The past few decades have seen a dramatic evolution in sex toys for women. Relaxed attitudes around sexuality, rechargeable batteries, and, more recently, crowdfunding and 3D printing have all come together to create a plethora of beautifully designed products that offer a wide range of pleasurable experiences to the clitorises of the world.
Sex toys for men, on the other hand, are still largely unchanged from the pocket pussies that have been available since the early days of marital aids. At a time when PornHub, adult Tumblrs, and sexting are an (almost) acceptable topic for polite conversation, it is strange to see male masturbation aids so stuck in the dark ages. Why, at one of the most exciting and innovative times for vibrators, are masturbation sleeves and their close cousins still so unbelievably crappy?
Crowdfunding campaigns have offered women everything from hands free vibration to bionic strapons, yet the most successful penis-focused crowdfunding campaign to date is the Autoblow 2, a “blowjob simulator” that’s noisy, clunky, and incredibly ugly.
Kate Moss might be seen with a JimmyJane Little Something, but Idris Elba will never open up about the Fleshlight that might be under his bed
And now the Autoblow’s creator, Brian Sloan, has returned with another project, the 3Fap, which is perhaps best described as a pack of toilet paper rolls with three fuckable orifices. Everything about the 3Fap looks horrendous. It is, literally, as if someone just took three Fleshlights and glued them together. While I suppose the ability to easily switch between sensations might be attractive to some, it’s hard to escape the fact that the oversized design is far from ergonomic. (Also, the campaign is being advertised with this jingle, so there’s that as well.)
So what, exactly, is holding penis pleasure devices back? There are, it must be noted, some annoying logistical constraints specific to penis-focused sex toys. Vibrators can come in a range of sizes and styles: they can be big or small, penetration focused or for external use only. Sleeves, on the other hand, are designed to engulf an entire hard shaft—an unwieldy proposition to begin with, and one that gets even more challenging when you start to add on technical flourishes. There’s a reason why so many male products, whether it’s the Tenga FlipHope, the Fleshlight, or the Autoblow, end up looking fairly similar. There just isn’t a ton of room for innovation with this kind of form factor.
But there are also cultural implications at play as well. Strange though it sounds, vibrator development has actually been helped by societal assumptions of female squeamishness around sex.
Most vibrator designers start with two basic premises: First, that many women respond better to vibration than to penetration; and secondly, that women think penises are icky and would prefer a toy that looks more like modern art than a porn star’s member. Coming from that starting point, vibrator manufacturers are free to start from the ground up and create a product that’s beautiful and pleasurable all on its own, without any attempt to mimic or recreate the physical experience of sex.
Tenga has made a push for VR-powered masturbation aids, which are at least something new. Image: Tenga
Designers like Sloan, on the other hand, aren’t coming from the same place of freedom. While female sex toys are often intended to supplement or enhance the experience of sex with another person, sex toys for men are almost always designed to serve as a substitute. Penises love vaginas, after all, and sex toys are assumed to only be of use when a vagina (or mouth, or butt) doesn’t happen to be available. As a result, most sex toy manufacturers aren’t asking how to create the best possible product to pleasure a penis. They’re asking how to best mimic the sensations created by the human body—ultimately a fool’s errand.
And when you add in the assumption that men are crass, boorish, and willing to fuck anything, you get, well… campaigns like the 3Fap. While vibrators are advertised as aspirational product—use this to feel as sexy as this gorgeous model!—masturbation sleeves are positioned as a product for the average bro (like, say, Brian Sloan, who’s his products’ most aggressive pitchman).
Kate Moss might be seen with a JimmyJane Little Something, but Idris Elba will never open up about the Fleshlight that might be under his bed. No doubt this is connected to the odd sense of shame men still seem to feel around sex toys. But given how open we’ve become about porn consumption and masturbatory habits, it is strange that male masturbation aids are still treated with such disdain.
One might wonder why, given all their flaws, products like the 3Fap still manage to find a market. More than likely, it’s mostly due to the fact that they don’t have a whole lot of competition. Until Tenga arrived from Japan a few years ago, there were no serious challengers to Fleshlight’s dominant position in the market. Shitty as it may be, the Autoblow is effectively one of a kind.
And given this reality, it’s hard to find fault with the customers whose hard earned dollars keep these companies afloat. After all, for all his products’ many flaws, Sloan is at least smart enough to recognize an underserved market and cater to its needs. Hopefully his products’ success will inspire more talented competitors to enter the market.
Japanese company Tenga has already made inroads in the US with surprisingly pretty products like the 3D series and even a Keith Haring branded line of products. Hopefully, the coming years will see more Tengas and fewer Sloans. After all, if men are willing to shell out for the 3Fap, they’ve gotta be willing to pay for something well designed, right?