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Q&A with Joani Blank, Good Vibrations Founder

Originally published in the My SF series on Huffington Post SF

For anyone unfamiliar with the company (you poor dear), Good Vibrations became one of the nation's first women-oriented sex toy shops when it opened in 1977 in San Francisco. Blank sold the company to the workers years ago, and has since turned her attention to social justice, continuing sex positivity and living and promoting the cohousing movement (a collaborative housing community plan, in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of the neighborhood).

Meanwhile, at Good Vibrations, the company is celebrating its 35th anniversary with the grand opening of the Antique Vibrator Museum: an invigorating display of vibrators from the 1800s and beyond, curated by Good Vibrations Sexologist Dr. Carol Queen, and featuring pieces from Blank's famous collection. A few of the vibes were even featured in the new Victorian-era film, "Hysteria." Good Vibrations will co-present the San Francisco premiere of the film at the San Francisco International Film Festival on May 1.

You founded Good Vibrations in 1977. How did that come to be?
I had been working with preorgasmic women, teaching them to be appreciative of their bodies. We led a ten-session course that included counseling and education. The homework was masturbation. We initially discouraged the use of vibrators because we didn't want students to avoid touching themselves with their hands. But for many people, vibrators work so well. But back then, where did you go to get them? The adult bookstore? Yuck. There just weren't a lot of choices.

I've heard that you had already started collecting antique vibrators at that point.
That was the other impetus. I had been collecting them for years; I probably had about 20 at that point, and the collection eventually grew to about 100. I wanted to have a place to display them. We opened up this tiny shop in an old Victorian building; apartments were above and the shop was below where the garage would have been. The space was so tiny, I think it actually was a garage at some point.

Tell me about some of the more unique vibrators in your original collection.
With most of the older vibrators, it's difficult to see how someone could use them sexually. But some people say that about the Hitachi Magic Wand and that's been a best seller for 30 years. But I've seen of all kinds of contraptions -- ones that are powered by gas or hydraulics. But I think the most unusual one I found had no power at all: it was made of wood and had this little hand crank that you would turn like an old-fashioned egg-beater. I don't really see how that would be pleasurable. But it was pretty little thing.

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