Whenever she brings out her products, she talks about foreplay, being communicative and being safe. Then The Vibrarian unzips a large, box-shaped black bag filled with lubricants, vibrators, warming massagers and perfumes that change scent based on an individual’s pheromones.
This is senior Alyssa Gill’s latest project, started in the hopes of promoting education and empowerment on the Knox campus, focusing particularly on women and their sexuality. It’s also a way for her to make a few bucks alongside her campus job.
The Vibrarian was bestowed her title during her freshman year at Knox, when a friend — now graduated — decided that she needed a nickname, knowing that Gill was often the one others sought out to accompany them to a sex shop.
“I feel really comfortable doing it, no matter where I am, but that’s not the case for everybody,” she said. “I come from a place where I think it’s so important to mental health and I don’t think people should be censored from this kind of stuff. — It’s a natural part of being human and I think we can talk about that.”
The Vibrarian credits much of her attitude towards sex shops and products to her education. She hails from Berkeley, Calif., whose residents can have the reputation of being “organic granola-eating hippies.” As early as kindergarten, her public school began easing students into the concepts of non-traditional families and sexuality. By second grade, sexual education had begun.
The trend continued throughout high school.
“I was really proud that in a school of about 4,000 kids, I’d only ever seen two pregnant women,” she said.
It was in high school, at the age of 18, that The Vibrarian paid her first visit to a sex shop. It was Good Vibrations, a place unlike the commonly “terrifying” experience of going into a store that’s “all boarded up and there’s somebody in a cage asking for your I.D.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Vibrarian found Good Vibrations to be “clean and friendly,” with all their toys nicely displayed and a staff that underwent six weeks of training before stepping foot onto the sales floor.
“They’re very knowledgeable about sexual health. And it’s a really non-judgmental environment, which I really liked,” she said.
That non-judgmental aspect is something she hopes to promote in her own work.
“Women are not usually seen as just sexual creatures. When women become sexual creatures, it’s often in a really negative context, and that’s not the way that it should be,” she said. “So then having this happier idea of female sexuality where vibrators aren’t dirty, they’re just things that make you happy — that kind of idea, I think, should go towards taking women out of the ‘harlot’ or ‘whore’ kind of category and more into just ‘human.’”
The Vibrarian’s passion for women’s empowerment also comes from her roots in Berkeley, but not in the “organic granola-eating hippies” way.
“I come from a large family of a lot of men, and I’ve never been encouraged to talk about my sexuality or talk about anything. The first time I had a boyfriend, I didn’t even tell anybody,” she said.
She recognized that others may be under similar circumstances and that a lack of openness could have a negative impact on an individual.
“If you have a question about something and you’re uncomfortable talking about it, you’re probably not getting the information that you need,” The Vibrarian said.
And this is part of her mission as a Passion Parties consultant. Just last month, she became involved with the organization, with which women across the country can affiliate themselves and sell sex products and host Passion Parties.
“What I really liked about Passion Parties is that their whole philosophy is about women empowering themselves and empowering other women. Just embracing your sexuality and being able to do this thing on your own, regardless of who you are,” she said.
Senior Allison Diamond, a friend of The Vibrarian, has attended one of these Passion Parties. She recalled looking at products and seeing how they worked, and then she and the group would play games as The Vibrarian conducted private consultations with individuals in separate rooms.
“It was so much fun,” Diamond said. “We all had wine and it was just comfortable. And the whole night was women-themed.”
As it turns out, The Vibrarian’s work has played a role in Diamond’s honors project. She is doing dramaturgy for this term’s main stage theatre production, “In the Next Room (The Vibrator Play),” which explores the use of vibrators as a cure for hysteria in Victorian America. Part of her research included making a trip out to San Francisco with The Vibrarian to visit the Antique Vibrator Museum.
“She’s really helpful because she knows a lot about vibrators — I wouldn’t have wanted to go to a museum by myself, especially to a city that I’ve never known before. Just going there, she made me feel really comfortable because I’ve never gone to a sex store before,” Diamond said. “It was really good to have someone to talk with about those things, that can be adult about it.”
So far, The Vibrarian has felt similarly well-received.
“I think I ended up choosing the best place to do it, just because the Knox community has been really supportive,” she said.