The male sex toy revolution

As high-end brands make sleeker, sexier products, attitudes toward men's solo pleasure products are slowly changing

Topics: Salon -- After Dark, Sex,

The male sex toy revolution (Credit: Salon)

Recently, a friend of mine told me about his roommate’s new solo sex toy. “It’s Japanese — all sleek, high-design,” he said breathlessly, as though enthusing about the latest iPad. “Apparently it feels amazing.”

This was the same male friend whom I recall some 10 years ago telling me — with a mix of pity and disgust — how he’d accidentally found a “fake pussy” under his buddy’s bed. This wasn’t just a personal attitude shift: penetrable sex toys for men have been revolutionized over the past decade.

“Pocket” vaginas have long been ridiculed as objects of desperation and creepiness: Most are misproportioned and rubbery — some even have synthetic pubic hair sewn into faux flesh (they aim for far greater anatomical literalness than most vibrators or dildos). These types of toys range from a few bucks to a couple hundred, but are generally known for being pathetic imitations of the real thing. Thanks to a couple lof eading companies, though, masturbatory sleeves — which are generally soft tubes that go over the penis — are becoming sleeker, sexier and more high-tech. As a result, attitudes toward “jerk-off” toys are changing, ever so slowly.

Mark, a single dad in his early 40s who owns a Fleshlight, explains that in order for a toy to escape the “creepy guy” stigma, it has to strike just the right balance: “The more realistic (and expensive and elaborate) the simulation, the more it can be perceived as a replacement for the real woman, and the man is assumed to be unable to attract.”

Fleshlight, which has sold more than 4 million toys since its start in 1995, “pioneered” the transition away from the slab-of-flesh look, says Charlie Glickman, a sex educator at Good Vibrations. In the classic model, 10 inches of the company’s signature “Real Feel Superskin” are concealed in a flashlight-like tube, save for an opening on one end, which either has a simple slit or is modeled after various orifices. It comes with a range of interior textures and shapes — some are so maze-like, they seem designed to replicate sex with a duck (fun fact: ducks have corkscrew vaginas).



But it was a “game-changing product” largely thanks to its high-tech materials, says Glickman. Before Fleshlight, “the male masturbation sleeves were either these not very well designed or attractive products, or they were the blow-up doll types,” he says. ”[The Fleshlight] is not inexpensive plastic or vinyl.”

The brand’s marketing helps too: It’s a company with an irreverent sense of humor — just consider its line of monster-themed Fleshlights (apparently Lady Dracula has bat-shaped labia) or its collection outfitted in faux beer cans. Add its series modeled after various female porn stars’ naughty bits, and its sponsorship of the Air Sex Championships, and it’s easy to imagine it being accepted (semi-ironically, of course) within a certain college crowd. It’s a far cry from the desperate old man stereotype of yore.

The other industry leader is Tenga, the brand my friend’s roommate was talking about: a line of Japanese sleeves that entirely eschews the porn aesthetic. If you ended up on the product’s website without a primer, you might think that they were selling high-tech remote controls or modern art sculptures for your desktop. Its new 3-D line of sleeves are being advertised using images of them turned inside out, revealing elaborate and, quite frankly, beautiful raised geometric patterns. The Zen model looks like a phallic Japanese rock garden.

Jim Blanchard, the senior vice president of development at the company in charge of U.S. distribution of Tenga, tells me, “The interior designs of the products have nothing to do with the internal organs of a female. It’s an artful concept.”

Blanchard says that in the U.S., most of Tenga’s new growth is in spas and salons. “We’ve also been pushing it in the medical community for the benefits for folks with [erectile dysfunction] or for rehabilitation after prostate surgery or vasectomy.” Interestingly, the company’s egg-shaped product was Amazon’s biggest seller a couple of Easters ago, thanks to an adorable ad that featured the product alongside a chick (tag line: “Different strokes from different yolks!”). The brand’s U.S. audience is largely split between gay men, “mature” straight males and couples, he says.

Matt, whose girlfriend bought him two Tenga Eggs when their relationship was long-distance, says, “It’s like having superhuman masturbation powers when you use one.” The aesthetics are important too: ”It looks more like silly putty than some kind of big clunky sex toy,” he says and adds, “We’ve taken them through airport security and never had a problem.” Now, his girlfriend occasionally uses the toy on him or watches him while he uses it.

In addition to better design and technology, these companies have benefited from what Glickman calls “porn’s coming out of the closet.” He explains, “The more you hear other guys talking about which porn star they like, even if nobody says, ‘Oh yeah, of course I was jacking off while watching so-and-so, you know that it’s there.” In general, men “are becoming much less embarrassed about masturbating,” says Glickman.

Mark agrees. “I think that the high-end wanking product niche is a result of the Internet, which has revolutionized the expression of sexuality generally,” he says. “People are becoming less ashamed and secretive about their sex lives, and a lot of ridiculous pretense and ignorance is giving way to frankness and information.” It’s also “harder to bully and shame people who have a support community,” Mark points out.

That isn’t to say that the stigma has disappeared — but it has lessened noticeably, most remarkably among straight men. “There has been much more acceptance of sex toys and masturbation among gay men for a long, long time,” says Glickman. “If part of the masturbation phobia among men is the masculinity piece, gay men are much more likely to have worked through stuff around that.”

There’s also a double standard in the sex toy realm, which is remarkable given that there a much greater barrier to acceptance of the fact that women masturbate, period. Vibrators — which can be used by either sex, it’s worth noting, but are primarily marketed toward women — are solidly in the mainstream. They’re advertised on daytime TV, and sold in drugstores and through “Tupperware parties.” It’s not so with men’s solo toys.

Chuck, 52, tells me that he bought a Fleshlight when his wife was out of town. “After [she] came home, I broached the subject of me getting a sex toy and she said, ‘I know it’s not fair, because I’ve got one, but I don’t want you to.’” He ended up throwing the toy out.

Phil, a 25-year-old virgin who has owned several different sleeves, says, “Our society expects that men should be able to find sexual gratification whenever they want and not have to resort to sex toys. When men can’t find sex partners, they’re considered ‘losers’ by both men and women alike.” As he sees it, women’s sexual experience has benefited far more dramatically from “the sex revolution and several waves of feminism.”

But Glickman argues that the greater acceptance of toys like the Fleshlight has gone hand-in-hand with the rise of female sex toys, which was similarly aided by higher-end design. Progress may be slow, but masculine norms are shifting: As I’ve written about before, straight guys are increasingly opening up to incorporating vibrators into partnered sex and being on the receiving end of anal play. Change is being hatched, one Tenga Egg at a time.

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>