Why I make love to a plastic tube

By Jack Flanagan

This article contains sexually explicit language and imagery that may be NSFW. 

I’ve never met a man who knew quite what a Fleshlight was. That is, beyond the understanding that it was shaped like a flashlight and you fucked it. And there’s not an awful lot more to it, to be fair.

But two weeks ago I had to find out. The rather beautiful organism – I got The Flight – arrived at the Kernel offices wrapped up in anonymous fashion. Wasting no time, I dashed home like a horned-up Charlie Bucket, and had at it.

Fleshlights arrive in a nondescript box labelled "rubber mold"

Fleshlights arrive in a nondescript box labelled “rubber mold”

The following weeks I’ve been mentioning it to all my friends. “It’s the best darn thing!”, and they’ve done one of two things. Either leaned away and told me I was a pervert. Or leaned in surreptitiously and asked me “so actually… what do you do with it?”.

I mean, you fuck it. The thing is designed to mimic the feeling of sex without the… well, without anything else. Man doesn’t need a vagina. He needs lubed plastic and a vacant house. And then he needs to shove the thing in the dishwasher while he eats dinner, ready for a rerun in 30 minutes.

The Fleshlight in anatomy is a plastic tube filled with a hollow “sleeve” of something akin to Cyberskin – which apparently is the closest we have to the “real thing”. Apologies for all the double quotations here but this is all jargon as far as I’m concerned. You spread lube (“NOT OIL BASED”) around the opening and, when you’re hard, dip in. It’s really that simple.

In case you were wondering, alien, vampire and dead vagina models are also available.

In case you were wondering, alien, vampire and dead vagina models are also available.

It’s not better than sex, as such; it’s totally different.

So for the last two weeks I’ve been telling all the men I meet – I’m quite serious – that this is a whole new masturbating experience. It reminds me of my first orgasm, age 12. I remembering calling it “hot ice” – the sensation of an orgasm – and since then I’ve never recaptured the experience. Sadly, the Fleshlight doesn’t quite ramp up the experience to “ice” levels, but I get something similar. It’s not better than sex, as such; it’s totally different. And certainly the “manual’ method pales in comparison.

Plus, it’s actually designed for penile pleasure. Which the mouth, vagina and lowly hand are not. Evolutionary biology is principled on the idea that whatever works goes, and so as long as man is sufficiently attracted to woman (at least most of the time), the species will continue.

“You’re fucking plastic” was what my editor told me. I was indeed. And there’s not a lot more to say about it. But the conversations I’ve had since then and my many post-orgasm ruminations I’ve brought fresh light to a dark place (of my mind).

Of course, Fleshlight-esque devices have been around for longer than the full-tubed abomination. But I feel as if the previous attempts at enhancing male-masturbation were more engineered for adding novelty to sex, not solo-performance. Mainly because male solo masturbation is seen as a sad fact of life, and so not a place men want to be spending upwards of €40 (because it was obviously the Europeans that came up with this).

The great sex toy gender gap

Female toys enjoy a very healthy image in popular media. They have even taken on a socio-political status for some women. It’s their unsheathed weapon. “Who needs men? Not us. We have two AAA batteries and a stick.” Woman’s masturbation was a sign of the modern and liberated female, who sincerely contests the sexual utility of men.

Sex and the City was said to be a turning point in widespread perceptions of female sexuality. One of the reasons Samantha – an aged good-time girl – is a fan favourite is because she embodies wild and uninhibited sexuality. She doesn’t care what people think of her lovers, how many and of whatever age. And you’d better believe if she’s willing to do any number of sex acts to a preteen she’s willing to use a sex toy.

Good for her. And good for any woman who feels embarrassed or deterred from wanking because they heard it was gross or weird. Samantha and her sexual attics made female sexuality – all of it, solo or with any number/type of partner – acceptable.

Male sexuality: not so much. A sexual male is a hopeless archetype of panting, sweating, googly-eyed, mystified by female genitalia; desperate, chubby: typecast as the hanger-on, the leering stranger and obsessive boyfriend. Female-male erotic depictions in the West usually simplify by telling us these are your typical White men. Black men have big dicks but are unruly/hypermasculine, Asian men are timid and unproductive in bed and Hispanic/Italian are rapacious lovers. Unless you’re a Black man who’s pleased by that idea or Iberian, these aren’t flattering.

Male masturbation is a guilty albeit prevalent bodily function, yet most would just rather not talk about it.

Male masturbation – regardless of race – we’re taught is a shameful act. If you masturbate past the age of sixteen, you deal with a stigma that says you’re likely a virgin, very possibly unattractive and terribly terribly lonely. Girlfriends can’t understand why you don’t just have sex with them. Plenty of men actively fuel negative ideas about wanking as if self-chastity was the mark of a true man. They claim to have done it once or twice but now get enough sex they don’t have to. Maybe so, but more likely they are lying, or are suffering from the most pernicious cold if their bedside bin is anything to go by. Plus, having sex actually increases sex drive, not decreases it. So unless you live with your girlfriend and she’s willing nightly to go at it, chances are you’re living with some frustrated sexual urges with the help of your hand.

It’s the lonely idea of a man hunched over his couch, bashing at a throbbing skin tag that is so unappealing. True, but why should, conversely, a woman slamming at her vagina with a rattling sabre be a sign of fortitude? This is not me offering a sob story; these are just peculiar facts about Western sexual culture. Male masturbation is a guilty albeit prevalent bodily function, yet most would just rather not talk about it.

Regardless of its history, the bottom line is: wanking is awesome. We, men, start earlier and we almost never stop. What sex often gives in atmosphere, it fails to deliver in orgasm, because masturbation gives a guy full control over his orgasm. And then when two partners have different sex drives – the man usually wanting it more than the woman – it is an essential tool in letting off steam. Wanking is just plain clever.

So thank God for the Fleshlight. I’m not suggesting it came along particularly to challenge an ethical high ground woman have, or that it purposely tries to oust the ridiculously ineffective “penis-sleeve” that is the vagina. It came to serve a function, as does all good tech. But since it’s here – and unashamedly here – it’s interesting to see whether, as it rises in popularity, is will change unhealthy perspectives on male masturbation.

Hopefully it can do that. It’s weird to see how strangely masturbation is treated. Even with all the positive press female masturbation enjoys, it still isn’t dinner-time conversation. Why, even in the Kernel offices – a feverish den of scat and unscrubbed table-tops – the Fleshlight was an object of scandal and ridicule. Whatever. At the end of the day, I’d prefer to be crawling into bed with someone else. But, if that’s not, shall we say, forthcoming, having sex with a tube is absolutely fine.