my office Secret Santa gave me a sex toy

A reader writes:

The office did a secret Santa gift exchange. I was out on dinner at the time, so my present was left on my desk. Beyond assuming a man wrapped it due to the quality of the wrap job, no one kept track of who got who.

I bought a box of chocolates for mine as I don’t really know him and I figured that if he doesn’t like chocolate, it’s a good quality box and can be regifted.

I received a novelty sex toy. Now, I know because I have common sense and read your blog that this is a massive no-no in the workplace, no matter how it was intended. I threw it in the garbage can, but I now feel a) that I’ve been ripped off because I spent the allocated amount on a “nice” gift for someone and ended up with less than nothing myself, and b) that someone’s opinion of me might be “use this and stop being such a miserable cow.”

My question would be how to go forward. Do I try to roll my eyes and assume I work with someone juvenile who was trying to be funny, or do I ask the receptionist who managed the exchange if she knows who put the package wrapped thusly in and try to take it further? I am offended simply due to the reasons given. I’ll be second-guessing who it might have been for a good long while.

How do you think I should handle this?

Ugh, someone in your office is a giant d-bag.

Seriously, who out there thinks that it’s a good idea to give a coworker a sex toy? In an office setting? Anonymously? For that matter, who out there thinks it’s a good idea to give a sex toy to anyone with whom they’re not intimately involved? (Well, I know the answer to that last one: bachelorette party attendees.)

In any case, it would be entirely reasonable to bring it to the attention of Someone In Charge and point out that the Secret Santa needs clearer guidelines next year … but if rolling your eyes and letting it go feels like a reasonable response to you, I think that’s fine too.

I definitely wouldn’t try to second-guess whether there’s some message for you in there; it’s far more likely that someone was just trying to be silly and badly misfired. (And really, anyone who would try to send a message via anonymous Santa-delivered sex toy is someone who has forfeited all rights to have their opinion taken seriously.)

Update: I want to highlight a point that a commenter just made. She wrote: “Even though you threw it out I would report it to your manager. I can assure you this person is probably doing the same things to other people. We’ve had cases where I work where we find out some creep has been inappropriate with lots of women for a long time but we didn’t know until one of them finally said something to management and we started looking into it. You’d be doing yourself, your employer, and your coworkers a huge favor by reporting it.” I think this is a good point, and I wish I’d taken it into account in my original answer.

{ 172 comments… read them below }

  1. Rose*

    OP, I really don’t think this is about how that person sees you! It seems very likely that they just have a really, really immature sense of humor/what is appropriate for the office. Totally agree w/ Allison there. Please, don’t feel bad.

    I wouldn’t pursue it just because you probably don’t want to know. Once you find out, you might always feel awkward around that person. Unless it’s going to mess up your relationship with certain people (wondering if it was them, feeling annoyed, not wanting to make eye contact) I’d let it go for your own good!

    1. LittleT*

      I agree, I think this is a really immature person who finds this funny.

      On a related note, last year my 67-year old mother’s workplace did a Secret Santa exchange. What did she wind up with? A set of benwa balls!

      She was NOT impressed (and for anyone wondering, yes, she knew what they were!). Turns out it was a new, young, coworker (age 23) who “gives these to all my friends because it’s funny!” Yeah, mom was not too thrilled and let the girl know it.

      1. Elysian*

        I got the sense from your post that I shouldn’t google those on my work computer… glad I pulled out my phone, I guess? My curiosity is my own worst enemy.

        Also, the fact that anyone has a story that begins “On a related note” for this particular post is disturbing. Oh, my.

        1. LittleT*

          Hehe definitely don’t google that one on a work computer.
          Even worse was that she’d only known my mom for a mere 3 months. Not a gift for a Santa exchange with people you really don’t know.

          1. Elysian*

            Not a gift for an office exchange at all, unless your office is in Playboy headquarters or something. Ugh.

  2. Cheryl*

    I almost always agree with the advice here, but this is so over the line I’d never be able to just “let it go.”

    1. Windchime*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t be able to let this one go, either. I’d go straight to management with this one, I’m afraid. Totally inappropriate.

  3. Katie the Fed*

    Has the trash been taken out?

    I would bring this to a manager ASAP. This weirdo is probably making other women uncomfortable and needs to be read the riot act if not fired. It’s beyond inappropriate – it’s creating a hostile environment, it’s egregious, and it should be reported. Immediately.

    Even though you threw it out I would report it to your manager. I can assure you this person is probably doing the same things to other people. We’ve had cases where I work where we find out some creep has been inappropriate with lots of women for a long time but we didn’t know until one of them finally said something to management and we started looking into it. You’d be doing yourself, your employer, and your coworkers a huge favor by reporting it.

      1. Tempest - the OP*

        I work in a workshop type environment so to be honest it’s entirely possible it was just a ‘not very bright’ idea one of the ‘gentlemen’ had.

        I have mostly gotten over it. I was pretty angry when I wrote the email in and not really ready to let it go but to be honest I’m going to take comfort that they spent more than the spending limit on something that didn’t get a reaction out of me publicly that ended up in the bin 5 minutes later. I will also not take part next year, which is sad but I’m not going to waste my money again. I did bring it to my manager’s attention but there isn’t a heck of a lot she can do in fairness to her, other than agree its squicky. No one kept track of who gave what to who so there is no way to prove it and making it into a bigger BFD than I already have might end up looking bad on me more than them. I know this is wrong in today’s work place but it is a place where being ‘just one of the guys’ is valuable.

        I have since found out one of the other female members of staff got penis shaped candies and mints, so it’s clearly a case of a few of the workshop type staff got together and thought it would be fun to try and embarrass us rather than get us nice gifts. In my case it backfired. I worked in internet tech support for 5 years in a previous life. If it’s related to porn or sex toys I’ve likely seen the worst of it. It was just the OMG who thinks this is ok gut reaction.

        Glad Alison agreed with my gut feeling just to roll my eyes and let it go.

        1. Sadsack*

          You are handling this surprisingly well, much better than I would have handled it. I guess when you opt out of Secret Santa next year, if anyone asks you why, you could say, “I work with enough dicks here already, I don’t really want another one as a Christmas gift.”

        2. Ellie H.*

          It is still a jerk thing to do to say the least, but I would definitely feel better to learn that it was a dumb, not very funny attempt to embarrass some of the women who work there rather than anything directed at you personally.
          I’m nearly impossible to offend and I would be very grossed out by that too, so it’s definitely legit to be disturbed by it!

        3. EngineerGirl*

          I’m concerned that others are getting things too. That makes it pervasive (not a one-off). You need to raise the issue as a liability to the company. If thus isn’t stopped now there will be plenty of ammo if at some point someone does make a big deal out of it. Your boss knows and needs to do something about it or it will go down poorly in front of a judge. Raise the issue calmly as any liability – unsafe working conditions, broken machinery, etc.

          1. Sophia*

            Exactly. With a lot of people receiving those gifts, I would imagine it constitutes sexual harassment.

        4. Jamie*

          I did bring it to my manager’s attention but there isn’t a heck of a lot she can do in fairness to her, other than agree its squicky.

          That’s bad management. If you are okay letting it go, that’s your right…although I work in a male dominated environment and I hope people reading know they do exist where the boys will be boys mentality isn’t tolerated (and it’s insulting to men – most don’t behave this way.)

          But if your manager feels there is nothing she can do she’s either a lousy manager or she’s not given the power to do her job properly.

          No one kept track of who gave what to who so there is no way to prove it and making it into a bigger BFD than I already have might end up looking bad on me more than them.

          If it would make you look bad it’s a shame your office allows that kind of culture to exist. But to say there is no way of tracking it isn’t true – you meet with everyone who participated because it is a BFD.

          Again – I’m not telling you what you should do, but it became a bfd when they put it on your desk and gave the other things to your female coworkers – if an investigation was launched it wouldn’t be because you reported it – it would be because they did it in the first place.

          You know your workplace and we don’t, but a workplace that puts a higher value on ignoring harassment than it does in making sure people who work there are safe from it has serious managerial problems.

          1. Cecilia*

            +1. Knowing that a group of men planned to give the women sexual presents elevates this to a hostile workplace culture that your manager needs to deal with. These guys basically took advantage of the anonymous exchange to sexually harass you without repercussions. Regardless of whether the givers can be identified, she needs to send the message that this kind of thing is unacceptable, not sweep it under the rug. Being one of the guys doesn’t mean putting up with harassment.

            You also shouldn’t feel like reporting this would reflect badly on you; that’s how men continue to get away with this kind of thing.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            You GO, Jamie!
            Right on.
            And I would add there is plenty the boss can do.
            1) She can cancel the secret Santa.

            2) If she does not cancel the activity she can insist on a written list.

            3) She can enlist the help of HR, her boss or the company attorney to get the firepower necessary for her point to be heard.

            I can just imagine what else goes on in this company….

        5. Anonymous*

          At this point it sounds like orchestrated sexual harassment.

          I completely understand if you work in an environment where speaking up against horrible practices like this designed to harass members of the workforce based on gender because it’s your job and at the end of the day we all need to pay the bills.

          But this sure sounds like serious and systematic sexual harassment and speaking up would not be out of the question at all.

          1. AMG*

            +1. I do understand the context of it behooving a person to just ‘be one of the guys’, but this is so out of line that I have a stomach ache reading it. Nasty. Perhaps posting this with comments will help people to understand without getting them in trouble?

            1. Chinook*

              I agree that “being on of the guys” and “going with it” is important but it is reasonable to expect a workplace to be asexual (unless the job explicitly involves sex). Frankly, this type of gift is inappropriate if it were given to a man or a woman, from a man or woman. If the workplace is even slightly hostile, it would be one of those that would take it as an insult. But, in the right atmosphere, I probably would want to give a retort of having enough dicks in my life and not needing another one.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            This type of thing reflects so poorly on all the men at that company.
            Not any different than if a group of women did something in appropriate- that would reflect poorly on the women there.

        6. Anonymous*

          I have since found out one of the other female members of staff got penis shaped candies and mints.

          Um yeh…them someone definitely needs to have a talk with the group about sexual themed gifts in the workplace. It doesn’t matter that no one can identify the culprits. It’s obviously bigger than one person and probably needs to be addressed to the group as a whole.

          1. Laura*

            THIS. Also, this gives your manager a great way to handle it, because there was more than one.

            In your manager’s shoes, I’d get everyone together, and say, “I understand that some of the Secret Santa gifts given this year were sexually themed. Hopefully that was meant to be all in good fun, but I need you to understand that it’s not appropriate to give that sort of gift at work. There should be no more of those type of gifts in any future gift exchanges.”

            No need to mention your gift, or the candies, specifically. And if not everyone publicized their gifts to everyone else, no one will know if there might have been still more. (Including your manager, of course, since there indeed might have been.)

            1. Jennifer*

              “Oh, and for the record: the gift exchanges will no longer be anonymous.”

              That should clear it right up.

            2. Grace*

              Employment lawyers advise their clients to go over the sexual harassment policy with employees before the holiday parties, because they are one of the biggest sources of lawsuits.

        7. Anonymous*

          If you don’t fight it, you are essentially letting them know it is okay to continue this kind of behavior because there are no consequences. It’s not your fault this happened at all, but you are the person in the best position to make sure it doesn’t happen to another person (or yourself) again. Opting out of the secret santa is not going to end the underlying problem.

          Please tell your manager that she needs to express that this is unacceptable to the entire office staff. She isn’t helpless to address this. Express that there will be rules enforced next year, or that the secret santa is cancelled because the staff turned it into a nightmare instead of a morale-building expression of holiday goodwill. Demand the perpetrator come forward and apologize. Express disappointment if (when) he doesn’t do so.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I so agree.
            Left unchecked the men will feel the behavior is okay and starting looking for newer and fresher ideas each year.
            The problem needs to be stopped now, before it goes out of control even farther.

        8. Amber*

          Sounds more like there needs to be a company or team meeting where this type of thing needs to be condemned by someone high up the chain, make it clear to everyone that sexual gifts (even if they are intended to be funny) are never appropriate for an office environment.

    1. Sadsack*

      Agreed. I would never be able to let this go. I would at least try to find out who the person is and go directly to him/her asking for a receipt so I could exchange my gift. I would also tell everyone else at work what I received to shame the person, but I can be a bit vindictive.

  4. TeaBQ*

    Like the saying goes, never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity. It’s far more likely that the co-worker who gifted it to you is an idiot with a bad concept of work-appropriate humor than it is a secret message about how they view you personally.

    Heck, maybe they really are that dumb and assumed it was a neck massager ;)

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Yeah, I gotta disagree with you there. If you don’t know that sex toys don’t belong in the workplace, you shouldn’t be working there.

      And it’s not like these things are sold next to the milk and oreos. You have to look in special stores to buy them.

      1. TeaBQ*

        Oh totally agree. And if I was the OP’s manager I’d want to know so I could make it clear to my direct reports in no uncertain terms that this was Not Cool. I was only talking about the potential second meaning of the item where the OP wondered if it was a comment about her personality.

    2. Jamie*

      If it was one of those massaging things you can buy in a drug store I can’t imagine the OP would be calling it a sex toy.

      And as Katie said – if you don’t know this is inappropriate you shouldn’t be working…there is a reason people don’t use porn as their desktop backgrounds at work – because it’s not okay in the office. This really should go without saying.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        Exactly. I was an auditor at a non-profit and a project manager had porn on his work computer. I mean a video streaming of porn.

        I mentioned it to my supervisor on the audit who talked to the executive director and later it was discovered he had done this regularly and his supervisor covered for him because he did it too. They were both fired.

      2. A Bug!*

        if it was one of those massaging things you can buy in a drug store I can’t imagine the OP would be calling it a sex toy.

        And certainly not a “novelty sex toy.” Drugstore “back massagers” aren’t novelties. Lots of actual sex toys aren’t even novelties. Sparkly purple horse appendages are novelties.

        Tangentially, I think it’s possible to attribute this behavior to stupidity while still holding the stupid person accountable for that stupidity. As the saying goes, ignorance is no excuse.

        1. TeaBQ*

          And how else would ignorance go away if not taught?

          (Though how any grown adult could think this was appropriate is beyond me. Then again, I’ve had co-workers say some pretty eye-popping stuff at work so these folks are out there.)

          1. Not So NewReader*

            We all go with what we see around us.
            A person’s home life, family, friends, coworkers- all these people give us an idea of what is socially acceptable and what is not. Whether those concepts are correct or not is the tricky part.

            Just because Aunt Sue makes a living throwing sex toy parties does not mean that giving sex toys to everyone is a great idea because Aunt Sue gives you a discount.

            The secret Santa concept is not meant to be used to embarrass/berate the heck out of some unsuspecting coworker. The intent of these gift givers was the exact opposite of the intent of the activity.

            Maybe they should have known better but their actions prove they did not know better. As TeaBQ is saying they will not learn until someone tells them. I suspect there are larger issues there and that is why the boss feels she cannot do anything about it. I feel “hey, you have to start somewhere. This is not acceptable. Start here.”

  5. Anonymous*

    Gross/ridiculous/inappropriate. But I wouldn’t read anything into it. It says a lot more about the giver than the recipient.

    That said, if your company does secret santa again next year, see if you can convince them to use something like, where the organizer can see who drew who. (It also has other nifty features that you could probably use to convince the organizer if they need convincing.)

  6. Katie the Fed*

    Oh and OP – this is not a reflection of you (“use this and stop being such a miserable cow”) – it’s ENTIRELY about the asshat who thought it was an ok gift. I urge you not to let him get away with it.

    Also, I just realized with your use of “miserable cow” that you’re probably not American, but I assume in whatever Commonwealth country you’re living in there are prohibitions against hostile workplace environments and sexual harassment.

    1. Tempest - the OP*

      I’m from North America originally but now live in the UK. I have adopted some of their most fitting lingo :)

      1. AMG*

        And whatever you do, do not inernalize this and think that people think ‘miserable cow’ about you. I second the other comments that this is about the creeper, not you.

  7. Jamie*

    I would want to know if this was done in my office and if it happened to me I’d definitely be taking the issue to tptb to let them know it happened.

    I would find this not only insulting, but offensive and more than a little disturbing. A person in the office with boundary issues (or a seriously flawed since of appropriate workplace humor) which manifest with sex toys in the office…this isn’t something I would personally be able to let go without at least going on record that it happened.

    And I’d be really annoyed if I didn’t know who it was…because if one of my coworkers lacks boundaries like that that’s information I want to have.

    I guess I’m looking at it as if someone had porn on their computer and exposed a coworker it would be dealt with from a disciplinary stand point because it’s harassment and we have a zero tolerance policy – I don’t see how this is different. I would feel humiliated and harassed by this.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Depending on my frame of mind that day, I could see myself throwing the toy down on a male boss’ desk. When I saw him turn red, I would say “Now you understand how I felt when I opened this present.”

      Again- this would be totally dependent on my frame of mind that particular day.

  8. cecilhungry*

    I agree with Katie and disagree with some other commenters–you need to follow up on this and let your manager know. Even if it is “stupidity” and an “immature sense of humor,” it is so far beyond inappropriate, and you will be doing the giver a favor by having management tell him (or her) so. It may be an eye-opening moment for him (or her) and presumably they will never do it again after being read the riot act. And if it’s not innocent, then your manager DEFINITELY needs to know.

    How could anyone think this is appropriate for work? Mind boggling. I would want to know who on my team is that stupid, and I would never be able to look at anyone the same until I knew who it was. Better one (rightfully) awkward relationship than 100 paranoid ones.

    1. Bea W*

      Exactly – if it’s just stupidity, at the very least someone in the office needs to be cured of that condition with some education from either management or HR.

    2. Tempest - the OP*

      It’s a pretty smallish place, maybe 50 staff? Maybe 10 of them this dumb? Honestly a bunch of normal people agreeing with me that ‘omg ewww’ is a natural reaction is great. My husband was like ‘so you work with an idiot with a poor sense of humour, what’s the big frickin’ deal?’ Glad to know that there are others who share my take on this being a bad idea dreamed up by someone vastly lacking in common sense at a minium. Maybe I’ll print the letter/answer and stick it up in the break room!

      1. mdc*

        I would be tempted to post a sign in the break room saying
        “One of you blokes accidentally wrapped your Special Buzzing Friend for the Secret Santa. I know you must be missing it terribly so am willing to do a box of chocolates – Special Friend exchange. Special Friend is on the manager’s desk wrapped in brown paper. Cheers!”

  9. Bea W*

    I’m sorry you had to be subjected to that OP. That’s really disgusting and classless, not to mention creepy.

    Even if the OP weren’t offended by it, this is one of those things, that is not office-appropriate and should probably be brought to someone’s attention even if only so that next year they can include a reminder to everyone that sex toys are not appropriate gifts for the office gift exchange.

    Even if you think it’s freakin’ hilarious, this is something that could easily go over badly, upset and offend, and be reported or taken as sexual harassment or otherwise inappropriate behavior that might get someone in deep doo doo on top of all the other drama. Just don’t go there.

    On a side note – If this were my co-worker, I’d have to really try very hard to supress my urge to wrap up a bottle of Massengil and leave it on his desk, or perhaps sit a blow-up doll in his chair, or male enhancement pills.

    1. Lizabeth*

      I would duck tape the “toy” out of the package to said gift givers windshield, driver’s side and video tape it.

  10. Lanya*

    I’m not sure I agree with the “letting it go” comments. I would personally err on the side of assuming the worst. Someone may have simply had poor judgement, but in the worst case, this could also be taken as sexual harassment. You don’t really know that it was your Secret Santa person who gave you this gift. Anyone could have put it on your desk, or swapped it out for another gift that had been there. If you feel very uncomfortable, talk to your manager and make sure you are staying aware for other signs. Others may disagree, but as a single woman, this is how I would react.

    1. Anon Accountant*


      I was thinking the same thing. Would this be considered sexual harassment?

      And definitely mention it to your manager and let her/him take it from there. I’m disgusted on your behalf. That’s so wrong and inappropriate for a coworker.

    2. Sadsack*

      “Anyone could have put it on your desk, or swapped it out for another gift that had been there.”

      Excellent point, I didn’t even think of that!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        However, that item should not have been in circulation in the first place.
        So maybe the person who set it on OPs desk was not the Secret Santa- why, oh why would you pass this item on? That makes this person not much different than the original giver.
        If there was a gift swapper that person only helped to egg the situation ON.

        1. Sadsack*

          I took Lanya’s comment as saying someone may have brought it in just to swap with the OP’s real gift, not that someone else received it as a gift and then swapped it.

    3. Tempest - The OP*

      There are no internal cameras on site. However, my manager and I have to take separate lunches and she can see my desk from her desk, so odds it was tampered with are slim. It also had an authentic, work issued, secret Santa tag on it, ie they had taped the name they pulled out of the hat onto the gift. Making a replica of that is a level of premeditation I wouldn’t attribute to this. I can certainly highlight it to my bosses boss should I ever decide that I’m that bothered about it. I can also speak to the penis candy co-worker and see if she wants to say something together to make it a joint issue not a one off I’m being whiny because I don’t share a 12 year old boy’s sense of humour type issue.

      There isn’t an overwhelming sense of sexual harrasment in my work place or anything. I don’t feel unsafe there on an average day and most of the guys are polite and gentlemanly. I really do think this was a poorly thought out joke now that I’ve had the night to sleep on it.

      But if this thread makes one person who’s thinking office sex toys are funny think again, I’m glad I shared it for that reason alone as the experience of opening a vibrator at your desk is still not one I’d wish on anyone else.

      1. Judy*

        ” There isn’t an overwhelming sense of sexual harrasment in my work place or anything. I don’t feel unsafe there on an average day and most of the guys are polite and gentlemanly. ”

        Wait. There are days you do feel unsafe there? And there is a sense of harassment there, just not overwhelming?

        1. Tempest - The OP*

          No, I just don’t get the feeling any of the other staff male or otherwise are sex pests. Just a bit dim.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Sexual harassment or a hostile environment isn’t confined to guys pestering you for sex.

            Leaving penises on the desks of women, anonymously, is an aggressive act. In the US, a sexually hostile environment includes posted pornography & unbridled dirty jokes. It’s illegal at least in part because that’s the kind of atmosphere that makes women want to quit their jobs and until defined and made illegal was a handy tool to keep women out of heretofore non traditional workplaces. (Example: construction environments, police departments, military, etc. )

            Still a handy tool, still used, but there’s now awareness and weapons for those vulnerable.

            Sometimes sexual harassment is about getting some, but most times it is about power.

            You’ll make your choice about what you want to pursue but there are some jokes we don’t have to pretend to go along with just to get along. The lines are there for good reasons.

          2. Anonymous*

            They’re pushing you out of an activity that you previously enjoyed because you are the “wrong” gender to participate and expect anything nice from your workplace.

            Stand up to the bullies. Don’t let them push you out of someplace you want to be. Push back and demand that your manager make the whole office at least as uncomfortable as this person made you. That’s the absolute least your manager owes you. Change the way secret santa is done going forward.

      2. TL*

        Targeting the women in your workplace for sexual humiliation is not someone who’s just a little misguided or a poorly thought out joke. It’s a power play disguised as humor and one that plays on very harmful gender norms.

        1. Kitty*

          I totally agree with this. The first defense these idiots pull out is the classic, “It’s just a joke! Don’t you have a sense of hunor?” People back off, and the “jokes” not only continue, they escalate.

          As a union steward, if this happened in my office, I would insist that the manager deal with it. Most companies have a zero tolerance policy, and if it’s not enforced at the office level, the Big Boss can be informed (anonymously) at which point heads will roll, deservedly because no company wants to spend money defending themselves against a lawsuit.

        2. Mander*


          I personally have a pretty dirty sense of humor and have been known to crack off-color jokes when working in the field. I’m not the least bit offended by sexual humor, and I’m certainly not prudish. But. It all depends on the context. Openly and consensually joking around with a bunch of men that I like and trust (and whom I would have no hesitation telling that a joke or comment has gone too far) is one thing. Leaving suggestive gifts anonymously, *and* coordinating it with other co-workers, is something else altogether. It seems very much calculated to make specific female employees uncomfortable. Maybe not a hostile environment in the legal sense but it certainly strikes me as a hostile act. Making someone the butt of a joke is not a friendly or collegial thing to do.

  11. Mena*

    Cheryl is right – it is so over the line that letting it go is unrealistic. I think I would make it known to whomever organizes this party, not with the expectation that some form of sexual harassment claim be staked but that this has to NOT happen again. And it falls to the party organizer to set the ground rules next year.

    And geez, this is just plain creepy to think about … my eyes would be scanning the staff meeting – ugh.

  12. amaranth16*

    My jaw dropped reading the subject line. I think you should raise it with your manager – if this happened to an employee I managed I would want them to tell me. The other commenters are right that it is not a reflection on you AT ALL, just on the deeply unprofessional person with a really bad sense of humor who gave it to you. I’m so sorry – what a lousy thing for someone to do, particularly at a time of year and through a tradition that’s supposed to make people feel special and appreciated.

  13. Arbynka*

    Yes, I know a person who would think giving a sex toy in office gift exchange would be hillarious. When I tried to explain to him that no, it is not funny at all, I was told ” you’re so uptide, nobody complained”. So quite frankly, if recipient of such a “present”, I would complain.

    1. Anonymous*

      This is a case of people not getting what is and is not professional. I might have an entire closet full of toys at home but that doesn’t mean I would ever give one or receive one at work without raising it because it is highly inappropriate at work.

      It has nothing to do with being uptight and everything to do with being a professional in a professional environment.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      For those people, logic and rationale do not work.

      The next step is to say “If you do X then Y will happen.” If you give a sex toy for secret Santa you will be fired.

      Some folks will actually understand that one. Others, maybe not.

  14. Gwen Soul*

    I really hope it is a case of 2 similarly wrapped gifts on the table and they picked up the wrong one. That is the only way this could not be egregious and just bad common sense.

    1. JMegan*

      But it shouldn’t have been in the office in the first place, regardless of who was meant to receive it.

      I agree with those who are saying that management needs to be told, if only to make sure this doesn’t happen again next year. (Or ever, ugh.)

      1. Gwen Soul*

        I was thinking it was meant to go to a personal friend for a party and got picked up accidently, not for anyone at the office.

        I agree it needs to be reported, this was my in what world would it not be as bad scenario.

  15. TL*

    Not if someone else got penis-shaped candies, nope. OP, I hoped the other people who received super inappropriate gifts reported it to the manager as well.

  16. Cruella Da Boss*

    Yet another reason to NOT have Secret Santa!

    I take it that your office does not do the Secret Santa where everyone reveals themselves at your holiday party?

    1. A Bug!*

      It sounds like there was, but that the OP was not present when it happened. (My inference is that the workplace involves shift work, but that’s just a hunch.)

    2. Tempest - The OP*

      No big reveal, just the receptionist handing out the gifts. She doesn’t know who drew who so it can stay anon.

      I can pretty much promise you that if my manager tried to take this higher to her manager the overall result might be a talking to with the whole group but a lot of the workshop staff are sub 25 years old and haven’t really hit the stage of ‘men’ yet. Many are still boys.

      I’m betting the non-reaction on my part is more or less the best punishment. The only comment I’ve made about what I recieved at work was to my immediate manager and the receptionist to find out if she remembered who had put that package in the secret Santa box, so as far as everyone else is concerned (bar penis candy co-worker who just wanted to share in the pain) they didn’t get a reaction out of me.

      If I’m asked to take part next year I will totally be going with I work with enough dickheads, I don’t need to take the chance on being gifted another one!

      1. TychaBrahe*

        Then your manager should make an announcement.

        “Someone thought this and the candies were appropriate. They are not. There are rumors that the inappropriate gifts were a coordinated effort. If that were true, and if it were known who gave those gifts, those people would be investigated for sexual harassment, and risk being fired.

        If it, or anything similar, happens again, heads will roll.”

        1. AMG*

          If I were the manager, I would go to each person, track who gave whot to whom, identify the person, drag them in front of HR, and write them up and/or terminate them. Same goes to the candy giver.

          1. Jamie*

            Me too. And word would spread that this kind of thing is an instant ticket out the door and then next years gifts would be G rated.

          2. Windchime*

            I’m like 99% sure that something like this would be a fireable offense where I work. My office has actually fired a person who sexually harassed a co-worker, so I know they take it very, very seriously.

        2. Jennifer*

          The manager should also mention that anyone over the age of 22 is grown-ass enough to know better than to hand out penises and sex toys at the office, period. There is really no justifiable “oops, I didn’t know” for that activity.

      2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        In my world, if this happened and I wasn’t informed about it, I’d be unhappy with the people who didn’t tell me and feel that they had let me down.

        A sexually hostile environment is not okay, neither legally nor morally. The next woman who receives a gift like that might feel intimidated, or stalked or freaked out. If such a wildly inappropriate thing isn’t reported to me or HR, not only can’t we stop it from happening again, but we are left vulnerable to a lawsuit from the next woman because there is a pattern of behavior in the workplace.

        Yes, we wouldn’t be “guilty” if we hadn’t known prior but I’ve been through employment lawsuits as an innocent person and words can’t describe how awful the years long process is. You cannot let this stuff get a toehold.

        About the young men who likely did this: it is doing them a favor to have this behavior nipped right away. Let it be nipped when they can be warned, before it proceeds to something so egregious they are fired straight out.

      3. Laufey*

        a lot of the workshop staff are sub 25 years old and haven’t really hit the stage of ‘men’ yet. Many are still boys.

        You do realize that this is still not okay even if the offender is 18, yes? Yes, many of us have done stupid and not-well thought through things when we young (heck, I still do), but using the “Boys will be boys” excuse only encourages the behavior. I mean, this is serious. So what if they’re under 25? Even before they turn 18, they can be charged in full court (i.e., not juvenile) as a result of failing to respect boundaries.

        I would argue that such a meeting could be useful for any under 25s – whether they were responsible for the prank or not. If they weren’t involved, it’s a nice and relatively harmless reminder of what’s appropriate and that this stuff is serious. If they did give the sex toy and candies, then this (when they’re still young and before too much damage has been done) is a good time to spell out what is and isn’t appropriate in a workplace setting. Youth will pass with time, but naivety and maturity need outside forces to evolve.

        1. Elizabeth*

          For that matter, imagine that they’re 16 and it’s a high school Secret Santa. At my high school, a student who gave another student penis-shaped candy anonymously would have AT LEAST gotten detention, perhaps suspension. (If they were found out. If they weren’t, I imagine that the entire class would have had to listen to a long, stern lecture from the principal about sexual harassment and no longer been allowed to have gift exchanges.)

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Most places now hand out booklets on policies, workplace violence and sexual harassment. Where are these booklets?

          I bet these young men would never give this gift to their mother or grandmother.
          On some level there is some kind of understanding going on- other wise why would it be amusing?

      4. Chinook*

        Tempest, I agree that a non-reaction in public is the best revenge and tactic. When I was a sub in. Home Ec class, I noticed something odd about my coffee and dumped it down the sink. It turned out that a few students thought it would be funny to put dish soap in it to get a rise out of me (it would have worked if I didn’t take it black a day noticed the change in colouring). They later fessed up and said that my lack of reaction meant they never tried it again.

  17. EM*

    I almost feel like it’s WORSE that the men apparently planned this out and did this to several of the female staff. I’m not sure I would be comfortable working in such an environment where not just one, but multiple men think this is amusing or appropriate.

    1. Jamie*

      For me too. One guy, it’s a problem with an individual, multiple guys who thought this was okay and they’d get away with it (and they’re right) that’s a culture problem. Much more insidious.

      1. the_scientist*

        Plus a million on this. Obviously the letter writer knows her office best and whether making a BFD out of it will lead to worse behaviour from these assclowns down the line or a frustratingly ineffectual response from upper management. Plus, it’s totally not her job to single-handedly change the entire culture of her workplace. However, it’s hell of gross and even grosser that this is clearly a planned thing and/or a pattern.

        I’m a young woman in an historically male-dominated field and it gives me the heebs to think about stuff like this going on. I honestly think I’d have to make a BFD out of it…like, I have to tolerate a lot of gross, sexist BS in my daily life (just this week I was harassed and nearly groped by an incredibly drunk man while trying to finish my Christmas shopping), why can’t my workplace be somewhere safe where I’m valued based on my skills, not what’s in my pants? Is that a pipe dream?

        1. Laura*

          Nope. I’m a woman in a traditional male field, and in general, my experience at my workplace has been that I am valued – or not valued – for what I think and say and do. There ARE places where you can work and be respected for what you do. As it should be.

          If someone pulled a stunt that even approached this one at work, I’d report it to HR. If who drew whom was unknown, as in this case, I’d expect an office-wide or corporate-wide NEVER AGAIN mandate to come out – along with an instruction to handle Secret Santas in such a way that HR could find out who drew whom next year, possibly. If they did know who it was, they would at least get a warning. And the company-wide email might still go out, to nip any other instances in the bud.

          1. the_scientist*

            I should amend my previous rant (I got a little carried away) to say that my current workplace is absolutely fantastic and I am totally valued for my quality of work and for my brains. My old lab had a creepy old male scientist who was famous for leering inappropriate and making gross comments, though.

            1. Windchime*

              I feel this way about my workplace, too. There isn’t a single man on my team that makes me feel unsafe in the least, and I would work alone in an office with any of them without a moment’s hesitation. I’m very fortunate.

          2. Anon scientist*

            Yeah, my industry still has male-dominated pockets, and I’ve always worked in offices where the techs/scientists were male. In my “jokey” office, the perpetrator’s supervisor would have given the dude a beat-down.

    2. some1*

      I would wonder if they banded together so they’d be less likely to get in trouble over it — “safety in numbers”

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Or somebody made a joke about it and was egged on. Either way, it’s not professional behavior, and the manager would not be doing them any favors by not letting them know that.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      One is a creeper and/or socially inappropriate jokester.

      Two is a hostile environment.

      And, honestly, if we’re talking about men wrapping up and leaving brightly colored penises on the desks of women, in the work place, if that’s the “toy”, it is a BFD.

    4. Mints*

      Me too. One person could be dismissed as being out of line, and one could hope he’d see the problem once it was pointed out. But a group agreeing together seems symptomatic of serious cultural issues. I mean, they actually planned this, and enough men agreed that it wasn’t stopped beforehand?

      1. Saturn9*

        I actually hope it was planned.

        Two people who conspire to play a “funny” “prank” can be dismissed as being out of line but two people coming up with these ideas independently with no conspiracy involved is much more indicative of a serious cultural issue.

  18. pidgeonpenelope*

    I really think you should report this. It’s way out of line and I feel it also falls into sexual harassment.

  19. Anonymous for this one*

    “Beyond assuming a man wrapped it due to the quality of the wrap job, no one kept track of who got who.”


    1. Joey*

      That’s what I’m wondering. How is it known a man gave the gift? A crap wrap job isn’t limited to men.

      1. Jamie*

        As anyone who has ever received anything wrapped by me can attest. Everything I wrap looks like it was taped together by monkeys…who had been drinking.

        Wrapping is hard.

        1. TW*

          +1 – I am a terrible wrapper and describe my “skills” almost exactly the same. Meanwhile my husband wraps like he is one of Santa’s freaking elves.

        2. Windchime*

          Especially when the object being wrapped is shaped like a sexual organ. I mean, seriously……WTH.

    2. Chinook*

      Considering the item in question, wrapping it well would have taken great skill. Round, cylindrical objects are always hard to wrap, especially if they move on their own!

  20. Deborah*

    We do a Secret Santa every year. One of the non-participating employees is the keeper of the list. They know who has who for the gift exchange. This is mainly so that if some one leaves before the party we can make sure no one is left out, but that list sure would have helpful in this case. :)

  21. Nonprofit Office Manager*

    I know it isn’t relevant, and I feel bad even wondering, but is anyone else curious what the sex toy *was*? Or is it just me?

  22. Brenda*

    “Beyond assuming a man wrapped it due to the quality of the wrap job, no one kept track of who got who.”

    I see sexism is rampant in your workplace.

    1. Elizabeth*

      I agree with you that the generalization about wrapping quality is uncalled for, but seriously – that does not hold a candle to the sexist behavior of the inappropriate gift-givers in this story.

  23. HAnon*

    “Update: I want to highlight a point that a commenter just made. She wrote: “Even though you threw it out I would report it to your manager. I can assure you this person is probably doing the same things to other people. We’ve had cases where I work where we find out some creep has been inappropriate with lots of women for a long time but we didn’t know until one of them finally said something to management and we started looking into it. You’d be doing yourself, your employer, and your coworkers a huge favor by reporting it.” I think this is a good point, and I wish I’d taken it into account in my original answer.”

    This is very true. The last company I worked for tolerated all sorts of behavior from creepy guys (one in particular) because it wasn’t reported, or it was assumed that women in the office weren’t bothered by it. I observed a lot of this inappropriate behavior day after day and finally said something to our HR person because even though it wasn’t happening to me, it was clearly bothering a lot of people who were too afraid to speak out because of the perceived repercussions. HR took it seriously, calmly took a few co-workers aside to get their perspective and statements about the things this particular creepy guy had done, and after about a month he was gone (he was also short tempered and unstable, so they had to handle the situation with kid gloves).

  24. Anonymous*

    I know I’m a minority here but I think it’s funny. I wouldn’t be offended and would probably laugh it off but make a comment that I am glad I got the “sex toy” than someone who wouldn’t laugh at it’s humor. I’d probably ask, “who thinks I need to find a man?” (I’m single). I don’t know maybe I’m the inappropriate one here. I’d never give one though unless it was a close friend of a guy I’m into. Even in an office environment.

    1. VintageLydia*

      When it comes to sexually charged gifts in the workplace, if it happens at ALL, you really really need to know your audience. Maybe for you it’s no big deal. Maybe that’s the type of humor you enjoy. If your gifter knows that and knows you’d think it’s hilarious, that’s one thing. I still don’t think it’s appropriate, but I’m not the Queen of Workplaces.

      In this case, the OP didn’t like it and didn’t think it was funny. It doesn’t seem like sexual humor is something she herself fosters or enjoys, so there is no legitimate reason why their Secret Santa would think she’d like it. Context is everything.

      1. Elizabeth*

        Even more than that, it’s inappropriate *in the workplace* even the giver knew the recipient would find it funny. The giver couldn’t be sure, in a medium-or-larger workplace, that absolutely no one there would find it uncomfortable, and the recipient could have unwrapped the gift in front of anyone.

        If a sex-related gift was given at a gathering of friends, and most found it funny but someone was uncomfortable, then that person can choose not to hang out with that group of people anymore. But people don’t go to work just to hang around their coworkers; they go to earn money. There’s not as much freedom to avoid people as there is in a social sphere.

        Unless you work in a sex-related industry, sex should be left out of the workplace.

        1. IronMaiden*

          Even within the sex related industries, their are professional behaviours and standards. It is not a free for all, as some might imagine.

  25. steve G*

    I don’t understand the points of questions like this. Yes, there is some shock value, but what is the real question? What can AAM really say in such situations besides “it is wrong?” The OP knows there workplace better than anyone else to know whether to give the person a reality check. I guess it would make more sense to me if the person had written in “guess what happened to me” instead of framing it as a question.

    1. VintageLydia*

      Sometimes it’s nice to get validation for the way you’re feeling about a certain situation. When you’re steeped in dysfunction it gets more difficult to gage whether you are being reasonable. And sometimes you feel like you need to DO something, and in all honesty, there is something the OP can do that she hasn’t if she wants to pursue it (report it to HR, since her own manager brushed it off.) But those solutions aren’t always obvious when you’re in the thick of things. If Alison doesn’t think a query deserves a public answer, she wouldn’t post it. It’s her blog, and this question is well within the stated parameters.

      1. steve G*

        Got it. PS on an unrelated note, I put in an expensive bottle of wine into our grab bag, and got out a mug, a plain old mug. Ugh.

        1. Editor*

          I don’t know anyone who needs mugs. All the offices where I’ve worked were overflowing with spare mugs in the kitchen — most of them ugly. The entire coffee mug industry should shut down for two years to bring the supply into equilibrium, and instead manufacture chocolate teapots for the duration.

      2. Elizabeth*

        From the OP’s comments in this thread, it sounds like she did find the validation useful, and that even her husband kind of blew off her feelings.

  26. Me*

    I’d consider displaying the “gift” prominently on my desk. Oh, wait, would that not be appropriate?

    Exactly. Which is why I’d report this and expect my management team to take serious action. People don’t do things like this in a vacuum and it’s clearly inappropriate. (And if someone on my team did this, I would absolutely identify the person and write them up or fire them depending on our policies.)

    1. Not So NewReader*

      You could put a sign next to it.

      uh. wait. I am not going to type out what that sign says….

  27. UK HR Bod*

    I’d take a bet that both the ‘novelty’ sex toy and the cock sweets came from Anne Summers. They sell tit sweets too (I think), not to mention edible undies. And they are completely mainstream, as in, on the high street, in the shopping centre between Game and H&M kids (it’s ok though, the ‘real’ sex toys are a couple of shelves back, so you have to walk past the crotchless pants to see them. It’s a stupid present to buy someone, but sadly there is cultural reinforcement over here that ‘novelty’ sex presents are funny. Really, really funny. I think it’s linked to the Brit toilet humour obsession. Undoubtedly it’s appalling behaviour, and there are clear grounds for sexual harassment disciplinaries, but given where these people are coming from, you are right to say that the best punishment was no reaction. However your company needs to take it more seriously – no matter that you can deal with it, it’s still wrong. And the leverage to make them do it is that you would probably win a case – even if your halfwitted colleagues think it’s a joke, what matters is the result, not their intent. There is a huge amount of stuff around in the UK about workplace liability for this kind of thing (it’s the time of year for articles about being liable for the sexist remark in the pub after work), so if you are being generous enough to give them a second chance, they really need to be clear on appropriate office behaviour next year.

      1. ITPuffNStuff*

        I would not be surprised if the tasteless gift did come from a man, and it doesn’t say good things about our gender that this kind of behavior is sort of “typically male”, but the assumption is none the less a gender bias, and if people are serious about getting beyond gender issues, we have to set those assumptions (both positive and negative) aside. In this case I think we can agree that the gender of the person who gave the gift should not be relevant here, and the issue is the poor judgment reflected in the gift selection.

        In the interest of full disclosure, I am male and bring with me to this discussion whatever biases come with that.


    1. aebhel*

      An inappropriately sexual gift to not one but two of the few women in a workplace dominated by young men? Yeah, it’s a real stretch to think that the givers might have been men. How horribly sexist of the OP.

  28. Apollo Warbucks*

    I posted a few weeks a go the same thing happened where I used to work, it was wrong on so many leveles, the management did nothing which only lead to more comments and jokes. Tell the management so they can put stop to it.

  29. MaryTerry*

    Not that I would lay odds that this happened, but there is a slight possibility that whoever left the gift had a similarly wrapped gift that was actually the Secret Santa gift, and grabbed the sex toy meant for his Current Romantic Interest instead, thereby inadvertently giving his lady friend a box of Mudslide K-cups instead of the “special” gift you received in error.

    Or he is just clueless, or a jerk.

  30. Sara*

    We did secret Santa yesterday and I went to bed crying last night. 7 of us participated and I spent time choosing and wrapping my present. We all opened our gifts in front of each other yesterday and whilst there was fun gifts everyone received a nice present except me. I got the grand total of 2 rude things from a sex shop which cost no more than £5 and this came from a female colleague. I am not a prude but am deeply offended because everyone with the exception of me received lovely gifts. Needless to say I will not be participating next year. I am still terribly upset over this.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’d take it to your Secret Santa organizer and your manager and/or HR. That is unacceptable, and you should not be made to feel like you did. That is not a reflection of you; it is a reflection of your female colleague. Sexual harassment does not have to be between two opposite sex people; it can happen between two people of the same sex. But by crying yourself to sleep at night and not saying anything at work just lets your coworker get away with what she did and who knows who she will do this to next time. And maybe she has other behaviors that need to brought into the light!

      Good luck. And remember – it’s not you, it’s her. Cliche or not, it’s true for your case.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I have cried myself to sleep over work issues, so my heart goes out to you.
        My conclusion that I came to was this: I have a two part problem. The first part is the original problem itself. The second part is that I did not stand up for ME in an adequate manner. I let ME down.

        Sometimes, the second problem is worse than the first problem.

        You owe it to yourself to craft a plan. Some that you will stick to and actually do. Go back in there and stand up for you. This is EXACTLY what sexual harassment is- it causes a person to cry themselves to sleep.
        It might help if you pretend you are protecting a loved one. Sometimes it is easier to stand up for another person than it is to stand up for ourselves. So pretend you are going to stand up for your favorite sibling/cousin/neighbor. Where would you start to do this and what steps would you do?

  31. Editor*

    The OP has mentioned that the job environment is a workshop and that’s it is in the UK. In the US, a workshop environment might likely serve workers with a mental handicap or job training needs (people who’ve come out of special education programs). This may or may not be the case, but the workers are apparently young.

    Management is not doing these workers any favors by failing to train them about workplace-appropriate behavior. The workers will be more valuable in general if they know what is unacceptable in the workplace. If they have some kind of cognition or emotional perception issues, it would be practical to help them understand.

    Management should also never allow any gift exchange to have complete anonymity. Someone should always keep track of who has what name, and that might have prevented the problem.

  32. Michele*

    Definitely say something. Why should a co-worker give you a gift that’s definitely in poor taste and definitely would violate any kind of policy.

  33. David*

    So, if I may, when you say you are offended simply because the reason given, would there be any reason that would make giving this to you OK?
    How do you know the reason it was given to you if you don’t even know who it was that gave it to you?
    You don’t know that they think you are a miserable cow, but it does sound like you think you project that image to your co-workers. You are creating an entire dialogue in your head when you aren’t certain of anything about this situation except for the fact that you received a sex toy. It seems that you aren’t even sure if it is inappropriate or not because you seemingly would be OK with it depending on the reason given.
    Of course, it’s not appropriate in an office environment and I don’ think any HR dept. would require a complaint from you to take action against this person that gave it to you, no matter what the reason was.
    Also, if you had a fair and competent HR dept. I don’t think they would like your comment about how you know it was a man that wrapped your gift.

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