Turn Off Your Fleshlight

LIKE BOGARTING THE egg rolls or avoiding drunk grad students, masturbation is equal parts giddiness and good common sense. It feels great, alleviates stress and trumps sleeping with that weirdo who keeps telling you how he “shattered, I mean shattered” his femur.

For decades, pediatricians have known that fetuses sometimes pleasure themselves (still want to feel the baby kick?), the ancient Egyptians believed the god Atum created the universe with his onanistic ejaculate (top that, circle jerkers) and I, myself, once accidentally flooded our downstairs shower when, during my senior year of high school, I discovered the Shower Massage nozzle did more than relieve backaches.

My fiance and I are quite open about our respective solo proclivities and swap tales with the vigor and humor we share with each other when we’re in the same locale. (I purchased my vibrator years ago with one of my paychecks from the literature and pop culture mag The Believer. Thank you, editor who assigned that Demetri Martin interview.)

So, I’m certainly not judging self-gratification or the use of accompanying tools. Where would our species be without tools? I’d never impede the course of evolution.

But while my mind is as open as my legs, I still don’t get the deal with Fleshlights. For those who don’t keep up with sex toys, the Fleshlight was first patented in 1998 and since then, its combination of flashlight-shaped exterior (hence its name, get it?) and flesh-like interior (ibid) have made it one of the world’s best-selling sex toys for men. At first, the “sleeve” as it’s called, consisted of a standard issue (as such) exterior vagina that led to a ribbed canal. From photos that are, in fairness, the only way I can gauge, it looked more like pink rubber plumbing than a lady’s happy parts.

But that was then.

Today the Fleshlight boasts sales of over seven million worldwide and features 100+ combinations. Its “What Is a Fleshlight?” video insists, “Many have proclaimed it feels better than the real thing.” Scads of customer testimonials make similar claims, deeming the Fleshlight’s surface so life-like, it feels more like life than life. (Sure, and Raquel Welch Wigs look more like hair than hair.) Fleshlight users no longer have to settle for just one disembodied hole, and several such orifices are modeled directly from plaster castings of top porn stars. (Some ladies allow Fleshlights to film their molding sessions. As is their right, of course. I’m assiduously against slut-shaming, but I do ponder their plan B career choices, if having a guy batter one’s beav ranks first.)

So today, in addition to “Lady” (vagina), the discriminating discharger can shoot it into “Butt”, “Mouth” and “Cheeks” (ass, not face). And while each opening lends itself to punchlines as well as punching the clown, “Cheeks” is particularly amusing because, unlike its counterparts, it’s the only one not scaled to size. “Butt”, for example, does approximate the size of a butt, though “Cheeks” is much tinier in order for its sleeve to fit the exterior metal casing. It resembles nothing so much as Backdoor Barbie. (New from Mattel!) Only, you know, if Barbie’s rump came sans head or torso.

While we wait as Fleshlight invariably develops “Nostril” and “Arm Crook”, let’s note how genuinely useful the Fleshlight might be if a man suffers a disabling injury or illness. No one should have his or her sexuality impeded because of awful luck. If a Fleshlight used solo or with a partner allows gratification otherwise unattainable, well, that improves someone’s quality of life, sort of like the polio vaccine. High five, science!

As for everyone else, all I can think is, “Really, dudes?”

For starters, most of the multibillion dollar porn industry already caters to men. So it’s not as if male needs are overlooked or otherwise shamed into secrecy. Guys (and many women, for that matter) discuss porn with the openness and frequency of a chef discussing German carving knives. If a man has fantasized a scenario, it undoubtedly has been committed to video and is available, usually for free, to anyone with an Internet connection. An option exists for every hard-on.

What does Fleshlight have to say about that? Two of its three instructional videos (I’m pretty sure the first Model T required less explanation) praise the Fleshlight’s “discreet” design. This would be a fine time to mention the sleeve must first be soaked in a vat of warm water to ensure its aforementioned life-likeness. “Mom, can I borrow your mixing bowls? I promise to clean them with hydrogen peroxide when I’m done. Maybe next Thursday?”

Afterward, the user must rinse his Fleshlight sleeve with still more warm water and wash the case and detachable cap. Then he must store it in a cool, open space so it can dry. Which means, from start to finish, the entire experience takes roughly double the time of a tube sock and some Jergen’s. Or, going old school, one’s hand, with its conveniently attached opposable thumb.

As eager subjects test prototypes for “Bellybutton” and “Foot Arch”, we should remember the Fleshlight sleeve, i.e. its selling point, is petroleum-based. (If someone gets turned on by the metal casing, I don’t want to see them in Home Depot.) Assuming the company’s sales figures are accurate, that’s over seven million fake vaginas, butts, mouths and cheeks that will sit in landfills while our children’s children’s children breathe through air filters surgically affixed to their tracheas. Archaeologists will surely have a fun time excavating the semen-speckled sediment, but perhaps we could make better use of our dwindling resources.

And there’s the cost. The Fleshlight usually runs from $65.00 to $75.00. The add-ons, such as the new Lauch Pad, which attaches  to an iPad and lets the user go at it in real time while his beloved reciprocates or, more likely, a Russian porn star with a French manicure moans wildly on a bad California sectional couch, cost another $25. That’s $100, give or take, for an experience that can be had for free. Meanwhile, the U.N. reports one billion children worldwide live in poverty.

Yes, I know, the same arguments can be made against vibrators. (Many dildos are now made of glass and therefore ecologically sound. Assuming you don’t mind inserting something that might give way to shards.) Vibrators are usually composed of something that started as a dinosaur, though, and should make for equally compelling archaeologist digs. In 2006, my vibrator cost $67.00. I felt bad and donated the same amount to Mercy Corps, but that’s because I feel innately guilty about everything and am the kind of person who spends her finite time on earth measuring the biodegradable properties of sex toys. Presumably, I’m not the norm. Ethically, vibrators present many of the same conundrums as Fleshlights.

The biggest problem with the Fleshlight then, is its very premise, the disembodied female body part that exists solely for male pleasure. Women are aware at far too young an age that a large swath of straight males already view the world through this paradigm. Fifty-one percent of the human population? They’re not autonomous persons with minds and emotions and goals and their own carnal desires. No, their bodies are literal and metaphorical receptacles of male sexual impulses. It’s hard not to view the Fleshlight as furthering this destructive and sometimes dangerous notion. No woman will be as supple or as supplicant as the plastic approximation of her erogenous zones.

Maybe it’s time to turn off the Fleshlights.

 

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Litsa Dremousis

About Litsa Dremousis

Litsa Dremousis' work appears in The Believer, Esquire, Jezebel, McSweeney's, MSN, Nerve, New York Magazine, The Onion's A.V. Club, Slate, on KUOW, NPR, and in sundry other venues. She’s completing her first novel, assuming it doesn't complete her first. On Twitter: @LitsaDremousis
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19 Responses to Turn Off Your Fleshlight

  1. Orlando Masvatos says:

    No one will take away my Fleshlight, ever! No constitutional amendment or executive order; no Supreme Court decision. It is engrained into the very fabric of who we are as Americans. From Westward expansion to defeating the Spanish and avenging the explosion of the USS Maine, the Fleshlight,(when molded into the hands of justice) defines, clarifies and articulates the very words our founding fathers fought so valiantly for.

  2. Orlando, I admire your willingness to fight for your right to please yourself, well, as you please. That said, remember westward expansion led to the genocide of American Indians and our Founding Fathers owned many, many Black persons. So, you probably want to compare your sex toy use to epochs that ended in less slaughter. Happy masturbating! (Also, “Yasou!”, fellow passionate Greek!)

  3. Orlando Masvatos says:

    You write well and I’ve followed your career closely, but please, do not burden me with the white man’s guilt. All I want, all I am entitled to as an American, is the constitutional right to own property. Do not take my dignity.

    • Thanks, Orlando, for being the only commenter who understood the tone of the piece. The two beneath you are riled up, as if I’m really taking away their Fleshlights. Or care enough to want to. Or am not obviously having a wee bit of fun here. Masturbate in peace, and thanks also for the compliment. Cheers!

      • James D. Irwin says:

        Instead of ‘masturbate in peace’, why not ‘live schlong* and prosper’?

        *not convinced this is the right spelling, but there’s no way I’m googling it to find out.

  4. Chris Albee says:

    Yes, a fleshlight is a disembodied female body part. Kind of like how a dildo is a disembodied male body part. The dangerous thing when applying gender politics to something as intimate as the sex toys people use in the privacy of their bedroom, bathroom or general cum shack is that you establish double standards that seek to shame and deter people from augmenting healthy sex lives or drives. Sex positivity has been an integral, forward-thinking aspect of feminism for so long that it disappoints me to see someone ostensibly sex shaming men for using toys that should, for one reason or another, remain an exclusively femme domain. I mean, damn, it’s just a silicon vag. And they’ve also been really old hat for ages.

    • Well unlike the guy beneath you who also missed the point entirely–that I’m clearly having some fun here–you had the guts to sign your real name when impugning my feminism b/c I jokingly impugned your jerk-off toy. I’d heard good things about you from the radio station, Chris. Obviously, people change.

      • Not a chickenshit, but call me what you must says:

        It’s not so clear that you are “having some fun here.” It is solely by virtue of your responses that one would realize how you don’t seem to think it is an actual argument.

        You make certain to at least try to distinguish the point (again, I’m weary to call it this given the fact that you’ve completely abandoned whatever sincerity your article seemed to have to begin with) from those that could be made in a similar vein against dildos. And you try to establish a bit of credibility from the outset by indicating how much you are not against masturbation. But somehow, despite the obvious work and ‘research’ that went into this article, it is supposed to be an obvious joke–or, as I would have to put it, a big waste of time.

        I’m sorry, but Chris is absolutely right to point out the glaring hypocrisy with your argument (or whatever it is that you were trying to do here). If the biggest problem, in your mind, with the fleshlight is a sentiment that works equally against dildos, and you are also in favor of dildos, then that’s hypocrisy in its purest form.

        So which is it, a joke or a point? I’m not so sure you can have it both ways with this one (only because whatever point you would be making is entirely hypocritical). After all, the only real distinction you’ve employed here is a strained link between fleshlights and sexual abuse, and, for that, I think you need to do a little bit more work before I’m convinced of anything.

        In the meantime, enjoy your dildo. I certainly don’t have anything against that because, after all, that would be pretty ignorant of me.

  5. Snark says:

    Why is this article/subject still an issue for feminists? I am a feminist but I don’t believe in shaming any masturbation tool, the end goal of the product is to induce pleasure. The majority of men that I know are feminists too. It is hard to disconnect yourself from the basic fact that sex toys are designed for men, and for women. The female sex toy is generically phallic because of the vagina shape and the male sex toys are designed to have a vulva aesthetic and are vaginally structured. The existence of male masturbation has been around for far less time than female masturbation (despite it being taboo/hush hush in some countries.) At the end of the day, each sex is disembodying the other through use of sex toys. Some men don’t feel comfortable with the use of dildos, as they echo their own erogenous parts. The same way as females dislike vagina-modelled toys. It seems like a cycle jerk, and draws feminism away from more dominant and current issues that female face. The fleshlight isn’t an issue that undermines feminism at its core. Constantly travelling the same ground in the name of feminism is a worrying trend.

  6. Antonia Sellwig says:

    A good, light read, which sadly hits too close to home for me. After 27 years of marriage, my husband, Jack, is open to the fact that he prefers his Fleshlight “Natalie” to my gaping vagina. I’ve considered surgery to correct years of elasticity but have found my new plan in the Obama system will not cover it. Jack and I have an otherwise healthy relationship, and outside of his occasional trips to Singapore on business, I’m confident he rarely strays. In the end, my aging body is just no contest to his magnificent “Natalie.”

    • I’m fairly certain anyone w/ a “gaping vagina” is not actually discussing it online. But mad props for being the first person to mention Obama. All discussions about anything ever must eventually invoke the President and/or the Audacity of Healthcare. Thanks for the compliment re the piece, though. Keep those legs crossed during a windstorm, lest you balloon and float away. Cheers.

  7. James D. Irwin says:

    First of all, I love the title of this piece, and has sent me to youtube to listen to the myriad live cover versions that exist (mostly performed by the Grateful Dead).

    Anyway, I’ve always thought of the Fleshlight as quite odd and sort of sad. What’s wrong with a clenched fist and a bit of elbow grease? That (the clenched fist) is really the truer make equivalent of a vibrator. Both provide self-pleasure in a rough approximation of ‘the real thing’ which is more of a substitute/alternative than faithful simulation.

    There is, in theory, nothing wrong with a male sex toy that aims to provide a faithful simulation of ‘the real thing’, although personally I’d feel extremely self-conscious (and frankly ridiculous) inserting myself into the emptied casing of a torch.

    However, I do think there is a problem once you get into the world of personalised/modelled Fleshlights. I may be wrong, but I don’t think many (if any) female sex toys are moulded after real people. Whilst I don’t have any real objections to pornography* (and have in the past delivered enthusiastic stand up routines on the subject, which betray a somewhat encyclopaedic knowledge of internet pornography), the idea of sex toys modelled on porn stars is maybe a step too far in the direction of viewing women solely as objects — and in fact quite literally reduces the performers in question to objects of sex i.e. the Fleshlight.

    The Fleshlight, along with it’s mouth/anal sphincter variations sort of reduces women to various holes designed solely to receive the male member. It’s not an ideal or healthy association to make, regardless of whether it’s ‘just a bit of fun’.

    One would speculate that, by and large, female sex toys are masturbatory aids which tend to be, because of anatomical necessity, phallic in shape. Tools of pleasure/stimulation, rather than detailed, disembodied simulations of ‘the real thing’. i.e. a dildo/vibrator is not necessarily an analogue of ‘the real thing’ but used because it feels good. Similarly, no penis work like a power shower, but a shower head can nonetheless be used for the purposes of sexual pleasure. By and large female masturbation seems (as far as I can tell) to be geared more towards stimulation over simulation — and this is probably a healthier approach.

    Men are simpler creatures, and quite literally easier to please. The male sex toy is really the internet i.e. pornography. The only physical stimulation necessary to reach the same ‘feel’ good factor’ comes in the form of the opposable thumbs and tubs of Vaseline God gave us.

    One would argue that sex toys for men are not as necessary as they are for women, in order to have a tremendously fun time. The Fleshlight is kind of like wanting our cake, and eating it out. In theory, there is nothing wrong with vaginal simulations for men,** in the same way there is nothing wrong with phallic simulations for women.

    However, the Fleshlight is kind of pathetic and demeaning to both genders really. Is there anything dorkier than creating a highly detailed synthetic vagina? The real sadness of the Fleshlight lies more in the high attention to detail, rather than it’s intended use. And once you get into the world of sex toys modelled on real people (although the term is used loosely as in this instance it applies to lovely young girls whose existence is based on facilitating hardcore male fantasy) it becomes deeply unsettling and unhealthy. i.e. the reduction of a free-thinking and reasonably intelligent adult women into a series of dismembered body parts that exist entirely for male pleasure.

    *Although, now I’m in my mid-20s I’ve come to feel deeply disturbed by heavy focus on v. young teen performers, and the fetishising of childhood i.e. babysitters, schoolgirls, cheerleaders etc which is kind of fine and natural for post-pubescent and adolescent boys but kind of horrifyingly predatory and inappropriate for anyone older than about 20 tops.

    **and what pubescent boy hasn’t tried to create his own vaginal analogue out of whatever materials he might have ‘to hand’ as it were? ‘American Pie’ would be missing it’s most famous joke if they didn’t. And what is a clenched fist if not a very crude attempt at vaginal simulation?

    • James, thanks for the compelling discussion and thoughtful details. Usually, when I see a comment this long I think, “Someone skipped their meds this week!” But you raise many salient and fair points. Hugely appreciated on all counts. Wishing you the best.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        It didn’t dawn on me that I’d written so much until I posted it, and immediately thought ‘oh no, now I look utterly insane and/or kind of obsessed with sex toys.’

        I contend though that, lengthy though it may be, my comment is probably the most sane/on topic i.e. free of gender politics/bizarre references to Obamacare/etc.

  8. Gus Petronas says:

    Good article and I agree with all your points, however, would it surprise you to find out that POTUS has one?

    • Okay, I’m enjoying that two of the persons who understood what I was going for here are Greek. Well done, brother-men. And, indeed, it would surprise me to discover our current POTUS has a Fleshlight, but perhaps Bill Clinton now has several. Hence, staying out of trouble of late.

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