where that had gotten her. At 14, a girl in my church in…