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The Lost Art of the Handjob

Get a grip, people

Like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, at a certain point in your life, the handjob becomes a lost wonder of an earlier time. Initially erected in the early days of high school, for most guys, a handjob is the first time someone other than themselves brings them to climax. It’s a stumble, if you will, into sex — coarse, urgent and awkward. Really, it’s youth personified, and it’s a shame that as you get older and start having real sex, the handjob disappears alongside sleepovers and Spin the Bottle.

“I don’t think I’ve given a handjob since freshman year of college,” a friend of mine tells me. “Guys don’t really ask for them anymore.”

And yet there are plenty of guys who still covet the Ringo Starr of sex acts. “It’s not a blowjob, but it still rocks,” says a friend who tells me he’s never received a handjob he didn’t like. “It can happen anywhere, in a car or under the table at a restaurant — it’s unexpected and covert. That’s what I love about them.”

“It was my gateway drug,” a different male friend admits. “These days, a good handjob is rare but delightful.”

So why are they such an ignored part of most adults’ sex lives? According to another friend, it’s because they’re incredibly intimate, which is why she doesn’t give them to just anyone. “Handjobs are for relationships,” she says. “They’re super awkward. If you’re at the point where you’re giving a guy a handjob, you’ve reached a certain level of intimacy.”

There’s another school of thought, though: That most handjobs are just plain bad. Recently, MEL’s Tracy Moore wrote about why fingering is the most important sex act you’re doing wrong (or not doing at all); meanwhile, Maria Yagoda at Broadly suggested that men should stop utilizing their “useless fingers” altogether.

The same could certainly be said of the majority of handjobs, especially in those early years when neither party has much of a clue what they’re doing.

So what does a more expert hand job entail? According to sexuality educator Ashley Manta, it’s a lot more than a quick tug. “Use both hands and use lots of non-water-based lube that has some lasting power,” she advises. “Be curious and playful! Don’t forget to communicate.”

Manta — who teaches private workshops in Beverly Hills on how to give handjobs — claims that porn is responsible for the current handjob famine. “You rarely see a handjob by itself in porn, and since there isn’t any sort of comprehensive sex education in the U.S., people don’t know what to do.”

Manta tells me that the reason handjobs aren’t as ubiquitous as they used to be — even among younger couples — is that guys don’t know how to make their penis feel good with their hand for a sustained period of time, so they assume that no one else can, either. “I teach men and women how to give a holistic handjob. I like to give one for at least 10 to 15 minutes, but I’ve also given one that lasted 90 minutes.”

The main thing to remember, she continues, is that if you’re planning on giving a cursory handjob, don’t. “If you’re going to do it half-ass, why even do it?”

Of course, one reason men tell Manta they’re not into handjobs is because they simply don’t believe that someone else could do it better than they do. “When I tell guys I give amazing handjobs, they think I can’t possibly give them as good of a handjob as they can give themselves. And when it comes to speed and efficiency, I completely agree. But I can get them off far more pleasurably.”

Still, for most of us, the handjob seems likely to remain a part of our past — looked on with fond nostalgia, but not brought back to the present. One friend sums it up perfectly when he tells me that the last time he received a handjob was inside a “fancy porta-potty at a wedding.” It didn’t feel great, he says, but he didn’t hate it.

“It brought me back to middle school,” he laughs. “It was a bit rough, but then, that’s part of it.”