Magnus Sullivan wants to talk about masturbation. But he’s not interested in talking about quick jerk-off sessions or even women using vibrators or other toys to get off on their own. Nope, Sullivan wants to talk to straight men and the women who love them about how masturbating differently can change their life — and maybe even change the world.
“There’s a big white elephant in the room and no one is talking about straight male sexuality,” Sullivan tells Bustle. “It’s really striking how deep the shame around sex is. And it affects so many different aspects of behavior. You can’t understand and empathize and feel for somebody else unless there’s some kind of connective bridge there.”
That connective bridge, Sullivan believes, can be found in sex. Specifically, he’s advocating on his website, Better Than the Hand, and his soon-to-be-published book, Better Than The Hand: How Masturbation is the Key to Better Sex and Healthier Living, for straight men to explore the different ways they masturbate and relate to their own bodies. As a pornographer, sex toy purveyor, and member of the sex-positive community, Sullivan says that he’s seen a lot of cultural growth and acceptance around female masturbation and sexuality — but that straight male sexuality has remained “incredibly ossified.”
That limited view of what’s “masculine” and what isn’t — and therefore what sexual behaviors are “acceptable” for straight men — is directly linked with rape culture and “toxic masculinity.” Sullivan, however, doesn’t like that term, so he’s come up with one of his own.
“I like to talk about ‘toxic male behavior.’” he says. “I think what happens is people think there’s something wrong with male sexuality. But, no! Male sexuality is what it is! And it’s highly varied — my sexuality isn’t the same as the guy next to me. There’s nothing wrong with male sexuality. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to f*ck a lot, there’s nothing wrong with masturbating.”
What is wrong, Sullivan says, is the lack of empathy and sense of entitlement that comes along with that “toxic male behavior.” He points to the Brock Turner case as an example of why straight men are overdue for a sexual revolution. As reports rolled in last year of not only the particulars of the sexual assault case but also the reactions of Turner and his family, Sullivan realized that Turner’s understanding of desire was similar to that of many straight men. It was completely one-directional: If he desired someone, it was OK for him to realize that desire “as long as there wasn’t an overt rejection.”
“I was fascinated by the photos of him and his father’s response,” Sullivan says. “I was looking at that guy going, ‘I actually think he’s shocked at the trouble he’s in.’ I actually think he was confused, genuinely confused.”
Sullivan thinks it’s time to let straight men explore their bodies in the same way that women and queer men have over the past couple decades.
So what’s the solution? How to change male sexuality so that it’s not a one-way street? Sullivan thinks it’s time to let straight men explore their bodies in the same way that women and queer men have over the past couple decades. He wants to start with sex toys, a market that so far has catered almost exclusively to people with vaginas. In addition to creating a more varied range of toys for men, he thinks it’s time that men start using toys that are “for women. "
Sullivan recognizes that a lot of men — himself included — might not be using sex toys because they don’t really know how to use them. With Better Than the Hand, he’s trying to show men how and why to use toys like the Hitachi Magic Wand or toys for anal play. Recognizing that many men are accustomed to masturbating a certain way, he’s hoping to expand their repertoires.
“I’ve always been an avid masturbator and I’m experimental and open but I realized I hadn’t used any toys, actually,” Sullivan says. “I was like, ‘Why haven’t I done that? Why haven’t I used a lot of toys?’ And some of it’s tied to the fact that I don’t really know how to use the toys. Like when I initially experimented with some butt toys and it just didn’t feel good because I didn’t know what I was doing!”
And that lack of understanding of the different ways their own bodies can become aroused translates to lack of understanding of the ways their partner’s bodies become aroused when straight men have partnered sex. “Most men grow up with so much shame and silence around masturbation that they learn to masturbate very quickly — and silently,” Sullivan says. “And it’s all cock-centered. It’s not like, ‘I’m going to sit here for 30 minutes exploring my body and getting hard without touching my cock.’ Its like, ‘I’m going to sit here and turn on porn, get hard as fast as I can, and jerk off as quickly as I can. And that’s it.”
Sullivan sees a mirroring of that quick, furtive sexual activity in complaints from women who have sex with men that sex is too fast or doesn’t focus enough on foreplay. Changing the way men masturbate, then, would lead to “an incredibly positive transformation” in their sexuality. And changing their sexuality, Sullivan says, could change the way they interact with the world.
While Sullivan’s ideas about changing male masturbation in order to combat rape culture and toxic male behavior are relatively new — and therefore untested — they seem especially important right now. A man who has admitted to groping women without their consent will sit in the highest office in our country’s government. Men like Brock Turner receive less jail time after being convicted of sexual assault than people receive, on average, for grand theft. Hundreds of thousands of rape kits across the country sit untested, while women across the country are fighting for our reproductive rights. If ever there was time for a sexual revolution, it’s now.