Over the past few decades, women’s sex toys have gone from seedy to chic, swapping the aisles of porn shops for those of Walgreens and Target. But when it comes to products intended to stimulate the penis, there hasn’t been much change. One of the most popular masturbation products for men,the Fleshlight, has remained largely the same since its inception in 1998 — and even that product isn’t much different from the anatomically inspired masturbation sleeves that have been sold to men for decades.
WHILE WOMEN’S SEX TOYS HAVE GONE FROM SEEDY TO CHIC, MEN’S… HAVEN’TThere are lots of different theories about why women’s products dominate the sex toy market. Some suggest that it’s a question of demand: men just don’t want or need masturbatory assistance in the same way that women do. Others have noted that the kind of products that are sold to men tend to be too graphic to make a play for the mainstream market — the aforementioned Fleshlight, with its vulval exterior and porn-star-laden packaging, isn’t really the best fit for Walmart.
But what if those explanations don’t get it right? What if the real thing that’s holding penis-focused toys back is our cultural attitude toward male masturbation?
Paradoxically, male self-pleasure is simultaneously more accepted and more shameful than its female counterpart. While it’s broadly assumed that men — especially young men and ones who are single — will more readily find a way to give themselves a hand, it’s not viewed as the kind of sexual education that female masturbation is. Women are encouraged to masturbate to learn what they like and experience more fulfilling sex with a partner; men are presumed to masturbate as a replacement for sex.
In addition, when men do masturbate, it’s not really considered something to celebrate. Masturbation is a fallback for the lonely and unloved, a sign that you’re too undesirable to get a living, breathing human to have sex with you. It’s not about getting to know your body, it’s a shameful strategy for achieving the goal of orgasm; and for many, that means that it’s best when through with as quickly as possible.
“MOST MEN LEARN TO MASTURBATE AS QUICKLY AND AS QUIETLY AS POSSIBLE”
“Most men learn to masturbate as quickly and quietly as possible, or [while] watching porn,” says sex coach Charlie Glickman, the former education program manager for sex toy retail Good Vibrations. “The idea is grab it tight as you can, jerk your hands back and forth as fast as you can… when that becomes our habit [we miss out on] all of the other pleasure that can come from sexuality.”
Statistics from PornHub uphold this view: the average user visit is under 10 minutes — and that includes all the time spent finding a good clip and locating the best moment. Is it any surprise that our attitude of “Get it done quick, and do your best to pretend you’re with a real person” has led to a class of pleasure products that no one is bragging about?
That’s why CT Schenk created Blewit !. A 12-year veteran of the sex toy industry, Schenk is intimately familiar with the shame that surrounds male self-pleasure, and wanted to create a product that would combat the shame around male masturbation. Though other manufacturers — Tenga, Lelo, and FunFactory, to name a few — have also begun to offer a classier alternative to Fleshlight-like products; Schenk’s one of the few to explicitly make the connection between shame around masturbation, the quality of men’s sex toys, and the effect this all has on male sexual health.
At first glance, Blewit! appears pretty similar to most other penis-focused toys on the market. It has a hard outer shell; a soft, textured inner sleeve; and, well, you can probably figure out how it’s used. But there are some design features that differentiate it from its competitors — it’s sleek and easy to grip, clean-up is a breeze, and the opening doesn’t mimic any part of the human body. Its marketing, though, is what really sets it apart.
Schenk isn’t trying to sell an erotic fantasy: there are no pictures of beautiful porn performers on the packaging or website, no attempts to liken the product to being inside anyone’s body. What he offers instead is the idea of Blewit! as “pleasure training,” a device designed to help men learn more about their bodies — while also helping to combat common sexual problems. If this sounds familiar, it’s because that’s how women’s sex toys went mainstream.
Schenk believes that shame around masturbation — and the rapid-fire masturbatory habits it inspires — contributes to issues like premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, and the inability to climax with a partner. In addition to the product itself, Schenk’s worked with sex therapists and educators to develop a series of education materials that promote “mindful masturbation,” a slower, more thoughtful self-pleasure process that encourages the body to appreciate subtler stimulation.
Blewit! hasn’t broken into big-box stores yet, and it may not cross into the mainstream for a while. If it — or any other male masturbation products — do manage to make it there, it’ll likely be thanks in part to Schenk’s work to recontextualize male self-pleasure as a healthy part of the human sexual experience.
It took decades for female masturbation to go from completely undiscussed to a celebrated aspect of healthy sexuality. Male masturbation has different challenges: shedding myths, misconceptions, and a whole host of bad habits as it makes its way to the mainstream. But if the mainstreaming of women’s sex toys has taught us anything, it’s that the rewards of overcoming those obstacles are more than worth it.
By Lux Alptraum