In the women’s ‘loo’ in a pub in Cambridge, England I found a product which is promoted as one “designed by girls, for girls”â€” a “seduction kit” for three pounds, consisting of two condoms (one natural feel and one with ribs and dots) and two lubrication packs (one clear and one sugar-free, flavoured), which not only afford protection from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, but also, via the ribbed and dotted condum and the sugar-free lubricant, are said to provide additional “ooohhh, mwaaahhh” pleasure for “YOU,” the ‘girl.’
Does this product qualify as a “feminist technology” and if so why? Certainly products that enable women to protect their health should qualify; ditto with products that enhance women’s pleasure. In this case, the product seems to do both. But there is something curious about the way safety and pleasure are linked here. The safety message is found in the condom brand’s slogan “never go in without a skIn,” (with an elongated letter “I” representing an erect penis) which is presumably addressed to a male user, even though the advertisement directed to girls in an exclusively female space. Had they wanted to make a female version of this, it might have read “never let him in without a skIn.”
The more prominent message of this “seduction kit” is an endorsement of female sexual pleasure and sexual assertiveness. Is it easier for women to demand safe sex if they do so under the guise of an entitlement to sexual pleasure?
Several of the other products sold in the 15,000 washroom vending machines operated by Perform Marketing in the UK also promote both male and female sexual pleasure (though none other than the condoms promote safe sex). According to their website, “washroom vending provides solutions for distress, impulsive and anonymous purchases.” For the “implusive” buying price of 8.88 pounds, pub-goers may purchase herbal supplements to enhance sexual performance and pleasure in two varieties, Bleu Zeus for men and Pink Venus for women, or a water-proof stimulator ring (with battery life up to 40 min.) advertised to “provide the ultimate sexual buzz for him and her.”
On the one hand, the fact that women’s sexual pleasure is now so routinely understood to be as legitimate as that of men’s is surely a good sign. On the other hand, it is doubtful if any of these products actually enhance sexual pleasure, but are rather simply a way for the product producers, vending machine companies, and pubs to “exploit profitable market trends?” But if the cultural acceptability of women’s sexual pleasure evident in these products makes it more likely that male partners will be willing to use condoms, should they not be not be welcomed as a feminist technologies, while at the same time understanding that a “cultural fix” is needed to bring women’s sense of entitlement to safe sex to the new, welcome level of culturally acceptability that sexual pleasure now appears to hold?
Linda L. Layne is the Hale Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences and a professor of anthropology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She co-edited the book Feminist Technology.