Over the past decade, the sex toy industry has exploded into a $15 billion market, and observers predict it will reach $50 billion by 2020. Today, toys of all stripes are on sale to meet any imaginable kink and fetish, and taboo surrounding them has all but dissipated from our cultural climate. Which makes it almost unbelievable when charismatic trans activist and tireless entrepreneur Buck Angel says, "There is no toy ever in the history of the adult toy market made specifically for trans men."
That changes this week with the arrival of a new device in sex stores: the Buck-OFF, a masturbation aid made for people who have transitioned or are transitioning from female to male. The device, which is distributed by male sex toy manufacturer Perfect Fit, is Angel's own creation, and took over five years to develop. It represents a radical entry into the sex toy industry, one that could set a precedent for investors and manufacturers to broaden their horizons beyond strap-ons and slings.
The Buck-OFF is designed for people who are taking, or have taken, testosterone as part of their FTM transition, which often has the effect of enlarging their genitals; while the Buck-OFF resembles other masturbation sleeves in its basic design, there are two key differences: It's shorter and wider than other sleeves and can create suction. That allows trans men to masturbate more easily—and also helps to curb gender dysphoria that might arise in the use of other toys.
A lot of people who are making or have made the transition from female to male "do not want to touch their genitals," Angel told VICE. "They are very disassociated from their vaginas because it doesn't feel masculine to them. When you transition, you want to have a penis, you want to feel like a man, and so you don't necessarily want to touch your vagina." The Buck-OFF "allows you to masturbate without touching your vagina."
How have trans men escaped the sex toy industry's marketing radar until now? Alex Iantaffi, a Minneapolis sex therapist and educator who works extensively with the trans community, thinks the roots of the problem lie in our culture's view of trans people. Iantaffi said that they believe trans bodies are seen "as existing for the cisgender gaze and, as such, almost as a form of titillation," rather than as people with their own sexual needs and sexual health rights.
And while you might think the possibility of exploiting an untapped market could trump personal bias for entrepreneurs, Marina Adshade, a professor at the Vancouver School of Economics and author of a book on sex and economics, notes that research shows investors are far from the rational calculators we think they are, and that stigma can drive their decisions as much as the pursuit of profit. "We know that venture capitalists can be discriminatory," Adshade said. "Studies have shown that they consistently underfund female entrepreneurs, for instance. And sex toys are expensive to develop. That's why they keep appearing on Kickstarter. [Investors] may have thought the market was too small. The VCs want the biggest bang for their buck."
Angel understands investors' caution. "It always comes down to money. Nobody wants to be the first," he said. But he also thinks the size of the market has been underestimated. "It's sort of like when they came out with the first computer. You had to show people: This is going to work, my friends."
Wyatt Riot, who works at She Bop, an adult boutique in Portland, Oregon, that specializes in female-, queer- and trans-friendly products, says they are stocking the Buck-OFF. "There is definitely a market for products like these; we have had customers ask for something similar," he told VICE, noting he'd like to see more products like Buck-OFF hit shelves. "Often, trans people have to alter toys in order to make them work for their bodies." He cited the Bro Sleeve, a masturbation sleeve that some trans men have modified to use for masturbation, though some have reported mixed results from trying to do this, and have encountered gender dysphoria as a result.
Iantaffi applauds the move to recognize the sexual needs of trans persons. He says it is essential that people have access to sexual aids that meet their needs, and that these "can be invaluable in a person exploring their own body and sexuality." However, he also has concerns about how devices like the Buck-OFF are marketed. "Marketing and selling sexual aids to trans people is another way to monetize our bodies," he said. "I think that seeing devices like this in sex shop might potentially reinforce the discourse that trans people are different to the 'norm,' which is implicitly cis people and cis bodies. I would like to see devices marketed on function and purpose rather than gender. After all the trans/cis binary is still a binary that potentially keeps reproducing cisgenderism, even when working toward the recognition of trans identities."
Angel believes that his product can help validate trans male identities. He would like to see the device become a teaching tool for therapists and sex educators, to help trans men connect with their bodies—all worthy goals. And with just one week on the market, the initial reception for the Buck-OFF among both customers and retailers has been enthusiastic. "We blew it out all over the world," he said.
"Ive tried everything under the sun to feel right masturbating, but now, i finally feel like the man i am when doin it, all thanks to you," one of the first reviews of the product said on Perfect Fit's website. "I love you with all my heart, Buck. You give me strength every day to be the best me i can be!!!!"
Neil McArthur is the director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at University of Manitoba, where his work focuses on sexual ethics and the philosophy of sexuality. Follow him on Twitter.