Stigma Around Male Sex Toys Is Changing, So Sex Tech Is, Too
Heteronormative society is all about the erect penis, penis-vagina penetration and the notion that when the penis ejaculates, sex is over. Where does this leave male sexual exploration?
The conversation around sexual stigma tends to focus on women exploring their sexuality, but for men, not so much. Heteronormative sexual standards that pressure men to be dominant and focus solely on penetrative sex negatively impact how men treat women and curb male exploration of pleasure, and might even exacerbate performance anxiety.
"Heterosexuals drive the rules from the very beginning," explained Maria Peraza Godoy, M.D., urologist, andrologist and co-founder of Healthy Pleasure Group, a sexual health and technology company based in London. "Heteronormativity is so phallocentric, not just in bed…Gay men have been historically more free to experiment with sexuality because they're already marginalized. Straight men have the social punishment of being 'macho.'"
Luckily, these stigmas are slowly eroding, as we can see in the explosion of male sex technology and the growth of the male sexual wellness industry. In the past decade, a growing acceptance of men receiving help with sex has helped usher in a wave of holistic sexual wellness methods and diverse male sex toys while societal expectations surrounding male sexuality evolve.
Phallocentricity restricts male sexual exploration
Historically, heteronormative societies are phallocentric, which is broadly defined as the privileging of the masculine (the phallus) in understanding meaning or social relations. This posits the male phallus, or the image of an erect penis, as something to dominate with, and the phallus's ability to penetrate as a symbol of power and virility. On the flip side, it stigmatizes nonpenetrative pleasure and sexual exploration.
"For heterosexual men, being penetrated is viewed as feminine, as weakness," Godoy explained. "Even if it's for the woman, they may feel incompetent or being displaced."
Unfortunately, pressures to perform as an alpha male can distract from pleasure, because men may feel unable to explore.
"Phallocentricity influences every male behavior, including decisions about pleasure," Godoy added. "Basically, many men still have to develop their sexuality."
Straight men have the social punishment of being 'macho.'
Phallocentric performance standards are exacerbated by mainstream pornography, which focuses on male domination and impossible sexual standards, potentially responsible for a rise in male sexual dysfunctions such as premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction (ED). Studies and doctors consistently report more and more younger men being treated for ED, and a 2013 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine indicated severe ED is more prevalent in younger males than older ones.
"I always say there aren't any purely organic sexual dysfunctions, it's usually married with anxiety, frustration, emotional things," Godoy said. "The need to live up to a stereotype can be so heavy and the need to live up to expectations of how a man performs can cause anxiety, frustration and a lot of emotions that lead to sexual dysfunction."
Premature ejaculation may be a heteronormative construct based around penetrative performance ideals, since it occurs much less in gay men.
"Premature ejaculation is more related to an expectation than anything else," Godoy noted. "Medically speaking, if you come in one minute you could be labeled as a premature ejaculator. But a lot of patients ejaculate in two minutes or less and they're happy."
Holistic sex tech destigmatizes male sexual wellness
MyHixel founder Patricia López saw this lack of support for male sexual wellness in 2017 and used her tech background to create a program to help men with premature ejaculation by integrating masturbation with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). MyHixel is a holistic sexual wellness company based in Spain where users can sync a Fleshlight-like masturbation device with a guided masturbation app to improve ejaculatory control.
"Male pleasure was limited almost exclusively to the penis and genital-related practices," López said in an email. "It is remarkable to see how in a few years female sexuality has acquired wealth and a great diversity of toys and erotic devices, while in the case of men, this development has grown slowly and has been much poorer and more basic."
MyHixel focuses on minimizing male sexual anxieties by removing phallocentric performance ideals and encouraging healthy exploration.
"More and more men are allowed to be themselves, to explore their sexuality and corporeality, not feeling obliged to always be the dominant seeker and being able to experience other forms of pleasure," López explained.
New tech brands expand male sexual horizons
The phallocentric focus on the erect penis affects physical performance and often dissuades straight men from exploring new and innovative ways to pleasure themselves. So what happens when you're unable to achieve an erection or want nonpenetrative pleasure?
Sex tech companies such as Hot Octopuss are changing the way men masturbate with ever-more advanced ways to stimulate the male body, from their Pulse range of penis stimulators to their frenulum-stimulating Jett "Guybrator." Both toys are hands-free and allow men to pleasure themselves while flaccid, which means they can be enjoyed by anyone who suffers from ED.
Gone are the days of seedy adult stores with dubious-looking backrooms.
"For somebody that has erectile dysfunction, it's a game-changer because you don't need to get hard, it takes all the stigma away," said Kelly Gordon, creative director at London-based Hot Octopuss.
Part of this shift toward destigmatizing male sex toys has to do with the internet offering a discreet wellspring of information and a way to purchase sex toys without judgment. Gone are the days of seedy adult stores with dubious-looking backrooms.
Moreover, as feminist movements like #MeToo and attitudes such as sex positivity disrupt traditional patriarchal views, men are finally being given more societal permission to express their needs. Though the conversation still has a long way to go, more men are discovering non-phallocentric ways to please themselves. Male sex tech is the direct reflection.
"There are people who have struggled for so long in silence because society as a whole is so centered around erections, penetration and men being a big, hard, figure instead of being humans with emotions," Gordon said. "The future is rethinking what sex tech for guys looks like, and what males want from a product, how we can make it accessible and how we can normalize it."