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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Now more than ever : sex toys and social justice in the digital age Langknecht, Eleanore


Since the 1970s, sex toy retailers such as The Pleasure Chest and Babeland have used social justice frameworks, sex positivity, and feminist politics to shape their marketing and education. In the age of social media these same frameworks and mores have been shorthanded for algorithmic relevance. I argue that sex toy marketing on social media mimics personal sexual storytelling, as well as digital social justice discourse. These shops were all opened and operated on the premise that sexual pleasure, especially for women, was inherently liberatory, and that the education and shame-free conversation that such shops facilitated (not to mention the products they sold) were part and parcel of a freer, more empowered, and honest sexual expression for women everywhere. And their message had an impact! The sex toy industry is thriving and expanding, and the same original retailers continue to compete in the online space with ecommerce giants such as Adam and Eve and Amazon. Writers and historians Hallie Lieberman and Lynn Comella have, separately, traced the development of the industry over decades, and delved with particular interest into the landscape of industry marketing and politics since the 1970s. Through engagement with their written work, and the work of others assessing the contemporary landscape of digital marketing and the citizen consumer reality, as well as some examples from currently active online accounts, I explore the presence of feminist sex toy brands and shops on Instagram. Specifically, I will discuss how the performative politics of that and other such platforms serve to extend the legacy of their feminist underpinnings, and explore the limitations of branded feminism and sex positivity on these platforms.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International