Male Self-Pleasure Myths

Despite the assumption that every guy has masturbated, is masturbating, or will masturbate, self-pleasure has been getting a bad rap for 3,000 years.

Male masturbators can’t seem to catch a break. From Orthodox Judaism to traditional Buddhism, the religious strictures against men masturbating are ancient and enduring. (Because the spiritual authorities were so often ignorant about female masturbation, women caught a rare break. You can’t condemn something if you don’t believe it exists.)

We now know what our ancestors didn’t. Masturbation doesn’t lead to a loss of vitality. You can’t run out of sperm, except temporarily. (Trying to conceive a child in the evening when you’ve already ejaculated three times over the course of the afternoon is probably not the best procreative strategy.) Most experts agree: the most serious problem with masturbation is the guilt that so men continue to feel throughout their lives. Some of that guilt is about a belief that self-pleasure is dirty or immoral. Some of it is a sense that adult men shouldn’t need to masturbate at all.


In a recent post on his blog, law professor Eugene Volokh stepped outside his normal bailiwick to write about vibrators. He noted what most of us who write about sex have observed: just in the last few years, we’ve become much more open about discussing female masturbation. Sex and the City famously celebrated the “rabbit” vibrator, offering a kind of pop-culture “permissioning” for young women to start pursuing their own pleasure. Popular porn sites like I Feel Myself (definitely not safe for work) feature amateur videos of a relatively diverse group of women bringing themselves to orgasm in a variety of ways. Women-centered websites and stores have sprung up; a woman looking for a masturbation aid online is genuinely spoiled for choice.

But Volokh points out that we’re not nearly as comfortable with men using sex toys, claiming that most of his friends would accept a woman’s use of a vibrator shaped like a penis, but would find the idea of a man using a vagina-shaped device to be icky. He’s right about that reaction, even from folks in relatively liberal circles. (The Frisky wrote about this “sex toy double standard” recently.) But why?

Volokh suggests that the number one reason has to do with the myth that “real men have sex with real vaginas.” In other words, as he puts it, male masturbation—and especially a “penis sleeve” (what is sometimes pejoratively referred to as a “pocket p**sy”) signals a “lack of sexual success.” Male masturbation, in other words, is about relieving frustration—and for too many people, frustration is a consequence of failure. A sexually successful man should have enough sex (with women, of course, as our myths tend to exclude gay and bi men) that he only rarely gets “frustrated.”

A man with a sex toy, in other words, is a man who expects to strike out a lot. Or so the myth goes. Volokh is all too right.


But there’s more to it. For some additional insight, I turned to Charlie Glickman, the veteran Education Program Manager for Good Vibrations, one of the oldest sex toy outlets in the country. Why, I asked, are we so much more comfortable with the idea of women giving themselves orgasms, and using aids to do so?

Female sexuality is seen as complicated and mysterious, he told me, while male sexuality is seen as simple. Men learn to masturbate early, and usually quickly, worried that they’ll get caught. As a result, Charlie said, many of the men he works with still masturbate the same way at 40 that they did at 14. The focus is on “getting off” fast, not on drawing out ecstasy. Though many women do masturbate for quick relief (men are very often surprised by how rapidly many women can make themselves come), a focus on prolonged pleasure rather than simple release is still viewed as female.

Charlie pointed out that he’s never heard a gay man complain about a male lover who masturbates. But some women are threatened by their boyfriends or husbands masturbating, frequently because they’ve been raised to believe that it’s their job to be the pleasure provider in the relationship. As long as we believe that men masturbate out of a simple lack of opportunity for “real sex,” then women will believe that masturbation is a kind of rejection. “Why would he want to jerk off if he has me?” On the other hand, plenty of folks believe that women’s sexuality is so intense and mysterious that men can rarely hope to satisfy it. So a woman masturbating with a wonderful toy she bought online is doing for herself something no man can—but a guy rubbing one out by himself is “depriving” his female partner of what is rightfully “hers.”

Both Charlie and I have heard that double standard—rooted in a myth of male sexual simplicity—many times.


Talking to Charlie, I was reminded of the truism that women in mainstream porn tend to scream in what is (usually) feigned ecstasy. Men, even as they ejaculate, tend to grunt in relief. In real life, some men do cry out. But imagine a beefy porn star shouting, in a high-pitched voice, “Oh, my God!” as he orgasms. It’s laughable—not because men in real life don’t want to scream in pleasure, but because it doesn’t fit our stereotype of how men have sex. It’s women who are supposed to be driven mad with delight during sex.

In a lot of traditional heterosexual porn, men seem much less interested in pleasure than in performance. The man’s orgasm concludes the scene, but a question is often left hanging in the air: what did he really feel? Female porn stars show pleasure (or, in some genres, pain) and the camera focuses intensely on their reactions. But the man just huffs and puffs away, working away at the task at, um, hand. The “cum” he shoots onto his co-star’s face or belly is evidence that the sex was real. But it’s not much of a clue to what he actually felt.

This disconnect around pleasure and performance shows up around masturbation. Men need a lot of help, Charlie notes, understanding their own “pleasure potential.” Sometimes, they need more help than women. Charlie told me that many men come into Good Vibrations and ask, “Where are the sex toys for guys?” What he tells them is almost all of what they sell is for both men and women. Most men don’t realize that penetrating something isn’t the only way to orgasm, or to feel intense pleasure. As Charlie points out, a great many women use vibrators that are shaped like a penis—but use them primarily externally, on the clitoris and the vulva. The long cylindrical shape serves more as a great handle than as a device for penetration. So just as women don’t need a toy shaped like a dick in order to masturbate, so too men don’t need something that looks like a vagina in order to bring themselves to orgasm.

Good Vibrations, like many stores, does sell a variety of sex toys specifically for the male anatomy, including one device, the Fleshlight, that does indeed have simulated labia. But the Fleshlight is not the best seller on the website: that honor belongs to the Tenga Egg Masturbation Sleeve, which when packaged, looks just like a Cadbury Cream Egg.

But before a guy buys himself a toy, he needs to give himself permission to use one. That means more than just getting over adolescent guilt about jerking off. It means accepting that his sexuality is just as complex—and just as capable of ecstasy—as that of any woman. And until men take the risk to explore their own capacity for sexual delight, focusing on sensation more than on simple relief, they’ll continue to miss out.

—photo JD Hancock/Flickr
About Hugo Schwyzer

Hugo Schwyzer has taught history and gender studies at Pasadena City College since 1993, where he developed the college's first courses on Men and Masculinity and Beauty and Body Image. He serves as co-director of the Perfectly Unperfected Project, a campaign to transform young people's attitudes around body image and fashion. Hugo lives with his wife, daughter, and six chinchillas in Los Angeles. Hugo blogs at his website


  1. It is a fact that routine infant circumcision in north america began as a way to curb masturbation. Dr Kellogg and others of equal thinking felt that inflicting pain early and reducing the intensity of pleasure would stop the filthy practice of choking the chicken.

  2. Women are not typically threatened by the reality of the physical act of male masturbation. We are threatened by their fantasies of other women and the notion that we don’t cut it for them. Women want to be the sun in the sky of the man they love – the only thing they can see – and not the moon which is simply the brightest light in a sky full of billions of others. Men choosing to masturbate over their willing partners denies the women the opportunity to fullfill his needs. If she doesn’t want to fullfill his needs that’s different. But she should at least get a chance to do so before he takes care of himself while fantasizing about 19 year old porn stars or some girl he saw at the grocery store.

    • “Women want to be the sun in the sky of the man they love – the only thing they can see – and not the moon which is simply the brightest light in a sky full of billions of others.”

      I suspect both members of a relationship prefer this to be true (unless they are actively poly).

      • I’m not poly but a woman obsessing about this is a big turn off. I need variety and frequency. Porn and masturbation provides that in a convenient, relatively safe way.

        I’ve never had a girlfriend who wanted sex often enough that masturbation wasn’t needed as an outlet. I’ve never had a girlfriend who’s sexuality was kinky/interesting/varied enough that I didn’t enjoy porn as an outlet for those things as well. Maybe there are women like that out there, I just have never met one.

  3. Sex toys, steamy books/magazines and movies are women’s porn.

  4. Interesting, but apparantely you’re not into gay porn. Lots of yelling, lots of toys, lots of masturbating. I’m a woman, and solo male porn is the kind I prefer.
    And women do get slack from masturbating from other women. When I hit puberty, my mom told me that masturbating would give me infections and told me not to touch myself down there. When my brother hit puberty, his masturbating was normal.

  5. Even as sex becomes an accepted part of the mass media, the public remain staggeringly uninformed or misinformed on basic elements of sexuality. I don’t know why children are taught that the opposite of “penis” is “vagina,” when the clitoris is the female counterpart. I don’t know why, many decades after Freud was thoroughly debunked, couples are surprised that female orgasm from vaginal stimulation alone is not the law of nature. I do know that the United States badly needs comprehensive sex education.

  6. On a site devoted to female masturbation and sex toys, men write about wives affirming husbands masturbating when the wives are too old for sex. Huh…

  7. This is a great article. I thought I’d already uncovered all the issues that brought up shame for me around masturbation, but this brought a couple to my attention that I’d never considered. For instance, that masturbation itself equates to lack of success in the male mind (Ah! so obvious is the invisible belief once dragged out into the light). Posts like this are important, because the best way to diffuse guilt around something is the talk openly about the underlying beliefs that fuel it. When out in the open, they can look pretty silly. But they do a lot of harm when allowed to just fester in our minds, unexamined.

  8. Cross-posting from the above-linked article on the sex toy double standard on The Frisky, because it turns out this is important to me:

    I have never known a man (or perhaps have never been trusted enough to share this so-called dirty secret) who owned or used a sex toy such as a Fleshlight, but I really don’t see what the problem is. I don’t feel replaced: sometimes I like to get off on my own, so why should I begrudge a male partner the same? It’s also not about the mess: sex is messy no matter who’s involved, and I think we’re all grown-up enough to clean up after ourselves.

    And, while I’m getting up on my high horse here, what’s with this idea that men should only want to have penetrative vaginal sex, or else they’re perverts? What, precisely, is wrong with oral sex or mutual masturbation with a partner? Do all heterosexual women always want to have vaginal intercourse? This mentality is building an idea that reaching orgasm through any other form of stimulation (oral, anal, masturbatory, etc.) somehow doesn’t count as real sex, as though sex can only be had in bed, in one way, taking long enough to make the exercise supposedly worthwhile. (I will pause for breath here before I start a rant about the villification of premature ejaculation. Deep breaths.)

    An important part to many healthy sexual relationships is the sharing of kinks and fantasies. I’m an empowered and sexually dynamic woman if I want to tell my male partner about my self-pleasure, or share it with him, yet I’m expected to condemn him for sharing an equally intimate experience with me? I don’t think so. I enjoy my sexual partner’s pleasure, whether or not I’m providing it. In no way do I believe that taking charge of his own sexual pleasure is degrading to me or cheating on me, any more than I believe that my owning a vibrator is the same as having sex with another man.

    The disturbing issue to me is the singular emphasis put on Fleshlight-style masturbatory aids, as though there is no other way to self-pleasure (or shared pleasure with use of sex toys) other than mimicing penetrative sex. Vibrations on the penis feel just as good (or so I’m told by those who own a penis). And the male body, regardless of sexual orientation, has the gift of the prostate and the myriad pleasures it can provide. The idea that we can discuss simulated vaginas by never mention the fact that a heterosexual man can stimulate his prostate for personal pleasure without the terrifying accusations of homosexuality (and here I take another deep breath to back away from a rant about homophobia) is more distressing to me than all of the points yet raised.

    People have sex for a great many reasons, the most common of which being that it feels good. I think we’re all mature enough to accept what feels good to us and to our loved ones and stop judging ourselves and each other for the ways we get off.

    (That got a little long. It seems I had more to say on the matter than the simple “Sexual empowerment for all!” that I’d had in mind. Oops.)

  9. Just saw this thanks to Oh Megan posting it on FB. Gosh I wish I could get all men I come in to contact with to read this and absorb it. Pleasure is our birthright. Shame takes up so much space emotionally. I really hate to think of anyone having any kind of shame around masturbation. It’s so natural and such an important stress reliever. Some Asian cultures seem to get this so much better then we do in America. In Japan, it’s practically a sport and men do not seem to suffer the same shame when they buy a pocket / sleeve style masturbator. Wish we could do the same in the U.S. Thanks for this!

  10. Maury Middlebrooks says:

    Problem here can’t get enough of themselves. How many times I’ve heard
    “If I had tits and could s**k my own d**k, I wouldn’t need you.”
    That’s where the problem is. Too many men are lazy and become chronic masturbators.
    And they don’t mind being alone with their porn as long as they have a woman to wipe their asses.
    The big jokes.

  11. I started buying and using toys a few years back and I am still trying to get my eyes back in my head.

  12. Anonymous Male says:

    There’s clearly a different cultural standard around men masturbating as opposed to women masturbating. I’m guessing in general men would much rather watch women do it than women would like to watch men do it.

    It’s part of a larger difference between the way that pop culture shows female sexual pleasure and male sexual pleasure. In most Hollywood films you see the woman’s face during sex much more often than the man’s face. (Maybe it’s because they look like angels and we look like doofuses, but that’s probably just my own bias.)

    • Men find the sight of a sexually roused woman to be very arousing, no matter what got her aroused. The simp,e fact that she’s aroused is exciting.

      Women, in general, are not particularly turned on simply by seeing a man in a state of sexual arousal. The context is key. For example, I’m aroused when my boyfriend gets aroused by me. But if I saw him masturbating to porn, I would be turned off completely. (I might tolerate it but it would not be something I’d want to watch or even know about.) If he saw me masturbating to porn, he’d probably get very excited. If he saw an attractive woman masturbating on the bus, he might think she was crazy but he’d probably enjoy watching (assuming she was attractive). By contrast, if I saw a guy who I think is really hot, say, George Clooney, masturbating on the bus, I’d think he was crazy AND I’d be grossed out and call the cops.

      • I find it a great turn-on when a man is in a state of sexual arousal. I do not like movies that just show the woman in the state of arousal while the man “acts” on her body.

        I would LOVE to see a movie where a woman “acted” on Jon Hamm and the camera concentrated completely on his sexual arousal and surrender.

  13. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    I’m with Kate. Buy lube. And I’d never sleep with a woman I couldn’t masturbate in front of, or masturbate. I take Effexor, and this tightens up your sphincters like a mother. (Ask me about how hard [no pun] it is to urinate.) So, nowadays at 66, I have to finish myself off (requires a vise-like grip.)

  14. As long as we believe that men masturbate out of a simple lack of opportunity for “real sex,” then women will believe that masturbation is a kind of rejection.

    Again Hugo strongly implies that what women thinks is entirely contigent upon what men thinks. I continue to be baffled as to why no women are insulted bt the implications that they can’t think what men haven’t thought first…

  15. Its really grates my nerves when people (always women) try to say that male mastubation is okay. If male masturbation was okay then why all the shame around it? And its not like men themselves suddenly started imagining it from nowhere.

    If it were really okay it would not be regarded as something funny to joke about. People that don’t examine the “okayness” of male masturbation are missing the fact that the reason its “okay” to joke about it is because it is regarded as something to only pathetic loser men who aren’t having sex with women do.

    I recall on an old episode of “Sex Talk” with Sue Johansen a while back when she said, “90% of men masturbate. And the other 10% is lying.” Why do you think that 10% lie? Because they don’t want to be shamed over something that is perfectly natural and not inherently bad.

  16. Thanks for addressing a sticky issue (pun intended). I understand that the latin root of masturbation means to ‘pollute’ yourself. No wonder we men (and some women) have guilt about this act which triggers a ‘bad’ feeling when pleasure is present. No wonder we are a bit twisted around sex. Kudos for the comment in the article about the pleasure potential. Most men and women have no idea how high we can go with pleasure. Pleasure is prayer in my book and a way to reach the state of embodied enlightenment.

  17. Here’s yet another reason the homosexually challenged should let go of their inculcated fear and loathing of gay men…

    I don’t know a single gay guy who doesn’t jerk off with a gleeful party-for-one abandon using anything and everything that (forgive me) comes to hand. Similarly, I don’t know any gay guys who have any problem with their friends, partners, or one-offs behaving similarly.

    Pleasure is good for its own sake. “And it harm no one, do as thou wilt!”

  18. I have to admit, if I caught my boyfriend masturbating, I’d feel pretty uncomfortable, and if was using a “pocket p*ssy” — well, I don’t know what I’d think, but I’d be shocked and perhaps devastated. I think I do consider it to be my job to keep him sexually satisfied, and if I’m not doing it for him, I’d have to wonder if the relationship is in big trouble. Should I be more open minded? How can a woman tell if her man is masturbating because he’s unsatisfied with her or if he’s just doing it to relax or whatever? Of course, for men, masturbation invariably involves porn, so that adds another layer of insecurity for the female partner.

    • Tonkmistress says:

      Susan, chill honey!! Let a man explore just like you do. Nothing wrong with masturbation, male or female. If you don’t explore what can you tell your partner you like??
      Tonkmistress 😉

    • susan you’re right. I’m a male and can understand why females think this way. If the relationship is functional, there is no reason for the male partner to masturbate – or the female for that matter. The ecstasy experienced during sex is sacred and should be shared by the couple (together) if it is to be valued at all. Masturbation devalues sex, and in this backwards culture, sex has been reduced to pure hedonism and the catch all ‘endorphins’. While, in fact, the hormonal release and the effect on the nervous system are substantial and can and will affect the fabric of relationships. There is a reason most women feel this way.

    • Susan:
      I have to admit, if I caught my boyfriend masturbating, I’d feel pretty uncomfortable, and if was using a “pocket p*ssy” — well, I don’t know what I’d think, but I’d be shocked and perhaps devastated.
      As a quick reversal what would you say about a married woman who mastubates? Would you think that said married woman’s use of a dildo would be shocking?

      I think I do consider it to be my job to keep him sexually satisfied, and if I’m not doing it for him, I’d have to wonder if the relationship is in big trouble. Should I be more open minded?
      This is only me talking here but while there is nothing wrong with wanting sex to be part of a relationship thinking that its your job to keep him sexually satisfied seems old fashioned and not too far away from thinking that you should be sexually satisfying him, even when you don’t want to.

      How can a woman tell if her man is masturbating because he’s unsatisfied with her or if he’s just doing it to relax or whatever?
      Talking. But I would recommend against going into the conversation already thinking one of those two reasons you mention. You’ll may find out that he’s hoping you’ll walk in on him…

      Of course, for men, masturbation invariably involves porn, so that adds another layer of insecurity for the female partner.
      Not always and not to sound pushy but why does that make you as a female partner insecure?

      • Porn makes women insecure for a pretty simple reason. no matter how much I wished I looked like a porn star, I never will. I could spend the next year at the gym and I still won’t have a porn star’s body. If that’s what really gets my bf going, I might as well give up now. Hence… The insecurity.

        • northernwoman says:

          No, porn doesn’t make all of us insecure. Speak for yourself. I have no desire to look like a porn start. And most porn stars are reconstructed from the feet up. Your insecurity is your own – it’s not just about your body. Yes, we women do have body image issues but more because we don’t look like Victoria Secret models as opposed to porn stars. But then, most men do not look like David Beckham in the Armani ads, do they?

          You commented about men masturbating – that you’d feel uncomfortable if you found your BF doing that. Well, I come from the other POV. I think it’s sexy to watch my husband of BF masturbate. And sometimes you can join in to make it more pleasurable. Nothing wrong with that at all. Now if he does that all the time at the expense of intercourse with you, yeah, it’s a problem. I also like toy and food play – for both parties. Why not? Sex can be deep and meaningful, but it’s also fun and can deepend the trust and intimacy.

          You sound much too rigid. Loosen up and explore a bit.

    • “I think I do consider it to be my job to keep him sexually satisfied, and if I’m not doing it for him, I’d have to wonder if the relationship is in big trouble. ”

      I understand that socialization, but it’s time to lay that burden down. It’s his body, not yours. Do you hold him responsible for every time you don”t orgasm? I don’t know you, but you don’t sound like you do.

      “Porn makes women insecure for a pretty simple reason. no matter how much I wished I looked like a porn star, I never will. ”

      Again I understand the socialization. Time to flush it. It’s pretty obvious you bring a lot more to bed than an image ever could.

      • Won’t men look elsewhere if they aren’t satisfied? We all know that’s what happens.

        • As a woman whose partner cheated on her and left her for another woman, I can’t help but find this comment offensive. Did my partner leave me because I wasn’t satisfying his needs and failed in my uxorial duties? No, it was the breakdown of our personal relationship and the failure of communication between us that caused him to abuse my trust. Sex had little to do with it. I don’t think anyone would dare say his cheating was my fault for not satisfying him sexually, but somehow the same attitude holds that if I don’t satisfy my partner then he will leave me. Let’s think about that like rational adults for a moment.

          • Obviously there are many reasons why a relationship might end, and I didn’t mean to suggest that every man who cheats or leaves his wife/girlfriend does so because of sexual dissatisfaction.

            However, if my boyfriend or husband (hypothetically) is spending a lot of time masturbating and watching porn, and thinking about porn stars rather than focusing on the relationship because he’s sexually bored, or because he doesn’t feel sufficiently attracted to me, I’m not wlling to do everything porn stars do, or whatever, yes I think those feelings can lead a man to stray away.

  19. spacemonkey says:

    What an interesting article! I have to admit I bought most of these myths around guys for most of my life.

  20. We as a culture are suspicious of male pleasure in general. Think of, say, ads for chocolate. Men definitely consume chocolate, but you wouldn’t know it from our advertising. For whatever reason, pleasure is coded female and linked with weakness as well as sinfulness. Even heterosexual women who consider themselves feminist sometimes have trouble viewing their men as anything other than sex-dispensing machines who have no right to ask anything more than the opportunity to give their women pleasure. That this paradigm hurts everyone should be obvious.

    • lovesickrobot, that’s an interesting perspective.

      This is just a side thought, but I wonder if it’s related to the traditional cultural roles of men being subjects (the ones who perform an action) and women being objects (the ones to whom an action is done). I think that in general men are socialized to express *desire,* but as you said, not often to express *pleasure.* (Certainly there are plenty of exceptions, but we can generalize for the sake of discussion.) And in general the reverse could be said for women. Women are expected to be more passive, to be the object of desire, and to demonstrate their enjoyment of that scenario. Men are expected to be the active subject, or the agent, of their desire. If men fail to take desire-driven action, or if women fail to take pleasure in being objects, then they are viewed as flawed in some fundamental way.

      Perhaps what is needed is an equal sharing of both desire and pleasure. But then again, that could vary depending on the needs and wants of the individual people (or relationships), and what works for them. It’s certainly something worth thinking about and discussing.

  21. IME men who aren’t ashamed of masturbating are less likely to strangle their penises. Dudes, buy some lube at least! Your penis will thank you!


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  3. […] women caught a rare break. You can’t condemn something if you don’t believe it exists.) Hugo Schwyzer on male masturbation (The Good Men […]

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