Why is it OK to have “masturbation booths” for men in the middle of Manhattan?

Up to 39% of people masturbate at work, according to a “survey” (also known as pure anecdotal evidence) conducted by Time Out New York in December. “Male, female, gay, straight, we were all going to town during business hours,” reads the article—though it seems work-hour masturbation is more of a male habit, or so thinks London-based sex toys company Hot Octopuss, which, in collaboration with PR company Manifest New York, has launched a marketing stunt in New York inspired by the survey’s findings.

On Jan. 13, the company set up a “GuyFi” booth between 28th Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan: a converted phone booth equipped with hi-speed internet and a chair for men to “set aside 15 minutes of the day,” Lucy Rogers, a representative of Manifest New York, told Quartz.

(Photo via Manifest New York)

While the brand did not suggest it explicitly (masturbating in public is, after all, a public offense), its purpose was understood to be allowing men 15 minutes to masturbate. In the middle of the day, in the middle of the city. Adam Lewis, the founder of Hot Octopuss, said “it’s really important for guys to look after themselves so that they can stay healthy and focus properly on the task in hand” (pun intended?).

On the first day, Rogers told Quartz, 100 men used the booth. This means they either spent less than 15 minutes each or lined up through the night. And while it had to be shut down because the phone company owner of the booth complained, Hot Octopuss is evaluating opening more of them, both in New York and across the country. The booths are aimed at men because they are the company’s target, and were set up “with the intention to spark a debate,” Rogers said. “The main thing is to make [masturbation and] sex less about stigma,” she explained.

Rogers said no one has complained about the use of the booth as happened, for instance, with period underwear advertising on New York City subways. This to confirm, if anyone had any doubt of it, that the double standards towards men and women are alive and kicking.

Only a few months ago, these ads ran into trouble and faced possible censorship by the MTA board because of their references to female bodily functions:

Ultimately, the ads were permitted, but it’s telling that a public reference to menstruation would be considered too explicit when commuters are constantly exposed to ads objectifying women. Well known examples are these messages comparing women’s breasts to fruits and vegetables, and suggesting women either attain a perfectly photoshopped body or live in shame, which would not be taken off even after petitions were launched against them:


Whether or not more “GuyFi” booths appear, the message appears clear: men have bodies with natural needs which need to be addressed; women have bodies which need to be hidden.

While women are made to feel ashamed by the shape and functions of their bodies, men’s most instinctive urges are not just tolerated, but displayed with the sort of liberating pride that, frankly, does not belong there. The image of “stressed out” New Yorkers lining up to get some “me time” is so ridiculous it’s entertaining, but it’s still annoying that no questions would be asked, and somewhat concerning for how this feeds into a narrative where men are not required to rein in their impulses—because “boy will be boys.”

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