When I was 18, three days before I started college, I went to Planned Parenthood and got an abortion. I’d been sexually assaulted by an ex-boyfriend, and I was so ashamed that I didn’t tell anyone. There would be days that I wouldn’t get out of bed because I was so ashamed, and it’s not something I’ve decided to talk about until recently.
But this was also right around this same time that I started noticing blood in my stool. It would be another three years before I’d officially be diagnosed with colon cancer, but this was the first time I started seeing the symptoms.
And while this obviously isn’t something I can prove, I believe that the severe depression I went through as a result of the shame surrounding my experience, is what contributed to my cancer.
It’s a weird experience, feeling like your body is trying to kill you. I had a colostomy bag for nine months. I couldn’t feel my hands or my feet or my tongue or my eyes. I had so many cords and bags coming out of me, and I dropped down to 85 pounds, getting food through an IV. And I was just so repulsed with myself.
And then, at age 21, I went through menopause. My doctors didn’t tell me this would happen; it was something I ended up figuring out on my own, that my doctors later confirmed. And the realization that I would never have kids—well, there is no way to overstate how heartbreaking that was.
I remember thinking, “I’ll never be normal again.”
But I’m telling you all this because right now because nearly a decade later, I’m healthy, and I’m fine, and I have a healthy sex life. And it was going through menopause at the start of my 20s that helped me get there.
At the time I was coming out of treatment, I had a wonderful boyfriend, but the thought of having sex was just—it was never going to happen. I had no sex drive across the board.
And then a friend of mine who is a nurse recommended I get a sex toy, to which I responded, “Oh my God, no.” I grew up in the Midwest and had all these preconceived notions about people who buy these products, which is so typical, because as a society, we don’t talk about it.
And while going through cancer was the most humbling and often humiliating experience—I had to have a man stick his finger up my butt all the time as part of my daily check-ins—I got really comfortable with being vulnerable about my body. And actually, I think it was one of the most liberating experiences in some ways.
So when my friend gave me permission to buy a vibrator, pretty soon my response was “Oh my God, this is amazing. Everyone should own one of these.”
Reportedly 70 percent of women need clitoral stimulation in order to orgasm, and the majority of women don’t get that during penetrative sex.
There is this amazing experience that many women don’t have access to because we’re not exploring and educating.
These experiences that I had as an adolescent and as a young woman were the spark of Unbound, the sex toy subscription box, online shop and digital magazine that I founded in 2015. No one had talked to me about what sex meant, and as a result, it was something in my life that was either not defined at all or defined by someone who abused it.
And unless you’re living somewhere like New York or San Francisco, which are filled with shops that are super reputable and have amazing staff, the experience of exploring these things on your own can be really mortifying.
So in addition to removing stigma from the shopping experience for women no matter where they live, a big part of what Unbound does is write content that prioritizes research and facts with a pragmatic, witty and relatable approach when it comes to sex—insights that come from a female perspective as opposed to hot tips for what a guy wants in the bedroom.
The thing is, what I’ve learned from my own experiences and from our own customers and research, is that the more we can embrace vulnerability and change, the happier we’ll all be. It’s a question of how we get past the big hurdle of women’s sexuality—of vibrators and female masturbation, specifically—being this super stigmatized taboo thing.
Everybody wants to have a conversation. They just want to feel like they’re in a safe place to do so.
Words: Polly Rodriguez as told to Deena Drewis