How sex toys really helped me navigate my sexuality after coming out

Jun 28, 2016 at 9:00 a.m. ET
Image: Franckreporter/istock/Getty Images Plus

I realized I was queer when I was in college.

I’d always had extremely close female friendships, but it took me a while to admit that the “girl crushes” I’d had weren’t girl crushes at all — they were legitimate, romantic, sexual crushes.

Figuring out your sexuality is one thing. Figuring out your sex life when you aren’t straight is just as hard, if not harder. In the U.S., we’re considered lucky if we have sex education classes that go beyond abstinence, but LGBT-specific sex education is basically non-existent. According to Guttmacher Institute, only 13 states require discussion of sexual orientation in sex ed, with nine being inclusive discussion of sexual orientation and four requiring that it be negative information.

Long story short? You have to really seek out accurate portrayals of not just healthy sexuality, but healthy queer sexuality, on your own. Learning how to have queer sex isn’t something that just lands in your lap.

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As a result, my coming out was also a lesson in broadening my understanding of my sexuality as a whole. I had to ask myself new questions. For years as a straight girl, I’d assumed I’d do the PIV-sex thing and be done with it. But now, as a queer girl, I had to ask myself what I wanted my sex life to look like. What did I want it to entail?

At first, I tried out the usual suspects, reading about how girls had sex and looking up sex tips and advice online, but much of it catered to straight people, especially straight men. I wasn’t seeing much that centered on my own pleasure or that offered up actual advice. I mean, try looking up “lesbian sex.” I will pretty much guarantee that you’re going to land on porn.

I decided to kick other people’s thoughts and ideas about my sex life aside and make my own decisions. It was up to me to navigate my own sexuality. Sex toys ended up playing a major part in that.

According to the Autostraddle Sex Survey, over 50 percent of queer women use strap-ons, dildos and vibrators when they have sex. Because we’re breaking the norms of sex from the get-go, it sort of feels like you may as well just go for it and figure out how to have the best sex ever. Still, though, I was nervous.

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As a queer woman still learning how sex between women was "supposed to" work, I felt a little hesitant and nervous about sex with other women to begin with. Adding sex toys felt risky, like it would make me gain or lose “queer points” if I chose a toy that made me seem like a straight girl.

There’s a lot of judgment surrounding bi women to begin with, so I was always worrying about having other women shame me for my decisions and decide I was just a straight girl experimenting instead of a real, live bi girl. With people assuming lesbians are “less gay” because they like strap-ons, or questioning how “real lesbians” have sex (as opposed to all those “fake ones” that seem to exist…?), there’s very real pressure to have queer sex the right way, even though you’re never told what that right way is.

So it felt revolutionary the first time I sat down with a regular hookup and said, “Have you ever tried out sex toys?” She looked at me for a moment before smiling and saying that she had a few times, and then we were able to get to know each other on a new level. We were opening up and being vulnerable and having a conversation that more people need to have — an open, honest and judgment-free conversation about how we wanted to have sex.

When you’re shopping for, talking about and even using sex toys, you’re entering into a space where rules — the suffocating ones that make us question ourselves before we express a need to our partners — don’t apply. Consent becomes real, instead of theoretical. Pleasure becomes real instead of theoretical. You have to spell it out and say, “This is what I like,” and “This is what I don’t like.” And I think that, queer or not, we’re all bound to have better sex when we’re not holding back, not in the sex shop — and not in bed.

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