Our public relationship with sex is a tenuous one. Our public relationship with sex toys is much the same, if not more strained. Seeing a vibrator on Instagram still jolts people upright, its connotations still seamy and sordid and shameful. Aside from the obvious tangible constraints around “censorship” and “nudity” (yes, we still struggle to post pictures that breach “Instagram Community Guidelines”), sex toys rarely exist "seamlessly" and "shamelessly" on the social platform, rather are presented as something different or abnormal. Something shocking. Even when presented in a sex-positive light, language like "shame-free" and "discreet" continue to abound (The Shame-Free Buying Guide To Sex Toys! Shame-Free Vibrators For Anyone With A Vulva! Sex Toys We Feel No Shame Having On Our Beside Table!), immediately marking vibrators as objects that are inherently "shameful" and "different" and therefore compounding this idea of disparity.
So how do we normalise the sex toy on social platforms like Instagram (and beyond)? By presenting it in the most "normal" way possible; without distinction, without this "shame-free" narrative and with other Insta-friendly fodder (like lipsticks and shoes and pasta). Objects of beauty and pleasure needn't be mutually exclusive. WeVibe's powerful new Tango X can sit alongside Chanel's impeccable rouge and nail varnish unashamedly and without second glance. It can coexist on the Grid just as skincare and spaghetti do — harmoniously and desirably.
By embedding it with other quotidian pleasures — instead of making an example out of it — it becomes part of one seamless social existence. As sex columnist Ella Dawson wrote in 2017, “we don’t teach young people how to enjoy sex”, and this is much the same for sex toys. We haven't been taught to comfortably enjoy the aesthetic of a sex toy. This, of course, stems back to the overarching stigma of sex and pleasure in society, but given Instagram's governance over the current zeitgeist, perhaps normalising the sex toy on the platform is the first step in shifting the narrative.
While public advocacy for sex toys is on the rise — and this is a step in the right direction — we need to reframe the "shame-free" context in which they sit. In order to earnestly move forward, we need to erode this kind of restrictive, regressive language in online discourse.
Instagram — and indeed the internet at large — still feels a long way off seamless sex toy placement, but the more we incorporate it into our visual vocabulary, the more normal it will become. Make it cool, make it beautiful, make it whatever you please. Just make it happen.
Imagery: Dan Jacobs
Styling: Sam Costello and Chrisanthi Kaliviotis