The persistent myth about the straight male who uses a vibrator with his wife, girlfriend, hook-up or one-night stand is captured by “Joseph,” an anonymous straight guy (oh, the humiliation!) who was recently quoted in the British style magazine Dazed. “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,” Joseph shares in an article entitled “The Shame Surrounding Male Sex Toys.” “There’s still a real fear of being laughed at and ridiculed.”
While there’s still real stigma around straight men using sex toys, a recent study by Erin D. Watson and a team from the department of family relations and applied nutrition at the University of Guelph, in Canada, revealed that men generally enjoy using a vibrator with their partners. The study used a We-Vibe, which is designed to stimulate both partners during sex. The study also seemed to indicate that a lot of the other persistent myths about straight men — namely, that they think romance, foreplay and their partner’s orgasm are unimportant—are dead wrong.
MEL recently spoke to Watson about the men she studied and how they felt about breaking out the vibrator during sex.
Why the stigma about men who use vibrators?
There’s previous research suggesting that many men have found the use of the vibrator is threatening, and I think it’s because vibrators have mostly been marketed toward females as a replacement for a partner. The problem is that this research either involved gay men, who report favorable use of vibrators, or was merely about assumptions of how men might perceive vibrators — the stereotype that if a man is a real man, he can please a partner without the aid of toys. Few men report using vibrators on themselves because they’re seen as a “women’s item.” That said, one study did look at men’s vibrator use and found 44 percent of them admitted to using a vibrator in the past. The problem with that particular study is that it looked at men’s use in general (meaning either solo or with a partner), and thus, it’s difficult to distinguish how many men used the vibrator themselves and how many of those men identify as heterosexual.
What did you do differently?
The men who participated in our study reported that they’d already been using toys with their partners for many years. So they didn’t hold the belief that toys were for women, or that the use of toys meant they were failing at fulfilling their partners sexually. The reason we probably got so many men who were familiar with toy use is because we recruited at a sex show, and generally speaking, those who volunteer for sex research tend to be more open anyway.
It’s anyone’s guess what the general population of men would admit to regarding vibrator use. My hunch says more men use toys than they would admit, and that older men are more likely to have experimented with toys due to the nature of sexuality as we age and having long-term partners they feel comfortable with.
What was your most surprising finding?
It was fascinating to discover that men were a lot more open toward the inclusion of a vibrator during sex. In fact, they said, “We want this. We want more novelty. We want our partners to experience more pleasure.” I think that’s a big thing. There’s this myth that for guys sexually, it’s all about, “I want pleasure. I want to get off. I don’t really care about her.” But we found the exact opposite — that male pleasure was heightened when their female partners experience pleasure. It was almost like men could only have a good time if their female partner did, too.
All the way down from “I liked watching her get off” to “I liked watching her use the vibrator in front of me for masturbation” to “I like knowing she was using it on her own.” And it wasn’t just about titillation, there was an intimacy aspect as well. With a vibrator, they knew she was going to have an orgasm so they could look in her eyes or put their hands on her breasts; they didn’t have to just focus on her genital region. So while it was a turn-on to watch, it also was liberating because they could become part of the sexual experience again instead of focusing on, “Oh my God, I have to touch her clit the right way.”
Did the men, though, experience any physical pleasure from the vibrators?
Absolutely. In terms of the sensation on their penis, guys said the vibrator was mind-blowing. They wanted to have vibrators specifically for their use. It would be great in my opinion to have a vibrator cock-ring you can wear in the shower. That would be fantastic because, it’s that element of, “Wow! That was intense! That was amazing! That put me over the edge!” And the guys we talked to really did speak to that.
There are cock rings that vibrate, but the base of the penis doesn’t have as much sensation and usually these are fitted so they rub against the clitoris — so again, much more for female pleasure. I would suggest, based on male anatomy and nerve endings, a vibrator that could be inserted anally (for the sensation around the anus and the prostate — aka the “male G-spot”), or a vibrator that could stimulate the testicles or be pressed against the perineum (aka “taint”), which again indirectly stimulates the prostate. I believe that if we design better vibrators for men, we’ll see a surge in male vibrator use.
Did the men you interviewed talk about using any other sex toys beyond a vibrator?
We didn’t necessarily ask what specifically they’d used, but a lot of them said they’d used toys in the past. Butt plugs were a pretty common answer. Sex is becoming less about status or prowess, it’s more about, “I want to experience pleasure. I want to try new things.” We’re definitely in an era where sex is less taboo and so people are willing to admit, “Yeah, I masturbate. Yeah, I use toys. Yeah, I try kinky sex.”
Do you think that’s a generational thing? Or better put, if you conducted this study 20 years ago, do you think you would’ve had different findings?
I think we might have very similar findings, but it might be in a much smaller, hidden population. There has long been an underground scene of interesting taboo sexuality, and it could’ve been that 20 years ago, toys would’ve been seen as more taboo. So I think we would’ve found the same things, but it wouldn’t have been as public.
But now it is?
Yes. One of our biggest take-home messages was that emotional connection and intimacy — some would call this romanticism — IS important to men. And that it heightens their experience of pleasure. We tend to view sex as physical for men and emotional for women, but that’s such a narrow perspective. Men are every bit as emotional, and women are every bit as physical. It’s acknowledging BOTH of these needs during sex that makes for an intense experience.
That isn’t to say you need a loving, long-term partner for great sex. Many people report having had one-night stands that were emotionally intense and intimate. It’s just about tuning into each other, making a connection and being vulnerable rather than just wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am. Men validated this point when they said how important the toy was for foreplay. If you want a quick fix, that’s what masturbation is for. If you want an intense experience, that’s what partnered sex is for — whether it’s anonymous or in a committed relationship.
What we need to see more of is communication between partners: What do you like? Does this hook-up mean anything? How are you feeling? We also need to respect that sex, pleasure and relationships come in all forms. All of which brings me to my other big take-home message from our study: Stereotypes about men and women don’t hold up, and if we can dismantle them with studies like this, we can expand the amount of pleasure men and women can experience sexually.