A (very) Brief History of Sex Toys

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Sex toys have a much longer and weirder history than you might think, with phallic shaped objects appearing 28,000 – 30,000 years ago and everything from eyelids to bread being used as a sexual aid since then. There’s even a theory that Cleopatra owned one of the first ever attempts at a vibrating toy, if you can call live bees in a rounded object a vibrator that is.
So let’s start at the beginning, aside from the aforementioned phallic shaped objects there was also cave art dated to the upper Paleolithic era showing inanimate objects being used in a sexual manner. Dildos can be seen through ancient cultures being made of anything, bone included.

Fast forward a few thousand years and we’re looking at Ancient Greece, of which was just as open in their sexuality as you would expect from a culture who held the Olympics buck ass naked. A large source of dildos from this time period was bread, yes bread, these ancient toys were fashioned from a bread of a similar hardness to that of a baguette that had been shaped to resemble a penis, veins and all. Depictions of these breadstick dildos are found through various sources and Aristophranes even writes of a woman planning to go on a sex strike who will substitue a dong in for the real thing to help her further her cause, within his play Lysistrata. Meanwhile in Ancient Rome, Pliny the Elder notes the use of various animal parts with relation to sex. Which includes but is not limited to; the right lobe of a vulture’s lung, the skin of a crane and bats blood.


Fast forward another few thousand years and we’re brought to the Han dynasty in China where the sex toy industry flourished, and the cultures elite were flush with bronze dildos and jade butt plugs. Historians even consider these toys to have been seen as an artform within this culture. A little later in China during the Jing and Song dynasties shit starts to get a bit weird, with the introduction of cock rings. More specifically the use of goats eyelids as cock rings, eyelashes and all. The skin was fashioned into a ring and sat at the base of the penis to enhance an erection. Around the Ming dynasty within China we have the use of a plant known as the “Cantonese Groin” a phallic shaped root used as dildos by peasant women, as well as the vaguely concerning “Burmese Balls”. These balls were made of copper or gold and supposedly contained the sperm of a mythical bird and they were inserted into the eye of the penis as a way to increase a man’s sexual satisfaction. These balls have since evolved and are now what we know today as Ben Wa Balls.

The first “blow up” dolls can be seen dating earlier than the 16th century where sailors would create humanoid bodies from straw, dress them in womens clothing and then proceed to use them for sexual gratification, they were known as dames de voyage. Although when Descartes built a leather and metal female presenting automaton, oddly naming it after his dead daughter Francine, and was seen with it on a trip to Denmark in 1650 the doll was thrown overboard by the crew. It is up for speculation whether or not this creation was actually used within a sexual manner.

More recently we see the widespread theory of female hysteria, and the treatment of this via “hysterical paroxysm” or as we know it today, orgasm. This of course led to the creation of the Manipulator, in 1869 the worlds’ first steam powered vibrator was sold strictly to treat medical ailments although still equipped with a letter from the creator George Taylor cautioning women of overuse and overindulgence.

The 1880 brought us the worlds’ first electric vibrator, patented by Joseph Mortimer Granville, a British physician. A decade or so after this we have the “Macaura” Pulcoson hand crank vibrator, sold throughout the late 1800’s and early 1900’s this handheld vibrator could give up to 5,000 vibrations per minute, again marketed and sold as a medical device specialising in female hysteria.

Meanwhile the British monarch was hiring French designers to construct elaborate sex furniture, King Edward VII had a chair created specifically for three-ways to alleviate any real physical activity needed on his part, and was dubbed “The Love Chair”.

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The 20th century brought with it a good amount of progress in the sex toy industry, with most of the toys from the early decades being sold specifically as medical devices to treat an assortment of ailments even sharing used dildos.

The creators of the “Maracura” hand crank vibrator brought out a ‘blood circulator’, which was basically the original with the added ability of direct control over the vibration intensity. The ‘20s and ‘30s brought us a multitude of electric vibes marketed to be for beauty, weight loss and massage use. Fast forward a few decades and we see the contraceptive pill become widely available in the ‘60s and masturbation is seen as something closer to female liberation than the taboo it had been previously. But it wasn’t until the ‘80s and ‘90s that masturbation became ‘mainstream’ and toys were being created specifically for this purpose.

Madison is a consultant at the best adult shop sydney.

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