> firstname.lastname@example.org 
Every few months some harried freelancer charged with coming up with a novel spin on something sexual or other contacts me for a pithy quote. And since I am all about the pith, I will oblige if at all possible. Most recently, the writer was a staffer at Details, which I used to read when it was sort of sceney and kinda gay back in the '80s but which sunk beneath my radar when it morphed into some sort of younger, more metro GQ. What did I think, the writer wanted to know, about the demise of the hand job? Had the rise of more exotic pursuits among American teenagers sealed its fate, or was good old manual release doomed to fade into obscurity by dint of its own lack of pizzazz? What was the hand job's appeal, if any? And by the way, did I know any really good horror stories, Indian burns, that sort of thing?
It got me thinking, first about horror stories. As a collector of (other people's) horrible sex accident stories, I know that hand jobs hardly figure. Skin-to-skin virus transmission is possible, sure, but nobody ever seems to accidentally yank anybody's equipment clean off or anything. Not even close. Even CBT, cock and ball torture, is rarely as grizzly as it sounds. I did once demonstrate my most successful technique, a two-fisted opposite swivel, for a friendgirl who'd had only girlfriends but was considering branching out. Damned if my little pantomime didn't look very much like I was administering an Indian (sorry, Native American is it?) burn, something I'd never noticed when doing it for real. Of course, hand jobs are best administered with a generous shot of lube or, at the very least, a palmful of spit. It's really hard to hurt somebody with a palmful of spit.
So, hand jobs are safe, I concluded, but are they sexy? Is nobody doing them anymore because there's so much hotter stuff to do, or is it simply that they're not worth doing? These I couldn't answer because I'm not sure I buy the premise. There's no question that there has been a steady trickle (ew) of articles and TV scare pieces about the oral sex "epidemic" among young people, going back at least 10 years. But not only do these fail to convince me that more young people (well, women - these articles are never about a cunnilingus epidemic) are going down, they never say a thing about them eschewing hand jobs in favor of blow jobs. If you compare The National Survey of Family Growth, the best recent research on Americans' sex habits, published in 2005, with Sex in America, the last decent survey, done in the early '90s, there isn't much increase in the incidence of oral sex. Period. There is, intriguingly, an increase in the incidence of anal sex, potentially a much greater health risk. But it doesn't say a thing about hand jobs, which are, presumably, relegated to the catchall category "any" sex. So no matter how many articles are published insisting that life for the typical American teen these days is one big blow job party (the parts that aren't taken up with pornographically violent video games and being obese, anyway), I haven't seen anything supporting it. And before people start freaking out about all those teenagers having anal sex, the increase there was among people in their 20s.
My own take is that hand jobs aren't dead, they're just boring. Or at least, boringish. Boringish to receive, depending upon the recipient's level of desperation and the donor's skill, of course; boringish to perform (at least compared to the raunchier, more dramatic blow job), and above all boringish to write TV magazine scare pieces about. Nobody dies from them, so nobody cares. Also, while the hand job may figure prominently in some gay male scenes, most straight people kind of forget about them as they leave their teenage groping days behind. This leaves me, an inveterate champion of the underdog, in the position of having to defend the poor, disrespected hand job. Besides the obvious safety issue, they're, um, easy. They don't make you gag, not unless something nearly unimaginable disgusting is going on. They're a good way to learn about penises. This last is true, actually, since for some reason most girls start out believing that a penis ought to be patted gently on the head, like an elderly lap dog, while in truth they can, and ought, to be wrangled, roped, and thrown like a rodeo doggie. Only hands-on learning will do.
So this is what I told the writer from Details: "After its high school glory days, the hand job may go underground, but it's rarely completely missing from a couple's repertoire. It's just that it becomes a tool, or a tool of a tool, rather than an act in its own right. Foreplay without any hand play, for instance, would become sort of a special trick, like writing a paragraph without using any e's."
Andrea Nemerson teaches sex and communication skills with San Francisco Sex Information. She has been a theater artist, a women's health educator, and a composting instructor, but not at the same time. She is considering offering a workshop on how to have and rear twins without going crazy, since she's currently doing that too.