It’s time to include people with penises in sex positivity

Words: Beth Ashley

Illustration: Meg Murgatroyd 

A reverberation of the sex positive feminist movement’s efforts; the vibrator is now a common commodity. Awareness of the pleasure gap and shortcoming elusiveness of the “female” orgasm has built pressure over time and moved toys for vulvas from the curtained back-room to the centre of the wellness aisle in Superdrug. You can buy vibrators in Poundland, add them onto your beauty subscriptions, and you’ll even be up-sold a bullet or two on most fast-fashion sites.  

However, you’re still unlikely to spot a Fleshlight or stroker while you’re buying your fifth loungewear set this month, so have people with penises been excluded from this new brand of sex positivity? 

Well and Good report that market projections for the sexual wellness industry are expected to grow by 9.8% annually and reach a value of $40.5billion by 2025, with partial thanks to sex positivity. 2020 saw innovation and elevation around sex and the products that come with it, all prioritising the enhancement of cis women’s pleasure. In 2021, we can only expect more. More pleasure-focused products, more sexual exploration made accessible for all, and more sex-positive dialogue feeding into the mainstream. This is fantastic, but people with penises have been excluded. 

This could be due to the fact that cis men, in particular, have been considered sex-positive by default for a long time. Sex positivity is often falsely equated with an individual’s volume of sex activity, one night stands, or the number of people they’ve had sex with. Men typically aren’t slut-shamed the way womxn are, so it’s unsurprising cis men have been an afterthought. While not everyone with a penis is a cisgender man, all penis-havers have been excluded along with them. 

Likely due to representations in pornography, people with penises are also considered to have a pretty simple, formulaic pleasure journey. They get hard, they fuck, they orgasm with a grunt. Sex is then complete: the classic one-size-fits-all narrative bestowed on penis-havers. Not only does this leave out all types of queer people, but basically any penis-haver who wants to have even mildly interesting sex.   

Topher Taylor, a sex educator and brand manager for CloneZone, says a lot of energy is put into discussing sex toys and sex positivity relating to vulva-owners. “This is not something I wish to change,” he says. “There are still so many vulva-owners who feel unsatisfied with sex and there’s still much work to be done encouraging people to learn about pleasuring the vagina and clitoris.” 

Taylor believes there’s a general (false) idea that penis-owners will orgasm anyway, so we should instead focus on the more complicated clitoral orgasm. “This is unfair. People with penises need to feel free to discuss pleasure and exploration without it becoming a joke or something to giggle about. There’s no harm with having sense of humour about sex, but when that drowns out conversations about pleasure for penises, it becomes an issue.”

“A lot of people are afraid of ‘emasculating’ themselves by exploring sexually, a direct impact of toxic masculinity. A huge amount of heterosexual cis men, especially, want to be deemed as fully self-sufficient. It’s a shame, as this robs so many of pleasure. I’ve also had many conversations throughout my career with transgender women with penises, who are often ridiculed and trivialised for their anatomy which contributes to shame and the fear of exploration.” 

Unfortunately, many people with penises are shamed by others for wanting to use toys. There’s still an association of seediness, loneliness, and creepiness tied to men and people with penises exploring toys.

Simon, 41, has been using sex toys for three years, and says there’s still an unfair stigma attached. “It's mostly repeated in toxic-masculine banter,” he tells Self & More. “A toy still says "lonely" to a lot of people, and not just men.” Simon says he would be happy to discover a woman he was dating was using a sex toy, but he’s asked woman friends what they’d think of a man using a fleshlight, and they’ve described it as ‘ridiculous’.

He tells us “I have been shamed by a partner before for owning a sex toy. One partner saw it as cheating. However, my best partners (sexual and romantic) have not seen them as a threat and understand why I would use a toy.”

Taylor rightly notes that a good person should never shame their partner for communicating a consensual and safe desire. “[Shaming a partner for using sex toys] is a huge red flag in my opinion and you deserve better. People will have different limits and boundaries to others, but if it turns into shaming then it’s toxic.”  If this occurs, Taylor recommends exploring regardless. Solo sex is still sex, after all.

“Using sex toys solo is a great way to learn about your own erogenous zones, as well as helping develop intimacy in partnerships (or groups) when toys are used together. [When selecting a first sex toy], have a think about what you want from the product. If you’re looking to simulate the feelings of oral sex/deepthroat etc, look at TENGA’s incredible product options. Also, lubricant is your friend for penis toys! Invest in a good water-based or hybrid (mix of water and silicone based).”  

Perhaps if more men and people were penises were aware and informed on the advantages of toys and how sex positivity can support them, they would be more engaged. Zachary Zane, sex columnist, and brand ambassador for Promescent, says “I think there's this idea that only 28-year-old virgins who live in their mom's basement use Fleshlights and male masturbators, but this is ridiculous. Pleasure is pleasure, my friends! And you should strive to have as much of it as possible when you're having sex either with a partner or solo (when masturbating).”

He adds “Not to mention that Fleshlights can be a great finishing tool if a guy struggles with ejaculation. You can have penetrative sex with a partner, and then, if you don't ejaculate, whip out one of those bad boys to finish off. It can be really hot to see a guy use a Fleshlight on himself, too!”

We’ve seen mainstream attention dedicated to sex toys for vulvas, with celebrity endorsements and influencer collaborations popping up everywhere with cis women (we’re looking at you, Lily Allen and Dakota Johnson). The same energy should be applied to normalising toys for people with penises. 

There’s a false belief that those with penises are already liberated, so inclusion isn’t necessary. This leaves some of the most oppressed groups in society without the same agency being awarded to cis women. It also discourages cis men from engaging in feminist dialogue, leaving the work to everyone else. It’s time we listened to the experience of penis-havers and included them in this collective sexual awakening, especially if a brand is utilising it for marketing.

Beth Ashley

Beth is a journalist and creative writer specialising in sex and relationships. Advocating strongly for womxn and queer people's sexual freedom.

Beth focuses on a range of sex subjects from pleasure and contraception to recovery and reproductive rights. She has written for Vice, Refinery29, The Metro, The Huffington Post, Vogue, Xtra and more. Follow her on Instagram @bethashleywriter.


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