RIP Joani Blank: She Gave Us Good Vibrations
Within a few minutes of my first meeting with Joani Blank, she whipped out a Hitachi Magic Wand and started masturbating. Eyes closed, lips parted, legs spread (clothes on), she buzzed away for a good 45 seconds or so before looking up and asking if it was all right with me that she was doing this. Keep in mind that this was 1993, years before folks used words like “consensuality” to describe such inquiries. “Yes, by all means,” I replied, not asking why. But Joani cheerfully volunteered that she was lonely and horny and just happy to meet me and Capt’n Max after all our excited phone calls leading up to this moment. I was absolutely astonished and deeply impressed by her shameless openness and honesty.
Of course, it wasn’t like we were in church or my mom’s living room. We were at the Edgewater West Swingers’ Motel in Oakland, where I was broadcasting a live syndicated radio show, “Women On Top in Media and in Bed,” featuring a number of Bay Area luminaries, or as Max liked to call them, the “San Francisco Sex Mafia,” including Carol Queen, Deborah Sundahl, Lisa Palac and Kat Sunlove. However Joani, founder of Good Vibrations, one of the world’s first and finest sex toy stores catering to women and couples, couldn’t join us for the live broadcast (“That’s past my bedtime,” she moaned sweetly), so we invited her to come by for an interview in the afternoon.
Thus, Joani told me her story of founding Good Vibrations, as her own very good vibrations hummed along. After a few minutes, she invited me to join her, and I did, having packed my own Hitachi (never leave home without it!), and pretty soon, we had a troop of voyeurs ogling us from just outside our glass door, which was what many of the Edgewater visitors did. The whole motel was built around the pool and circular pathway, each unit behind a glass patio door with a curtain. If you wanted privacy, you kept you curtain closed. If you wanted company, you could open your patio door. If you preferred just to be watched, you kept your patio door closed, but your curtains open. This felt a little sleazy, but remarkably safe, lots of fun and quite erotic.
Our door was locked, but our curtain was open and our glass doors were sparkling clean. We chatted and vibrated as people, mostly men wearing towels around their erections, gathered in front of the glass doors, wanking away like it was the most natural thing in the world, which, of course, it is. Pretty soon, the glass wasn’t clean anymore. We laughed, teased the crowd, jilled off to several orgasms and had ourselves a ball. What an honor to vibrate with the founder of Good Vibrations… in front of a live audience who really knew how to show their appreciation far beyond cheers and applause. Our pleasures continued long past the interview, and by then, it was Joani’s “bedtime,” not to mention Max and I had to get ready for the live broadcast, so we said our farewells, but it was never good-bye.
Over the decades, we kept in touch, seeing each other off and on in this city or that. I was by no means in Joani’s inner or even secondary circle of friends, and I didn’t make it to her living memorials, which she herself arranged, “true to form,” as Dr. Carol Queen observes, “for a woman who promoted her business with the phrase ‘if you want something done right, do it yourself’.” But I was happy to be part of Joani’s wider circle, connect with her wit, warmth and wisdom on issues of sexuality, relationships, politics, community and bonobos and hook up with her at various sex-positive events.
Dr. Joani Blank (granted an honorary doctorate by the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality) was a great sex rƎVO˩utionary. Along with Dr. Betty Dodson (whose 87th birthday I will be celebrating this weekend), she and the now world-renowned “clean, well-lighted space” she dubbed “Good Vibrations” revolutionized female masturbation, and helped a lot of guys out too. She gave us “permission” and a practical, “clean” way to lose the unnecessary shame and feel comfortable with masturbation and other often-denigrated types of consensual sex. Joani, Betty and a few others brought the technological miracle of the vibrator, especially the Hitachi Magic Wand—which none of the cool, sleek, quiet, expensive, modern vibrators have been able to top yet in terms of getting the job done—to the women of the world. Now that’s female empowerment. My hat is off to Joani Blank, and my Hitachi is vibrating in salute to her important, generous, orgasmic, thoughtful, practical, do-it-yourself, well-lived life.
I will miss her.
© August 16, 2016. Susan Block, Ph.D., a.k.a. “Dr. Suzy,” is a world renowned LA sex therapist, author of The Bonobo Way: The Evolution of Peace through Pleasure and horny housewife, occasionally seen on HBO and other channels. For speaking engagements, call 310-568-0066.