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A Brief History Of Sex Toys for Vaginas

By Leo Aquino

Masturbating more since the pandemic started? We feel you. The New York Times published an article in June that reports the sex toy industry is thriving, despite the global pandemic. (1) (Don't worry; if you've been masturbating less, you're not alone.)

Vibrators, clit stimulators, Magic Wands, nipple clamps and cock rings are getting us through this wild slice of history.

We talk freely about the role that masturbation plays in our everyday lives, but it hasn’t always been that way. From the Victorian era (1800s) until the 1970’s, it was fairly taboo to talk about masturbation. From the 1920’s to the 1950’s, sex toys were marketed as household appliances or self-massagers, even though it was common knowledge that these products were used for sexual pleasure.

As a tribute to the sex toy legends that paved the way for our Lioness Vibrators, we’ve put together a list of noteworthy sex toys throughout history.

The Prehistoric Dildo

prehistoric dildos

C. 12,000 B.C.
Prehistoric phalluses that show piercings, foreskin, scars and tattoos
Image source: Javier Angulo / Hospital Universitario de Getafe

In her book Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy, author Hallie Lieberman, PhD writes, “Thirty-thousand years ago, our ancestors had been hunched over carving eight-inch-long penises out of siltstone.” (2) Can you imagine spending literal hours in a cave carving a toy made out of stone to go inside of your vagina? Now that’s dedication.

Some archaeologists have given these ancient dildos the nickname “the ice-age baton” to try to cover up juicy evidence of ancestral sensuality. Archaeologist Timothy Taylor says, “It seems disingenuous to avoid the most obvious and straightforward interpretation. But it has been avoided.” (3)

Look, if cavepeople had no shame about spending manual labor carving stone, shaping metal, or whittling bison horn to get their groove on, we don’t see why archaeologists 30,000 years later should kill the vibe.

The Greek Breadstick Dildo

greek breadstick dildo

Bronze Greek Phallus
Wikimedia Commons

Yep, you read that right.

According to Vicki Leon, author of The Joy of Sexus: Lust, Love & Longing in the Ancient World, sexuality was a lot less rigid in Greco-Roman (4) times. “No one back then identified as hetero or gay or bisexual,” she says. “They readily admitted to a rainbow of pleasures — guilt-free.”

It all started when a woman in a Greek bakery 2,000 years ago got a little bit bored at work. She started messing around with bread dough and soon found the right shape and consistency that would work well for masturbating. She named her creation an olisbo-kollix: the breadstick dildo. Soon, unsatisfied vagina-owners from all parts of Greece began buying and making their own pleasure loaves. (5)

The Manipulator

the manipulator

The Manipulator
Image source: Gizmodo

Fast forward to the Victorian era, attitudes about sexuality and sex toys weren’t as open. It was far more taboo to talk about masturbating out in the open. In the UK, drag balls, genderfluid dress, and homosexual relationships were considered “gross indecency,” as in punishable by British law.

Doctors at the time excelled at medical mansplaining when single women came down with any kind of ailments. The diagnosis of “hysteria” began to pop up left and right. Symptoms caused by endometriosis, heart disease, back pain, epileptic fits, and schizophrenia, to name a few, were considered hysterical. At the time, doctors thought that a childless womb wandered freely inside a woman’s body, causing distress.(6)

Some historians also found that doctors defined hysteria as “the retention of female semen,” which can taint the bloodstream. To cure hysteria, doctors typically performed massages to stimulate a patient’s clitoris to “paroxysm” — basically, a fancy word for orgasm. (8) Eventually, doctors got too tired of performing these massages, so they invented The Manipulator.

The body of this terrifying machine was hidden in a separate room, while the rubber-covered appendage stuck out of a glory hole of sorts. The Manipulator (7) was designed to give clitoral massages (ouch) using electricity instead of the doctor’s hands. It was wildly unsustainable to keep this machine running and its use was short-lived.

On-the-low, at-home cures for hysteria

polar club at home device

The Polar Cub
Image source: Antique Vibrator Museum

The Manipulator wasn’t the only thing that “cured” “hysteria.” (We couldn’t decide which of the two words to put in quotation marks because the whole notion of curing an ailment that’s not even real is just ridiculous, honestly.)

Products like The Polar Cub, which came out in 1928, were marketed as home appliances “invented by a woman who knows what a woman needs.” These ads and marketing techniques never admitted that these were pleasure products, but it was widespread knowledge that electric vibrators were used for masturbation.

Instead, these products were marketed as blood circulators for the scalp, face and body; heated massagers; and weight loss tools. Because these products weren’t officially sex toys, it’s hard to measure how many people actually purchased these for sexual pleasure. But the widespread availability of these toys allowed people from all walks of life to buy them and keep the orgasms flowing.

The Hitachi Magic Wand

hitachi wand from the 1960's

An early Hitachi model from the 60s
Image source: Antique Vibrator Museum

Who could forget the iconic episode of Sex and the City where Samantha Jones walks around an electronics store and rates each of the “sports massagers” for the confused women shopping discreetly for sex toys? Initially intended to massage sore muscles, Hitachi refused to address the popular use of The Magic Wand as a sex toy for decades.

A few key events brought the iconic massager to its rightful place in sex toy history. Sex educator Betty Dodson had been teaching her revolutionary Bodysex workshops, focused on teaching women how to masturbate, in New York City since the late 60’s. In the 70’s, she started teaching workshops using the Hitachi Magic Wand.

Betty Dodson has been credited for helping the Magic Wand reach its notoriety, but Hitachi never acknowledged her endorsement or compensated her properly. But she said it was never about the money. (9)

The Magic Wand changed widespread perceptions that people with vaginas need penetration in order to have powerful orgasms. The 70’s and 80’s were times of shoulder-padded financial independence and pleasure-forward liberation via widespread availability of the birth control pill. (8) And the The Magic Wand was here to help change our minds about pleasure.

The Silicone Dildo

newspaper ad for sex aids

Newspaper ad for “sex-aids for women”
Source: Bitch Media

While the 60’s and 70’s were decades of “free love,” there were still outdated laws in place that banned companies from selling toys explicitly for sexual pleasure via catalogs. Vibrating toys, like the Hitachi Magic Wand, were more marketable because they didn’t look like realistic penises and they didn’t require penetration.

But all of that couldn’t stop Gosnell Duncan, a Grenadian immigrant who was paralyzed from the waist down because of a car accident. A ladies man, Duncan was looking for ways to give his girlfriend penetrative pleasure.

At the time, sex toys for penetration could only be purchased from seedy sex emporiums. Most sex toys at the time were made of rubber, which melted at even the slightest exposure to heat. Rubber is difficult to sterilize because washing it in hot water could melt it. Plus, rubber can be irritating to the skin and genitals.

At work in an auto shop, Duncan noticed that silicone did a really good job at remaining pliable and keeping its form while heated. He got in contact with General Electrics immediately to talk about developing body-safe silicone for prosthetics. And thus, the first silicone dildo was born.

At first, Duncan sold dildos mostly to other people with disabilities, but he couldn’t turn a profit from those sales alone. Frustrated at all the red tape around the sale of a sex toy, he contacted feminist sex toy shop Eve’s Garden — a legendary shop that normally didn’t allow any men inside. The shop owners made an exception to meet with Duncan since they had a shortage of penetrative toys in stock.

Duncan’s first iteration of the dildo resembled a real penis, with a head and veins and lifelike coloration. But the feminist shop owners of Eve’s Garden refused to stock anything that looked like a real penis. Duncan listened to the feedback and fashioned a simple silicone dildo — The Venus — in two plain colors: light pink and chocolate brown (11).

The Venus received overwhelmingly positive responses from vagina-owners all over the country. You go, Gosnell Duncan. Thank you for giving us all the gift of silicone-toy-induced orgasms.

The Rabbit Vibrator

The Rabbit by Vibratex

The Rabbit Vibrator by Vibratex
Image source: Vibratex.com

In 1983, sex toy company Vibratex becomes the first to put double-duty vibrators on the map. A Rabbit Vibrator is characterized by two distinct parts: an internal shaft for penetration, and an external set of Rabbit ears, or sometimes, a singular fin, that vibrate to tickle the clitoris.

Vibratex released a few different animal versions of the toy, like beavers and turtles in place of the rabbit head on the outside. There weren’t any changes in effectiveness, but some critics state that these types of designs infantilized sex toys and took away from the liberation that masturbation offers.

In 1998, another iconic Sex and the City episode aired, in which Charlotte York bailed on her plans with friends to spend all night in bed with her Rabbit (relatable, tbh). After that, Rabbit vibrators went viral. In the coming decades, celebrities like Eva Longoria and Oprah Winfrey would go on to promote different kinds of rabbit vibrators to their fans. (10)

The Lioness Vibrator

Lioness vibrator and app

And finally, we honor the vibrator that gives us everything we’ve ever wanted and more: The Lioness Vibrator. A sleek, rabbit vibrator that now comes in two colors, The Lioness Vibrator boasts heat and pressure sensors that measure valuable data about your orgasms. Our vibrator syncs to an app on your phone, which will show you all-important data about your pelvic floor movements.

Thousands of lightyears away from the 1800s, when doctors tried to tell us that we were hysterical for having a vagina, The Lioness empowers you to self-experiment and see how different external factors can affect your orgasms.

Sure, it’s not a breadstick that you can bake and eat at any time, but The Lioness Vibrator can show you how to keep cumming harder.


Bibliography

  1. Sellers of Sex Toys Capitalized on All That Alone Time. New York Times. 2020.
  2. The 30,000 Year History of the Sex Toy. The Cut. 2017.
  3. C: 30,000 B.C. Prehistoric Sex Toys. Mashable. 2020.
  4. Greco-Roman Sex: Wilder & Weirder Than Ours. Huffington Post. 2013.
  5. Expert Describes Breadstick Dildos, Erection-Withering Mouse Poo, Sodomizing Radishes and Other Bizarre Sexual Practices of the Greco-Romans. Medical Daily. 2013.
  6. Medical Vibrators for the Treatment of Female Hysteria. The Embryo Project Encyclopedia. 2020.
  7. The Steam-Powered Vibrator and Other Terrifying Early Sex Machines. Gizmodo. 2010.
  8. A Short History of the Vibrator. Clue. 2018.
  9. A Brief History of the Magic Wand. Cosmopolitan. 2017.
  10. A Brief History of the Rabbit. Cosmopolitan. 2020.
  11. If You Mold It, They Will Come. Bitch Media. 2019.

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