When applied to sexual matters, the term “double standard” usually refers to the extent to which those who condemn it indulge in the activity themselves. This has traditionally been applied to society, especially in Europe, where men’s affairs are tolerated, while women were expected to remain faithful. Another, less harmful double standard is a complaint by some men that masturbation on their part is met with disapproval by their wives or girlfriends, who, theoretically, are engaging in the practice as well.
But masturbation is subject to a more substantial double standard — how society views it in different lights depending on which sex is engaged in it. Masturbation by women was once considered a symptom of hysteria. But today conventional thinking, however subconscious, runs something like this: when women masturbate, it’s liberating and sexy. Men? Not so much. Antiquated notions that it’s a sin aside, it’s often viewed as a loser’s game. The implication is that the man who masturbates regularly can’t find a woman — and the “wanker” in question might well buy into this. Even though masturbation is a sexual act, it’s as if, for men, it’s a sign of impotence. (Note: in no way, shape or form does the author does the author represent the men’s rights movement.)
Of course, the more enlightened man doesn’t allow himself to be shamed. Also, porn viewing by men, which, for all intents and purposes is synonymous with masturbation, is now tolerated by women, to some extent. (Though when it occupies too prominent a position in the life of a man in a relationship, the woman is likely to extricate herself or insist on counseling.)
Still, to most men, masturbation is but a substitute for the real thing. For women, however, it’s just as likely to be a symptom of a man’s inability to satisfy her as a substitute for sex with a man. Furthermore, it’s often viewed as key to a woman’s discovery of her sexuality, which includes learning how a man, as well as herself, might best satisfy her. (Presumably because a man’s sexual organs are in plain sight and the sexual urge overpowering once he reaches puberty, a man isn’t given any credit for “discovering” his ability to orgasm.)
It’s also a way for a woman to assert ownership of her body, about which many women openly share. A man might own up to masturbating in passing. But very few, unless they’re say, stand-up comics, will speak about it at length.
The double standard is especially highlighted by how much higher the erotic quotient is for men watching women masturbate as opposed to vice versa. Among porn viewers, compare the percentage of women who watch videos of men masturbating compared to the percentage of men watching women masturbate. Since the data isn’t readily available, here’s a ballpark figure: .99 percent of the former, 99 percent of the latter.
Nevertheless, for couples who masturbate (apart from mutual sex play), the rationales even out: men are frustrated by women’s inability to meet the regularity of their sexual needs; women are frustrated by men’s inability to bring them to orgasm. Still, a man is more liable to view masturbation on either his or his partner’s part as evidence he’s failing to satisfy his partner.
But nothing says double standard more than a comparison of what used to be called “marital aids” for both sexes. Admittedly, male biology doesn’t lend itself to devices as well as women’s biology does. Nevertheless, embarrassing products like sleeves or the Mastomatic (yes, that’s really its name) are marketed to men. A Japanese company manufactures something called “onaholes,” ostensibly made in the likeness of Japanese porn stars’ individual vaginas.
Meanwhile, vibrators, some long sold in retail outlets under the guise of massage implements, others in sex boutiques, are infiltrating the marketplace via high-end mainstream retail outlets. The Atlantic recently featured an article about the premium that designer vibrators are placing on aesthetics and ergonomics. There’s no way to make a vacuum pump for men tasteful or fashionable, and the chances of one being sold at a mainstream or fashionable outlet are slim to none.
Nor will the day likely ever come when masturbation on the part of men is viewed in a positive light as a process of self-discovery and a declaration of sovereignty — not to mention sexy — as it is for women. While it may no longer automatically stigmatize a man as a loser, it may never be more than tolerated by women. But then, perhaps that’s the way it should be.
(Feel free to shoot holes in the author’s perspective in the comments section.)