Why Straight Men Are Joining Masturbation Clubs

When Brandon* was in his early 20s and studying abroad, he went on a trip to Israel with his friends to hike in the Judean caves. At a certain point, they reached a part of the cave that was pitch-black. “It didn’t take long for someone to suggest we all jerk off in the darkness,” Brandon, now 35, says. “And so we did.” After they finished, they zipped themselves up and proceeded to continue meandering through the caves, as if nothing happened. They never spoke of it again.

Brandon self-identifies as straight. He had never masturbated in front of another man, let alone a group of other men, before in his life. Yet he says in retrospect, the weirdest thing about the incident was how not-weird it seemed at the time. “It was tame, fratty, kind of lame,” he said.

In truth, Brandon is absolutely right: his experience masturbating in front of other men is far from a singular one. Though there isn’t much data attesting to its exact prevalence, it’s far from uncommon for straight men to have had communal masturbatory experiences during adolescence, whether it’s beneath the alpaca blankets in their parents’ basement or behind the bleachers after gym class or in the bunks at sleepaway camp (or at John Lennon’s house). There’s even a term for it on Tumblr: “buddy bating.”

“We know it’s common for teenage boys to masturbate together or to instruct one another in how to do it,” says Dr. Jane Ward, author of the 2015 Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men, which coined the viral term “bro jobs” to describe straight men having sex with each other. Ward cites a 1981 report on male sexuality by sexologist Shere Hite, which suggested that nearly 20 percent of men had engaged in group masturbation during adolescence.

Most men who are willing to speak openly about experiences like this will do so with a certain measure of fondness, even nostalgia. “It’s a rite of passage and an essential part of the teenage male bonding ritual,” says Sean*, 31, who used to buddy bate with his friends when he was in his early teens. Sean came of age in the early aughts during the pre-Pornhub, post-Limewire era, when online porn was far less accessible than it is now, so he viewed communal masturbation more as a matter of convenience and less as a display of budding masculinity. But regardless of the impetus behind buddy bating, for some men, the urge to whip it out in front of your bros extends beyond adolescence, even though there are fewer options for them to dabble in that interest in adulthood.

In Seattle, for instance, there’s the Rain City Jacks, a jackoff club for men who wish to, per the website, “jack off openly and safely in a uniquely sex-positive, non-discriminating and mutually respectful community.” (They also have Mardi Gras-themed events, if you’re into that.) Every Sunday and Tuesday, the Rain City Jacks meet at an erotic art gallery in Seattle. The furniture is covered in canvas, and volunteers hand out small plastic cups of lube to guests. (“We try to be environmentally responsible, but people want their own clean lube,” Rain City Jacks founder and organizer Paul Rosenberg told me.) The lights are dimmed slightly and soft music plays while the men gather, either alone or in small clusters, and proceed to jerk off, all the while keeping conversation to a minimum to ensure everyone stays in the moment.

One of the terms I hear a lot is that this is the ultimate form of male bonding.

Most of the attendees at Rain City Jacks are gay men. But Rosenberg says it is not uncommon to see curious straight men at the club’s events. He conducts annual surveys of the group, and he says that while the majority of members are gay, about 10 percent of the Seattle Jacks’ 300 or so members self-identify as heterosexual, with 25 percent identifying as bisexual.

“You can sometimes tell a guy is straight because he’s not interested in kissing another guy,” says Rosenberg. “It’s easy for him to focus on the penis, but not to be physically affectionate.” Nonetheless, he says, they all get something out of it. “The straight men I’ve played with at my club want to evangelize it to other straight guys, because they enjoy it so much and they don’t feel threatened by it,” Rosenberg said. “They may feel no romantic attraction to other men, but we’ve given them a green light to experiment: to touch another man’s penis, to share pleasure with each other. One of the terms I hear a lot is that this is the ultimate form of male bonding.”

Coincidentally, the 10 percent figure Rosenberg reports also squares with data from BateWorld, a website featuring men uploading jackoff clips that has been referred to as “Facebook for masturbators.” According to a Slate piece on the phenomenon, approximately 10 percent of BateWorld’s users self-identify as straight, while 5 percent refused to self-identify either way—a number that pales in comparison to the more than 44,000 gay users of the site (50 percent of its audience; 30 percent identifies as bi, while 5 percent would “rather not say”), but is nonetheless significant. As Slate writer Kyle Mustain put it, “that’s a lot of not-gay dudes with profiles on a website for men who like to masturbate with other men.” And given the strict and arguably regressive codes governing male sexuality, which dictate that any man who so much as looks at another man has to be, if not gay, probably bisexual, it’s surprising that so many ostensibly straight men are interested in watching other guys touch themselves.

That said, for some straight guys who attend jackoff clubs, looking at or touching other penises may almost be beside the point. Ward, the author of Not Gay, says that some men with exhibitionistic tendencies jerk off in front of other men as a way to get validation—say, a compliment about the size of their genitals—that they may not necessarily get from their female partners. She said one man said he frequently attended jackoff clubs because he wanted to masturbate in front of his female partner, but she had no interest in watching him do so. To this man, jackoff clubs weren’t “much different than guys popping the hood and comparing engines. He said this was something he had a strong desire to share with other men.”

According to Dr. Gloria Brame, a sexologist, the psychology makes sense. „People always feel stronger in a group. Doing it with a bunch of other guys may give a shy man permission to be his own wild self and enjoy the pleasure of masturbation,“ she says. Alternatively, a masturbation club could offer a pressure-free opportunity to get off without the assistance of a partner. „For men who find it easier to come by hand rather than through penetration, it can be very freeing to be in a crowd with others who may be in the same place,“ says Dr. Brame, also noting the added thrill of exhibitionism the setting provides.

On its surface, the idea that a man might masturbate in front of other men as an assertion of heterosexuality might sound strange. But in truth, Ward points out, there’s not much of a distinction between the communal experience of a jackoff club and, say, going to a strip club and getting a lap dance at the same time as your friend, or having sex in the same room as your male roommate during college. Yes, presumably there are women present in those scenarios, but the result— communal arousal—is the same. While both of these experiences are not uncommon for men in their teens and twenties, they’re staunchly homoerotic nonetheless—and it’s also worth noting that there isn’t quite an equivalent for young women. “The norms of collective arousal for men are very different than they are for women,” Ward says. “It’s just common for men’s sexuality to express itself in a public way.”

For this reason, says Ward, jackoff clubs “may be a way [for straight men] to perhaps relive or reconnect with a kind of adolescent homosociality that men may have experienced.” In other words, much like going to a strip club, it’s a form of male bonding, albeit one that requires some heavy-duty cleanup afterwards. (Dawn, apparently, is the product of choice.)

Whether in ancient Judean caves or erotic art galleries, men have presumably been gathering for the express purpose of group masturbation for millennia (see: ancient Middle Eastern pagans gathering in a field to J.O. as part of a fertility rite, or pretty much any vase designed in ancient Greece). Yet formal jackoff clubs have been around since approximately the early 1980s, when the first known club, the New York Jacks, was founded, says Steve*, the 69-year-old current organizer of the NY Jacks. At first, the members were primarily openly gay men, mostly exhibitionists who “like public sex, but didn’t want to get involved in more hardcore stuff,” says Steve. But that changed a bit when the HIV/AIDS crisis hit in the early 1980s. Because the New York Jacks exclusively focused on solo and mutual masturbation, it was viewed by many in the gay community as a relatively risk-free alternative to bathhouses and sex clubs, which led to membership increasing. “What we do is pretty much as safe as you can get in a public sex situation,” Steve says.

With the advent of subreddits like r/jobuds and porn websites like BateWorld, jackoff clubs have since been somewhat on the decline. Yet for some, exchanging late-night snaps with other dudes on the internet doesn’t quite have the same appeal as IRL group masturbation. There are still a number of jackoff clubs across the country, which are increasingly attracting young, straight men. Steve says he gets “calls and letters all the time” from straight men interested in the club, who view it as a safe space to exercise their curiosity (if not their desire) about other men’s bodies. “Usually, I tell them it’s a perfect place for them because you don’t have to get romantically involved, you don’t have to touch anyone if you don’t want to,” he says. “You can just come and watch or participate at whatever your comfort level is.”

Because masturbation (whether solo or mutual) is often not culturally viewed as a form of sex, guys who are curious about sex with other men can dabble in it without feeling like they’ve gone “all the way.” That’s particularly true if they are married or in a relationship with someone who doesn’t know about their participation in jackoff clubs, says Rosenberg. For both gay and straight men in relationships, jackoff clubs “can be viewed as a way to justify infidelity, because it doesn’t ‘count’ as cheating,” he says.

In recent years, jackoff clubs have catered to an increasingly diverse, younger, and more sexually open clientele. “The younger the guys are, the more open they are,” says Steve. “The younger generation is so comfortable with gay people. They’ll play with another guy even though they prefer women.”

To a degree, this rise in interest among straight men parallels that of straight men in same-sex activity in general. Overall, more men are self-identifying as bisexual or bicurious than ever before: one 2018 YouGov survey suggests that 25 percent of people identify as something other than heterosexual, up 5 percent since 2015. Men in particular are also increasingly identifying as bisexual, with one 2016 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study indicating that 2 percent of men (up from 1.4 percent of men in 2010) self-identified as bi.

The last few years have seen something of a shift in terms of male sexual fluidity becoming more culturally acceptable, as the idea that everyone’s sexuality exists on a spectrum has gained tractionNico Tortorella and Brendon Urie have come out as pansexual, and shows like and Schitt’s Creek feature male characters who are unapologetically attracted to people of all genders. But this shift has been marginal at best: there is still much more mainstream cultural representation of bisexual or pansexual women than men, in part because female sexuality is still considered inherently more fluid (despite a growing body of research indicating otherwise). While men tend to ignore or even actively encourage their female partners’ same-sex tendencies, that’s not the case for women: in fact, one 2016 survey from Glamour Magazine found that nearly two-thirds of women would not date a man who had sex with other men.

As a result of the lingering stigma surrounding guy-on-guy action, many straight men are reluctant to openly discuss same-sex experiences or desire of any kind. (It’s worth noting, for instance, that while I spoke to more than a dozen self-identified straight men for this piece about their own experiences with other men, they all only agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity.)

We have so much homophobia, so straight men feel cut off from experiencing physical affection with other men.

On occasion, such internalized homophobia can cause issues in jackoff clubs, especially if a member approaches another man who’s not interested in anything beyond looking. “There’s never been anything particularly violent, but there can be awkward moments between guys,” says Steve. “They’re few and far between, but it happens.”

It’s perhaps for this reason longtime jackoff club devotees like Rosenberg view the clubs as an escape from toxic masculinity, a way for men to enact their most taboo desires and self-love without fear of judgment. “We have so much homophobia, so straight men feel cut off from experiencing physical affection with other men,” Rosenberg says. “In my view, experiencing affection and connecting with other people physically is part of what we need to achieve happiness with another human being.” And while some might argue that a group of dudes masturbating on drop cloth-covered furniture doesn’t exactly constitute an emotional connection, taking an act that is as solitary and intimate and so traditionally laden with shame as masturbation and making it communal can be transformative.

“What happens in those circles is so affirming and so healing and so transforming for these guys,” says Jallen Rix, a sex therapist and longtime attendee of jackoff clubs, who hosts small Men’s Sacred Self-Pleasuring Circles in his living room in southern California. As an example, he cited one man who had attended a circle in Tennessee who said that he had been sexually abused as a child, and had thus developed a deeply ingrained fear of older men. “The circle had every shape and size, big, small, round, thin, hairy, smooth,” Rix said. “Somehow in that circle, his triggers went away. He could see they were accepting of him, and not out to get them.”

Or alternatively, perhaps the appeal is as simple as this: “most men, regardless of sexual orientation, really love their penises,” says Steve. “And they love to masturbate.” So why not have it all?

*Some names have been changed to protect subjects‘ privacy.

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