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Dana Rodriguez for Vox

The best $129 I ever spent: a fancy vibrator

After a lifetime of not taking my own pleasure seriously, I finally decided it was long overdue.

I remember looking up “orgasm” in the dictionary. I was a homeschooled, Jonathan Taylor Thomas-obsessed, freshly vegetarian preteen who understood the basics of reproduction, yet orgasms had remained conceptually elusive. The dictionary described a “pleasurable climax” but, understandably, gave no real sense of how this might be achieved.

Soon thereafter, I started trying to figure it out for myself. It took several years for me to learn to touch myself hard and fast enough to achieve orgasm. I was shocked to realize that penetration — the only part of sex I’d previously heard anything about — wasn’t even a necessary part my solo experience.

These adolescent orgasms were great: They helped manage my overwhelming teen hormones, they seemed to be really good for my skin, I started to figure out what I liked to fantasize about, and they even helped me recover from chronic migraines.

I was confident that when I lost my virginity, I would be able to orgasm anytime I wanted. I also fully expected that my masturbatory orgasms were mere imitations of the real thing — as soon as I started having “real” sex, I’d surely have mind-blowing climaxes that would make my childhood efforts pale in comparison.


Freud actually had a similar idea, which he wrote about in his 1905 essay “The Transformations of Puberty.” He granted that the clitoris was a powerful pleasure center but dismissed orgasms achieved through clitoral stimulation as child’s play. His view was that while girls like me might first learn to orgasm that way, grown women should and could transfer their orgasms to the vagina once they were married. He even claimed that women who could not make such a transfer were fundamentally immature and would be prone to neuroses. It sounds silly now, but ideas like his lasted long enough to pervade my own sense of what sex would be like.

I met my first serious boyfriend when I was 17. He wasn’t a virgin, but he patiently waited the year I needed to feel ready to have penetrative sex before we tried it. He was kind and we were in love, so it wasn’t scary or traumatic. I didn’t have an orgasm, but I just figured I would the next time. I didn’t then either. Or the hundreds of next times after that — for years.

The idea of touching myself during sex the way I had when I was alone was mortifying, and I felt sure it would make men feel inadequate. For years, I also stopped masturbating regularly, afraid that my own experimentation was what was keeping me from being able to climax with my boyfriend. I was sure the reason I couldn’t orgasm during sex was that something was wrong with me, and I was too ashamed to bring it up with either the men I was intimate with or the women I talked to about everything else. I felt alone, although in retrospect I probably wasn’t alone at all — we all grew up in a society that doesn’t generally prioritize female pleasure.

So I let go of my attachment to orgasms.

It was easy not to worry about it too much because most of the guys I dated didn’t seem to care. If I felt like it bothered them, I’d just say it didn’t really matter to me either way, and they’d never bring it up again. In a way, I was being honest. I did enjoy sex without orgasms, but I could have enjoyed it even more if I’d let myself.

I bought the fancy vibrator last fall, in October. I was and am in the happiest and most mutually fulfilling relationship of my life with my fiancé (now husband!) — but I had also been experiencing a year of feeling very, very angry about men and the power they wield over women’s pain and pleasure. The #MeToo reckoning had come for my memories, and I was having a particularly hard time that month. Traumatic sexual experiences and harassment that I had spent years recontextualizing as funny stories were coming flooding back to me; I was depressed and really fucking mad.

In addition to all this resurfaced pain, I started thinking a lot about all the pleasure I had routinely denied myself in previous relationships. It started to really sink in that the significant majority of sex I’d had in my life was with dudes who were as unconcerned with my pleasure as I was obsessed over theirs. I had spent most of my sex life thinking about how to be sexy, how to fulfill the expectations set by porn and male fantasies, and how to assuage any threat to the male ego — including denying myself orgasms that would have been easy to achieve if I had simply acknowledged that I needed at least one of us to touch my clitoris a lot more.

What’s more, I realized that this was not just my experience but is analogous to the general experience of women in our hetero-patriarchal society. The centuries-long lack of education or understanding about how women experience pleasure during sex is not unrelated to how women’s pain is often interpreted (by doctors!) as imaginary or exaggerated or how women’s honest testimonies are routinely met with skepticism. It’s a direct consequence of living in a world dictated by men, and I was over it.

At the height of my rage, I decided it was time to indulge in my own pleasure. The fancy vibrator cost me $129 — I bought it on the company’s website with a discount code — including free shipping. At the time, I was an executive making a generous six-figure salary, as much money as I’ve ever made in my life, so the price tag wasn’t that big of a deal.

What was much harder was getting over my insecurity that spending so much on my own pleasure made me a weird sex nerd — the memory I kept coming back to was driving with my teenage best friend to the Triple X Megaplex and laughing at everything as if sex toys were perverted and inherently embarrassing. I knew deep down this was a dated and regressive impulse, but it persisted until the moment I committed to a three-figure vibrator.

The Lelo Sona Cruise vibrator weighs as much as a clementine. Mine is black and gold, the gold as shiny as my husband’s new wedding band. It’s shaped like a big fat bean sized to fit in my hand like a baseball, with an extension on the top that is designed to encircle the clitoris. It uses “sonic waves,” but don’t ask me exactly what those are. I do know they feel good, and you can adjust the settings from low to extremely intense, along with a few different cadences: a consistent buzz, steady jolts in a few different tempos, and my personal favorite, a sort of rolling wave of vibration that’s roughly the tempo of my heartbeat. It is incredibly effective at giving me an orgasm in about 90 seconds — and several more if I want them.

One of the things I finally did learn about orgasms is how individualized they are for each person. I can’t speak to whether this is the right toy for your body, and achieving orgasm isn’t possible or desired by everyone and certainly isn’t the only way to enjoy sex. What I do recommend with all my heart is allowing yourself to figure out what makes you feel good and letting yourself have that. Hopefully you know this already, but since I didn’t for so long, I’ll say it anyway: Making time and space for your pleasure is not shameful. It’s a big part of the point of being alive.

After so many years of downplaying the importance of my own orgasms, it feels outrageously decadent to have an object within reach that is designed only to give them to me. The anger that I live in a world that denies women so much of their joy has not gone away, but I can keep it quiet for a while with a buzz.


Summer Anne Burton is a digital media strategist and vegan cheese evangelist who lives in Austin, Texas.

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