Actress Lillian Dube nearly lost her job over racy comments about her extensive vibrator collection and her sexuality.
Image: Veli Nhlapo
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I found it so hilarious that veteran actress Lillian Dube spoke openly about "owning no less than seven vibrators". She declared proudly that she was "still sexually active" and "had nothing to hide".

I was, however, shocked to learn that the 73-year-old actress nearly lost her job over those racy comments, but was glad that she refused to apologise. Why is women's sexuality still a taboo?

Women these days should be able to share their sexual fantasies and realities openly and freely. We should be able to say that we watch porn and use toys for our ultimate sexual stimulation - it's OK for women to want to orgasm!

Dube furthermore advised women to make their own happiness, besides, research shows that the use of a vibrator is also directly linked to great health benefits. Vibrator use encourages health conscious behaviour such as gynaecological and breast self-exams, according to Debra Herbenick and her colleagues in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Though the most popular toy in history appeared in the market in the 1800s, it has became taboo. This is due to inappropriate prescripts that women should behave a certain way and that women have no sex drive.

But it doesn't end there, vibrator use is also the cause of conflict within feminism. Sexual liberalisation is at the core of some feminist movements who say that sexual freedom is essential to women's freedom, while others find that sexual liberalisation is an extension of male privilege.

Initially, there were no issues regarding vibrator use.

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What people don't know is that the birth of the vibrator was intended for medical purposes and the idea was not to enhance the sexual experience of women, but to treat medical ailments.

This renowned toy was the brainchild of Dr Joseph Mortimer Granville, who sought to treat female hysteria timeously and effectively. Female hysteria was a medical ailment that included "anything from the loss of sexual appetite, [to] fatigue, anxiety and mild depression," according to Dr Rachel Maines.

Victorian-era women suffered greatly from female hysteria and this condition was relieved by prescribing a "manual pelvic massage" as a medical treatment.

However, treating hysterical paroxysm in female patients was a very time-consuming task, taking up to an hour manually, so the electromechanical vibrator was created and the device was effective, reducing the time it took to achieve paroxysm in female patients from an hour to around five minutes.

By 1899 the electro-mechanical vibrator became battery-powered and was made available in stores. It was an instant hit, which "produced paroxysm quickly, safely, reliably, and as often as women desired".

It was only when it started to make appearances in pornographic films that the vibrator became taboo and "socially unacceptable", and "doctors dropped them too because of their perceived sexual connotation," according to the Daily Beast.

Pornography remains ill-perceived and the feminist movement expressed concerns, saying that it oppresses and exploits women and is an extension of male privilege. Masturbation was seen as no different and perceived as self-abuse.

But central to this controversy is the suggestion that women's sexual pleasure is insignificant and what Dube's story tells us is that society continues to vilify women's freedom of choice, among other things.

Why should women's choices satisfy norms and standards of society that are usually patriarchal? I cannot help wondering what it would be like today if the vibrator never made appearances in porn films and was never vilified.

Would it not be great to walk into Pick n Pay and buy a vibrator and feel no shame?

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