Men are simple creatures. That’s what makes us so complicated.
We have a strained relationship with sex, us penis-havers. Growing up, I had a friend who could only get off by shutting his dick in the fridge door. He’s married now. Somehow. To a real human woman and everything, not to an Indesit upright refrigerator. The point is, our sexual development is often characterised by strange masturbatory habits and compulsions that don’t translate well to adulthood, and some men can feel out of their depth we finally encounter a confident, sexually empowered woman, because for a lot of men, male sexual empowerment and male sexual entitlement are indistinguishable.
It’s no huge surprise, then, that a lot of men take issue with their partners’ sex toys. No surprise, but that doesn’t make it easier to understand. Today, I’m going to offer a few personal opinions on why some men feel insecure about pleasure products, from a man’s point of view. My point of view. As a man. With a point of view.
Taboos, You Lose
The taboo and mystery that has long surrounded sex toys, since even before they were euphemised as ‘marital aids,’ is beginning to wash away. Thanks to more innovative technologies and improving design philosophies, the sex toy industry is no longer defined by dimly lit, smoky backstreet sex shops and sticky, petrol-smelling dildos. Every day we march closer and closer to mainstream acceptability. That means there are more vibratey things in more bedrooms than ever before, and I’m proud to say that LELO has been at the leading edge of those changing attitudes.
But changes in technology have always outpaced changes in culture, and some men have struggled to keep up with the increasing empowerment of women. As traditional male culture sees it, female sexual empowerment is a threat to male sexual entitlement.
A sex toy, as an explicit and unmistakable symbol of female empowerment, therefore becomes a lightning-rod for male resentment, jealousy, and insecurity. Nothing rattles the cage of conventional masculinity like the ability for women to have sex with themselves, and each other, completely outside male control and ownership.
Sex Toys: A Gateway Drug?
This pretty large and representative study threw up a statistic that surprised me so much that I hesitated to include it in this article. It indicated that heterosexual men who had used a vibrator with their partner reported lower levels of sexual satisfaction than men who had never used a sex toy with a partner.
The researchers didn’t know why this was the case, but they suggested it might be because the majority of men who used sex toys with a partner said they did so to increase their partner’s pleasure, the implication being that doing so came at the cost of their own pleasure.
For me, though, that dog don’t hunt. Even in sex, ignorance can be bliss, and men who’ve never used a sex toy with a partner might consider themselves satisfied because, frankly, they don’t know better. Men who do use sex toys and appraise their satisfaction more honestly might do so because they’re desperate to experiment more, to see how far the rabbit hole of pleasure goes. In that sense, sex toys are like a gateway drug. Once you know how good they are, you’ll be chasing that high forever.
Besides, this study of vibrator use by men, published around the same time as the one above, found almost the exact opposite result. It concluded that men who used vibrators in relationships scored themselves higher on metrics of erectile function, orgasm function, sexual desire and sexual satisfaction than men who had never used a sex toy.
So, basically, the science is all bullshit, and it all comes down to subjective speculation. Which is what I’m best at, so here goes.
The kind of men who are threatened by sex toys tend not to be the most progressive types. Their ability to navigate the changing sexual landscape might be limited, perhaps through no fault of their own. They may be infused with the same patriarchal restrictions, pressures, and expectations that modern women struggle against. They’re as much victims of a sex-negative culture as they are the perpetrators of it. But that doesn’t excuse it, it just makes it all the harder to change.
Whenever someone asks me for advice about a male partner who’s made insecure by sex toys, I always say that good, open communication is key. The ability to be able to honestly and openly discuss concerns in a judgment free environment is central for the survival of any relationship. But I try to remind the person asking for advice that it’s not just their partner they’re communicating with, it’s every male who’s ever had an influence on their partner’s life. Male insecurity about sex toys doesn’t come out of a vacuum: it’s moulded by a deeply entrenched masculinity that’s gone unchallenged for generations. It’s only now that the walls are starting to collapse, revealing to the world that masculinity was pretty fragile all along, and it doesn’t take much more than a vibrating piece of silicone in the bedroom to bring the entire rotten edifice crashing down.
I’m not apologising for this attitude, incidentally, or giving men an excuse to shut the door on their partner’s sex toys. Quite the opposite: don’t date men who are intimidated by sex toys. It’s that simple. They’re the same guys who punch walls and are rude to service staff. It’s not something you should have to tolerate.
This is a quote from Psychology Today on the subject:
In the context of sex toys, positive communication means (ideally) that partners who feel threatened can open up about their concerns, feel heard and validated, and receive reassurance from their partners that a desire to use a sex toy is in no way a comment on their virility, desirability, or sexual ability.
You know what that says to me? “Good communication means pandering to your partner’s pathetically shallow ego.” I call bullshit. I’ll say it loudly: if he’s not into you using sex toys from the get go, it’s not your responsibility to nurse his self-esteem about it. Drop him. You can do better.
I was at a martial arts class in London a while back, and afterwards, sitting around and chatting over a beer with sweat and testosterone dripping off the walls, I mentioned that I worked with sex toys.
One of the guys said, bloatedly,
Pah, trust me, if you knew what you were doing, you should never need a sex toy.
trust me, if you knew what you were doing, you’d have a wardrobe full.