Editor’s Note: We just learned that our good friend Annabelle Gurwitch is battling stage 4 lung cancer. Of course, being the fabulously funny and moving writer that she is, she turned her hardship into something poignant and memorable. We at NextTribe wish her all the healing and strength possible, and in her honor, we’re re-running her hilarious story about sex toy recycling…because what else besides well-loved dildos do we want to read about right now?
With the exception of practical items like my glasses, keys, and cell phone, which I regularly leave in my wake, I tend to hang onto things. I like to tell myself that this proclivity is in no way hoardery, but a habit that’s been enabled by a surfeit of closet space and driven by a completely justifiable combination of sentimental and practical concerns.
Over the years, I’ve accumulated a hodgepodge of items. The sentimental include: my father’s Gucci man-bags circa early 1970s, jerseys from my son’s various sports teams, love letters stretching back three decades now, and the stick I peed on when I learned I was pregnant. Even this unwieldy collection has been significantly pared down. I’ve jettisoned dozens of team shirts that don’t have my son’s name on them, and originally that plastic bag memorializing that day I found out I was pregnant contained not one, but three pregnancy tests. That day was also of note because it might have been the only 24-hour period in which I’ve ever consumed the recommended eight glasses of water a day.
Since the marriage has now ended, it seemed like an auspicious and even essential moment in which to bid them farewell.
Then there’s the practical. When I bought a new computer, I’d intended to get rid of the old one, but my failure to check that off of my to do list has turned out to be a good thing. The old model has a dvd player, and the new one doesn’t. Score one for an inertia-related win! Before my parents moved into an assisted living facility, I salvaged a clunky, utilitarian set of dishes from their kitchen. It sat in my garage for several years while I debated its fate. Fairly indestructible, it has proved the perfect set to be abused by my college student and his roommates.
A case could be made that my motivations were both pragmatic and emotional for sticking with a marriage long past its expiration date—fear of a penurious future and the loss of a comforting, if fraught, continuity. The same could be said of my attachment to the vibrators and other sex toys that crowd my socks drawer. Since the marriage has now ended, it seemed like an auspicious and even essential moment in which to bid them farewell. Like my wedding ring, they were acquired during our years together, and our encounters are inextricably linked to that relationship. I have also reached the age where I’ve begun to consider what would happen if I should suddenly expire and my son were left to sort through my belongings. Of all my possessions that I’d hate to burden him with, these small appliances are near the top of my list. But where would they spend eternity? That’s the practical part of that equation. I had no idea where to retire my longtime companions. Not that I hadn’t given it some thought.
The Case Against the Trash Bin
Let’s say I put them into either my garbage or recycling bin. I reside on a street that has only 10 homes in total. It’s kind of throwback to another era—a bit of Mayberry in a big city. All of the residents know each other well. Perhaps too well. When Brady, my next-door neighbors’ daughter, then a high school junior, threw a raucous party, I was a sleep-deprived mother of a colicky infant. At around 2:00 a.m., I stepped out onto my balcony abutting their property intending to inquire if the teenagers might kindly lower the volume. Instead, what came out was, “Hey fuckers, you are too fucking loud, so fuck you, keep it fucking down!” I fired off a few more “Fuck yous” as I headed back inside. That’s how I became known as “Angerbelle” in the hood. This story gets repeated at our annual block party and frequently comes up in random sidewalk chats. That incident occurred two decades ago!
Say my chatty neighbor Stan is outside working on his car on garbage pick up day? When Stan turned 65 and retired, he began working on his car shirtless. After tinkering with the vehicle, he’d stroll up and down the street, and you’d find yourself conversing with a shirtless Stan. Getting used to that was only a bit distracting. Since Stan turned 70, he’s taken to puttering sans pants. He does this in the very early hours of the morning. Still. Stan announced at our holiday party last year, an occasion where he was mercifully clothed, that he enjoys frequenting nude beaches and maybe I might want to invite my girl friends and we could all go together.
Of all my possessions that I’d hate to burden my son with if I were to die suddenly, these small appliances are near the top of my list.
What’s going to happen when I’ve wrapped my collection in layers of paper bags and plastic bags and the arm of the truck lifts the bin high into the air, and they break free of their packaging? “It’s raining dicks at Annabelle’s!” Word will spread up and down the block. I will never hear the end of it or cease receiving invitations to explore nudist communities up and down the California coast.
Also, the block is lousy with good Samaritans. My cat, for whom the neighborhood is his personal fiefdom, has taken to regularly liberating himself from his collar. Maybe he has taken a nod from Stan. Folks on the block faithfully stop by and return it to me. “Hi, I found Pushkin’s collar in my yard. Oh, and I noticed this in the gutter in front of your house after the garbage pick up. Is this your butt plug?” “Thanks, neighbor!” I’ll reply before heading into my house to list my home on the market.
Anyway, which is the correct bin? I take recycling seriously. I am that person who has been known to sort through my hosts’ garbage to ensure proper recycling when invited to a dinner party. Before you cross me off of any future dinner party lists, visit an actual landfill or take a look at this video I made for Oprah on Earth Day a few years ago, and then let me know if I’m still unwelcome at your place.
This Calls for Research
To research the proper disposal of these relics, I added to the over 285 million searches registered by Google when you type in “what do I do with my old sex toys?” The results yielded both contradictory and out-of-date information, so I turned to sexpert and activist Dan Savage. He’d written a column on the subject after receiving a query from “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” who wanted to donate to the “dildo impoverished.” I have a reasonably good awareness of many of the issues plaguing people across the globe, but it never occurred to me that anyone was suffering from such an indignity. I imagine it’s hard to mobilize efforts to provide for them when folks are losing their homes to fires and being tear gassed at the US border. So, good on triple R for championing an underserved population.
In his column, Savage noted that many people find the idea of used sex toys queasy making, although, there is a market for them. You can both sell and donate them on Craig’s List and Reddit and other shadowy corners of the web. Or, if you prefer, Savage suggests a sex toy swap party. If you’re ok with putting a penis that has a history into your body, why not a toy? Actually, it might actually be more hygienic. As terrifying as the thought of purchasing sex toys from faceless, nameless sources is, I find it even more disturbing if you know the person.
In his column, Savage noted that many people find the idea of used sex toys queasy making.
There are those for whom this is the appeal. In 2013, the web site DListed ran a story titled “Creepy Uncles Rejoice,” about Jenna Jameson’s ex-husband auctioning off one of her toys, a “monkey rocker dildo” that remained in his possession. This device, which I advise you not to Google because you can never un-see this kind of thing, is the sex toy equivalent of an Applebee’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Sundae. It offers a little of everything that you might find filling and is more than one person can possibly handle. The ex claimed it had never been washed. I was too terrified to do more searching to find out who acquired this UTI waiting to happen.
A visit to the Vice site proved educational about the difficulty in disposal and the challenges of recycling. Many devices have both electrical and plastic components, and employees don’t enjoy disassembling your old toys, so they’re classified as biohazards and are chucked into landfills. Silicon presents other problems. It isn’t biodegradable, and many recycling facilities aren’t equipped to process it. Even places that offer to recycle vibrators don’t want your dildos. As the author noted, there may be an island of floating dildos in the ocean somewhere like that floating island of garbage. That’s just another reason I’ve never been a fan of cruises and beach vacations.
How About Project Re-Vibe?
One of the few places currently accepting recycling, Eden Fantasies, located in Atlanta, appeared to be a solid choice for ensuring an eco-friendly future for my past lovers. For a flat fee of $5.00, I could participate in their Project Re-vibe and send my aged objects of affection back to the garden, as it were. Because Eden contracts with a service that pre-sorts and separates plastics and electronics, senders are requested to wash items before sending (seriously, does anyone think otherwise?). They don’t accept condoms, (again, does anyone think otherwise?), and you must send in a box or bag that is not clear plastic (I don’t even have to say it again, right?). Silicon dildos are a no-go, but they do accept ones made of wood, metal, and glass. Obviously, there are many people who are not as worried about internal injuries as I am.
Silicon dildos are a no-go, but they do accept ones made of wood, metal, and glass.
When I read about a Rabbit Amnesty Program offered by Love Honey, a shop located in England, I knew I’d found the perfect final resting place for my pals. I liked the idea of putting an ocean between them and me. Love Honey’s Amnesty Program originally offered points towards new purchases for saving your Rabbits (a device popularized when featured in a 1998 episode of “Sex in the City”) and other toys with vibrating parts from landfills, but that perk has been discontinued. Still, the shop is located in Bath, where I once spent a bucolic weekend, and sending them off to a restive spot seemed appropriate after putting in so many years of service.
To All the Toys I Loved Before
I gathered the soon-to-be expatriated residents of the sock drawer. Some had been there so long that I’d forgotten about them.
The device was so out of date it was the sex toy equivalent of a cell phone the size of a shoe.
- A kegel exerciser, intended for building muscles internally; less sex toy than sex punishment. Swag from a Natural Products Expo a few years ago, it’s supposed to aid in strengthening your pelvic floor. A startlingly bright yellow one-pound plastic barbell, it’s the color that actresses are sometimes seduced into wearing on the red carpet, which always succeeds in turning the wearer into a human-sized banana. To be fair, I never tried the yellow barbell out. It seems like gateway training for shooting ping-pong balls out of your vagina, and that’s never been a goal of mine, at least, not yet.
- An antiquated egg shaped device. Nesting inside a knee high, this one is so out of date it’s the sex toy equivalent of a cell phone the size of a shoe. Unlike new models that have lithium batteries that you recharge with a detachable USB cord, this baby has wires connecting it to a battery pack. During the course of the marriage, the wiring loosened. We’d twist and turn the thing in every direction we could think of, kind of like a divining rod, hoping to spark it back to life. Alas, in the end, the connection proved tenuous, and then, like the marriage, it flatlined.
- A crane-shaped wand, the kind advertised as a back massager. This big bertha was pressed into service so frequently over the years that the speed controls—low, medium, high—completely wore out. It currently operates at only one speed: NOW. It’s a depressing reminder of how my desire devolved into a Navy Seal strike—a get in and out as quickly as possible mission.
- A classic, but too long in the tooth for even a bunny, Rabbit. I never really understood the appeal of its dual settings. One setting is your typical vibrating whirring frenzy, and the other can only be described as grinding, something akin to an excavating tool. Has anyone ever said, “You know what would really turn me on? Boring a tunnel into my uterus!”
- Assorted others, provenance unknown, with motors so run down, they emit only faint pulses, like dim flashing lights reflected from long dead stars in distant galaxies.
- Also, an oven mitt, designed to resemble a lobster claw. I’m not going to even try and explain why that was exiled to the sock drawer. Suffice it to say, it should never be employed in the kitchen. I wrapped the mitt in a paper bag and sent it off to my local landfill.
The Dear John Letters
The Love Honey website instructs senders to be sure to include a note indicating the desire to have your items recycled and invites you to include personal details.
These buddies worked tirelessly, but they are old warhorses now, and ready to be put out to pasture.
Here is the letter I included in my package.
Dear Love Honey,
I’m retiring the artifacts from my 22-year marriage. I’ve taken down the wedding photos. I’m storing them for our son. He might want them one day. I’ve also taken off my wedding ring. Many women in the states have their rings made into necklaces, but I’m not sure if I’ll do that. I think that it looks like some kind of divorce yoke, so not sure what I’ll do with the ring yet. The items in this package, however, aren’t the kind of mementos I want to share with grandkids. I appreciate your help in recycling them. These buddies worked tirelessly, but they are old warhorses now, and ready to be put out to pasture. I wasn’t sure what you meant by “personal details” so I am including this Dear John letter.”
Goodbye old friends!
So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu. Adieu, adieu, to yieu and yieu and yieu.
I hope you will upcycle into something wonderful. Plastic can turn into water bottles, but perhaps it’s best not to picture that. Maybe you can become lawn furniture? Or parts of you will form the underbelly of a truck? Or a metal shipping container? Something that doesn’t come in contact with a face. Or any other orifice. But we’re all just molecules on this spinning blue ball, so wherever you end up, I just hope you’ll be useful. You loved me lots, and I’ll never forget you. Internally yours, Annabelle
Annabelle Gurwitch is the co-host of the “Tiny Victories” podcast and the author of the forthcoming book You’re Leaving When? Adventures in Downward Mobility. Her other books include the New York Times bestseller I See You Made an Effort and Wherever You Go, There They Are: Stories About my Family You Might Relate To. You can find her at annabellegurwitch.com