My Mum Offered To Buy My First Vibrator & I'll Do The Same For My Daughter

Photographed by Ashley Armitage.
One day during the summer I turned 16, my mum sat me down in the kitchen with a serious look – uncommon in our relaxed, cavalier household – and said she had something very personal to ask me. I braced myself, my teenage mind going to all sorts of places. Instead of asking whether I had lost my virginity or if that pack of cigarettes in the bedroom drawer were mine, she offered to buy me my first vibrator. I was horrified, and ran out in embarrassment. Mum’s reasoning was how important it was health-wise to have regular orgasms, and she remembered how rubbish sex can be for heterosexual teenage girls. And she was right, my sex life was rubbish – but I was too squeamish to agree just yet.
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That moment is a pretty accurate representation of how my mother talked to my sister and I growing up, and continues to talk to us now. Her approach of transparency and acceptance towards all things, including such societal taboos as female masturbation, ensured I never felt guilty or embarrassed about seeking pleasure, and taught me to be open-minded about my own and other people's sexuality.
Close friends remember how nonjudgmental my mum (or Suzi, as they call her) was when they came over. Think Otis' mum in Sex Education but less invasive of our private spaces. It’s unsurprising that my mum is this way – this is a woman who got pregnant at 19 and became a single mother in the mid 1980s, a self-declared radical feminist who spent her free time protesting at Greenham Common and working for the students' union. Later in life, her more radical side simmered down but she continued to hold a very sex-positive attitude. My friend Holly, who has known my mum since we were 11 years old, recalls the time her electric toothbrush started buzzing in her bag as she was leaving my house. Embarrassed, especially because I made a remark about it being a vibrator, as Holly rushed to turn it off my mum said: "So what if it is? You’re 16, you can do what you like, girls."
"I think she was the first grown female I had met that didn’t seem terrified of sex," Holly tells me, noting that her parents never gave her 'the talk' and so sex education in school was her only source of knowledge. "It was less of a taboo with Suzi, opening conversations so that it wasn’t anything to be afraid of."
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"Suzi always made it sound like women could enjoy sex too, which was a crazy notion at that age, where it’s all for the man," says Anita, another friend. "I specifically remember us in your house, about to leave, talking about vibrators and how intimidating they can be. And she just said: 'It’s okay, you can put it over your knickers!'"
Mum's sex-positive, carefree stance meant I always felt free to ask the questions many teenagers would never dare put to their parents. I remember asking, age 13, whether I should shave off all my pubic hair like the other girls at school (the Hollywood wax was popular at the time). Mum never made me feel odd or invasive for asking such questions, nor did she reprimand me for thinking about having sex before the legal age of consent. Around that same age, she pointed out where the condoms were stashed; were I to go down that route, she wanted me to do it safely.
I know this all sounds very "I’m not a regular mom, I’m a cool mom" but education was integral. On several occasions from childhood into my late teenage years, Mum and I sat down and had an open and honest discussion about sex, menstruation and anything else that followed puberty. We still have those discussions. When I told my mum I was pregnant, 21 years old and in the middle of my degree with no partner, it wasn’t met with judgment or bias towards a particular outcome. Her first words were: "What would you like to do? How are you feeling about it all? I’ll support you, no matter what."
Since having my daughter Maia just under two years ago, I have learned that conveying to your child that you will support them "no matter what" is one of the key aspects of being a parent. Yet letting your child know that can be tough. Offering to buy me a vibrator for my sexual health, understanding that at 16 I might have been too nervous to buy one myself, or wouldn’t have known where to start, was one of the many ways my mum conveyed this to me. Fast-forward 14 years and I will be sitting across the table from Maia, embarrassing and supporting her in the same way.
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