BY SAMANTHA ALLEN

Note: This post contains explicit material and may be NSFW.

First, the wheel. Then, the printing press. Now, the robot blowjob. We’ve finally reached the zenith of human technological advancement. 

After a successful crowdfunding campaign earlier this year, the Autoblow 2, has burst onto the sex toy scene, promising “unlimited blowjobs on demand.” The device operates by rhythmically pumping rings of beads up and down around a rubber penis sleeve: all the user has to do is stick their member in the sleeve and get blown.

But if initial impressions of this motorized toy are any indication, the Autoblow 2 sucks—and not in a good way. As one sex writer and her husband note in an essay for Salon, this automated penis slurper is loud, slow, ineffective, and bears an eerie resemblance to a disembodied cross-section of a human face. They nonetheless conclude their review on a hopeful note: “Now that mechanical sex toys are increasingly being marketed toward men, maybe innovation is on the way at last.”

Now that the Autoblow 2 has broken down the barrier, it’s only a matter of time until someone in the sexy Jetsons future invents a perfect blowjob machine. But what will happen to the good, old-fashioned human blowjob when the Autoblow 7 finally gets it right? Robots are already taking over our jobs. Are they going to take over our blowjobs, too?

But that might not even be a bad thing. The mechanical sex toy market turning to men might be one of the healthiest things to happen to men’s sex lives since the invention of the condom. For all the talk of boys and their toys, there is still, as Nicholas Pell notes on LA Weekly, “a lingering social stigma regarding men and sex toys.” Because of this stigma, men still tend to be secretive with each other about their sex toy usage.

By actively participating in a culture of male sex toy usage, however, men might learn how to experience their sexual desire without relying exclusively on interpersonal interaction or the simulation of interpersonal interaction. Men still tend to see sex with a partner as their primary sexual outlet and masturbation as a poor substitute for the “real deal,” a mindset that places undue pressure on both themselves and their partners. Men stuck in this mindset could stand to learn a lot from women about sex, pleasure, and toy use.

For women, sex toy usage is finally approaching a point of normalization: the vibrator is, as the New York Times notes, “nearly as common an appliance in American households as the drip coffee maker or toaster oven.” About half of adult women in the U.S. use sex toys and, even when they are in relationships, most women do not perceive their toys as substitutes for sexual partners. Women are able to enjoy sex with a partner and masturbation as separate, enjoyable acts that bear no necessary relation to each other.

What this means is that, for a woman, solo time with a sex toy and sexy time with a boy toy are activities that can exist on separate axes of our lives. While some women use “realistic” (read: veiny) dildos or cutting-edge cunnilingus simulators, most of us use vibrators with abstract designs that look like EVE in WALL-E. And although women masturbate much less frequently than men, most of us don’t think of masturbation as something that we do instead of sex.

The sparse array of men’s sex toys, on the other hand, encourage men to perceive toy-assisted masturbation as a substitute for sex with a partner. The notorious Fleshlight, for example, is marketed as a “prosthetic vagina” with a realistic texture and appearance. The product page for the Fleshlight even invites the prospective buyer to “get to know her,” because nothing gets a dude hard quite like anthropomorphizing a pink rubber sleeve.

The Autoblow 2 follows in the proud tradition of the Fleshlight by including “pale lips and [a] surrounding fake-face.” While I’m sure many men can ignore the uncanny valley effect of shoving their dicks into a surreal half-face, the products themselves are still being positioned in the market as substitutes for “real-life” sexual encounters. Their chief selling point is still their verisimilitude with a mouth or a vagina. Women can use toys for fun; men, these product designs suggest, should only use toys when they can’t find a woman.

Better toys for men, toys that don’t position themselves as sex substitutes or hinge their appeal on their lifelikeness, could revolutionize the way that men approach their solo sexuality. The Autoblow could stand to lose the fake lips but the central idea is sound: a way for men to sit back, flip a switch, and get off. While it sounds like the Autoblow 2 may leave a lot of men feeling blue, the Autoblow 3 might just do the trick.

And if toys for men like the Autoblow become normal, men might finally learn how to approach their sexual desire as a fun playground rather than a scripted drama with a role that can only be played by a human female. It’s time for men to shake off the stigma, to learn that toys can be fun and to discover that sexuality is more than just sex.

Samantha Allen is a doctoral fellow in the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. In addition to writing regularly for the feminist gaming blog The Border House, her writing has also appeared on Salon, Jacobin, Kotaku, and First Person Scholar. You can find her on Twitter at @CousinDangereux or on the web atwww.samanthaleighallen.com.

Photo via JD Hancock/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)