8  Introduction
women—as well as queer-­identified and gender-­nonconforming people—be
taken seriously as both sexual agents and consumers.
Vibrator Nation tells the story of feminist sex-­ t oy businesses in the United
States and the women who pioneered them. It chronicles the making of a mar-
ket and the growth of a movement, detailing the intertwining domains that
shape the business of pleasure and the politics of business. In the chapters
that follow, I draw upon extensive ethnographic and archival research, includ-
ing more than eighty in-­depth interviews with key retailers, manufacturers,
and marketers, to discuss the history of sex-­positive retail activism, including
its highly gendered and class-­specific nature; the relationship between iden-
tity politics and feminist entrepreneurship; and the ongoing—and perhaps
irrevocable—tension between profitability and social change. This is a book
about feminist invention, intervention, and contradiction, a world where sex-­
positive retailers double as social activists, commodities are framed as tools
of liberation, and consumers are willing to pay for the promise of better living
through orgasms.
Let’s Talk about S-E-­X­
I conducted my first interview on the topic of feminist sex-­ t oy stores in 1998
while I was still in graduate school. At the time, I was taking a seminar on
fieldwork methods in cultural studies that required I conduct a small-­scale
ethnographic project. I was interested in the relationship between sexuality
and public culture, and wanted to know more about those spaces and places
where representations of women’s sexuality assumed an unapologetically
public presence as opposed to being relegated to the privacy of the home.30
As luck would have it, a sex-­ t oy shop geared toward women, Intimacies, had
just opened in the small college town where I lived. I have, time and again, re-
turned to the initial interview I conducted with Intimacies owner Aileen Jour-
ney because my experience at her store was so influential to the development
of my thinking about the history and retail culture of feminist sex shops. It also
provided me with my first eureka moment as a researcher.
Journey saw her business as a “feminist way to support women’s power”
and told me that she had based her store on the Good Vibrations model. Good
Vibrations had even supplied her with a list of sex-­toy distributors for a nomi-
nal fee of $50 because the company’s founder, Blank, wanted similar shops to
open in cities across the country—and hers, Journey emphasized, was not the
only business Good Vibrations had helped. According to Journey, the Good
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