October 31, 2002

Gannett May Provide Vibrators

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Gannett: Cornell University Health Services is currently debating whether to sell vibrators in their dispensary.

“This comes out of many conversations between myself and people in the LGBT community about how to improve Gannett’s services and make it more affirming of women’s sexuality,” Somjen Frazer ’03 said, who is the main researcher for the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI).

Through her research, Frazer works closely with Gannett to find ways to serve women whose health care “has been historically undeserved.”

If Gannett decides to sell vibrators, it would not be a move motivated by profit, according to Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations for Gannett.

“We really strive to serve the community. We take input from individuals and groups and research projects,” she said.

The WHI was one such research project.

“One piece of information that came out of that project was that it would be helpful to a subset of the community to sell vibrators at the dispensary,” Dittman said.

Many students feel it would be helpful for Gannett to have vibrators available because Cornell is located in Ithaca, not a major city.

“At this point, you either go online or go downtown to the sort of scary and not very woman-affirming place sex-shop downtown,” Frazer said.

Some students agreed that access is important.

“I’m sure there are people who are dying to find vibrators and they don’t know where to go, so Gannett, go ahead,” Keith Hermanstyne ’04 said.

Others took a more practical approach.

“I think one of the most important things is for women to be able to get themselves off. It’s better than going to the sketchy shop downtown where they have to check the batteries for you,” Sara Jacobs ’05 said.

Orlando Soria ’04, a Residential Advisor (RA) in Risley Residential College, agreed.

“We know masturbation is healthy, so any tools that can help people discover their sexuality are positive. Any action by the University that gets the idea of sexuality out of the marginalized place that we’re used to seeing it in is a good thing,” he said.

For some the issue is more ideological.

“I think this is a very productive move because the sex industry is associated with back alleys, black boxes and seedy sales people. This is a move that will allow people to feel more comfortable about buying things they already buy,” said Christopher Dial ’04, another Risley R.A.

One student was less encouraging of the proposal.

“Are they going to start selling Hustler too?” said Ann Zatsman ’05. “It’s not a necessity. If people really want one, they can go online.”

According to Frazer, however, there are specific advantages to having Gannett sell vibrators. As with anything else they sell, the dispensary will give out educational materials explaining how to properly clean a vibrator that two women are going to share and what exactly vibrators can be used for. She said that in a recent meeting she had with women from all across the campus, many were concerned that Gannett should have educational brochures along with the vibrators for this purpose.

Frazer addressed the concerns of those, such as Zatsman, who worry about the health center’s future.

“Gannett is not going to open a sex shop. They don’t have the space and it’s not their mission,” she said.

Dittman explained that vibrators have uses other than for masturbatory purposes.

“Vibrators or personal massagers may have a broader appeal to people who use our massage therapy and physical therapy services for muscle relaxation. [Using a vibrator] can be a part of a holistic health approach,” she said.

She added that selling vibrators would offer Gannett an opportunity for more education on safer sex, which is one of the center’s main concerns.

Both Dittman and Frazer pointed out that selling vibrators was a small part of the WHI and of Gannett’s commitment to addressing the needs of students.

“This is teeny-tiny part of a much larger project on women’s health. It’s great that Gannett’s making a strong gesture about their commitment to affirming women’s sexuality. This is part of an ongoing partnership between women concerned about their health and their healthcare providers,” Frazer said.

“Women have some really pressing health issues that don’t relate to sexuality. It’s not just about sex. It’s about seeing a woman as a whole person,” she added. Dittman estimated that Gannett will come to a decision by the end of the semester.

Archived article by Freda Ready