The history of sex toys did not begin with modern day rubber and latex products. In fact, mankind has been using erotic devices from the beginning.
Dildos (shaped like a penis) have been discovered in Upper Paleolithic art that was created more than 30,000 years ago. These depictions leave no doubt whatsoever as to what their subject matter was intended to do. Pleasuring oneself or another with such an object was obviously a no-brainer as it predates even the invention of the wheel. Think about that!
Sex toy history actually begins in earnest with the Greeks. Dildos (Greek: “olisbos”) appeared in their art and literature from the third and fourth centuries BC–Some 2,400 years ago. Among numerous ancient Greek artifacts of the time is a vase on to which a double-headed dildo was painted. Since Greeks did not classify themselves as we do in to sexual preference groups (e.g. straight, gay, bi, etc.), the use of such dildos was common. It was a patriarchal society where the average wife was ten to twenty years younger than her husband; men enjoyed sex with concubines, and also broke young boys in to oral love making themselves. Thus, the dildo served them well in whatever relationship they found themselves
In Egypt, Cleopatra (6930 B.C.) is known to have shared her bed with a whole regiment of men immediately after enjoying a tryst with Caesar! History says little about the sexual appetites of ancient Egyptians but evidence does exist to prove that the dildo was a familiar and appreciated device of the day. One can only imagine what the Queen of the Nile did to entertain herself when all the men were away at war. However, when considering that bit of history, we need not stretch our imaginations too far before coming up with what would be a plausible answer.
Somewhat surprisingly, most sex toy history comes from the erotic art of each culture and era. For example, the Hong Kong Museum of History has an ancient Chinese bronze sex toy on display which dates back to the Han Dynasty (approximately 2000 years ago). The Sex Museum in Amsterdam houses some fabulous true works of erotic art which display sex toys as part of the subject matter.
The Roman Empire was flagrantly excessive regarding wild sex orgies. It is no wonder the very word sex comes from the Latin word “sexus”. Both their written and artistic histories include numerous references to dildos and other simple sex toy innovations.
In the Middle Ages, (476 A.D. to 1453) sexual pleasures were called “the Devils work”. Religious persecution by the Roman Catholic Church was brought down upon people who gave free rein to their sexual lusts and many ended up in shackles or burned at the stake. The clothing of the time for both males and females covered most of their bodies from neck to feet. Sexy female lingerie was not allowed for fear of punishment. Sexual urges were best kept to oneself under the threat of serious physical punishment. Even whispering the words “dildo” may have been punishable by death.
In the 12th century, European men used chastity belts to keep their women faithful. These chastity belts were made of leather with metal bands which could be tightened or loosened at the husband’s whim and were secured with padlocks for which he kept the key. There are now chastity devices for men, too!
In Renaissance Italy (14th thru the 16th centuries), dildos were called diletto (meaning “delight”). Made of leather, stone, ivory or wood, they were quite primitive, but functional. Skilled and trusted craftsmen produced custom dildos. Those who used them employed olive oil for lubrication.
Sex toys were also taboo in Victorian England. So, too, were books that contained any hint of human sexuality. It was during the Victorian Era, (mid 19th century) that rubber dildos, butt plugs, and vibrators (1869) were introduced! These toys were much more sanitary, comfortable, and realistically made than their predecessors. Vibrators were also quite popular and were sold on the open-market at the time as “massagers”. Even health spas of the day offered more “elegant” alternatives to manual paroxysm through steam-powered vibrating devices and water jet massage. Men and women flocked to these spas “for the medicinal waters”.
The vibrators of this era were prescribed to women by doctors to treat “hysteria” and were powered by an electric cord in a wall plug. In 1880, a British doctor invented the first battery-operated, electric vibrator. This was actually the first “high-tech” sex toy in and is the predecessor to our modern day battery-operated vibrators, dildos and other electronic sex toys. Surprisingly, there is actually more modern-day, sex toy history from the Victorian Era than from any other era in history except our own.
During the Victorian Era, butt plugs in the shape of wooden eggs were invented by a European doctor. They were prescribed to help prevent loss of sperm through wasteful ejaculation. The eggs supposedly helped send semen back to the female reproductive organs. They believed that by plugging the anus, sperm loss would be alleviated. Today’s butt plug manufacturers design all different shapes and sizes of butt plugs.
The term hysteria comes from the Greek word “hystera”, which means “uterus”. At the time, it was believed that female psychiatric infirmities had their roots in uterine imbalances reflected in anxiety, irritability, sexual fantasies and “pelvic heaviness”. Doctors of this era treated the “hysteria” by massaging the suffering females vaginal lips until they experienced relief via “paroxysm” (orgasm). Because it was believed at the time that only men were sexual creatures, the vibrator was prescribed to calm down these “hysteric” women.
In 1918, the Sears Roebuck catalogue offered a vibrator as a very satisfactorymarital aid that every woman appreciates. A 1921 issue of Hearsts magazine marketed vibrators toward men as Christmas gifts for their wives to insure they remained young and pretty and free from the scourge of hysteria.
During the 1920s, blue movies (erotic cinemas) with women using vibrators as sexual stimulator’s became common. No longer were vibrators socially camouflaged as medicinal in nature. By 1930, they were openly advertised and made available to anyone.
In 1948, Sexologist, Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey, shocked the world with his international bestseller “Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male,” This study is commonly known as the Kinsey Report. This sexual survey reported that 94 percent of the men and 40 percent of the women interviewed admitted that they masturbated to orgasm–remarkably large proportions considering the perceived prudishness of that time. Today, the Kinsey Institute declares that “the vast majority” of people masturbate: both sexes, all ages, single, married, divorced and widowed.
During the 1960s, Free Love was the rage. Sex toy history becomes even more interesting in this era because people could obtain sex toys through special retail outlets and through magazines. The Hippies of that time period became the parents of today. Thus, sex toys have become even more numerous and varied. Even though they can be easily obtained in speciality stores in most cities, they are now sold in vast quantities via the Internet in all colours, sizes, types, and brands. You just might find yourself the satisfied owner of your very own “olisbos,” “diletto,” or “buttius pluggius.” 😛
25,000 BC – Clearly sexual prehistoric stone carvings of women started to appear. These faceless, nude sculptures boasted greatly over sized breasts, hips, buttocks and vaginal lips. Most experts consider them fertility goddesses, but they may have also served as the porn of their day.
2,500BC – Egyptian art depicts female dancers gyrating nearly naked, carrying a sculpture of an over sized erect penis to Honor the god Osiris. Possibly an agricultural fertility ritual, although one has to wonder…
500BC – Invention of the olisbos, an early version of the dildo, was made in the Greek port of Miletus. Traders sold these olisbos around the Mediterranean as sexual refuges for lonely ladies.
350 BC – First mention of olive oil as a sexual accessory. Originally it was touted for contraception, but couples have used vegetable oils as lubricants ever since.
300 AD – The invention of penis extenders, now known as prosthetic penis attachments or PPAs. These cylindrical devices, which fit over men’s erections to make them look larger, were first mentioned in the classic Indian sex manual, the Kama Sutra, which suggested crafting them from wood, leather, buffalo horn, copper, silver, ivory or gold.
500 AD – Invention of Ben Wa balls. Originally they were a single ball used to increase men’s pleasure during intercourse. Some were solid, others hollow with clappers that made a ringing sound as they rolled around in the vagina. Eventually they were paired and used by women to increase the strength of their pelvic floor muscles, much like Kegel exercises are used today.
655 AD – Introduction of mirrors as sexual accessories. Lady Wu Chao, consort to the Chinese Emperor Tai Tsung, ordered sheets of reflecting glass arranged around their bed. When other courtiers insisted that the mirrors were a bad omen, the Emperor ordered them removed. When Wu Chao seized control of the throne after Tai Tsung’s death, she reinstalled the mirrors to enhance trysts with her subsequent lovers.
1200 – Invention of the proto-cock ring. The first documented rings were made in China from the eyelids of goats with eyelashes intact. The flexible eyelids were tied around men’s erections, and the hardened lashes were said to increase the pleasure of intercourse.
1400 – Coining of the term “dildo.” In Renaissance Italy, the Greek olisbo became “dildo,” possibly from the Latin dilatare, to open wide, or perhaps from the Italian diletto, to delight. Renaissance Italian dildos were made of wood or leather and required liberal lubrication with olive oil for comfortable use.
1600 – Invention of the modern cock ring and clitoral stimulator. Chinese men slipped ivory rings over their erections to help maintain them. The rings were ornately carved, usually depicting dragons. Over time, the carved dragons’ tongues extended to form a nub that would rub against the woman’s clitoris and enhance her pleasure during intercourse.
1700 – European health spas installed gravity-fed systems that sent powerful jets of water into bathing pools, much like the jets used in today’s Jacuzzis. While not specifically developed for female genital massage, surviving accounts hint that some women spent considerable time leaning into water-jet spouts.
1750 – Appearance of modern BDSM. European brothels began specialising in flagellation and other SM-style “punishments” that dominant prostitutes meted out to willingly submissive men.
1791 – Publication of Justine by the Marquis de Sade, from whom the term “sadism” is derived. His controversial writings helped popularise BDSM and the many toys used in sexual power play, such as riding crops, whips, nipple clips and restraint devices. (“Masochism” comes from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who wrote a novel about male sexual submission.)
1844 – The vulcanisation of rubber, which made it stronger and more elastic. This would later lead other inventors to develop rubber condoms, dildos and other sex toys.
1869 – Debut of the first vibrator. Developed by an American physician, George Taylor, M.D., it was a large, cumbersome, steam-powered apparatus. Taylor recommended it for treatment of an illness known at the time as “female hysteria.” Hysteria, from the Greek for “suffering uterus,” involved anxiety, irritability, sexual fantasies, “pelvic heaviness” and “excessive” vaginal lubrication — in other words, sexual arousal. However, since it was the Victorian era, women were not considered to be at all sexual and it was therefore deemed a disease. Physicians of that era treated hysteria by massaging sufferers’ vulva’s until they experienced dramatic relief through “paroxysm” (orgasm). Unfortunately, hysteria was a recurrent condition and repeated treatment was often necessary. Taylor touted his steam-driven massage device as speeding treatment while reducing physician fatigue.
1882 – Debut of the first electromechanical vibrator. Forerunner of today’s vibrators, these vibrators were smaller and less cumbersome than Taylor’s steam-powered device. The original electromechanical vibe was a battery-powered massager designed by British physician Joseph Mortimer Granville. It featured attachments similar to those in today’s vibrator kits, which allowed the physician treating hysteria to vary the vibratory sensations the device produced. However, Granville was firmly opposed to using his device as a treatment for female hysteria and considered it useful only for massage of men’s skeletal muscles to treat injuries caused by overexertion.
Early 1890’s – Invention of the motion picture. Almost immediately after movies appeared, early filmmakers began producing pornography, some of which featured women playing with vibrators and dildos, including strap-ons.
1899 – Publication of America’s first advertisement for a home electric vibrator, the Vibratile, in McClure’s magazine — as a cure for headache, wrinkles, and “neuralgia,” or nerve pain, a term that included hysteria.
1900 – 1910 – Popularisation of the home vibrator. As electricity became widely available around the U.S., plug-in home vibrators were one of the first electrified home appliances. Marketed to women as health and relaxation aids, vibrator advertising copy was filled with double-entendres, for example, “all the pleasure of youth … will throb within you.” They were advertised in many consumer magazines, including Needlecraft, Home Needlework Journal and Woman’s Home Companion, and even sold in the Sears & Roebuck catalogue as an “aid every woman appreciates.”
1907 – The Penis Stiffener wins a U.S. patent. This device, the first American PPA, was developed by Louis Hawley. It was a hollow, metal cylinder. It had a wide opening at one end for insertion of the penis and a small opening at the other to allow sperm into the vagina. It was designed for use by men with erection problems.
1921 – The first vibrator advertisement aimed at men. Published in a 1921 issue of Heart’s magazine, it exhorted men to buy vibrators for their wives as Christmas gifts to keep them “young and pretty” and free from the scourge of hysteria.
Mid 1920’s – The emergence of strip-tease. Dancers slowly peeled down to nipple covers (pasties) and crotch covers (G-strings) and incorporated many props into their acts, among them: fans, furs, capes, and feather boas. Many of their costume pieces were eventually incorporated into sexual accessories.
1927 – The introduction of KY Jelly. Originally marketed to physicians to improve women’s comfort during pelvic exams, KY went over the counter as a sexual lubricant in 1980. Since then, many other lubricants have been introduced.
The late 1920’s – Vibrators appear more prominently in porn — not as “massagers,” but as masturbation aids. One movie, The Widow’s Delight, showed a well-dressed matron at her front door bidding good night to her equally dashing suitor. After rejecting a kiss, she races off to her bedroom, where she strips down to her underwear, grabs her vibrator and finishes off her evening.
Around 1930 – Vibrator advertisements disappear from magazines and catalogues. As more pornographic films showed women using vibrators for sexual self-stimulation, it became impossible for manufacturers to defend the polite fiction that they were simply innocent “massagers.” Self-appointed guardians of rectitude branded them immoral, and very quickly, vibrators virtually disappeared.
Development of latex rubber. Lighter, softer, and more pliable then vulcanised rubber, latex revolutionised contraception, allowing production of better condoms and diaphragms. It also led to the development of latex sex toys.
1948 – Debut of the Polaroid-Land camera and the birth of amateur erotic photography. The Polaroid produced black-and-white photographs in just one minute without a third-party developer and allowed anyone to become an erotic photographer.
1952 – AMA declares that hysteria is not really an ailment. Since the vibrator would no longer used as a medical device, it had be acknowledged for its real purpose.
1953 – Debut of Playboy magazine. Although it was attacked as “pornography,” the early issues were extremely tame by today’s standards. It did, however, pave the way for X-rated media as we know it today.
1965 – Re-emergence of the vibrator. You just can’t keep a good sex toy down. ;P
1970 – Debut of the waterbed. Inventor Charles P. Hall designed it for sleep comfort, but waterbeds quickly came to be considered sex enhancing. Hugh Hefner installed one in his bedroom at the Playboy mansion. Many hotels added them to their honeymoon suites.
The late 1970’s – Debut of the home video camera. Forget Polaroids; with a camcorder, anyone could produce porn videos in the privacy of their own home.
Late 1990’s – Alabama follows Georgia’s lead and implements a law outlawing sex toys punishable by heavy fines and even jail time. Within a few years the law was overturned, despite the state’s argument that women do not have a “fundamental or constitutional right” to items used for sexual pleasure.
1998 – The Rabbit vibrator makes an appearance on HBO’s multi-award winning show, “Sex and the City” as the once timid character Charlotte’s new best friend. After the episode aired, demand for the toy skyrocketed.