Written by Sam, RSEI Educator | Published February 27th, 2024

This blog is meant to act as a supplemental resource to the December RSEI webinar entitled “Body Items* for Body Liberation.” RSEI Members can access the recording on the Members’ Home Page. For non-members, please email: Professional.Development@pprm.org 

Pre-Reading Written Reflection: 

Take 3-5 minutes to yourself and answer the following questions: 

  • What comes to mind when you think of “Body Items*”?
  • When did you first learn about “Body Items*” and from where/who?
  • Why might some people choose to use and/or not use “Body Items*”?

Sex is Accessed and Experienced in Different Ways!

Due to people’s many identities, backgrounds, and experiences–it is important for youth-serving adults to acknowledge that people might understand, experience, and access sex in different ways–and that’s OK. In fact, that should be celebrated. Oftentimes within traditional sex education, sex is defined in these three ways: 

  • Vaginal (sex and/or touch with the vagina or vulva)
  • Anal (sex or touch with the anus) and; 
  • Oral (mouth to genitals). 

However, we know that these are not the only types of sex. We know that for some, sex can include sex with self, outercourse, sensual massages, breast/chest play, hand play, virtual play, and more. In fact, the 2020 National State Standards also describe sex as penetration with/by a sex toy –which might be how some choose to access and experience sex. 

Youth-serving adults must be aware that if sex is defined in these exclusive and (seemingly) rigid ways–that can unintentionally invalidate other people’s types of sex and experiences; including those of our young people. For example, when we talk about sex exclusively in these ways, we might be overlooking: 

  •  Those who don’t see their genitals as a vagina, penis, etc. (people might describe their body parts in ways that deviate from medical terminology because of one’s identity and relationship with their body)
  • Those unable to access these types of sex due to differing abilities
  • Those unable to access these types of sex due to size and (older) age
  • Those who might be neurodivergent and experience overstimulation with body fluids, smells, and body parts
  • Those who have experienced SA and are navigating post-trauma and healing
  • Those who are Ace (recognizing that some people have differing levels of sexual interest and appetite)

As youth-serving adults, it is critical that we are intentional in affirming the many ways people might experience and access sex due to identity, experiences, and ability. 

What is a Body Item?

In this blog and the December webinar, the term “Body Item*” is/was used with intention and aims to capture people’s many experiences and identities. The term “Body Item*” is intended to be used as an umbrella term that encompasses people’s varying understandings of what is a body item, a toy, material, tool and/or otherwise that allows for someone to have a more identity-affirming (sexual) experience. This may include things like packers, tucking underwear, binders, vibrators, insertive toys, pelvic sensors, brushes and more. 

Some might hear others use and/or prefer the term “Sexuality or Body Aids” as well. That can be another option too. Overall, we want to encourage folks to be intentional and mindful about the language used (and how); as some words might be associated with certain connotations, in certain settings and/or amongst certain groups. For example, the term “Body Item*” can be more expansive than “Body Toy”, because sometimes the word “Toy” suggests that something is unnecessary, extra, or even silly which can give the wrong impression and/or be harmful language for some people and communities that need/want items to have an affirming and pleasurable experience

As youth-serving adults, we want to encourage everyone to be expansive in their thinking and language as we talk about the definition(s) of Body Items and their value in different classrooms or learning spaces. 

What is the Value of Discussing Body Items? 

As mentioned above, people might understand, experience, and access sex in many different ways–and for some, that includes the use of things like Body Items. For some, Body Items during sex can increase comfort, feeling affirmed, and/or allow for a more safe and enjoyable sexual experience. 

  • For example, some people who identify as LGBTQ+ (and/or those who identify as gender-fluid/expansive) might use Body Items like Binders, Packers, and Tucking material in order to feel more affirmed in their identity, and bodies and to feel closer to their overall sense of self.
  • Some people who have different short and long-term (dis)abilities might use Body Items like Handi, Vibrators, Sex Pillows, Sex Swings, and more as a way to allow for more accessible and comfortable sex.
  • Some people who may have experienced sexual assault in the past might use Body Items like pelvic sensors, body stones, brushes etc. in order to stay in tune with their body’s physical responses and reactions–in order to assess and better understand their comfort, (dys)regulation in the body and overall safety. 

Some people might even choose to use Body Items due to body size, religion, attractionality, sensitivity to overstimulation–and maybe another reason altogether.  As youth-serving adults, there is a responsibility to provide the information and options available so folks can make the best decisions for their health and themselves. 

And Body Items should be discussed with Young People? 

Young people might share some of these identities and experiences named above–and may therefore need or be seeking information around Body Items and how to use them safely. There aren’t any federal age restrictions around young people using and/or accessing body items–instead many adult stores and sex spaces require that someone be at least 18 years old to enter. However, many Body Items*, depending on type, can be easily accessed and purchased online. Some can even be made at home. 

And, many young people have heard or seen some type of Body Item* and are therefore curious about this information! At RSEI, some of the questions we’ve received in our textline and in our lessons include:

  • “can a 16-year-old legally buy a vibrator?”
  • “ok so I want to know if it’s safe to masturbate with an electric toothbrush (I’ve never used it in my mouth btw)”
  • “Using body items doesn’t count as sex right”

As youth-serving adults, our job is to ensure that young people have the information they need to make the best and most informed decisions for themselves. When youth-serving adults do not talk to young people about this information, some of the impacts include perpetuating shame and stigma for people’s curiosities, needs, and/or identities. 

People, including young people, deserve to experience and access the sex they want and for some–that includes incorporating Body Items. 

Post-Reading Written Reflection: 

Take 3-5 minutes to yourself and answer the following questions: 

  • What are the impacts of discussing “Body Items*” in classrooms and learning spaces? 
  • What are the impacts of NOT discussing “Body Items*” in classrooms and learning spaces? 
  • How might conversations around “Body Items*” be received in your classroom and learning spaces?

Please Note: The SHEP program under RSEI is available to support youth-serving adults with any questions that may arise while leaning into these conversations. Feel free to reach out to: Professional.Development@pprm.org for additional information and/or support.