The ‘phallic brotherhood’: What are group masturbation clubs and why do men go there?

Jack-off centers have existed for decades in major American cities, and one has just opened its doors in Madrid

Illustration of men sharing conversation in a sauna in 1917.
Illustration of men sharing conversation in a sauna in 1917.George Wesley Bellows (coloreado de Blanca López)

According to the masturbation club’s creators, the men who attend are not seeking sex so much as a physical and spiritual connection between men that is inhibited by social norms.

A gay man in his fifties, Paul Rosenberg is a product of a 1970s upbringing in a multicultural neighbourhood outside Chicago. He was in his early twenties when he first stumbled upon a “jack off club,” attending every event for the forthcoming year.

Here adult men of all age ranges gathered to masturbate, either alone or with each other. No alcohol, no drugs, no fruitless searches, no power games, no negotiations of who would be active or passive, no fear of AIDS. Soon after, Paul got a boyfriend (now his husband) and left the club.

Ten years later, Paul sought a return to the clubs. He and his partner had moved to Seattle and there was no such place like the one in Chicago. So he decided to create one himself, called Rain City Jacks.

According to specialist website The Bator Blog, there are 18 clubs of this type in the United States, two in Australia, two in Canada and one in the United Kingdom.

Nacho G, 43, has just created one more in the Madrid region in Spain. The project Pajas Entre Colegas (or, Handjobs Between Friends) has been going on for years, but when private homes became too small for meetings, Nacho found a 100 square-meter former cocktail bar in the city of Alcorcón with capacity for 70 people.

The club is decorated with graffiti and is equipped with two toilets, security lockers for valuables, clothes horses and large armchairs. Two giant screens broadcast videos of men masturbating.

There is music, usually soft jazz, and dim, indirect lighting. “Usually, when a member finishes, he doesn’t leave,” explains Nacho. “He stays on to repeat as many times as he wants or can during the three hours that each event lasts.”

Nacho adds that “between orgasm and orgasm we always chat, as if we were old friends, without bad feelings. No shame.”

Breaking down shame is critical to both Nacho G. and Paul Rosenberg’s projects.

Painting depicting a Finnish sauna in the 19th century.
Painting depicting a Finnish sauna in the 19th century.Oxford Science Archive/Print Collector/Getty Images

That is, physical contact between men, especially if they are heterosexual, is still taboo. Masturbation is still described by the Catholic Church as “an intrinsically and gravely disordered act.”

Meanwhile the president of the World Association for Sexual Health confirms that there is more masturbation and less sex between couples than ever before.

It’s not just due to the pandemic: sex among young people has been on a downward trend since the middle of the last decade. According to a San Diego State University report shared by CNN, the development of technology and communications has meant that binging a sexy series has become more palatable than intercourse.

Both Nacho and Paul speak of the clubs as more romantic than sexual. Both are strident about creating a horizontal, egalitarian and safe space.

“We don’t discriminate against anyone,” Nacho says. “We don’t evaluate potential members based on age, race, ethnicity, body type, fitness level or sexual orientation.”

Nacho is emphatic that what happens in his club is homoerotic more than homosexual. To be sure, part of the clubs mission is to celebrate homoeroticism among heterosexual men. Nacho is one himself – simply, he explains, he is a man who enjoys masturbating with other men.

“The presence of heterosexual men in these clubs is a fact of life,” says Nacho.

Indeed, “many men who come to our events are married or have girlfriends and are happy with their partners. In my opinion, what they are looking for is what I call phallic brotherhood.”

This, adds Nacho, “is nothing new,” it is as “perrenial and universal” as male masturbation itself.

“The pleasure of masturbating is personal and up to you, but it can also connect you directly to other men who enjoy masturbating.”

The men attending the club “are looking to enjoy themselves, to share those feelings with other men.”

“If you think about it, it’s the ideal open relationship alternative for many people.”

'The Marine Bath House', a 1907 painting that still reflects, a century later, the free existence of technology and social imperatives that exists in saunas.
'The Marine Bath House', a 1907 painting that still reflects, a century later, the free existence of technology and social imperatives that exists in saunas.Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

To be sure, Nacho has a partner. “Group masturbation has nothing to do with sex, and that’s how my partner sees it, as colleagues sharing leisure time.”

Nacho says the vast majority of club members identify as homosexual, while some 30% are not. Paul puts the number of heterosexuals visiting Rain City Jacks at 10%.

Most men who engage in these activities are often looking for more, such as fellatio and kissing, notes Nacho, while others are simply pursuing a new form of male connection.

“Still others see group masturbation as a way to find sexual pleasure without cheating on their romantic partner,” he says.

Rosenberg recounts a story he says he often hears at Rain City Jacks, “that of the sexless marriage.” He’s talking about “married men who feel that their wives are no longer available to them.”

These men, says Rosenberg, “seek sexual intimacy and argue that a masturbation club is not infidelity, as there is no penetration and no other women.”

“Beyond sexual release, they end up finding, an unexpected male bonding, a sense of fraternity.”

“I have enormous admiration for these heterosexual men who overcome the cultural homophobia that surrounds them and open themselves to the possibility of intimacy with other men that may include sex.”

Rosenberg concludes: “I have asked many of them, and they have told me that they do not fantasize about other guys when they masturbate, nor have they ever sought sex with men outside the club.”

“They are just flexible, brave and see no harm and no shame in coming here.”

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