I’m going to preface this review with a disclaimer: This book is about sex toys, so if that’s something you’re not ok with reading about, you should skip this post.
Why I read it: I mean, it’s a book about the history of sex toys, written by the first person to get a Ph.D in this history of sex toys. I saw it on Net Galley and knew I had to read it.
Who I’d recommend it to: I’ve already recommended it to my mom, honestly. This is one that I would recommend a lot, but only to people I knew would be interested in it. This book covers a lot, from pretty ancient history to the AIDS epidemic to obscenity laws still on the books in the 21st century, so I’d recommend it to a lot of people.
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ (maybe 4.5)
Description from goodreads:
Once only whispered about in clandestine corners, vibrators have become just another accessory for the suburban soccer mom, showing up in all manner of pop culture, from sitcoms to talk shows to the pages of glossy women’s magazines. But how did these once-taboo toys become so socially acceptable? The journey of the devices to the cultural mainstream is a surprisingly stimulating one.
In Buzz, Hallie Lieberman—who holds the world’s first PhD in the history of sex toys—starts at the beginning, tracing the tale from lubricant in Ancient Greece to the very first condom in 1560 to advertisements touting devices as medical equipment in 19th-century magazines. She looks in particular from the period of major change from the 1950s through the present, when sex toys evolved from symbols of female emancipation to tools in the fight against HIV/AIDS to consumerist marital aids to today’s mainstays of pop culture. The story is populated with a cast of vivid and fascinating characters including Dell Williams, founder of the first feminist sex toy store, Eve’s Garden; Betty Dodson, who pioneered “Bodysex” workshops in the 1960s to help women discover vibrators and ran Good Vibrations, a sex toy store and vibrator museum; and Gosnell Duncan, a paraplegic engineer who invented the silicone dildo and lobbied Dodson and Williams to sell them in their stores. And these personal dramas are all set against a backdrop of changing American attitudes toward sexuality, feminism, LGBTQ issues, and more.
Both educational and titillating, Buzz will make readers think quite differently about those secret items hiding in bedside drawers across the nation.
This book took me for-ev-er to read, thanks to Hidden Figures kinda putting me in a reading slump (it wasn’t a bad book, but it turned me off non-fic for a while because it was kinda dry, which is sad because it was an important story that needed to be told ). I started reading Buzz, but put it on hold for Hidden Figures so it ended up taking me like 3 months to read. *sigh* Anyway…
Holy wow did this book cover a lot of material in so few pages! It’s a little under 300 pages, and a hefty chunk of that (I think something like 50-80, but I had to guess because I had an e-ARC) is notes at the end. Hallie Lieberman definitely knows her stuff about sex toys, which isn’t surprising considering she’s got a freaking Ph.D on the subject.
She talks about the obscenity laws that have made the selling of sex toys illegal, or at the very least quite difficult (I think there are some places in the US where it’s still illegal). That part was fascinating, but not really surprising. I mean, just think about all the personal things that have been illegal in this country (and elsewhere), from marriages to sexual positions, the government hasn’t been shy about getting between people and what they want to do in private. I think I actually remember when the selling of sex toys was still illegal in my state, because it really wasn’t that long ago (maybe within the last 10 years it’s been legalized…but I think there’s still a ban on the sale of “obscene materials” or something like that, so *shrugs*).
There’s so much in here about the feminist movement, too, especially with sapphic women. The big argument about sex toys being a break from and a middle-finger shown to the patriarchy, or being one more way women were tied down to phalluses, was mentioned a lot, and I honestly didn’t realize it went back as far as it did. I still see/hear arguments about that, or see lesbians writing online about feeling confused about using dildos and such because they don’t have sex with men, and have no desire to have sex with men.
I always wondered how we ended up with materials that are body safe, because I knew it hadn’t been around forever, and I knew there were artifacts that have been found and presumed to be rudimentary dildos. I assumed it was an accident, which it kind of was, but the actual story is way more interesting. (I’m not relating it here, because I couldn’t do it justice by summing it up.) This is where sex toys, the feminist movement, and the disabled movement intersect, thanks to Gosnell Duncan.
My mind is still kind of blown by how many different topics were covered in learning about sex toys. From the AIDS epidemic of the ’80s to the feminist movement to accessibility to the distribution of affordable birth control in other countries the porn industry. Ok, that last one I kinda expected to come up at some point. But the rest of it? Wow. And that’s just a few things Hallie Lieberman talks about in relation to sex toys throughout Buzz.
This was honestly one of the most engaging, thought provoking, entertaining, and informational books I’ve read in a long time. I came out of reading this feeling like I’d learned a lot about a lot of people, movements, and products. Some of it, I already knew (like how body massagers that were sold in department stores and graced so many homes, were actually being used as vibrators), but most of it, I didn’t. What really interested me, beyond learning about the actual sex toys and their evolutions, was the way they factored in to things like the feminist movement. I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but I can not think of the word (phrase?) I need to encompass things like feminism, LGBTQ+ lives and rights, accessibility for the disabled, etc. -_- (If you know the word/phrase, please comment. I’m just hoping it’ll come to me before I post this, but I’m doubting it will at this point, ugh.)
So, do I recommend it? Oh yeah, I definitely recommend it. But obviously not to anyone who doesn’t want to read about sex toys. I’ve already recommended this to at least three people, and I doubt they’ll be the last people I recommend it to.
This could have easily turned into a boring read, despite the subject matter, but Hallie Lieberman did a great job with keeping things interesting and moving along at a reasonable pace. I think if you like books like Mary Roach’s, or the Freakonomics kinds of non-fiction, you’ll like this if the topic sounds like something you’d be into.
I don’t want to buy every book I get an ARC of, but this is one I’m strongly considering buying. I’ll probably wait until it’s in paperback, just because most of my non-fiction is paperback, but who knows? (And I’ll honestly probably grab a copy for my mom, too.)
I received an eARC for review, thanks to the publisher and Net Galley.