Even among casual observers of businesses
that call themselves “adult”, there is an expectation that these
companies, on occasion, will do some pretty weird things. It is sex,
after all. Companies that sell purple plastic bunnies for sexual
gratification are bound to do some pretty nutty things to sell their
wares, and thus live in a twilight of edgy conversations, inappropriate
humor and occasionally desperate logic.

is also a business built by both shady transactions and cults of
personality — outsider heroes, the risk-taking underdog champions, sexy
rebels. Also because the subject is sex they are no strangers to
attack. When criticism is leveled, it is an industry known to circle
the wagons, and unquestionably protect their own. Which is exactly how
San Francisco’s leading adult retailer Good Vibrations got themselves in trouble with an anti-Islamic religion presenting themselves as a humanitarian organization.

The furor boiled to the rim when in late March, Good Vibes got angrily and publicly called out by a feminist Facebook group, a professor of African politics at USF,
feminist email lists and a significant number of sexual health
professionals and sex educators in multiple countries. Why? It seems
that the venerable retailer, with its reputation and history for
championing empowered female sexuality, had publicly aligned its brand with, and intended to raise money for an organization called Clitoraid.

Dodson’s testimonial enough to get Good Vibes to unquestioningly back
this organization? Apparently so, as an even cursory googling would
reveal that Clitoraid was not all that it seemed.

The March 24 press release (since removed from Good Vibes’ website) explained that as part of GiVe, their donation and sponsorship program, they would be donating to the Clitoraid organization,
which was said to be working to provide restoration surgery and
orgasmic therapy to African women who had experienced Female Genital
Mutilation (FGM).

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM),sometimes called female circumcision or clitoridectomy, is a religious
and cultural practice performed on female minors that involves removal
of part or all of the external female genitalia. FGM is practiced by
both Christian and Muslim communities; concentrated in Africa (28
countries), it is also practiced thoughout a number of countries in the
MIddle East. It is often incorrectly assumed to be an Islamic practice;
it is against Islamic law, though conventional wisdom suggests that it
comes from native traditions that pre-date both religions. All three –
Christian, Muslim and tribal faiths – continue the ongoing practice of
FGM in modern times. Because consequences include sexual, psychological
and medical damage ranging from moderate to severe, the World Health
Organization and The United Nations have organized campaigns and
concentrated efforts to stop the practice.

exclaimed in the press release, Good Vibes was excited to join forces
with Clitoraid, sending a box of bath products and sex toys to patients
at a hospital in Colorado where Clitoraid-sponsored surgical treatments
had been performed. But products out of Good Vibrations’ pockets, press
outreach and publicity resources wasn’t all GV intended to spend in
supporting Clitoraid. They also announced that Good Vibrations
customers would be asked to make a donation at the point of purchase,
the money ostensibly going toward Clitoraid’s planned “pleasure
hospital” in Africa (Burkina Faso), where Clitoraid planned to offer
reconstructive surgeries – and post recovery “pleasure therapy” with
the help of Good Vibrations’ pal Betty Dodson — to African women free
of charge.

a controversial figure known for her hands-on sex therapy for women,
masturbation workshops, and outspoken activism about the clitoris, was
responsible for bringing Good Vibes and Clitoraid together. Was
Dodson’s testimonial enough to get Good Vibes to unquestioningly back
this organization? Apparently so, as an even cursory googling would
reveal that Clitoraid was not all that it seemed.

Clitoraid is backed, founded and staffed by a religion called The Raelian Movement,
which believes that space aliens created the human race and that
evolution is a myth. The name “Clitoraid” followed in the Raelian
naming tradition, following other Raelian projects such as Clonaid and
Stemaid. Whereas Stemaid promises the cure of such diseases as
Hepatitis C and “advanced AIDS” with Stemaid’s stem cells, Dr. Petra
Boyton summed up both Raelianism and Clonaid, saying:

is funded by an organisation called the Raelians. Depending on who is
defining, this organisation can either be described as a religion or a
cult. It is notorious for a number of reasons (including its view of
sexuality and believing in intelligent design), but most famously for
claiming it has cloned a baby human through a venture called Clonaid.”

The religion founded Clitoraid in 2006, as the group made plans to expand their empire into Africa
to advocate their concept of a “United States of Africa.” To save
Africa for Rael apparently meant to “decolonize” it. This concept, they
said, followed what they viewed as a more honest and complete
decolonization that would involve the disbanding of corrupt rulerships
— as a result of Africans returning to their non-Christian ancestors.

this expansion seems contingent on donations from folks like Good
Vibes’ unsuspecting customers. Veteran porn journalist Darklady reports
from Clitoraid’s first public fundraiser, where she was told,

we’re doing is raising funds so (women who have had FGM) can have the
operation for free, and the equipment and the hospital constructed. We,
I think, have purchased the land upon which the hospital will be built,
but the building has to be constructed and the land cleared and all

“In other words,” Darklady says
“it’s possible there’s some land in West Africa where, if it’s been
paid for, a hospital may be built where doctors, who may be trained in
a local-anesthesia based procedure which may or may not exist, may be
able to return some sensation to women brave enough to stay in their
own country and face a life where their reconstructed bodies would make
them social outcasts who will hopefully campaign against the various
forms of female genital mutilation. Maybe.”

Dodson’s business partner suggested that Dodson’s expertise and authority not be questioned in light of Dodson’s reputation.

story of one religion’s intent to decolonize Africa by way of clitoral
restoration and FGM politicking is a curious one. According to one of the
hundreds of Raelien owned and operated websites that share a web server
with Clitoraid’s site, the prophet Rael re-named Africa into “Kama,”
even as it sells a book called “White Poison: A Black Christian is a
Traitor to His Ancestors.”

Most interesting when applied to Clitoraid’s narrative is their website There Is No God. In writing dated February 2006, the year Clitoraid was established, Rael published a screed against Islam and the Muslim faith.
Targeting Muslim countries, Rael calls for the prohibition and
criminality of the Muslim faith, and that to this end “modern societies
should protect their values and fundamental rights, without making the
slightest concession, if necessary by the use of force, arming
themselves by developing new technologies so as to preserve sufficient
advance to remain invincible, in the face of all the primitive and
obscurantist forces of the planet.”

no one involved in the growing Good Vibrations, anti-Clitoraid scandal
seemed to know any of this. University of San Francisco professor of
African politics Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, who has blogged extensively
on the issue, says she began trying to contact Good Vibrations around
April 5th; before approaching Good Vibrations Kamau-Rutenberg was
initially upset by Clitoraid’s years-old “Adopt A Clitoris” campaign
soliciting individual sponsorships of African women’s genitalia.

the same time a storm was brewing on Facebook and Twitter about GV’s
marriage with Clitoraid. On her blog, Kamau-Rutenberg describes a phone
call with the retailer’s publicity manager, who expressed excitement
about the partnership, but when asked about due diligence on Clitoraid
and for comment about the online tempest, became quiet. Watching the
saga from afar, UK sex educator Dr. Petra Boyton expressed concern upon
reading that the phone call concluded with the PR professional telling
Kamau-Rutenberg that Good Vibrations would need to see “scientific
evidence” supporting the anti-Clitoraid argument.

thereafter, Good Vibes re-affirmed their support and strengthened their
position with Clitoraid, adding that Clitoraid was the only
organization of its kind. They also re-issued their press release. The
community responded with blog posts and an online petition, publicly supported by Dr. Petra Boynton (UK), Cory Silverberg, Dr. Elisabeth Wood, Matthew Greenall, Darklady/yNot, and Kudzai Makombe
(Manila). Meanwhile, a high-profile organization backing Clitoraid (Do
Something / Celebs Gone Good) withdrew its support in light of the
public questions being raised around the organization’s intentions, and
the ethics of intervention.

Pressure on Good Vibrations for transparency was high. Kamau-Rutenberg and Dr. Boyton blogged pointed questions
about GV’s statements and Clitoraid’s claims on their own blogs.
Kamau-Rutenberg  posted that a quick Google search returned an article
reporting that in Burkina Faso (the proposed site of Clitoraid’s
“pleasure hospital”) the government had been performing restorative FGM
surgery since at least 2001 — and was not the only organization GV had
to choose from, as they claimed. Dr. Elisabeth Wood wrote that she had
discovered several hospitals that which had performed hundreds of
surgeries (noted in many news articles), but were in desperate need for equipment. Matthew Greenall blogged that he’d found an instance where Clitoraid officials openly bragged about misrepresenting Clitoraid’s intentions
to the local government by way of re-naming their hospital “The Women’s
House.” Clitoraid responded — by threatening to sue Greenall’s website

few more days went by and Good Vibes began to backpedal. An email from
Carol Queen told Kamau-Rutenberg that the retail business now disavowed
having a partnership with Clitoraid, stating that GV was not involved
with the organization “beyond Betty’s work.” Dr. Petra Boynton, who had
also been trying to communicate with Good Vibrations out of deep
concern regarding Clitoraid also received a similar email. Boynton
blogged that GV’s new statements were at odds with their previous statements
and that the retailer still stated they stood by Clitoraid. Perversely,
Boyton simultaneously received an email soliciting her to be a Good
Vibes affiliate; Boyton declined. A day later Good Vibes’ CEO asked
Kamau-Rutenberg out to lunch, and she declined.

The following day, April 14, news hit that Good Vibrations had withdrawn their support from Clitoraid. I’m no writer for the San Francisco Chronicle,
but I do find it extremely disappointing that the hundreds of people
who organized to bring public scrutiny and transparency to amend the
situation and pry the good reputation of Good Vibrations away from
Clitoraid — many of them longtime members of Good Vibrations’
community  — only found out that Good Vibes ended their association
via an editorial in that newspaper. None were contacted or informed
directly; the blogging and Facebook communities whose loyalty buoyed
the discussion were left to find news about the changes on their own.

the end, Good Vibrations never gave Clitoraid any cash of their own.
Carol Queen told me, “We planned (at the very beginning of the
connection with Clitoraid, I think even before the package of vibrators
went out) to make them one of our GiVe partners, and that would have
happened in the summer. That was announced and then subsequent
discussion let us to change our plan. The way GiVe works is that we ask
website shoppers and store customers if they would care to donate to a
particular charity at the time of checkout, then we forward those funds
to the charity. Again, that won’t be happening now with Clitoraid. No
money is going to be solicited or change hands.”

The reaction from Clitoraid, and Betty Dodson, was vitriolic — and as Dr. Petra Boyton noted, very revealing. At publication of this article, Dodson stands by her association with Clitoraid,
her support of the Raelian religion, and in her public statement
articulated her issues with Christian and Muslim religions. Dodson’s
business partner suggested that Dodson’s expertise and authority not be
questioned in light of Dodson’s reputation.

It’s worth nothing that while Dodson focuses her blame on Kamau-Rutenberg for GV’s withdrawal, Clitoraid is targeting
the recent mainstream media item about the issue: the April 14 opinion
piece in the Chronicle. This is a curious choice, considering the fact
that questions about the organization have been steadily growing for at least four years,
while hundreds signed the petition and joined the Facebook group
against Clitoraid. Clitoraid’s public statement in the aftermath says
outright that opposition to Clitoraid is a show in support of FGM;
Clitoraid stated that accusations of cultural insensitivity toward the
Raelien organization were one and the same as showing support for
“slave owners or Nazis.”

owners in the American South thought Northerners were insensitive to
their needs,” [Clitoraid representative Nadine] Gary said. “And it
wasn’t considered polite in Nazi Germany to ask what was happening to
the Jews. Both situations demanded blunt, effective, immediate
opposition, not sensitivity toward the perpetrators and their

pro-sex, libertine sci-fi flavored UFO worshippers who want to live
forever through cloning is just the kind of thing that might not raise
eyebrows around an industry that’s used to its fair share of bizarre
characters and fringe-y behavior. It is also, in the same vein, an
industry that is unused to questioning itself, for fear of showing
weakness – because the subject is sex, after all.

because the subject is sex, these companies must be careful to level
the same criticism at their detractors as at their own idols.

Illustration: the Raelian Model Embassy, from RaelPress

the author

Violet Blue (tinynibbles.com) is an award-winning author, columnist blogger, journalist and is regarded as the foremost expert in the field of sex and technology. Blue features at global conferences on the topics of sex, technology and privacy, and her appearances range from Oprah to Google Tech Talks at Google, Inc.

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