Women’s use of vibrators and other sex toys is often celebrated as a sign of sexual liberation. But why can’t the same be said for men?
While it’s generally acceptable for women to own a plethora of vibrators, dildos and other toys to get themselves off, for men it seems to be a completely different story. Whether it’s flesh lights, butt plugs or suction pumps, there is still a persistent air of unease around male masturbatory aids.
A 2014 British sex survey by the Guardian showed that women are significantly more likely than men to have used sex toys (52 per cent and 39 per cent respectively), while homosexuals (66 per cent) are more likely to have used sex aids than heterosexuals (44 per cent). This discrepancy proves that a large number of heterosexual men do not feel comfortable using sex toys – or are simply too ashamed to confess.
One man who recognises this sense of secrecy surrounding his sex toy use is 25-year-old Joseph*. While he had been curious about sex toys since his late teens, he didn’t buy his first sex toy, a prostate massager, until he was in his early twenties. Joseph felt that even though his female friends were able to freely discuss their sex toy use among friends, he couldn’t do the same. “Most of my female friends own some type of sex toy, and will happily talk about their experiences. Hugely popular retailers like Ann Summers and Lovehoney also prove that there isn’t much of a taboo around them anymore,” he says.
“Sex toys are pitched at gay men which has put off heterosexual men, who believe they might have a gay inclination if they try them out”
There is also a fear around heterosexual men being branded gay if they admit to using prostate stimulators. “I once drunkenly told some of my guy friends about experimenting with sex toys and they instantly mocked me, telling me I must be gay. This misconception that enjoying anal stimulation affects your sexuality is ridiculous. So there’s a still a real fear of being laughed at and ridiculed,” he says.
The reason male sex toys are linked to gay culture is also down to the adult toy companies. According to Nichi Hodgson, sex expert, ex-dominatrix and Ooh by Je Joue brand ambassador, gay men have historically been free to experiment sexually as a marginalised group. “There was a stigma around their sexuality, so they’ve had to fight for sexual liberation and were able to experiment. As a result, a lot of sex toys are pitched at gay men. This has put off heterosexual men, who believe they might have a gay inclination if they try them out,” she explains.
Hodgson adds: “There is also a persistent belief in our society that ‘real’ men don’t need aids. If you don’t get off on your own, there must be something wrong with you sexually.”
Luckily, it’s not all bad news. There is a definite shift happening within the market, and male sex toys sales are on the up. The internet has also provided a safe place to browse and buy. “The market is expanding with innovation at its forefront. An increasing number of toys are now becoming non-gender specific, which means more men feel comfortable exploring sex toys themselves,” she says. “E-commerce is where the big boom is happening. Straight men no longer have to go into seedy-looking sex shops that tend to be geared towards a gay audience.”
For those who are keen to experiment but feeling shy, Hodgson suggests that couple’s toys are a great starting point. “From my experience as a dominatrix, most guys are fascinated by anal play. But many freeze when they get touched in that area. I’d recommend for them to use multi-purpose vibrators and anally experiment with a girl first. They need to get comfortable with their own bodies and toys can help them do that,” she says.
“TV shows like Sex and the City have helped towards breaking down the taboo around women using sex toys – we haven’t had that watershed moment yet for men in pop culture.”
To achieve long-term change, there needs to be wider discussion around male sex toy use, with Joseph arguing that a lack of visibility in popular culture is the main reason men are still ashamed to discuss their toy habits. He explains: “TV shows like Sex and the City have helped towards breaking down the taboo around women using sex toys – just think about the popularity of the Rampant Rabbit. We haven’t had that watershed moment yet for men in popular culture.”
Ammanda Major, senior practice consultant for psycho-sexual therapy at Relate, agrees. She explains: “It is much more likely in current films for women to reference or use sex toys – and I’m not talking about pornographic films. While I can’t speak for the entire film industry, I can’t think of one mainline film where men would happily promote the use of sex toys.” According to Major, the current stigma is also a gendered issue. “Unlike women, men find it more difficult to have these conversations with their friends. When men start having these conversations, it will start to become normalised and accepted,” she says.
While it might take some time for these conversations to be had, Major believes that change is definitely underway. What is needed now is for the issue to have its moment in the spotlight. She concludes: “The reduction of the stigma is undoubtedly happening. But getting it to ‘prime time’ will be a combination of normalising it in the press, on TV and in film, which will lead to more men discussing it with their mates. It’s up to popular culture to raise its profile.”