My husband is a hapless victim of my sex writing career. For the first few years we were together—before I shifted my focus to the science of sexual health, collaborating with counselors and researchers and educators—I dragged him to launch parties for porn flicks and erotic art gallery openings and, every time he merely wanted to enjoy a simple roll in the hay, I produced a new sex toy with a flourish, a product I was reviewing for this or that publication.
One time, we even did a photo shoot with Women's Health after testing out and reporting upon a particular couples' toy. I couldn't help but feel guilty when a coworker of his discovered the published article while flipping through the magazine at work. By the end of the day, it had circulated around the entire office.
I felt doubly guilty because he didn't even want all of those bells and whistles. He just wanted me. The toys I brought into the bedroom for research purposes didn't do anything for him. "It just feels weird," he said when I pressed him for details. I was disappointed. The very first time I had used a clitoral vibrator, it had been a revelation.
The past 15 years have seen the evolution of the vibrator from novelty sex toy to "personal massager" to well-designed piece of high-end gadgetry—gadgetry that has become especially proficient at bringing women to orgasm. And it makes sense. Sometimes, women need a little extra help during partner play to experience arousal. Sometimes, a toy can do a better job than a finger during a round of solo sex. And after all, we have that pesky orgasm gap to bridge. According to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, conducted back in 2009, 91 percent of men said they climaxed during their last sexual encounter while only 64 percent of women could report the same. Don't we deserve a little extra help?
Still, much more recently, we have seen the rise of the "guybrator" and other male masturbators, toys for men that go far beyond the minimalism of products such as the Fleshlight. To be honest, I've found this trend perplexing. Do guys need extra help achieving orgasm? Also, with my guy, toys haven't enhanced sex for anyone but me. So what gives?
A Man's First Sex Toy
It seems that, for many men, the gateway to solo sex toy use is partner play. In a 2009 paper published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers found that, of the men they surveyed—about half of whom had used a vibrator—most had used them with their partners during foreplay and/or intercourse. (Only 16.6 percent had used them during solo masturbation.) When men were asked what led them to incorporate vibrators into their intimate lives in the first place, the most common reasons were wanting to please one's partner, or wanting to aid them in achieving orgasm.
Such is the case for Paolo William, a 51-year-old straight male who has used vibrators and other toys with his partners for at least 25 years. Though he's tried the Fleshlight, in addition to several prostate stimulators, most of his toy usage is within the context of partner play. "I am a pleaser, so I like toys that she likes," says William. When asked whether toys enhance his own sexual experience, or if they are primarily used in the service of his partner's pleasure, he says that both are true. "I get off watching her get off," he says.
And William certainly isn't an anomaly. "In terms of men's attitudes toward vibrators," says Tristan Weedmark, We-Vibe's Global Passion Ambassador, "in actuality, more men than women buy vibrators. And so the notion that men are intimidated by them is a myth." In fact, in looking more closely at the JSM survey, while 24.2 percent of men reported having used a vibrator in the past year, a whopping 44.8 percent had tried them at some point over the entire course of their lives.
So Where Has the Rise of Male-Specific Sex Toys Come From?
"Over the last decade," says Weedmark, "there has been an increase in sexual education, which has prompted higher acceptance and comfort around the subject of sexual pleasure and toys. Women and men alike have become more at ease talking about what they want, and they are more open to conversations around ways they can enhance their sexual experience."
And with this ease has come a greater understanding of what has the potential to feel good. "My clients who use vibrators are often surprised by the way they change the sexual experience," says Dr. Jess, Astroglide's Resident Sexologist. "It's not just about enhancement, but about learning to derive and experience sexual pleasure from parts of their bodies aside from their penises. They use them on their perineums (behind the balls) and they report that their orgasms become more intense; rather than simply feeling concentrated pleasure in their groin, they find that they feel orgasmic sensations in other parts of their bodies, from their nipples to their fingertips."
This dawning realization of sexual possibility was also evident in a study conducted by researchers in Canada. For the purposes of this study, participants were given a couples' vibrator that they were asked to incorporate into their sex play over the course of six weeks. In the end, 71.4 percent of men reported enjoying the vibrator, saying it enhanced sexual pleasure, while 87.8 percent said they planned to keep using the vibrator after the study was over.
And these accounts are confirmed when I speak to Billy Procida, stand-up comedian and host of "The Manwhore Podcast." Procida has used toys during partner play, but usually prefers to enjoy them on his own. "If I stimulate myself underneath the frenulum for long enough," says Procida, "it definitely draws out the process. The sensations build. I do it when I feel I have the patience for it. And then, maybe 15 to 25 minutes later, I have the most eruptive orgasm."
The first time Procida experimented with this type of stimulation, he used his finger. "It feels like you're exploding," he says. "It felt like the entire world was coming out of my dick." Later on, he even tried using a small, bullet vibrator, which enhanced the sensations, but which was difficult to keep in place. But when Hot Octopuss, the creators of the Pulse, sponsored his podcast and sent him a free unit, he says it took things to the next level.
And other sex toy purveyors are following suit. "Male sex toys, which have always been as abundant as female sex toys, were left somewhat behind," says Steve Thomson, CMO of LELO, a designer of luxury pleasure objects. "The women's luxury market improved drastically. The male luxury market stagnated. 2014, though, saw a kind of critical mass occur, in which men began demanding the same kind of quality and design from their pleasure products as women."
So in 2015, LELO released a series of vibrating prostate massagers, which immediately became among their bestselling products.
"There has been a rise in men experimenting with all types of sex toys," confirms Leo Debois, co-founder of adamstoybox.com, which opened at the end of 2013. "Specifically, we see men are attracted more to experiencing the prostate—it's like they just found out about it! Aside from gay men, who already know how it feels to stimulate the prostate, straight men are actively seeking out ways to get more out of sex, and they are doing this by opening up to the use of sex toys with their partners. It's kind of like a sexual liberalization for men."
And even smaller operations are getting in on the action. "My entry into the male masturbation product market was primarily a business one, but also one supported by an acute interest in and knowledge of human sexuality," says Brian Sloan, the creator of the Autoblow 2, which he funded via Indiegogo back in 2014. "The female toy market even in 2008 had many innovative products, but the male side mostly consisted of hand-held artificial vaginas. I knew that robotics were changing other industries and thought that, if I applied similar principles to male masturbators, I'd have a product men would buy and enjoy."
So he created something that was similar in design to other sleeve-based products, but which users did not have to move up and down themselves. "I set out to create a product that not only felt better than the existing handheld products but, most importantly, operated automatically," says Sloan, "so the guy could have the experience of something happening to him, without him doing it himself. Both psychologically and physiologically, the sensation of something being done to you is, I think, in most men's minds, superior to doing something to yourself."
Across this vast breadth of male sex toys, it seems toy developers are onto something. Business has been booming for guybrators, prostate massagers, and even sleeves. LELO in particular reports that, in 2015, sales of male anal pleasure objects increased by close to 200 percent.
"What drives this market?" asks Sloan. "That is the simplest question to answer: men's natural urge to ejaculate."
What Are the Far-Reaching Implications for Male Sex Play?
So should every guy out there rush over to his local sex shop and pick up something that will poke, prod and buzz him toward orgasm? Should I buy my husband a male masturbator for our wedding anniversary? Should I push him to explore this form of solo sex when it seems he'd much prefer to keep things simple? Is he totally missing out?
"With particular reference to male masturbators, or 'sleeves,'" says Thomson, "or whatever name they might go by, they may well feel 'weird' to one man, realistic to another, and better than the real thing to yet another. What's more, 'weird' doesn’t necessarily imply 'bad.' … But male masturbators represent only one segment of the men's sex toy market. There are countless other ways for men to express their sexualities, and any number of pleasure products to do it with."
And that means they may choose not to use any product at all.