I’ll be the first to say it—masturbation scares me, or at least the thought of people knowing I masturbate does. This conflicts with other parts of my personality, like when I endorsed Hailee Steinfield’s “Love Myself” as the sexual liberation anthem of the decade during my sophomore year of high school. Don’t get me wrong, I think we are the keys to our own pleasure, but I like to experience mine vulnerable and in private. 

So when my friends suggested we go vibrator shopping at a place called Condom Kingdom as the solution to my post–break–up blues, I was skeptical. And I had every right to be—because buying one will not actually fulfill you the same way experiencing real adoration does. 

Emotional intimacy fuels my passion. I savor the way a guy grabs my hand for the first time, calls me on my birthday, or sends memes during my three–hour lecture just because. While writing this, I did research, expecting to find hoards of statistics and personal essays confirming my bias. But I was out of luck—Gen Z hates romance, is too poor for proper dates, has at least three dating apps on their phone, and ghosts people on all of them. I’m an outlier. I need a story—an arc steeped in private flirtation—to get turned on, so buying some pastel machine with three different speeds seemed wrong.  

But I am nothing if not open–minded, and I forged on. We began our night of rom–com–esque fun at a happy hour advertising an evening of cheap, frozen daiquiris. I ordered a layered concoction of piña colada and strawberry while my friend opted for something called the Electric Lemonade. In between sips of syrupy alcohol and stories from the last eight months —which we'd both spent cocooned in relationships—I felt a tinge of what I’d been missing. 

I didn’t need played–out intimacy, moaning quietly into a pillow. I needed to spend time with the people who care about me in vulnerable ways; you know, the ones who ask how your day’s going, offer earnest advice even when unsolicited and will be there when you re–emerge from that insular stage of first love. At some point, I spill my drink. At another, we’re punctuating slurred sentences of political gibberish with schoolgirl laughter. I’m not thinking about the things I now lack—multiple orgasms, romance, someone to nuzzle when I remember I’m scared of the dark. Instead, I’m reminded of the things I feel content to have. 

And yet, I’m conditioned to think a girls’ night isn’t supposed to answer my problems. Somewhere in my drunken haze, I remember a line from Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America. “You’re 18,” Greta Gerwig says, “you should all be touching each other all the time.” I should be touching the persistently nice guy on my Tinder, and if I’m not doing that, I should at least be touching myself. 

So instead of realizing that I need a nap and some Advil, I convince myself I still need a vibrator. We stumble down the block into Condom Kingdom, and—at the expense of sounding like a prude—it feels like a sensory overload of exaggerated euphoria. The right wall is lined with bachelorette party favors shaped like puffy pink penises. I contemplate buying novelty cupcake molds before placing a headband with dick antennae on my head. My friend and I fumble through aisles promising mutual pleasure. There are lubricants that taste of candy and dominatrix contraptions. I question a box of black anal beads and she eyes a muzzle. 

Flush against a wall in the back corner is what I came for. There are about ten options, with price dictating the experience. On the lower end sit tiny toys with names like “Vibe” and “Play with Me.” In vibrant pinks and purples, they look like oversized lipstick tubes and I shudder at the thought of experiencing all ten vibrating sensations in a night. The more expensive options are sleek. They curve slightly—like the real thing—and boast the ability to transmit the touches of your partner, via an app or Bluetooth, from miles away. 

While flashy and thrilling, these newfangled sex toys connote a sense of emotionally devoid dystopia in which we're comfortable with shoving some sterile tech inside us. Yet, this comes with a fear that perhaps some of us need a little more connection to reach bliss. Sometimes, society treats the motions of sex as a panacea—it’s the key to self-discovery, it reduces stress, it can cure cramps. A vibrator removes inhibitions, but it doesn’t add value in the way a night of quiet conversation with friends does. Hearing a joke land or seeing a genuine smile creates a euphoria, that while different, is just as important as the physical. It’s the kind that allows you to move on. 

So admittedly, I didn’t buy a vibrator that night. I bought a cheesesteak with whiz and fell asleep in an Uber while my friends reminded me it was so nice to have me back. And somehow, that was fulfilling enough.


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