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.