Sex toy vending machine in Philadelphia questions the ‘should’ and ‘should not’ of sexuality

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    Pink Box is a sex toy vending machine developed by local entrepreneurs Vaughn Sandman and Dean Kitagawa. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Pink Box is a sex toy vending machine developed by local entrepreneurs Vaughn Sandman and Dean Kitagawa. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Discreetly located units promise pleasure for the curious, and a blow to America’s puritanical roots.

    It’s not like vending machines have always had a sterling reputation for wholesome offerings.

    When PinkBox installs its first sex toy vending later this month (the location isn’t yet public), it will be the first in North America. Experimental couples and do-it-yourselfers can use cash or a credit card to buy a range of products, from condoms and restraints to more three-dimensional accessories.

    Machines will be located in places where adults and alcohol tend to mix, curtailing the likelihood minors who haven’t yet heard about the birds and bees will see a vibrating egg.

    WHYY spoke with Dr. Timaree Schmit, a sexuality educator and chief communications officer for PinkBox, about the concept.

    WHYY: Let’s start with the obvious: Why do we need a sex toy vending machine?

    Schmit: Well, we don’t need anything, but I’d say it is a fascinating and really important thing to have available because sexuality is a really intrinsic part of being a person, and pleasure is an inherently valuable thing.

    And anything that can bring us more opportunities for pleasure, more opportunities for intimacy with other humans—which is another need—those things are great. I want to take away all the obstacles that are keeping people from their best potential experience and have them feel empowered over their own bodies.

    WHYY: Do you believe that Americans are still too puritanical about sex?

    Schmit: Oh, fundamentally. That’s sort of the nature of what differentiates us from most of the world. And this idea that what is of the body is bad, what is pleasurable must somehow be a moral failing…none of those things are necessary to embrace anymore, if they ever were.

    The fact is that humans are intrinsically sexual beings, and sex and gender are intrinsic parts of being a human. And your body is built for pleasure, it is built for interactions with other humans, and being touched and stimulated in certain ways that bring pleasure to you body.

    WHYY: Any concerns that children may be exposed to information they may not be ready for?

    Schmit: Ideally, we would raise children to believe that their bodies are good. That their bodies are great the way that they are. They don’t have to look a particular way…that everybody is entitled to feel good about themselves, and to physically feel pleasure.

    It would be fantastic if everybody felt comfortable sharing their values in their sexuality education with their kids. I would love for parents to be the first and major arbiter of their kids’ sex ed. I would love to make sure parents had accurate information about anatomy, physiology, those sort of things.

    In practicality, we are going to have to compartmentalize sexual things from children. We are not going to put sex toy vending machines next to a school. That is not going to happen.

    But in an ideal world, there is no reason that a kid can’t know about that existing, because it is not as though if we don’t tell them, they will never find out.

    WHYY: Do you think people are simply too embarrassed by the idea of sex toys? What happens when you walk by a vending machine full of them with your mom?

    Schmit: I mean, everyone has a different threshold. And PinkBox is probably not going to be located in a place where you are going to be with your mom, unless you take your mom to night clubs. Maybe your mom is awesome, I don’t know.

    But everyone has a different idea of what is shameful and embarrassing.

    And we have drawn very arbitrary delineations about which bodily functions are acceptable to do in public, and are acceptable to even talk about in public, and those things are just socially constructed. So if we just talked about these things more often, we would be more comfortable, and that is part of why this is something I really believe in…because any opportunity to talk about these things, then we can be like, “I’m into that and I like this.” Or “I don’t like that,” and that’s fine, too.

    WHYY: We have the internet, which means we have access to buy the products that are for sale at PinkBox in the privacy of our own home. So what’s the value of having a vending machine?

    Schmit: You can get these things on the internet, and you can buy all these things in stores, absolutely. We have just one more option.

    We love the boutique stores where you can go in and talk to someone who is educated in products and the materials and that sort of thing. We love those sorts of places. They are not open 24 hours a day, however, for the most part.

    They also have higher overhead costs because they are brick and mortar. And if you buy stuff on the internet, even if you have the fastest delivery possible, it is not going to be instantaneous. You can’t use it half an hour later.

    WHYY: Do you think couples and individuals should be more adventurous in their sexual behavior?

    Schmit: I want to take away the word “should” from sexuality, as much as possible. So I don’t think anyone should do anything. But I want people to feel empowered to make whatever decisions are consistent with their values, that are interesting to them—whether alone or with someone else—that they feel enthusiastic about it, or curious about it. That simply we don’t say “no” for no good reason.

    If you don’t want to do something, fantastic, don’t. But if you are remotely interested in finding out all the amazing things that your body does, and your partner’s body does, or that you can if you have some external help, that’s great. I want to encourage that.

    But it is really about building intimacy with another person, or just feeling that you own your own vehicle, and you can experience it in the way that you want to.

    WHYY: Aren’t we already saturated with sexual themes from media and marketing? Do we really need another public reminder of our appetites?

    Schmit: We are saturated with a very particular type of sexuality. We are not really saturated with the human experience of sexuality, as most of us have it. What we are saturated with is a commodified version: it’s thin, white women’s bodies. That’s what we are saturated with; is the idea that we can access pieces of people. That’s what we are being sold, and that’s what’s problematic. Those are the messages that make people feel bad about their own bodies, and think that only certain bodies are allowed to experience pleasure—are sexy—are allowed to be seen in public.

    That’s where we get these really messed up ideas. Or that another person just exists as an object for us. That’s where that comes from…it is that sort of thing that is sexually very negative. It is not the idea that sex toys are available that are going to make people feel any type of way. Those are just tools that you are going to use, according to your own personal needs.

    Portions of the interview have been edited for clarity.

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