The Uncertain Future of Male Masturbation

Technology is leading to profound changes in the practice of male masturbation

Posted Jul 06, 2014

As this yearlong series on masturbation comes to an end, let’s summarize some of the major conclusions discerned in research.  First, masturbation is not limited to human beings, and other species engage in self-pleasuring.  Second, evidence of masturbation has been found in even the earliest human civilizations.  Third, masturbation is a safe and healthy behavior in the sexual repertoire.  Finally, in spite of the above, people still worry (and even panic) about the act.  Masturbation is here to stay, and humans will continue to engage in the behavior for the foreseeable future.  However, will advances in technology lead to changes in masturbation?

The answer is indeed “yes,” and changes are already underway. 

A recent Pew Research Center study, U.S. Views of Technology and the Future: Science in the Next 50 Years found that the “American public anticipates that the coming half-century will be a period of profound scientific change, as inventions that were once confined to the realm of science fiction come into common usage…overall, most Americans anticipate that the technological developments of the coming half-century will have a net positive impact on society.”[i] 

The Pew report did not poll respondents about sexual issues, but there is no doubt that individuals on the technological front line are working on reformulating the male masturbatory experience.  A quick Internet search of “male masturbation aids” will lead to a plethora of options, most of which were not even available a decade ago (when the most common masturbatory aids were inflatable sex dolls and penis pumps).  Now we have devices like the Fleshlight (“Simulate the feel of real sex”); the Cobra Libra (“A special treat for the confident man.”); and the whole line of Tenga products (“The future of masturbation is here, now.”).  These are complemented by an entire range of silicone-based lubricants, which adds to the sensuousness of the masturbation experience. 

“Hands off” masturbation is now one of the priorities of the industry, and artificial vaginas (such as the aforementioned Fleshlight) can be mounted to walls and showers so that men can engage in masturbation without once touching their own genitals.  Many such products are motorized (with speed controls) so that a man merely inserts his penis into the device and allows it to lead him to ejaculation. Probably the most advanced product (and a harbinger of the next line of masturbatory aids) is the Real Touch Interactive, a hands-off device synched to adult videos that allows a male to experience the sexual action depicted on the screen.

Masturbation continues to be a source of anxiety, and, as a professional working in the realm of sexuality, I have concerns that these new products (and more that are still in the design stage) will only exacerbate this consternation.  I am not sure how a romantic partner will feel stumbling in upon a paramour with his penis in a box (for want of a better descriptor) attached to a laptop or television and receiving oral sex via the motorized belts it contains and as is occurring on the screen with his favorite porn star.  Some will be horrified.  Some will be turned on.  Is this any different than hands-on masturbation to magazines, porn, or internal fantasies?  Is this any different that the use of vibrators by females?  These are questions that will be asked, but, as the very first posting in this series made clear, won’t be easily answered.  The research base for masturbation is minimal in spite of the obvious issues it presents.


[i] Pew Research Center, April, 2014, “U.S. Views of Technology and the Future”: 3.