What Is a 'Sophisticated Handjob,' and Isn't It an Oxymoron?

I'm immature when it comes to a lot of things, but especially when it comes to handjobs. The reason is simple: Handjobs are hilarious. It's not possible to give one with a straight face when that face belongs to me. It is perhaps the most awkward motion to endeavor ever for someone not in possession of a penis. It is sloppy shake weights, and it is way too much work for so little payoff.

So when I saw a workshop being offered at the Toronto lady-friendly sex shop Good For Her called "The Sophisticated Handjob," I laughed. What is a sophisticated handjob? Is that like when a rich lady does it? Is that a handy given to someone wearing an ascot? Then I clicked, and read:

Offer your partner an even finer hand job than he can do for himself! Learn over 25 manual techniques that will make you an expert in fun and seductive handjobs. Add variety, surprise and sophistication to your sex life with this overlooked sexual technique. Includes positions, toys, erogenous zones and more. Women* only.

Even if this was a Cosmo sex-technique inflation, I had to agree: "overlooked sexual technique," indeed — or rather, outgrown, mocked, maligned, avoided, and as a result, relegated to the bottom of the sex menu, the sort of thing you outsource to a sex worker or, eventually, a robot. Like making out at the skating rink or going parking, I think of handjobs as something you do when you aren't doing it yet, an act for repressives who haven't moved on to bigger, better, way more efficient, mutually pleasurable stuff. It's what you did for the dude you weren't sleeping with yet when you had to help take care of the boner in the room, and now you're over it.

There's been the occasional plea to bring them back:

There's a certain point in a woman's sexual history where she just decides — out of nowhere — that handjobs are just not part of the repertoire anymore. Please reconsider this decision.

You would rather just show off those finally honed blowjob skills or, you know, fuck and get it over with already so you can get some pleasure out of it, too, since that's part of what makes dealing with a wang fun to begin with anyway. But, please, just because we're all no longer 14-years-old doesn't mean that getting dudes off with the hand should be completely eliminated. For reals. It's rejuvenating. Pretend the penis is Ponce de León; your hand is the magic fountain.

But perhaps because of that juvenile association of 14-year-olds and greener sexual pastures, the act remains juvenile in our collective memory, sending men sneaking away to massage parlors (which they can then, I guess, review?) So it follows that handjobs seem a little crass, a bit vulgar (and at least, they never fail to get a laugh) in polite society. Or maybe that's just me, so I asked my lady friends what they thought about handjobs. What followed was a vigorous back and forth:

  • I mean, they're just the lazy way of feigning interest, right?
  • I think they are the most awkward of all sex acts.
  • No girl is ever like really into it, right? Unless you're 16 and you're doing it under and blanket in your parents garage?
  • I would love to know how anyone does it with a straight face.
  • And as a married person, what's the point?
  • I get if you like, don't want to have sex with a person yet.
  • I haven't given a hand job in years and I couldn't be happier.
  • Well, my opinion has changed over the years. I guess when I first started giving handjobs, oh, half a lifetime ago, they were – not EXCITING – but at least imbued with a sort of anticipatory wonder, like anything sexual is to a teen. And now? It's like, who cares?
  • The reach for the lotion is the most excruciating reach I've ever done.
  • First of all, I'm not nearly as good as jerking a dick as a man, so it takes longer and my wrists always hurt. I can never nail the angle.
  • I did it the classy, spit in the hand way. Lotion is fancy.
  • I can't get that much spit up on the spot without gagging honestly.
  • If we're gonna get spit everywhere I may as well just use my mouth like an adult.
  • I hate talking about sex when I'm doing it, but always feel the need to ask if I'm doing it wrong or if there is something I can do better?
  • It always feels like it SHOULD be uncomfortable for the man too, but maybe I just do it wrong.
  • There is always this face that a man makes that's like "OK, this isn't great but I'm not complaining."
  • But think how much work it would take without getting much out of it to do it RIGHT.
  • I mean, I don't think there is a wrong way unless the guy is wincing.
  • You have to be desperate, I think.
  • When I think of handjobs I think of prostitutes — it's the cheapest option I guess.
  • There is a wrong way right?
  • I guess if you squeeze too hard and chafe them.
  • Like, your wife still has afterbirth dripping from her weeks after she gives birth and you feel bad asking her to give you another blowjob.
  • It's easy to do in a car on the DL.
  • Oh yeah. Car handjobs. Not that I'm speaking from experience.
  • That's a thing that happens.
  • Handjobs are the 1950s.
  • Handjobs are for men.
  • Maybe gay men have a different experience. Like I'm sure jerking each other off is fine and hot, because they know what they're doing.
  • Not every dick stroke does a handjob make.
  • A handjob is like "this is the thing we're doing until it's over."
  • Past the teen years, unless there's extenuating circumstances, it just seems so sad and resigned.
  • And I guess I don't expect reciprocation with a handjob either. Because, ow.
  • HANDJOBS ARE SO SELFISH
  • A handjob just screams: "Let's get this over with!"
  • I mean doctors had to literally INVENT THE VIBRATOR because getting women off manually was too much trouble on the wrists.
  • Really?
  • I guess [redacted name of husband] would take a handjob over nothing.
  • Yeah, it's barely better than nothing.
  • Is it like, a shameful want?
  • Can't they do it better?
  • I feel like it'd be more exciting for them to just watch porn and do it themselves.
  • Maybe it's prominent in porn and so it's thrilling in some way? But I feel like the porn handie is just a segue to the blowjob.
  • I don't think I've ever seen a start-to-finish handjob.
  • I also, very disturbingly, can't think of handjobs without thinking of Danny DeVito in It's Always Sunny getting a handie under the table. "You're just mashing it."
  • I really feel like as an adult, if you start something with your hand, a dude would be pissed if that never progressed.

Oh yeah — dudes. What DO dudes think about handjobs? I polled literally whatever male friends were online at that moment:

  • I don't recall turning one down.
  • On its own... yeah not a fan. When it is part of a blowjob it can be great. But just someone who only wants to do that it would be awkward since it would kind of be like saying "I like you a little but I don't like you enough to actually have you inside me... so" if that makes sense.
  • You're asking me to admit I want handjobs??
  • Variety is the spice of life, right?
  • Oh yeah [redacted name of wife] thinks they're ridiculous.
  • I wouldn't say it's on the top of the list, but I won't turn one down. I've also been with the same lady for 10 years. So she's figured out how to make it work.
  • They're good when you're watching TV.
  • I think guys who love handjobs are super weird because that's the thing men can always do best for themselves. I mean, if that's all you're being offered, fine. But to pick that off the menu? Super weird. It's like people who just eat the hummus appetizer. For their main course.
  • I had a buddy who pretended like handjobs were all he got from his wife and it was hilarious. I'd die every time he'd joke about putting on romantic music for a handjob. NOW, I could see there being a thing where you do some fantasy stuff. Like hey you're on a Greyhound bus and we just met and she starts cranking me off. And wow what a sad fantasy.
  • They're just so sad and high-school-bathroom.

The verdict was in: Who needs handjobs? Handjobs are the Natural Light of real beer drinkers. An entry point for sexual beginners but nothing to brag about. So I called the founder and instructor of the class, Carlyle Jansen, over at Good For Her in Toronto, whose been offering the class about four times a year for 10 years now. While she admits it's nowhere near as popular as the class on oral sex — "We can't offer that one enough," she says — Jansen lays it bare about HJ's:

"Everybody knows guys love oral," she says. "But handjobs just don't have that prestige."

I ask her how a sophisticated handjob is even a thing. Aren't handjobs silly? Awkward? For teenagers or massage parlors? Kinda trashy?

"I called it the sophisticated handjob, because people think of it as something not sophisticated," she explained. "Something that you do when you're not that interested, or you're watching TV. But there's so much you can do that is so much fun that I like to reframe it and put it in a totally different category."

She went on to explain that there is, contrary to popular belief, a lot of variety in what you can do in a handjob scenario.

"The hand really is more versatile than intercourse or a mouth," she says. "There are so many different ways that you can contort hands — patterns, working them together, pressure. You can do creative things with oral, too, but there is so much more potential in what you can do with your hands."

But there are myths to clear up about handjobs, like the ones myself and my friends have been perpetuating.

For one, it's not at all about imitating what a guy does.

"We just don't know different ways to do it," Jansen says. "All we have in our heads is what our partner does, which is most often up down up down. There's way more things to do."

Those things include what Jansen calls the "Tunnel of Love," which involves placing one hand over the other, and "going down and down and down. It makes him feel like he's going down a neverending tunnel."

Another? The old "Twist and Shout," where you "grab from the base of penis — always make sure you use tons of lube for a handjob, this is key, and take your rings off! — then pull his whole penis to the side as you twist. It's really intense and powerful. Most guys have never thought of doing it to themselves."

There are others, Jansen offers, like massaging the frenulum by alternating your thumbs over it, and many more tips she offers in the class, which, for a mere $33, is less than the going rate for a handjob according to this highly unscientific thread on The freaking Nest of all places.

But it's important to note that it's not just women snickering about handjobs — as my male friends illustrated, many men don't even know how good they could have it. Maybe handjobs are still stuck in detention because, arguably, while most of us get better at plenty of other aspects of sex and giving pleasure, our handjob skills are still back in junior high popping bra straps.

But it's easy to get up to speed. The three key things to remember, says Jansen:

Lube: Duh, lots.

Pressure: " I do a certain stroke until he gets into the rhythm, then switch it up. Each stroke isn't necessarily going to bring orgasm, but the more erotic energy he'll build, the more explosive the orgasm will be by the time he gets there."

Variety: "Meander a bit, go here there and around, by the time you do that final stroke — the up and down that will bring him to orgasm — it's way more powerful."

"It's not until you take the class and do it and he says oh yes, now I really like handjobs," Jansen says. "Even he didn't know."

A note about pressure: Jansen says women are waaay too gentle around the penis. "We're afraid we're going to break them," she laughs.

She confirms a few handy things about handjobs: They are, in fact, perfectly great to do when you're not in the mood for sex, but she insists that putting more work into them usually means that by the end of it, you will be in the mood.

And as for the final misconception — that handjobs are for massage parlors, a cheap and easy $40 or $50 fix that you can't get from someone you're in an actual relationship with, Jansen says sex workers are some of the many people who take the class, only their handjobs are no joke, and will set you back a lot more than $50.

"I know sex workers who charge $200 for a handjob," Jansen says. "Guys come back for it, because it's really good."

So for everyone who can't make it to the Toronto class, enjoy your newfound, er, grip on this issue. (But I submit that this fake viral video of strangers giving each other handjobs for the first time is still hilarious.)

Illustration by the incomparable Jim Cooke.