Sex Toy History: From Ancient Greeks to Bluetooth Vibrators
The sex toy industry is one of the few industries that is both fast growing and a shower. It’s worth billions of dollars and new products are constantly being added. It was not easy to get to this point, however, and it took a long time.
When you think of sex toys, you probably think of some device or gadget that runs on batteries, has a USB charger, or is somehow connected to an app, but in reality Sex toys have been around for centuries.
It all started 29,000 BC BC, as Neanderthals in the Swabian Alb in what is now Germany began to carve rocks into phallic shapes. We don’t exactly know if they used them as sex toys, for fertility ceremonies, or if they just found it fun carving penis stones, but we do know that they paved the way for the modern sex toy industry.
The manufacture of sex toys began in 500 BC. A little more innovative – and much stranger – when the ancient Greeks began making fake dongs out of all sorts of materials. Some were made of brass or filled leather. Some were made from old loaves of bread for some reason. They called her olisbokollikeswhich is almost as difficult to pronounce as it is to get your head around. While we don’t recommend trying this, it’s definitely a waste-conscious and budget-friendly way to go. These freaky Greeks pioneered the use of olive oil too.
The sex toy industry really took off around AD 1300, especially in ancient China, which innovated animal semen-filled ben wahh balls, goat eyelid penis rings, and double-ended dildos. What a time to be alive! However, the actual word dildo wasn’t coined until around AD 1400 during the Italian Renaissance. It is from dilett fromwhat joy means.
In the 17th century, French sailors pioneered sex dolls by bringing straw “women” on long, lonely voyages and calling them “dames de voyage”. Shakespeare is now buzzing with sex toys and mentions dildos by name in his play “A Winter’s Tale”. Naughty, naughty!
In 19th century England, fragile men began to refer to anxious or unhappy women as hysteria. While we might say that this was a short-lived “medical diagnosis”, it lasted well into the 1950s. With the aim of having these women Relax, it was “treated” with intense genital stimulation, among other things.
Hysteria spread like wildfire, and doctors and their weak hands couldn’t keep up. The story goes that they invented vibrating machines to help women orgasm with less effort. They called them “manipulators” back then, but we know them as vibrators. The first “manipulator” was created by American doctor George Taylor, however Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville created the first patent, worryingly called Granville’s hammer.
While people nowadays typically use vibrators to dismount, research suggests that their original intention was to relieve muscle spasms. That means you are only half lying when you call it a back massager. Vibrators were marketed as a number of different things throughout the 20th century, including scalp massagers, weight loss aids, and pain relievers. They may have worked for some of these things, but they were definitely used for other reasons.
In the early 1960s, a close friend of ventriloquist Ted Marche reached out to him about a problem he was experiencing: he was suffering from impotence and asked Ted to use his doll maker skills to make a prosthetic penis for him. Like any good friend, Ted agrees and goes to work creating the first strap-on dildo.
In the late 1960s, men start having the sex toy madness and men’s magazines start marketing inflatable sex dolls.
At around the same time, Hitachi launched “The Magic Wand” in Japan, a battery-operated massager intended for “severe back pain”. Women everywhere started using it for their … uh, back pain, and the demand skyrocketed.
A decade later, feminist Betty Dodson began demonstrating how to use the wand in her body sex workshops, hailing the sex toy as empowering. Around the same time, inspired by an embarrassing experience of buying a vibrator in a department store, businesswoman Dell Williams founded the first sex shop in the United States specifically geared towards women called Eve’s Garden. The store popularized silicone vibrators that weren’t shaped like penises, which was a big deal back then and largely considered a blueprint for the modern sex shop.
In 1983, Japanese companies like Vibratex began making vibrators shaped like harmless (and in some cases adorable) things to circumvent the tightening of profanity laws. Some were modeled after animals, including kangaroos, turtles, and rabbits, and were available in bright colors. Cute!
Another great sex toy innovation came in 1995 when the Fleshlight was designed. It was originally designed to help collect samples from sperm donors, but the inventors quickly realized its greater potential and started selling it online.
The first RealDoll appeared about two years later. RealDolls used silicone and mechanical joints to offer the most realistic fake of being with a woman yet … a far cry from the “Dames de Voyage” straws.
Today, thanks to the anonymity of the internet and constantly evolving technological innovations, we are living in the golden age of sex toys. Indeed, rResearch shows that half of all adults use sex toys regularly.
There is no telling what the future will bring, but we suspect it will be a lot of orgasms.