Of the various group masturbation parties 30-year-old nudist Kyle Rudd has attended over the years, the biggest one drew a dozen-odd men, predominantly over 50. He was the third to arrive that night, and when he walked inside the host and another guy were already naked. As the remainder of the guests sauntered in, conversation centred on things like work, how the week had been and the bodies and penises on display.
Rudd did most of his masturbating – a blend of group and solo – from the vantage point of the organiser’s couch and managed to ejaculate on himself three or four times in six hours. In the breaks between these bouts of industry, Rudd, a Melbourne-based arts-sector employee, spent his time socialising, drinking beer and eating pizza.
While some men might prefer to spend their weekends watching the game or relaxing with the family, Rudd says he had a great time.
“I find genitals to be very erotic – ten out of ten,” he says. “For me, I think being exposed and on display is very erotic. It’s knowing that others are admiring your genitals as they mutually get off on it.”
For anybody entertaining the idea of attending a group masturbation party, the grassroots DIY scene is a fertile field of opportunity, according to Rudd.
“My participation is always privately organised groups through masturbation networking sites. They are pretty common. There’s definitely one big one every weekend that I could go to, and smaller groups. Even one-on-one ones are happening every day that I’m aware of. And we have online wanking groups too, where guys wank on group cam. I do this a few days a week.”
While a lot of these parties are one-off DIY affairs informally staged in homes, long-standing jerking institution Melbourne Wankers lays claim to being Australia’s only formally organised group masturbating “club” (it used to keep a database of members, but these days anybody can rock up), according to organiser Peter Benn. The club, known to play host to up to 100 men furiously masturbating at once, stages its parties at a sauna on the second and fourth Monday of every month. For the £12 admission fee, participants have access to a bar, towels and lockers, and the lubricant of choice, grapeseed oil, is freely available in squeeze-pack form.
A military tarp and sheets blanket the floor of the main room, where dozens of men will unabashedly wax their dolphins together. These sheets go into an industrial washing machine to help simplify the cleanup job that follows the three-hour-long events.
"Having 30 guys in the room all at once is a pretty good number," Benn says, sitting cross-legged on an armchair in his bookish inner-city living room. “You generally get small groups of two guys, three guys or four guys. You won’t get more than four or five, but as you play you’ll move from little group to little group. It’s much more chatty. Conversation is really important. The lights are up, the music is soft and there’s a lot of oil on bodies, so it’s a very touchy-feely event. It’s a more intimate relationship between the men... It’s the feeling of being in a group and looking at other guys and talking to other guys, and it works because it’s all in the one room. Therefore you’re hearing everything, you’re seeing everything and everybody’s a part of it.”
Group masturbation clubs emerged in the 1980s, when public fear of AIDS was in overdrive. They were conceived as environments where men could meet up to manually gratify one another without running the risks associated with penetrative sex. Several clubs, such as the New York Jacks and San Francisco Jacks, continue to thrive internationally (kindred clubs operate everywhere from France to Finland to Mexico), but getting a club off the ground and building traction is no easy feat.
Benn says a couple of men used to run a club out of their Canberra, Australia farmhouse every Thursday night, but the party ended when they sold the property a couple of years back. Another Sydney club folded after six months because of low numbers, and other attempts to start under-30s parties have failed dismally.
Yet Melbourne Wankers continues to pull men, so to speak.
“At a meeting the other night, there were three guys from Perth. It’s amazing how they find you; it’s just word of mouth,” says Benn.
Benn estimates two thirds of the participants at Melbourne Wankers are married. His book, The Versatile Husband – a so-called practical guide for men in heterosexual relationships who are interested in sex with other men – explores how these men make the decision to have sex with other men.
“Men get isolated and don’t have touch in their lives. Touch is banned by everybody, and these men get more and more isolated in their marriage," he says. "They lose that intimacy that you have at the start of your marriage where you can’t keep your hands off each other. Ten years on, where has it gone?”
Many of the men identify as heterosexual, which makes perfect sense to sexologist Dr Carol Queen, an advocate for the destigmatisation of masturbation.
“One explanation would be that this is a guy who could also identify as bisexual but doesn't, maybe because he only has relationships with women, or maybe because he's never actually done sexual stuff with a cock but just likes to see them. The other way I can see it working is that he likes his own cock, and it's a sort of positive identification/fellow-feeling he experiences being around other cocks.”
In the book Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to the Extremes of Sexuality, Martha Cornog, one of the authors in the collection, highlights that group masturbation clubs have historically emphasised the importance of pleasure, fellowship and the acceptance of human diversity. Men come to express exhibitionistic and voyeuristic tendencies, to experience the religious-like synergistic energy that evolves out of the group sex experience, and to enjoy camaraderie.
But public awareness of the scene is low. Rudd says only a couple of his friends know about his involvement with group masturbation parties. “Normal day-to-day [people] at work or with families don't know about this stuff," he says. "I think the general consensus would be negative or they would find it shocking.”
“It’s a subject matter that confronts you when you find out about it. People think, 'Fuck, that’s not for me. I’m not going down there.' It’s so not for so many people.”
But the scene’s taboo status bodes well for its participants, adds Benn. “Because it’s so odd and unusual, it drifts along quietly in its own way, and that’s exactly what the married man and groups want.”