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The Weird And Wonderful History Of Sex Toys – From The Stone Age To Modern Day

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Posted on : April 8, 2018

Ah humans, how far we have come! Throughout our history, millennia before the advent of WiFi-connected dildos and smart sex robots, humankind has always been obsessed with sex toys. In fact, you will struggle to find a culture that hasn’t put a lot of love and care into inanimate objects that provide sexual pleasure, even those cultures that like to give the impression of being prudish and coy about sex.

Here are some of the most fascinating, bizarre, and downright terrifying sex toys: 

Stone Age Sex Toys

In a dark and damp cave in Germany, archaeologists found a 28,000-year-old stone object that’s decidedly dildo-like (image below). It’s 20 centimeters (7.8 inches) long, rounded at the end like a penis, and polished to perfection. It’s almost certainly one of the earliest representations of male sexuality, but could it be the world’s first sex toy?

Researchers in southwest France have also discovered a 36,000-year-old bison horn carving called the Blanchard phallus. On the whole, archeologists are pretty hesitant to call prehistoric sex toys as such for fear of applying our own modern sensibilities onto the past. However, one of the researchers wrote in Nature: “The possibility that these could represent ‘girls’ toys’, as one first-year student once hesitantly expressed it, should perhaps not be dismissed.”

Archaeologist Timothy Taylor has further hinted at the idea of Ice Age sex toys, noting: “Looking at the size, shape, and – some cases – explicit symbolism of the ice age batons, it seems disingenuous to avoid the most obvious and straightforward interpretation. But it has been avoided.”

The German 28,000-year-old stone object. J Lipták/University of Tübingen

Horny Ancient Greeks

Ancient Greece wasn’t just about democracy and geometry, it was also a time of dizzying sexual indulgence. Regularly decorated with images of everyday life, painted wine vessels show that the ancient Greeks were using dildos as early as the 6th century BCE.

Dildos are also mentioned several times in the comic story of Lysistrata by Aristophanes. Written in 411 BCE, this comedic tale tells the story of a woman’s desire to end the Peloponnesian War by denying all the men of sex, the only thing they ever actually desired. It reads: “And so, girls, when fucking time comes… not the faintest whiff of it anywhere, right? From the time those Milesians betrayed us, we can’t even find our eight-fingered leather dildos. At least they’d serve as a sort of flesh-replacement for our poor c*nts.”

Steam-Powered Dildo For The Industrial Age

When the Victorians learned how to harness the potential of the engine, they applied it to everything, even sex toys. American physician Dr George Taylor patented a steam-powered dildo back in 1869, effectively consisting of an extremely jumpy steam engine with a phallic object attached. Perhaps not the sexiest of contraptions, but then the device was often used by “medical practitioners” to treat women with hysteria and other pseudoscientific ailments.

Around this time, a whole range of “massaging apparatuses” became available to physicians, including foot-pumped powered dildos and even an electromechanical vibrator. Eventually, sometime around the early 20th century, these devices lost their association with the medical world and made their way into the homes of consumers for more personal affairs.  

Hanky Panky In The Han Dynasty

China’s Han dynasty, around 206 BCE to 220 CE, enjoyed a particularly rich relationship with their sex toys. Tomb excavations revealed that the dynasty’s wealthy elites were particularly into their bespoke bronze dildos and jade butt plugs. The bronze dildo was used similarly to the dildos of today, but the jade butt plug served a much stranger function

Jade was a rare material, revered for its ability to ward off spiritual and bodily decay. Embalmers would use the butt plugs to prevent “the loss of vital essences” from the body.

© Yizheng Museum/Asian Art Museum in San Francisco

Goat Eye Cock Ring

If you wanted to spice things up 800 years ago in China, then your best bet was a goat eyelid cock ring (with the eyelashes still attached for her pleasure). The elastic ring would grip the base of the penis, thereby keeping blood trapped inside the tissue and maintaining an erection.

They are reportedly still popular in certain corners of the world. So if you’re into that kind of stuff, you can still buy them online for the low price of $21, while stocks last.

The Legend Of Cleopatra’s Vibrator

The story goes that Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, was behind the world’s first vibrator by filling a papyrus box or hollowed out vegetable with angry bees and then capping it.

There’s little evidence to back this up, however. Most references to the bee box trail back to a 1992 book by sexologist Brenda Love, with no indication of the story’s origin. 

Japanese Erotica

Shunga was a genre of sex-obsessed Japanese woodblock prints popular from the 17th century to the 20th century. Hokusai, the artist behind the prolific Great Wave off Kanagawa print, was a proud proprietor of the genre. Frequently bizarre and humorous, they feature pretty much every sexual act you can imagine, from graphic orgies to octopus beastiality.

One scene, featured in the Eiri’s series Models of Calligraphy, shows two naked women applying lubricant to a massive black strap-on dildo, or what they called a harigata. If artwork is anything to go by, harigata were regularly used by couples.

There are also examples of carved ivory or wooden harigata (image below) that slid on top of the penis, effectively giving the impression that the penis is bigger and harder than it actually is.

Wellcome Collection



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