"Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
Perhaps the best part of “Louie’s” premiere is a long poker-table conversation about dildos during which Jim Norton cops to masturbating with a vibrator. The logistics sound complicated. But it turns out that in real life, Norton is not alone. Until a few years ago, I too was unaware that men could be just as interested in sex toys as women. Call me naïve, but the first time I saw a man press a vibrator against the base of his penis, I was amazed. I’m not the only woman to come to such a realization. Sex educator Charlie Glickman, the co-author of “The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure,” who worked at Good Vibrations for 16 years, said, “A lot of women would pick up one of the floor models, put their finger inside and get this look of amazement on their face and say something like, ‘For the first time, I actually do wish I had a penis.’”
As it turns out, there’s a wave of products designed for and marketed to men, for solo use or with a partner. These include the newly launched “guybrator” Pulse; Lovehoney’s Edge line, which includes a penis pump and “stamina ring;” Aneros prostate massagers; Tenga masturbation eggs; cock rings; and perhaps the most well known, the Fleshlight and its gay male-oriented line, Fleshjack, which has to be credited with humor points for its Count Cockula, complete with “soft, vampire mouth.”
For Adam Lewis, a childhood experience ultimately paved the way for last fall’s launch of Pulse, which Wired UK described as “a Darth Vader-style vibro helmet for penises.” The toy works by stimulating the frenulum, a sensation Lewis discovered at age 10 “completely by accident in my grandparents’ swimming pool.” He’d long wanted to design a vibrator for men to mimic this sensation, but was uncertain about the response. “I didn’t think any other guy would be interested in it because nothing like it existed.” Yet at the encouragement of a friend, now his partner in the company, he decided to give it a whirl, and says they’ve sold 10,000 in their first six months.
These days men aren’t just creating toys, but blogging about them too. Just as there are women-run sites like Hey Epiphora for reviewing and rating sex toys, there are guys like Will of Mr. Will’s House of Thrills and Guy of He’s Naked. Will, a 25-year-old single straight guy from Texas, bought his first toy in college, but almost didn’t try others. “I picked up a horrid jelly masturbator sleeve at a seedy novelty shop off the highway. It was horrible, and for years I thought everything would be just like that toy. I was so wrong.” Since then, he’s tried everything from a Buddha-shaped dildo to anal beads to a sex stool, and estimates he uses sex toys about 25 percent of the time during masturbation. Will’s top picks for the modern masturbating man: the Pure Wand for prostate massage, the Tenga Flip Hole, and Pulse. Guy suggests Tenga eggs (“affordable, discreet and look nothing like a usual sex toy”), Fun Factory’s Booty and Boosty butt plugs and the Tantus Mark O2 dildo.
Or take Guy, a 22-year-old gay student in Norway, who’s in a relationship but was inspired by his first toy purchase, the Fleshjack Ice, to spread the good word. “I had no clue how great masturbation could actually feel until I got this thing. I was super curious but never really wanted to buy anything because of what I thought was a ridiculous amount of money to just jack off.” He started his blog to help people like him find safe and worthwhile toys. “I wanted to abandon the stereotype that information about sex toys had to be found on sleazy looking, ad infested websites.” To that end, he rates products like dragon-themed dildo Bruiser the Fusion on packing, look and feel, materials used, as well as function and dimensions.
Though a dragon-themed dildo named Bruiser might suggest otherwise, many dedicated users insist that these devices are veritable pleasure factories. According to Guy, “Using a male masturbator is like getting super human stroking power.” Aneros CEO Chris “CT” Schenk cites a term a user coined called the “Super-O,” regarding prostate, or “male G-spot,” stimulation. This mega climax “is often described as a series of smaller orgasms that build into a large and extremely intense full-body orgasm or series of orgasms.” Sounds intense indeed, CT!
Claire Cavanah, who cofounded sex toy store Babeland in 1993, where 40 percent of the customers are men, explained just how far male sex toys have come over the past few years. “The Fleshlight was the standard for men and it was perfectly fine to want to use this big, macho flashlight-disguised masturbation sleeve that featured a woman’s genitals as the entryway. Now, though, I think there’s a new type of consumer.” This, after all, is the digital age of dildos: “They don’t want the graphic details of the Fleshlight,” Cavanah said, “but are attracted to the technological design of the Tenga Flip instead — its engineering and technology give it cachet, and it doesn’t hurt that it would look right at home next to your iPhone.”
Rachel Kramer Bussel is the editor of more than 50 anthologies, including "The Big Book of Orgasms," "Serving Him" and "Irresistible: Erotic Romance for Couples." She writes widely about sex, dating and pop culture, and is a blogger at Lusty Lady and Cupcakes Take the Cake.More Rachel Kramer Bussel.
Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
"Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987
Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)