Sex toys have been around since our prehistoric ancestors realized that a smooth stone fashioned into a phallus would stay a lot harder and last a lot longer than the real thing. However, it wasn’t until the Victorian-era that sex toys really took off. It’s safe to say that Victorian-era prudishness directly led to an industry that has given pleasure to millions of sexually dissatisfied people for the past 150 years. The invention of the vibrator alone was a happy accident resulting from a non-existent illness, a bored doctor and the advent of modern technology.
A History of Hysteria
Female hysteria was first diagnosed in the fourth century BCE. Back then, the “illness” was blamed on a “wandering womb” that was believed to be responsible for “blocking passages, obstructing breathing and causing disease.” Symptoms included everything from insomnia, nervousness and faintness to loss of appetite, an increased sexual desire, and a “tendency to cause trouble.”
By the mid-19th century, physicians estimated that between one-quarter and three-quarters of all women suffered from hysteria. One doctor compiled an “incomplete” list of symptoms that ran to 75 pages. Obviously, an affliction that can best be described as sexual frustration was a lucrative business in an age when a women’s sexuality was considered “a weak and reluctant thing” at best and, at worst, an affront to God. The obvious cure was to rub a woman’s clitoris until she achieved “nervous paroxysms,” or what we refer to today as “an orgasm.” The problem was that doctors of the day had difficulty mastering the procedure they called “pelvic massage.” Business was booming though and clumsy physicians often found themselves turning the job (and precious income) over to more vaginally adept midwives.
In 1869, a frustrated doctor named George Taylor had an idea. Rather than learn how to stroke a clit properly, he designed and built the world’s first vibrator; a steam-powered contraption that had a lot more in common with today’s BDSM fetishist’s fucking machines than the “personal massager” in the nightstand. Needless to say, ladies lined up for the more efficient treatment. Women were “cured” of their affliction in minutes rather than hours. The sex toy industry was born and the rest is, well, history.
Vibrators: Hitting the Mainstream (And the G-Spot)
The vibrator created quite a buzz when it was introduced. It wasn’t long before electricity replaced steam in doctor’s offices across America and Europe. By the early 20th century, the “massager” became only the fifth electrical appliance to make its way into the home behind the fan, teakettle, toaster and sewing machine. Vibrators popped up in dozens of catalogs including those from Sears Roebuck and Co. and Hamilton Beach (although its usefulness as a masturbatory device was not officially advertised). The sexual revolution of the 1960s finally brought the vibrator (by then, thankfully, battery driven) out of the nightstand and into the bed, although it wasn’t until the 21st century—nearly a century and a half after its invention that the device that owes its existence to one doctor’s laziness—finally hit the mainstream. It is estimated that more than half of American women have used a vibrator in their lives.
Kinds of Vibrators: These days, vibrators come in so many shapes, sizes and colors that simply deciding on one can be a daunting task. If you’re purchasing for a partner, you may be inclined to go for a Coke can-sized monstrosity, but it may be best to consider her needs. If she’s into clitoral stimulation, go for a rabbit or a pocket rocket instead. When it comes to vibrators, always try to go with silicone (especially if you’re planning on going inside). Unlike “novelty” sex toys, silicone is hypoallergenic and won’t leach toxic chemicals into the body. The best way to make sure a product is made of quality materials is to do a sniff test. Yep, that’s right: you need to open the package and smell it. Silicone doesn’t have a scent, so if it smells, don’t buy it. Alternately, only purchase high-quality products from manufacturers such as Lelo, Sterling and We-Vibe. Here are some of the different kinds of vibrators to choose from:
- Clitoral: As the name suggests, these stimulate a woman’s clitoris. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and some are even disguised as everyday products such as a tube of lipstick. Eggs, rockets and butterfly strap-ons (look ma, no hands!) are some of the more popular examples.
- Dildo-shaped: Meant to approximate a man’s penis, dildo-shaped vibrators are for use inside the vagina or anus. They come in about as many sizes as you can imagine—from “average dude” to “there is no way in hell you’re putting that in me.”
- Rabbits: The vibrator that put vibrators on the map (and into women’s pussies everywhere) thanks to an episode of Sex and the City, the rabbit provides both clitoral and vaginal stimulation.
- G-Spot: If you don’t believe in the g-spot, you’re not doing it right. These vibrators curve up into that special zone to make her moan. (Bonus: they also happen to perfectly nail the male prostate). Some come with a “tail” for clitoral stimulation as well.
Dildos: The Most Basic of Sex Toys
In 2005, archeologists were poking around in Hohle Fels Cave near Ulm, Germany when they discovered a “highly polished” 8-inch siltstone dildo that dated back 28,000 years. Finally there was proof that we human beings have been playing with ourselves for probably as long as there have been human beings. Unchanged for millennia, the dildo began poking their heads out everywhere, including in Egyptian art circa 2500 BCE. By 500 BCE, Greek sailors were selling ivory and jade phalluses around the Mediterranean. The sex toy business really took off a couple of hundred years later when it was discovered that olive oil made a decent lube. However, it wasn’t until the invention of vulcanized rubber in 1841 that the dildo ditched its historic rigidity for a bit of flexibility.
Kinds of Dildos: Because dildos are designed to elicit pleasure from the inside out, it’s especially important these days to only purchase ones made of hypoallergenic materials such as silicone, glass or stainless steel. Look for brands such as Vamp Silicone, PyreXions and Njoy. In addition to the classic cock-approximating variety, dildos also come in several other shapes and sizes including:
- Double Dildos: How much fun can two people have at once? Use one of these and you’ll quickly find out.
- Penis Extender: Typically for men who have trouble keeping it up, these slip over his member for a night she’ll remember.
- Strap-on: A harness mounted phallus that makes it easy for her to fuck her or engage in some anal play with him. Also available in thigh-mount.
- Chin Dildo: Exactly what it sounds like, this type of device straps on between the wearer’s mouth and chin to provide additional pleasure during oral sex.
- Dildo Ball: An inflatable ball with a built in dildo. You get the picture.
- Butt-Plugs and Ben Wa Balls : Butt plugs are mushroom shaped devices designed to go in a person’s ass. Anal enthusiasts should purchase one big enough so that it doesn’t come blasting out at the point of orgasm. Ben Wa Balls are a series of silicone or stainless balls connected by a string. Drop them in one, two, three and then pull them out like you’re firing up a lawnmower. Ooh, yeah, just like that. If you’re into anal play (and want to stay that way), remember to keep it clean down there.
Cock Rings: Ewe Have Got to Be Kidding
Somewhere in China around 1200 AD, someone whose name has been lost to history discovered that if he took the stretchy eyelid of a goat and wrapped it around his penis and testicles he could maintain a harder erection longer. Better yet, if he left the rigid goat’s eyelids in place, they would tickle his wife’s clitoris in just the right way. Ewww (or ewe, depending on how you look at it).
Kinds of Cock Rings: Fortunately, these days cock rings are made of stretchy materials that don’t come from a goat’s peepers, including things such as silicone, rubber, leather and even stainless steel.
- Standard: Basic cock rings come in various sizes and may be adjustable in order to help maintain and prolong a boner.
- Vibrating: In lieu of eyelashes, modern cock rings often come with a battery-powered vibrator for her pleasure. Like the standard ones, these are available in a variety of sizes and materials and may or may not be disposable.
BDSM: Out of the Closet and Into the Dungeon
Well-known libertine and author of the original 50 Shades of Grey, the Marquis de Sade churned out hundreds of erotic stories and plays while doing time in French prisons and insane asylums in the late 18th century for, well, being the Marquis de Sade. Today, BDSM (which loosely translates as “bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism”) runs the gamut from furry handcuffs and leather bustiers to complicated Japanese rope bondage and pretty much anything else relating to pain, dominance and submission. Is it any wonder that the cultural sexual restraints of the Sade’s day lead to actual sexual restraints?
Kinds of BDSM Gear: Because so many things can go wrong with this type of play, BDSM is not for amateurs (except in the cases of some light bondage and good-natured spanking). Would-be BDSM fetishists should begin their erotic adventuring at Kink.com to learn the ins and outs, tops and bottoms. People looking for partners who share their kink for power play should search for them on reputable sites such as FetLife and then get references—lots and lots of references.
- Whips, Crops, Floggers and Slappers: If spanking’s your thing, you’ll need one (or more) of these. Materials range from “Ooh, that’s nice” to “OUCH!”
- Ropes, Cuffs and Tethers: Restraint begins here. If you’re into being tied up, learn the ropes (and the knots). If you opt for cuffs instead, don’t lose the key.
- Fucking Machines: Like Dr. Taylor’s steam-powered vibrator but way, way more high-tech. You have to see them to believe them at Fucking Machines.
- Gags, Leashes, Collars and That Latex Suit from American Horror Story: Serious submissives need to shut up, do what they’re told and dress up for special occasions.
- Nipple Clips: Just a pinch though.
- Masks and Blindfolds: “Surprise! That’s neither who or what you think it is.”
- Electro-play Gadgets: Yes, this is what it sounds like. Shocking, isn’t it?
Flesh Lights and Love Dolls: It’s a Guy Thing
Over the centuries, guys have been on a nearly constant quest for a masturbatory device to replace their hand. Since pretty much any warm, wet place will do, I won’t go into the gory details of what they came up with.
Kinds of Male Masturbatory Devices: Thankfully, with the invention of the flesh light, almost all of those creepy, not-at-all-realistic life-size dolls with the perpetual look of surprise have gone the way of goat’s eyelid cock rings.
- Flesh Lights: So-named because it resembles a flashlight, flesh lights slide over a dude’s penis and approximate a vagina (or anus). Seriously guys, get a grip.
- Love Doll: The sex doll of yore has gotten a makeover in recent years but it isn’t necessarily for the better. These days, one doesn’t have to look far to find a doll that resembles his favorite porn star or anime character. I use the word “resembles” in the most generous way. With the advent of the flesh light, I can only imagine that guys who are into these are literally looking for love in all the wrong places. To each his own.
Where to Get Turned On: Like sex toys themselves, many erotic product retailers have entered the mainstream. Unlike your daddy’s sex shop with the blackout windows, seedy customers and grimacing jismoppers, many of today’s stores are well-lit places filled with upscale customers and friendly, knowledgeable staff. Alternately, you can shop discreetly online at Smitten Kitten, Adam & Eve or Good Vibrations.
Now go play.
When he’s not penning posts for Tokii, award-winning Portland, Oregon writer M L Kerr takes solace in uncomfortable silences.