Throughout history, the concept of sexuality and what is deemed as normal within different societies has evolved constantly. Various social standards and expectations often play into how a culture will approach sexuality—what it entails, what its limits may be, or if it is even an appropriate topic of discussion (Davies, 1982, p. 1042). Evidently, no matter how liberal or relaxed a particular society may be, there are still certain areas of sexuality that are considered taboo such as the integration of technology (Rubin, 1989, p. 267). This pertains to the use of internet or film porn, vibrators, and other sex toys.
While the use of technology for sexual purposes is widespread, there are still some apprehensions about it, and many are still uncomfortable with the concept of sex toys and pornography. Due to factors such as politics, religion, and cultural traditions, society still tends to classify the use of sexual accessories or entertainment as taboo; and this is indicative of how social norms influence one’s views and comfort level when it comes to sexual behavior. As political changes have altered the way in which society functions, so have they altered people’s views of sexuality.
Consider the ancient Grecian times, during which sexuality and promiscuity were considered to be a normal part of everyday life. People treated sexual behavior in a relatively unabashed manner. When kingdoms and politics began to grow to be larger in scale, however, it had an inverse relationship to the presence of sexuality in society (Greenberg, 1988, p. 185). Sexual enjoyment began to be more repressed in an effort for politicians and rulers to control a group of people (Davies, 1982, p. 1032). Political movements also led to the promotion of chastity as well as the elimination of prostitution (Rubin, 1989, p. 68).
Widespread political agendas essentially began implementing a new mindset and a new set of morals in society. Instead of sex being treated as a natural and acceptable part of life, the growth of politics determined sexual behavior as being immoral; and as time passed, it became a solid societal expectation that people should repress any animal-like sexual urges and avoid promiscuous behavior. At the very least, they should keep their sexual conduct private and refrain from discussing it with others. Aside from prostitution, masturbation was heavily discouraged (Rubin, 1989, p. 68). Even in today’s society, this mindset is still present.
Many people, especially women, are uncomfortable with the concept of masturbation, let alone discussing it with others (Rubin, 1989, p. 282). With vibrators being one of the most popular masturbation accessories, the negative or awkward associations between the vibrators and the actual act of masturbation can be observed—that is, since masturbation is still considered by some to be taboo, vibrators and other sex toys are automatically put into the same category.
Along with politics, religion has been a major influence in terms of how different cultures and societies perceive sexuality. When one considers the literal translation of the Bible, for example, the messages are clear and quite threatening. Those who violate what God declares to be the boundaries of sexuality are thought to be an “abomination”, and it even states that prostitutes should be stoned to death (Greenberg, 1988, p. 196). The enforcement of these beliefs within society was for the purpose of creating social boundaries in an effort to maintain ultimate control over a group of people (Davies, 1982, p. 060).
If society followed a religious order, then immoral behavior would theoretically be minimized. Many cultures, especially in the Western world, therefore, adhered to the Christian-based ideals of sex (Rubin, 1989, p. 283). This philosophy says that sex has one sole purpose, which is procreation. The Bible also states that sex is intended to take place between a man and a woman, suggesting that masturbation is a sin (Rubin, 1989, p. 283). This explains why so many still frown upon sex toys, which are meant to enhance one’s sexual pleasure even if they are not having sex with another person.
Religious texts, in general, have served to disassociate several aspects of sexuality with moral and ethical behavior (Davies, 1982, p. 1042). Not only is masturbation considered unethical, but so is watching pornography. The Bible does not only classify sexual deviancy with physical actions, but what one thinks about as well. If someone is watching pornography, they are thought of to be engaging in immoral behavior; and if they are married, then pornography is simply considered to be another form of cheating and disloyalty.
Many couples today will choose to watch a porn video together in order to enhance their sex life, but it is still thought of as taboo and not often discussed amongst couples. Regardless of whether or not all people believe in a certain religion, it is clear that religion has affected society and how people perceive matters such as porn or masturbation—even if they are not aware of any religious influences. Together, politics and religion have introduced the concept that illicit sex is unethical (Rubin, 1989, p. 289).
They have developed social traditions and standards, which includes laws against pornography and other sexual factors that are considered to be obscenities (Rubin, 1989, p. 289). It is now a normal standard in society that one has to be at least 18 years of age to rent or buy porn. In addition, adult entertainment has become its own thriving industry due to the laws that prohibit pornography from being viewed by the general public (Rubin, 1989, p. 290). Of course, separating the porn business from society is not necessarily a negative act, especially since children should not be exposed to such graphic themes and images.
The fact that there are laws that ban porn and other forms of adult entertainment, however, add to society’s stigma when it comes to how porn is perceived. A porn video is not considered to be the same as a rated R movie that children under 17 cannot watch. It is thought of as a taboo movie that even adults think of as inappropriate or socially unacceptable (Davies, 1982, p. 1037). If there are laws required to regulate or even ban certain sexual acts—such as in certain states, where homosexual sodomy is illegal—then sexuality in general is considered criminal, and that it should be treated with caution (Rubin, 1989, p. 91). The criminalization of sexuality has essentially conditioned society to be apprehensive in how they engage in sexual acts and whether or not they make use of any available material or objects that were created to improve their experience. Although the use of vibrators has become increasingly population—especially after the hit TV show Sex and the City made the “Rampant Rabbit” vibrator so famous—it is still considered to be a rebellion against tradition (Davies, 1982, p. 1040).
Perhaps this is why women who openly admit to using sex toys are still referred to as “new age” or “modern women”, even though vibrators and other toys have been available for so long. When one thinks of the traditional and socially acceptable form of sex, they will most likely think of a man and a woman who are probably married. Sex toys are typically not considered a “normal” part of intercourse; and many consider using vibrators as emasculating to men and traditional gender roles (Greenberg, 1988, p. 15). Sexual behavior is already thought to be lusty and risque. When additions like erotic toys are added, sex is thought to be that much more taboo (Greenberg, 1988, p. 224). This is because toys are basically an excess—that is, couples do not need vibrators in order to have intercourse. Even during masturbation, people do not require inanimate objects to engage in the act. According to Gayle Rubin (1989), there is also a sexual hierarchy in society that lists what is defined as normal sex (p. 282).
Monogamy is one of the defining factors of “good” and “acceptable” sexual behavior; and since pornography is generally based on pure lust between two unmarried people, it is still not thought of as a normal form of sexual expression. The use of vibrators, especially for masturbation purposes, tends to be looked down upon as well, simply because it tends to cross traditional social boundaries (Davies, 1982, p. 1032). These boundaries imply that technology in general, when used for sexual acts, represents a lack of morals, ethics, and values (Rubin, 1989, p. 310). This, of course, is not the case.
Although centuries have passed since Western society adopted religious and politically-based views on sexuality, people still cannot fully accept that objects like vibrators and porn films have become a normal part of sexual behavior. The attempt to regulate sexual behavior and influence how people approach their own personal sex lives is nothing more than an example of the desire for ultimate control (Greenberg, 1988, p. 238). Although there should be restrictions that protect children from adult content, this should not affect society’s comfort level when it comes to sex—after all, it is a natural behavior.
Sex, in general, is simply taken too seriously in Western culture, and only causes unnecessary amounts of stress and anxiety on those who wish to deviate from the standardized ideal of sexual behavior (Rubin, 1989, p. 310). Vibrators and sex toys are nothing more than accessories for sexual acts, and pornography is merely an adult form of entertainment; but due to political, religious, and traditional forces, they are still considered to be sexual and social taboos.