Gwyneth Paltrow’s 'Favorite Sex Toys' Make an Absurd Statement About Female Pleasure

May 9th 2016

Lucy Tiven

This week, actress and self-appointed health guru Gwyneth Paltrow debuted the much anticipated sex issue of her lifestyle publication GOOP. While the issue might have aimed to discuss sexuality in an empowering and inclusive light, it also sent some troubling messages about female pleasure.

“Sex toys have long since graduated from the floppy rubber things you hide in your bedside table to beautiful works of interactive art," the brand stated in the introduction to a list of favorite sex toys. But the price tags of many of these items — $15,000 for a 24-karat gold Lelo Inez dildo, $395 for a "discreet" vibrating Kiki de Montparnasse nipple clamp necklace, and $535 for an Agent Provocateur cat whip — suggest that female pleasure is distinctly afforded by luxury.

The lifestyle publication probably intended to establish that there is nothing shameful or dirty about using sex toys — but instead of linking that taboo to the sexist stigma of female pleasure, the article implies that a particular kind of ordinary rubber sex toy is embarrassing, while a steeply priced gold vibrator is not.

Though some items are more reasonably priced — a $37.99 Fetish Fantasy Gold Beginners Fantasy Kit, a $19.95-$24.95 set of Fetish Fantasy Black Glass Ben Wa Balls— the overarching message of the recommendations links sex positivity and pleasure to the ability to afford sex toys made out of expensive materials, rather than ordinary or embarrassing ones.

Female pleasure isn't a luxury item.

Selling slickly packaged and highly-priced female empowerment is nothing new. Jezebel editor Jia Tolentino wrote about the way in which feminist ideologies are mass-marketed, distorted, and often stripped of substance in an April New York Times piece.

"Sneakily, empowerment had turned into a theory that applied to the needy while describing a process more realistically applicable to the rich," she wrote.

"Women’s empowerment borrows the virtuous window-dressing of the social worker’s doctrine and kicks its substance to the side. It’s about pleasure, not power; it’s individualistic and subjective, tailored to insecurity and desire," Tolentino continued.

GOOP's list seems to conflate sexual fulfillment with the capitalistic fulfillment of consuming goods — it sends a message that overcoming sexual shame is something you can do with a purchase, and presents numerous items most women cannot feasibly afford.

Sex toys for and by women.

While there's nothing wrong with splurging on a gold dildo if you so choose, it's worth mentioning that many women have created affordable, female-positive sex toys.

Babeland, a female-helmed sex-toy shop, for example, launched in 1993 in Seattle, and now has locations in New York and products available online. The store offers numerous dildos and other toys that run well below $50, as well as pricier options.

In 2015, VICE profiled Alex Fine and Janet Lieberman, who created the company Dame Products to create sex toys that "empower the sexual experiences of woman kind." Their "revolutionary" hands-free dildo costs $105.

The taboo of female sexuality.

Some of the articles included in the GOOP issue are less marketing-saturated, like features about the healing power of the orgasm, the toxicity of lube, and how to find sexual fulfillment, yet the sex toy list seems like a missed opportunity.

Instead of mentioning the cultural and economic factors that contribute to the way we view and think about sex — the taboo of female masturbation in general, how historically controlled the sex toy industry has been by men, the way sex-education and popular notions about sex misinterpret or glaze over female pleasure — it seems to assert that a healthy and fulfilling sex life is something that can be bought.

Update: 5/10 12:40 p.m. PST: This story was updated May 10 to include a statement from GOOP.

Update: 5/10 7:30 p.m. PST: This story was updated May 10 to omit an inaccurate reference to GOOP's response.