The Influence of the Gay Community
While there is no denying that work still needs to be done, the western world has experienced some incredibly positive turning points in regards to LGBT rights, visibility, and positivity.
With same-sex marriage (also known as ‘marriage’) being made legal in both the US and the UK in 2013 many people have celebrated the 2000’s as a time for LGBT inclusion and acceptance. Such moves towards tolerance have had far-reaching benefits, impacting the social, cultural, and economic climate of the western world.
However, when it comes to the wonderful world of sex toys; homosexual communities and especially gay men have paved the way for quite some time. In fact, it could even be suggested that the impact of gay men on the male sex toy market has helped make it more open and accepting for all consumers. After all, this emancipation coincides with the rise of male sex toys.
Male Sex Toys and the Gay Community
While heterosexual men have conventionally been rather shy in regards to sex toys, homosexual men have been active consumers for many years. Facilitated by the diverse ways in which gay men define and engage in sexual intercourse. Author M.V. Lee Badgett tracks this back to the late 1960’s & 70’s. Where an emphasis on sexual liberation meant that ‘consumerism flourished for gay men’. Bringing about ‘growing markets for sexual products such as sex toys’.
This active interest in sex toys shown by gay men undoubtedly helped shape and support the male sex toy market. Because of this, the impact of the gay community on the way that male sex toys are designed and marketed is undeniable and most certainly a positive thing. In a time period that still marginalized and vilified homosexuality, to be able to actively carve out space for one’s sexuality, to the point where it shapes an entire industry is a momentous achievement and one that the industry acknowledges and is still defined by today.
Speaking on the topic Nichi Hodgson, Ooh by Je Joue brand ambassador, notes that when it came to gay men ‘There was a stigma around their sexuality, so they had to fight for sexual liberation and were able to experiment’. This experimentation and push towards active sex advocacy is what Hodgson attributes to the fact that ‘a lot of sex toys are pitched at gay men’ making them a strong aspect of the adult consumer market to this very day.
Despite the amazing impact that gay men have had on the history of male sex toys, there are sadly still some stigmas attached to this contribution. Hinging prevalently on homophobia and ill-informed sexual beliefs. A 2014 study reported by the Guardian, for example, found that only 39% of heterosexual men admitted to using sex toys when compared to 66% of homosexuals.
This is something which Hodgson attributes to the association between the gay community and sex toys. As many still believe that they might have ‘a gay inclination if they try them out’. This is something which GQ echoes when encouraging its male readers to try anal sex, attributing hesitance to try anal play with ‘internalized homophobia’.
But thankfully toxic and cultural perspectives can be challenged and countered and in this task. The LGBT community still has a strong impact on the male sex toy market and how it’s perceived.
As the LGBT community tirelessly campaign to see that homosexual rights are represented the cultural and social impact of their efforts can definitely be felt in the world of male sex toys.
The 2014 Guardian article may have painted a grim image about the heterosexual male’s perspective towards sex toys, but since then further studies have been released and the outcomes are optimistic.
One study, for example, showed that 24% of all men, both gay and straight, had experimented with ‘inserting an object’ into their anus, indicating an equal receptiveness for exploration. Meanwhile, although single gay/bi men were still the statistically largest group to purchase butt plugs in 2014 from Lovehoney. Single straight men were the third largest consumer demographic.
While there are ultimately multiple factors that have contributed to these changes, including the popularity of Fifty Shades. The move by companies towards more sexuality-inclusive packaging. The parallels between a move towards LGBT acceptance and the de-stigmatization of male sex toys speaks volumes about the impact that the LGBT community and its anti-homophobia efforts have helped to achieve.
As the NRW education ministry observed, when itself moving towards a more LGBT-inclusive initiative, ‘Acceptance of lesbians and gays has turned to self-confidence’ within the community. ‘And the diversity of the society has a positive impact on the democratic process’. This sexual confidence and strong gay voice are now being felt loud and proud, as gay individuals fly their sex toy flags (sometimes quite literally) with confidence.
As I hope this article has made clear, the long-link between male sex toys and gay users is an intrinsic part of the industry. However, it is because of this, not in spite of it. Male users are now beginning to challenge internalized views of misogyny and inform themselves about both the wonderful world of sex toys. And the many misconceptions associated with the gay community itself (especially regarding anal sex and sex toy safety).
Moves towards acceptance (spurred by the LGBT community) have now allowed men of all sexual orientations to become more confident in trying (and loving) adult products. Meanwhile, adult companies continue to produce a wonderful array of items aimed at both gay and straight users (with the diverse and orientation-inclusive Kiiroo Onyx and its successors acting as a prime example).
So let us all acknowledge, with gratitude, the strong contribution and fraught social history of gay men’s influence on the wonderful world of male sex toys. In shaping them and in persisting to champion them even when faced with continued social stigma. Also continuing to use them as a strong social statement regarding sex positivity and homophobia, and in fighting to make them accessible for all users. The world of male sex toys would be a lot duller without such potent LGBT contributions.