Today we’re going to talk about fleshlights. If you’re not familiar with the instrument, please read up here. Particularly, I want to talk about an article I read regarding fleshlights featured on the “Dazed and Confused Magazine” digital website. This site usually offers interesting social and artistic commentaries. However, I was thoroughly disappointed with a recent article, The Shame Surrounding Male Sex Toys.
In the article, the writer asserts that society is shaming men for their use of fleshlights (and other masturbatory aids) and that, instead, fleshlights should be seen as a form of sexual liberation for men. I have a lot of contentions with this claim, so let’s jump right in!
I was originally resistant to this article based on its general assertion that men were somehow suffering in the realm of sexual liberation. Considering that sexual liberation is historically situated with the struggles that women have and continue to overcome, this argument seemed out of place. This being said, I am fully aware that far more than just “women” have suffered from sexual and societal repression. However, the more I examined this article, the more I realized that they were speaking to an audience consisting of exclusively heterosexual men (and shaming everyone else in the process).
I want to discuss how completely heteronormative, verging on homophobic, this entire article is. It opens with a statistic stating the discrepancy in reported usage of masturbatory aids between women and men (52% to 39%) and claims that this “proves that a large number of heterosexual men do not feel comfortable using sex toys.” This 13% difference is hardly significant when one reflects on the varying sexual needs of men and women.
They go on to cite that homosexual men are more likely to use aids than heterosexual men. Their “sexpert” states that this higher usage resulted because gay men were “free to experiment sexually as a marginalized group.” The notion that gay men have been “free to experiment” is insulting considering the damaging stigma that continues to surround individuals that identify as homosexual. So, I hardly see how these statistics are relevant to the “sexual liberation” of men as a group.
The article goes on to describe reasons why men are facing shame for their use of sexual aids. Primarily, they cite the fear of being labeled homosexual, noting that men may even question themselves about their “gay inclinations” as a result of using aids. To this I respond, 1) there is nothing wrong with being homosexual; to entertain this as a “fear” is to imply that there is something problematic with it and 2) Sexuality is a spectrum; if men are questioning their “inclinations,” they should be allowed to do so without fear or judgment. Maybe a conversation about “men embracing their sexuality” would better serve their “liberation.”
The article celebrates the use of the internet for the convenience that, “straight men no longer have to go into seedy-looking sex shops that tend to be geared towards a gay audience.” To me, this statement is absolutely abhorrent. Not only does this imply that there is something “seedy” about sex shops that entertain primarily gay audiences, it also promotes a negative judgment on those that do visit brick-and-mortar sex shops, instead of embracing the fact that many humans positively entertain their sexual desires with the use of masturbatory aids.
What is this article’s recommendation for combatting insecurity regarding the use of sexual aids? They suggest practicing with a woman. Once again, this is completely biased towards heterosexual men. Insecurity around sexual aids is COMPLETELY normal and exists across gender and sexuality spectrums. Most importantly, this “advice” ignores that HOMOSEXUAL MEN ARE MEN, that are also capable of experiencing insecurity. So, if this article is about men’s sexual liberation, why isn’t it encompassing of all men?
The author of the Dazed article missed a great opportunity to discuss the rising use of fleshlights in a positive, or even reflexive, way. Worse, the arguments in this article relied on heteronormative assumptions. It failed to create any original or nuanced discussion around the topic. There is nothing wrong with using sex toys, masturbatory aids, or even creatively themed fleshlights (if that’s what you’re into)….
…However, sexual liberation shouldn’t operate by privileging heteronormative sexual experiences. Embrace the discussion of sexual liberation in nondiscriminatory and mindful ways! Go forth and conversate!