In the UK, they sell more Rabbits than dishwashers. I’m not talking about the little fluffy animal; I’m talking about the sex toy.
Sex toys can be a pretty fascinating (as well as deeply satisfying) interest. For example, some of the first vibrators were invented in the mid to late 1800s as a medical device. See, when a woman came to her doctor with a vague variety of symptoms including frustration, cramps, headaches or really anything experienced on a near day-to-day basis, it was pretty common to be diagnosed with a disorder called “hysteria”. The treatment- and I am not making this up- was for doctors to masturbate their patients to orgasm, except they referred to it as ‘pelvic massage’ to ‘hysterical paroxysm’. They thought it was a totally non-sexual, standard medical procedure.
As you can imagine, it’s a pretty tiring occupation if your wrist is making the same gesture for 8 hours or so a day. Thus, a (male) doctor in the US made a steam powered machine that could do the job for them and vibrators were welcomed into the world. By the early 1900s they had become electrified and available for retail as readily as toasters so women could treat themselves at home. But, when they started making an appearance in pornography in the 1920s, people realized that women were having orgasms with the things. Shock horror! They fell out of the mainstream, becoming part of the realm of ‘deviance’ before their triumphant return in the sexual revolution of the 1960s. They have been creeping back into the limelight ever since.
Personally, I think sex toys are fabulous – it’s double the orgasm with half the effort. But unsurprisingly society seems to have a bit of a strange relationship to them. Depending on who you talk to they’re either the new must have accessory or something that makes everyone within earshot feel a little awkward. But no matter the conversation, sex toys are almost always associated with women – whether it be the crude and grossly oversized phalluses you find in Club-X or the beautiful yet heartbreakingly expensive works of art created by JimmyJane, the assumption seems to be that sex-toys are intended for one gender only. But, as I’m sure many of you non-women folk have experienced, this simply isn’t the case. The world of sex toys intended for bio-sex males is as wide and diverse as any; masturbators, p-spot massagers, rings, and sleeves harnesses are all designed for anatomy traditionally associated with men- but the mindset around them is different.
Cosmopolitan has written goodness knows how ever many top 10 lists about the best sex toys that are guaranteed to get their readership’s rocks off, but whenever Men’s Health mentions them it’s either about finding the best one for you and your (always) female partner or whether or not you should be intimidated by the toy she saw in Cosmo. Why is a woman having a sex toy is seen as sexy, independent and empowering but a guy having one is either creepy or pathetic?
What is odd about sex toy stigma hanging around men is how masturbation stigma seems to still surround women. In my experience of being a lady who associates with other ladies, masturbation is something that is just never, ever discussed. I’m sure it’s not exactly dinner table conversations with a group of guys either, but at least in my own experience, there is the expectation or at least the understanding that it’s just a ‘natural part of manhood.’ Among women, that same feeling just doesn’t seem to be there. While there should definitely be a more accepting attitude towards masturbation all round, I don’t think that the current attitudes are really helping anyone (but they might help explain a discrepancy in sales).
Masculinity tends to dictate that men need to be in charge of their sex drive. Masturbation for them makes sense as something that they should do often and with vigor because they’re manly, virile men! Society holds for men (and to a lesser extent, women) this idea that sex, both by yourself and with other people, is something that should be easy. If it’s difficult, you’re the problem. This couples with the apparent goal of all men being to go and peruse as much sex with as many women as possible – masturbation’s only really meant to tide one over. I can’t help but think that under this logic, buying a sex toy as a man would (very unfairly) be perceived as a like a failure. The only reason a guy would need a toy is if he was inadequate at obtaining ‘actual’ sex and he can’t get his hand to finish the job.
The same idea that holds men to having an overwhelming sex drive holds women to the idea that they should have next to none. Though they may occasionally be in the mood by themselves, their sexuality is largely reactive to their partner’s – once they have a man, they only want sex to express their love and commitment. Thus, it would make sense for a woman to need a toy, she needs some sort of device to help her sexuality along as she waits for Mr. Right – how else can she possibly be expected to navigate the maze between her legs by herself?
Now I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. I love sex toys. As much as a think that the two paragraphs above are generally bullshit, for me buying a toy was fantastic. I had a lot of sexual frustration coupled with a fantastically lazy personality – it was a good match. Even though I know plenty of women who just want sex for sex’s sake and buy toys with no intentions of waiting for Prince Charming, in this particular regard, I feel like the stereotype has been worse for men. For me it’s just frustrating that men should be barred from finding new avenues of pleasure just because it’s seen as gross or unnecessary.
What I’m getting at is we need to talk about masturbation more. We need to talk about it if we want to, when we want to and how we want to. Just as it takes time to know your partner’s body, it takes time and practice to understand your own. For some people this comes really naturally, for some not so much, no matter their anatomy or gender. You might find that it’s not your cup of tea –that’s fine! You may find that you love it – also fine! If you need or want a little assistance, then welcome to the wonderful world of toys.