Radical Sex: What's In It For Men?
Consuming sex and pornography have been seen as men's domain for hundreds of years, if not more. I have my own theories as to why women have been denied sexual agency, such as the fear of the power behind women's sexualities and thus the patriarchal need to control and confine such power, but that is perhaps for another column.
In the past four decades since major advances in sex and liberation, such as the sexual revolution, the rise of the pill, free love, and feminism, women have pioneered a new era of sexual education and sexuality. Woman-owned, woman- and queer-positive sex toy shops are all the rage. As they should be! They can at best completely transform your relationship to your sexuality, as I fully credit Babeland with doing so for me, and at least totally transform your bachelor/ette party.
But in those spaces, at times, men can sometimes feel a little left out. I do, as a masculine person. Though I'm queer, and there are a lot of resources for me in the new wave of sex shops, the toys that I'm interested in are often not so common. And you'd be surprised how hard it is to find a vibrator that isn't all cutesy or pink or with a picture of a butterfly on it. If that's the sort of thing you're into, I fully support it ... but I've spent too many years already with femininity forced down my throat. It's just not for me.
It's kind of like the question I used to hear constantly as an women's studies student—you know the one: "Is there a men's studies?" and I would say, Yeah, it's every other department at the university, it's the government, it's the world. And while it's true that these fields are male-dominated, it is not necessarily true that they are the study of men and masculinity in the equivalent way that women's studies is for women and femininity. The study of any particular gender role, expression, and identity is not included in general history, anthropology, or sociology classes—though it is underlying, if one already knows some gender theory and can apply it. And that these classes are usually from the patriarchal, masculine, war-winner's points of view do not necessarily substitute for adequate study of masculinity and manliness. We still need more study, more theories, more examination, of masculinity.
This is similar in the world of sex education and the broader umbrella of sex work. The new leaders are women and queers, forging forward, adding our voices and perspectives where previously we were denied a voice. That was a much-needed perspective, and it has changed sex education and resources extremely.
However, where is the new wave sex—education, porn, et al—geared toward men?
It is not absent, certainly. Plenty of feminist and women-centered sex toy stores have recognized the need for men to have inclusive, sex-positive resources also, and many have evolved to include some parts geared particularly toward men's inclusion. Early To Bed, Chicago's lovely sex toy store, recently opened a brother site called Early To Rise, with this statement:
Ever since our women-oriented sister store, Early to Bed, opened in 2001, one of the most frequent jokes made by customers has been “hey, you should have another store for men called Early to Rise next door.” For years we just chuckled at the notion, as there were plenty of sex shops designed for men and we were women who knew much more about women’s toys, bodies and sexual needs. Besides, with the majority of the shoppers in our store being female, it just didn’t seem necessary.
Fast forward eight years and our male clientele has grown and grown. Apparently, there are just as many men interested in a sex-positive shopping experience as there are women. With Early to Rise we are hoping to create a sex-positive site with good sex information, honest reviews of male-oriented sex toys and advice for men, written by men. Additionally, we have selected some of the finest and best-loved adult toys designed for men to sell in our online shop.
I believe Early to Rise is only an online store at this point, but I love the idea of having a shop like this geared toward men. Something not sleazy or full of brown paper bags, not like the completely tacky porn shops on the industrial strip around the corner from my apartment in Brooklyn. Sometimes when I walk past those shops and see the sun-faded, dusty displays in the windows, I think, This is what people think I do. If this was my only context for sex, sex work, and sex education, I would think it was pretty scary and shady, too. Thank goodness, it is not my only context. Thank goodness for the sex positive women and queers who have paved out a legacy before me, inviting me and my generation to have better access to sexuality resources.