A Review of GOOD VIBRATIONS: The Complete Guide to Vibrators (third edition, revised and expanded)
by Joani Blank, Preface by Betty Dodson, Illustrations by Marcia Quackenbush
Burlingame, CA: Down There Press
Review Copyright © 1989 by William A. Henkin
Originally published in Spectator
The first vibrator I ever bought, back when I was a youth in Illinois, was a hard, dead-white, plastic sheath shaped vaguely like a spaceship. I saw it advertised in some journal that featured grainy black-and-white photos of women bending over from the waist to display their pendulous 1950s breasts. It cost something exorbitant, like $10 in 1960s money, but I was in a fever of fantasy and so, one sweaty night when no one was around, I scurried to the mailbox with my dirty check and ordered the sinful device. Six weeks later, when I was sure the fly-by-nights had absconded with my funds, my treasure arrived by mail in a plain brown wrapper with illustrated two-part instructions for relieving tired shoulder and calf muscles.
Instead of a flange, which might have saved the whole object from disappearing inside any cavern deeper than six-by-one inches, the vibrator had a screw-off bottom that exposed a vacant chamber where two big batteries belonged. Once they were in place and the bottom was secured, a further twist made the rigid tool hum and shimmy delicately. It wasn't as good for relieving tired muscles as I'd hoped because the plastic had been die-cast in two flute-shaped molds and a sharp seam capable of slicing liver ran around its entire circumference. Condoms, which did exist in those days, turned the sharp edge into a sharp ridge, but did not soften the thing's outline or run up its revs. I couldn't imagine what I'd thought I'd bought it for, dearie, nor could I imagine most of the wonderful things to do with such a toy that Joani Blank could have told me about if only I'd had her wonderful book.
With the revised Good Vibrations in hand introduced by Betty Dodson, maven of masturbation and author of the classic Sex for One, and being, as the title page says,
"a Treatise on the Use of Machines in the Indolent Indulgence of Erotic Pleasure-Seeking, Together with Important Hints on the Acquisition, Care and Utilization of Said Machines, and Much More about the Art and Science of Buzzing Off" I'd have learned about the differences between the battery-operated dildo-style vibrator I now owned, the Swedish massager my barber strapped onto his hand and used to pummel my shoulders into relaxation, the coil-operated massager packed in its own form-fitting plastic display kit with more attachments than a vacuum cleaner, which I later saw at Walworth's, Woolgreen's, and the like, and the big-headed motor-driven wand that looks like a high-tech caveman's club.
I'd also have learned about vibrator-shopping. Instead of buying ten cents' worth of richly marked-up Hong Kong happiness I might have ended up with something classier for less through one of the reputable mail-order companies listed in Blank's brief resource list. Prepared by her sensible, good-humored advice I might have had some fascinating conversations with the retail clerks at my city's discount and department stores. I might have checked out more than magazines at my local dirty book shop, or gotten myself invited to a Fuckerware party and examined different forms of merchandise in the privacy of someone's home. And I'd have augmented the quality of my experimental time by learning in advance about a variety of ways to use my toy. As Blank says,
It feels good to put a vibrator on most parts of your body shoulders, neck, lower back, thighs, rear end, face, hands, feet (if you're not too ticklish) and belly. But then, you didn't buy this book to find out about those uses. You want to know how to masturbate with the vibrator, right? Well, here goes.
You can lie down, sit up, stand, kneel, squat, or do yoga postures while using it. Any way you hold your arms is fine. You can move the vibrator, or yourself, or both, or neither....
And so on for several pages called "Doing What Feels Good." Blank, a licensed marriage and family therapist who has worked as a sex therapist and sex educator, provides directions for people who are curious or in need about vibrators in a wide variety of contexts. For example, she specifically devotes sections of her book to women who have never had orgasms; to "Vaginal Vibration and the G-Spot"; to using vibrators for anal stimulation; and to using vibrators with partners (who holds the toy?). She includes tips on health, cleanliness, and caring for a vibrator, and she lays to rest the common belief that one can become so addicted to a mechanical marvel that commingling with other live bodies becomes a bore.
While Good Vibrations is geared more to women than it is to men in the United States it is women, after all, who traditionally have a harder time learning to experience orgasm, and it is women more than men who are not supposed to know how to masturbate or even to touch themselves "down there" (hence the publisher's name). But men and women alike will profit from the section she includes on "Men and Vibrators."
It is a popular belief that vibrators are used almost exclusively by women. Theoretically, this doesn't make sense. If men, like women, enjoy a wide range of stimuli (and we know that they do), then why shouldn't a vibrator be another potential source of sexually arousing stimulation?
The problem with this theory is that it fails to take into account social inhibitors and the attitudes that many men have about vibrators....
Blank addresses several of the major arguments some men mount against their own use of vibrators, including those that are similar to women's and those that are men's alone. After she acknowledges that some of these arguments may sometimes be true i.e., "Some of these responses reflect the goal orientation so prevalent in the sexual attitudes of most of us" she offers a series of suggestions men can follow "to check out the pleasure potential of the vibrator further," including placement, movement and the reminder that men may have orgasms without ejaculating. "Recently," she notes, "men have been talking about having multiple orgasms; a few have always claimed that this is their experience. How vibrator stimulation affects or might affect the male orgasmic capacity is not known."
It is not known statistically, she means. Experientially, the claimants know.
Some years ago, after a long bout of foreplay, one of my partners plugged in a motor-driven vibrator and introduced my body to a quality of stimulation I had never known before. Though the bulbous, throbbing head never left my genitals, the orgasm that resulted made my hair and toes both curl. I went almost directly to the nation's only store devoted to vibrators, which happens to be located in San Francisco, which happens to be owned by Joani Blank, and which happens to be called Good Vibrations, and there I bought an example of that same model, which has been a boon companion ever since.
Male or female, shopping for your own set of vibrating sex toys can make for a fun-filled afternoon whether you are alone or with company. If you want clear, useful, entertaining information on the subject before you traipse off into consumerland, you can find it in Good Vibrations.
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