An unassuming warehouse in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint was transformed into a passion playroom this past weekend for the Sexual Health Expo (SHE), featuring sex-positive, pro-pleasure talks, demonstrations by today’s leading sexperts and sex toy exhibitions.
The annual event, which celebrates sexuality and the right to safely choose your own sexual adventures, was crawling with curious consumers of all genders, sexual identities, races and ages. I scoped around, stuck my fingers in some modern-day flesh lights, chatted with some sexperts and sat in on thought-provoking seminars entitled “Butt Sex Basics” to “The United State(s) of Masturbation.”
In fact, The United State(s) of Masturbation—a recent study by male-focused sex toy company TENGA—presented by Dr. Chris Donaghue, clinical sexologist, host of the LoveLines podcast and weekly expert on The Amber Rose Show, was pretty damn enlightening. The thing is, 95 percent of men are masturbating, but 36 percent of dudes are lying about it because they feel weird discussing it.
Here’s what the author of Sex Outside the Lines, Donaghue, had to say to us about the taboos surrounding masturbation and the market for male sex toys.
“It has to be OK to say, I’m taking time to do nothing, and I don’t need a goal… I think it’s this American notion about productivity and goal-achievement.”
You mentioned in your talk that guys just don’t talk about masturbation with each other… Why is that?
I think some of that is homophobia… If you tell me that you masturbated, now I am mentally picturing that, I’m engaging in that and stepping into that somehow and, psychologically, I’m involved—and I don’t want that. Also, just discomfort with one’s own sexuality. There’s a stigma around saying you masturbate, so, if you say you do, then in some way I feel like I have to comment on whether or not I do, or how much I do or don’t.
It is sort of confrontational in the media—you see men masturbating. It’s not a hidden thing, but talking about it is.
But you always see it as because you couldn’t get a partner. You do it while you’re single. Stop doing that. Grow up already, that’s something you do while you’re young and you weren’t man enough or masculine enough to get out there and find yourself a wife or a girlfriend. So there’s always competition, and masculinity and ego… It’s not a childhood thing to outgrow.
How many years have you been doing this work?
Over a decade.
OK, so in the last decade, have you seen the conversation sort of shift a bit in how we talk about masturbation?
Not at all… It’s very female sex toy-focused, because that’s what the market is. And, as our studies show, it’s more than double—the number of females who have sex toys; less than 30 percent of men have sex toys. So the market is going where the needs are, but that reinforces the idea that guys don’t want to [masturbate] and shouldn’t want to.
Are more women buying products for their male partners?
No, but I think that would be a good entry-point… We want to be seen as masculine and erotic and sexual and all of these other things to our partners, and so if you could reflect back that, not only am I supportive of that, I want that, I’m giving you this, I’m not threatened by you masturbating and I accept that you can love me, want to be with me, want to have sex with me and masturbate, that’s huge for a partner.
You talked about accepting how masturbating doesn’t have to mean you’re not attracted to your partner, but that they can be a part of it. Can you talk more about that?
It gets so tied in as though they’re in opposition to each other… They can both coexist at the same time. The more sex you have, the more sex you have. So people who are not having a lot of sex tend not to masturbate. The more you masturbate, the more your sexual psychology gets turned on, so they sometimes you want more partnered sex.
But, apparently, 30 percent of women say that masturbation feels better than having sex with a partner. Are we then shooting for the stars or having unrealistic expectations when we’re with someone because we know what we like?
At times, yes, I have to believe that masturbation is better than partnered sex because I am the one giving it and receiving it, so I can adjust as needed. To really direct a partner to that extent with those nuances can be difficult. But I don’t think they need to compete; I don’t think one should look for, with a partner, that which they can get on their own. There’s room for both.
But, again, we also have to remember that a lot of male-identified people aren’t taught that sex is something to sit in for a while. Studies show that a lot of people masturbate for well under 30 minutes. So they’re not taught to really engage in it, enjoy it, extend it… If I blow through masturbation just to get through then, with a partner, I’m not going to really lay there for foreplay, I’m not really going to have that arousal and try different things. I’m going to be goal-oriented. I want to penetrate you. I want to orgasm, get you off and then go back to life—it’s a horrible model.
“If I blow through masturbation just to get through then, with a partner, I’m not going to really lay there for foreplay… I want to penetrate you. I want to orgasm, get you off and then go back to life—it’s a horrible model.”
You mentioned that it’s sort of engrained in us, with just about everything in life, to not be pleasure-based. It’s all about productivity. There’s always a goal. Is that something you see changing?
A little bit, but not enough. I work with a lot of couples where, whoever the primary breadwinner or worker is in that family, is so drained and doesn’t feel like it’s OK to advocate for themselves to have as much pleasure- and leisure-time as work-time… One can impact the other. It has to be OK to say, I’m taking time to do nothing, and I don’t need a goal… I think it’s this American notion about productivity and goal-achievement… The point is: We can do it just for fun… And it’s also something we can talk about.
You’re an international lecturer. You’ve been all over. Is that something that you find is more a thing in America?
Yes, because other countries have shorter workweeks. They mandate lunch breaks. We do not do that. There are jobs that you get no time off, get no vacation… It’s horrible. It’s definitely an American thing.
So if you were to picture the perfect future for this world, what do sex and masturbation look like to you?
I just want there to be comfort… I don’t ever want to over-legitimize something over something else, but I just want everyone to feel comfortable.