The Hand Job Is Making a Comeback — And We Don't Know How to Feel About It

The Hand Job Is Making a Comeback — And We Don't Know How to Feel About It

Everyone has a skill and this is mine: I have an almost encyclopedic, Vegas card counter-esque memory of my sexual history. I remember the day I lost my virginity in vivid, 4K ultra high-def TV detail, as well as the first time I gave a blow job (in the stairwell of a cast party for a teen production of Fiddler on the Roof) and which role the BJ recipient in question portrayed (Lazar Wolf, the wealthy butcher engaged to Tzeitel). 

Yet one sexual first I do not remember is the first hand job I ever gave. In fact, I don't remember ever having given a genuine, honest-to-goodness hand job, save for a few seconds of being in bed and absentmindedly batting around my boyfriend's testicles like a cat. I suspect this is for two reasons: 1) my wrists are brittle to the point of being near-arthritic, and 2) hand jobs are boring. Like, super boring. On the list of things that are boring, they fall somewhere in between watching a TedTalk about sustainable urban planning and actress Jessica Chastain. 

Historically, the hand job has been considered something of a juvenile act, one you perform early in your sexual career, before either party knows what they're doing. "Hand jobs are for teens," my friend Mike*, 29, told me when I asked him if he incorporates hand jobs into his foreplay routine. 

Indeed, most grown-ups view the hand job as a paltry, less lubricated imitation of its more effective sibling — the Ashlee Simpson to the blow job's Jessica, if you will. "For efficiency, novelty, and cleanup, it pales next to blowies and sex," Simone, 29, told me. At its best, the hand job is tedious, for both the giver and the recipient; at its worst, it can be actively painful. (See: Last year's satirical trailer for Handjob Cabin, a faux horror film featuring a handie-happy ghost who uses inadequate lubrication.) 

That, at least, had been the narrative surrounding the hand job in adulthood until recently. Last week, Mandy Stadtmiller of the Cut proclaimed that hand jobs are the new "butt stuff."
Pegged on a recent episode of mom/gay BFF TV favorite The Good Wife featuring an under-the-table-handie, Stadtmiller's piece argued that hand jobs are undergoing something of a comeback (pun wholly intended), at least in reputation, if not in practice. In fact, the hand job has officially become the "definition of genteel modern decadence." 

"It's a little immature," Stadtmiller conceded. "But here's the rub (and tug): That's also what's so dirty about it."

Alicia Florrick's over-the-pants handie isn't the only sign that the hand job is experiencing a major resurgence, at least in the cultural conversation. Take, for instance, this video by sexpert Adina Rivers about how to handle your lover's "magic wand," which went viral in August. The clip posits that hand jobs involve not just your hands "but actually your heart [and] your whole being," and garnered more than 1.8 million views. Rivers' video was preceded by the Japanese holiday Hand Job Day on July 21, featuring its very own pro-handie hero TengaMan. 

Following the dictum that three of anything is considered a trend, the hand job should ostensibly be as hip and in-demand as a new lip tint by a Jenner sister. But before we all get HJ-happy and start grabbing the cargo pants-ed members of any half-mast bro on the street, it's worth examining why such a long-despised sex act would become so buzz-worthy right now.

Source: Adina Rivers/YouTube

Above all else, the cultural renaissance of the hand job seems to appeal to our generation's sense of nostalgia, of hearkening back to a simpler time of Total Request Live and dial-up internet and desperately trying to clean dried cum off the crotch of your FUBU basketball shorts. 

This sense of yearning for a more innocent time was apparent in my conversations with people who actually incorporated the HJ into their sexual routines. Many of them cited the nostalgia aspect of the heej, indicating that the desire to heej stems from a similar impulse as the desire to click on BuzzFeed '90s kid listicles. 

"Partly [the appeal] is tapping into a nostalgia for youth, when the hand job was the original sex act — clumsy, ineffective, painfully un-lubricated, but also the only thing that we boys had any right to desire or expect," Sam*, 24, told me. "These days, they are lubricated, and they feel better."

Cameron*, 41, agreed. '"Hand job' reminds me that no matter what's going on in this world there are familiar, wholesome and wonderful experiences still available," he said. "[It's] making me a little wistful just imagining a world without handies. I don't want to live in that world. Why are people so dismissive of something so pure and good?"

The appeal of the hand job can also increase depending on what kind of sex you're having. My male friends who had sex with other men, for instance, were staunchly pro-hand job in a way that my straight male and female friends simply weren't. 

"Especially for gay guys, intercourse takes a fair amount of preparation and materials," Fred*, 27, told me. "A quick handie is far less of a production and can be carried out on the fly quickly before heading to brunch and/or work, without the mess and commitment of full-blown anal. It basically means more orgasms for everyone, even if you don't have the time or energy to get around to having actual sex every night."

Source: Giphy

Ultimately, it's this point — i.e., that the hand job is the preferred sex act of exceptionally busy or even just lazy grown-ups — that appears to be the most compelling argument in the hand job's favor. 

When you're a teenager, sex is still considered less of an exploratory mission and more of a checklist; you have to hit all the points and hit all the bases, without skipping any along the way, or else you somehow feel like you're missing out on something. 

When you're older, however, hitting all the points on the checklist — kiss him, feel her up, grab his dick and so on and so forth — is less of a concern. That's in part because we've grown and evolved beyond a rudimentary rounding-the-bases understanding of sex, but it also has a lot to do with the hectic schedules and time constraints that every grown-up has to deal with. We don't have time to round all the bases, so it's no big deal if we skip a few before we slide into home. 

"[It's] making me a little wistful just imagining a world without handies. I don't want to live in that world."

Yet as any good sexpert can tell you, foreplay is an essential part of good sex, and grown-ups just aren't having enough: according to one study in the Journal of Sex Research, couples reported wanting 18 minutes of foreplay before sex, even though the average turned out to be about 13 minutes. And if we don't even have enough time to have sex at all, foreplay goes from being an important thing in any sexual encounter to being the only thing that matters.

So maybe the hand job isn't a juvenile sex act at all. Maybe, given the convenience and expediency of such an act in an adult couple's jam-packed schedule, it's the most adult sex act there is. And considering that the "more orgasms for everyone" message cannot possibly be a bad thing, maybe it's time for everyone to just grab a bottle of lube and get to business. Because hey — even Ashlee Simpson has had her solid moments.