If you're a 30 or 40-something woman who wants a man who's not threatened by your vibrator, you're better off going older — or younger. We already know that the majority of Millenials and Baby Boomers are all good with your happytime toy, but what about the remaining guys who aren't cool with it? And what's their problem?
I spoke with Ethan Imboden, founder and Chief Creative Officer for Jimmyjane, the boutique vibrator company; in a phone interview, he noted that approximately 50% of the company's online customers (their products are also sold in stores) are men. Though Jimmyjane's market research (the results of which are different than that of the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, referenced above) indicates that many of the men who buy vibrators do so at the specific request of their female partners rather than as a surprise gift, the greatest openness to sex toys comes from men under 30 — and over 50. It's the ones in the middle, Imboden says, who are the most resistant.
The most recent study on men's attitudes towards vibrators, published in the latest issue of the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy shows that men of all ages may be slowly growing more comfortable with their female partners' sex toy use. 70 percent of men in the survey disagreed with the statement that vibrators are "intimidating". On the other hand, 37% of women agreed or strongly agreed that their male partners were intimidated by sex toys. The numbers aren't off by much — but the discrepancy is great enough that it's clear that at least some men are underreporting (or some women are overestimating) their discomfort.
Imboden notes that the growing number of Jimmyjane customers over 50 tends to skew heavily towards men and women in long-term relationships. Boomer men who've been partnered for a while tend to be "less possessive" and "less threatened" by vibrators. For at least some aging men, Imboden suggested, the longevity of their marriages had made them more secure. "After 20 years of marriage, you're not going to be jealous of a vibrator," he said. "Even one of ours." Unfortunately, the Sex and Marital Therapy study didn't examine the question of whether older men who'd been married or partnered for many years were less likely to be intimidated by sex toys than their less stable peers.
As for the younger guys, the most intimidating thing about Jimmyjane vibrators may be the cost. (Many are in the $135-$190 range.) As a marketing director for the company admitted in an interview, "customers aren't used to these price points yet for vibrators." But though they may be mancession-battered, it's urban men under 30 who have shown a greater willingness to pay for quality luxury than their older brothers. (Think of the premium whiskey craze for an obvious example.) More importantly, this is also a generation of guys who have grown up taking for granted that women use vibrators. The famous "rabbit" episode of Sex and the City, often regarded as the breakthrough moment for sex toys in the public imagination, aired in 1998, when today's late-twenty-somethings were (presumably) horny teenage boys. JimmyJane, with its design-centered ethos and its motto of elegantly "provocative possibility" seems well-positioned to appeal to that demographic.
In a discussion last year about male sexual insecurity in my Men and Masculinity course, several of my college-age students pointed out that they had been raised to believe that a "good guy" was an active participant in his partner's pleasure. Admittedly a self-selecting group (they were taking a gender studies class, after all), these young men talked about all of the sex education sites they'd visited online before they'd become sexually active. While almost all admitted to watching plenty of internet porn, several were adamant that they didn't get their education about sex from the x-rated web. One of my students, Tyler, said something that's stuck with me ever since: "It's your generation, Mr. Schwyzer, that probably has a harder time telling the difference between entertainment and education when it comes to sex on the web. We know better." And one of the things that they at least claim to know is the central importance of female pleasure.
Tyler's 44 year-old professor might disagree, but what Tyler said jives with what Imboden says about my generation of men. It's the guys of Generation X (those born between 1964 and 1981) who seem most discomfited by their female partners' vibrator use. Why us, I wondered? Why are our older counterparts (at least the ones in long-term relationships) and our younger ones so much more comfortable with bringing a vibrator into a sexual relationship than we are?
But then I remembered: we are the generation noted for having "anxiety as a defining characteristic when it comes to relationships." Men in their later thirties and forties are famously the ones most vulnerable to depression. Male happiness is often described as an upside-down bell curve, with a long slow decline from our late twenties on until hitting rock bottom around 46. After that, things start looking up. (In theory, the oldest Gen Xers are hitting that unhappy nadir this year.)
While older married men may have less to prove, and younger men may be more sexually savvy (and less neurotic), my generation of men is apparently the most likely to worry about being rendered replaceable by battery-powered toys. According to Imboden, guys in their thirties and forties seem to be the most unnerved by vibrators that have even a remotely phallic shape. As he puts it, it's these men who are most likely to ask, when staring at a new device, "where is it going, and what does it have to do with me?" (For guys like these, Imboden recommends his company's popular entry-level product, the Iconic Pocket ($35), which — as the name promises — looks nothing like a penis.)
What heterosexual Boomers and Millenials have in common, it seems, is a willingness to see a vibrator as an ally, not a rival. In the case of the men over 50, it may be thanks to a hard-won willingness to at last be a participant rather than a performer in the bedroom. For a lot of dudes under 30, it's the happy result of growing up seeing female masturbation represented as normal, healthy, and unthreatening. But when it comes to celebrating women's pleasure without anxiety, Gen X men have, it seems, fallen behind.
Editor's note: This article references two data sets — that of the research journal, and Jimmyjane's market research — which come to differing conclusions; the article has been amended to make that clarification.
Hugo Schwyzer is a professor of gender studies and history at Pasadena City College and a nationally-known speaker on sex, relationships, and masculinity. He blogs at his eponymous site and co-authored the autobiography of Carré Otis, Beauty, Disrupted.
Image via alekup/Shutterstock.