Could it be that masturbation is our oldest hobby? The fact that I class it as a hobby probably says something. While we don’t know definitively who invented the sex toys, it seems they have been around for a really long time! With the oldest dildo found so far dating back to 29000 BC, it seems our interest in stimulating our genitals has far outlasted other favorite pastimes that have dipped in and out of fashion!
Sex toys have advanced from rudimentary dildos carved from stone right up to the high-tech, app-enabled buzzing, pulsing, and thrusting machines we have today. Historical sex toys have been made from all different materials, with a few questionable choices along the way! This history of sex toys will show you that humankind’s inventiveness knows no end when it comes to sex toys.
The Oldest Dildo to Date
So we’ll start off with the first sex toy on record and the incredible history of the dildo.
A siltstone phallus dating back to 29000 BC was discovered in Hohle Fels (meaning hollow rock) in the Swabian Jura in Germany. Measuring 20 cm long and 3 cm in diameter and with a smooth polished surface, the phallus gives takes rock hard to a whole new level. While it’s difficult to say if this was used as a dildo, the size and etched lines, which resemble the head of the penis, suggest this was almost definitely a representation of a penis.
Phalluses are prevalent throughout history, often linked to cultural and religious ceremonies, and often symbolic of fertility and virility. Ancient art is awash with dildos These early sex toys would have been carved from stone, bone, and horn, and it’s hard to doubt that they weren’t put to use. If it looks like a dildo, feels like a dildo, and works like a dildo, then people are probably going to use it as a dildo. We don’t have to look too far on the web for evidence of that!
Sex Toys in Ancient Greece
Sexual liberation is finally making a comeback, but we’ve got nothing on the Ancient Greeks. They knew how to have a good time, and they weren’t shy about it! Ancient sex toys, particularly dildos, under various pseudonyms are featured in plays, writing, and artwork. It’s pretty clear what’s going on in the photo of a Greek cup below.
Lysistrata by Aristophanes, 411 BC
This comic play tells the story of the women of Athens and Sparta who come together to stop the men of the two cities from fighting with each other. Their master plan was to withhold any form of sexual activity until a truce was agreed upon. In the play, one of the women complains about a lack of olisbos, or what we know as dildos, to keep them satisfied during their sex strike. Thankfully, these days, dildos are aplenty!
Bread Dildo’s and Olive Oil Lube
It seems the Greeks were pretty keen on their dildos and weren’t too fussy about what they were made from. As well as the more expected materials like wood and leather, the Greeks had Olisbokollikes — dildos made of bread. Gives a whole new angle to get crumbs in the bed.
If the thought of dry bread makes your crotch cringe, don’t worry, the Greeks used their beloved olive oil for lubrication.
Source: Chrystal, P. (2018). In bed with the ancient greeks: Sex & sexuality in ancient Greece. Amberley Publishing.
Dildo Gossip – Mime VI by Herodas
Dildos continued to feature in the arts. Mime 6, written by Herodas during the 3rd century BCE, is an overheard conversation between two women. One woman name Metro pushes her friend to reveal the maker of her red dildo. Luckily, today we don’t rely on word of mouth to get our sex toys, but I fully endorse sharing your recommendations with your friends!
Source: Diotíma 228. The dildo
Sex Toys in China
In Imperial China, sex was closely linked to physical and spiritual health, and they were no strangers to dildos and other types of sex aids.
Artifacts uncovered in royal tombs from the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) included a polished bronze phallus.
Goat’s Eyelid Cock Ring
A bronze dildo might not seem too wild, but what about a goat’s eyelid cock ring complete with eyelashes for an added tickle. These are said to have been used in China in 1200 CE, and disturbingly, you can still buy goat’s eyelid cock rings today. At least they are biodegradable?
From Burmese Bells to Ben Wa Balls
Now to a sex toy that has gained popularity in current years that has been in use in Asia for many centuries. Ben Wa balls, balls that are inserted into the vagina for stimulation or to strengthen the kegel muscles actually started out as penis balls.
Most likely traveling from Burma to China, Burma bells were originally inserted into the end of the penis and made a pleasant jingling sound. Over time, women in China started to use bigger versions as a form of foreplay.
While penis balls are not commonly used in the West, sounding, which is the practice of inserting a rod or tube into the penis through the urethra, has become more popular, especially in the BDSM world. Read more about sounding and what it feels like.
Sex Toys in The Kama Sutra
As well as all of the acrobatic sex positions that we’ve come to know and love over the years, the Kama Sutra also referenced devices sex-enhancing devices.
The different Apadravyas were meant to be worn over the penis or used separately from the penis to stimulate the woman. The recommended materials included various metals, ivory, and buffalo horn, but ultimately it came down to personal preference. They were textured on the outside, so it seems that ribbed for your pleasure isn’t such a modern phenomenon. You could imagine them being similar to a modern-day penis sleeve.
Sex Toys in Japenese Shunga
The incredible Shunga woodblock and ink illustrations produced during the Edo period in Japan (1600-1868) give incredible insights into the range of sex toys used during this time. As well as its beauty and humor, this form of erotic art also served an educational purpose, prescribing what acts be done, using what, and at what time.
Source: Artsy – What is Shunga
Sex Toys from Japan, Early 20th Century
The sex toys in this photo from the British Museum don’t look so different from the ones we have today. The box contains items that were worn over the penis, similar to penis rings and penis sleeves with added bumps and ridges to enhance stimulation and a metal ball or rin no tama, which were much like Ben Wa balls. These particular items were made from buffalo horn, tortoiseshell, and also wood.
Source: The British Museum
Sex Toys in Early Modern Europe
The First Sex Dolls for Sailors, 1600s
Europeans were still getting freaky in the 1600s, freaky being the operative word here. The earliest sex dolls, call dames de voyage were attributed to horny sailors. They were made from cloth and much less realistic and sanitary than the ones we have today.
Source: Ferguson, A. (2014) The Sex Doll: A History. McFarland.
Signior Dildo, 1703
Don’t worry, the good old dildo was still a source of entertainment, both sexual and in the literary arts during the. John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester’s poem Signor Dildo caused quite a stir.
I had to share my favorite verse:
“The Countess of Falmouth, of whom people tell
Her footmen wear shirts of a guinea an ell,
Might save that expense, if she did but know
How lusty a swinger is Signior Dildo.”
Ejaculating Dildo, the 1700s
It turns out squirting dildos are also not as new as you might think. A beautiful ivory dildo found in France came with its own squirting mechanism to mimic ejaculation. It even came with a cloth bag, something I vehemently believe all sex toys should come with! Even juicier, it was found in a convent!
The Comstock Act 1873
The 1800s saw sex become a taboo topic, and the Comstock Act made it illegal to send any items considered to be obscene or lewd through the post system in the US. This included information about contraception and abortion, so you can imagine their stance on our beloved sex toys!
The Comstock Act began a dance between sex toy suppliers and the law that still continued until very recently in some states of America. Some states still even have anti-obscenity laws in place, but thankfully, they are no longer enforced.
The First Electronic Vibrator
Granville’s Hammer, invented by Joseph Mortimer Granville, was the first electrical vibrator, as he believed vibrations were the key to good health. Vibrators fell out of popularity as medical devices amongst doctors, and instead, went on to be marketed for home use. Ads for vibrators, marketed as massagers were common in newspapers, their true use veiled in innuendo, although that veil was pretty thin!
It’s hard to say definitively what people were doing with these wonder machines behind closed doors, but we’ve seen how creative people can get when it comes to sex toys. After all, it wouldn’t take a genius to realize that a vibrating massager may have other, more enjoyable uses. Please excuse me, I think I’ve got a neck ache from all this research…
If you’ve heard the disturbing tale of doctors using vibrators to cure women of hysteria, check out the sex toy myths debunked at the end of the article!
Source: Selling Sex Toys: Marketing and the Meaning of Vibrators in Early Twentieth-Century America by Hallie Lieberman
Sex Toys Make a Comeback
The Hitachi Magic Wand, 1968
While many ‘massagers’ had found alternative uses between the sheets, the Hitachi Magic Wand, made in 1968, was the first to be openly recognized and even endorsed as a sex toy. Despite the Hitachi Magic Wand becoming an iconic sex toy, Hitachi refused to acknowledge the wand’s use as a vibrator and took their name off the branding in 2012.
The Hitachi owes a lot to revolutionary feminist sex educator Betty Dodson, who started using the wand in her workshops that taught women how to masturbate and explore their sexual pleasure.
The First Silicone Dildos, the 1970s
Ah silicone, one of the finest sex toy materials — body-safe, velvety soft, and so much fun to swing around. We have Gosnell Duncan to thank for creating the first silicone dildo. After being left paralyzed from the waist down due to an accident and dissatisfied with the sex aid options available for disabled people, he took matters into his own hands.
Most dildos at the time were made of rubber, which degraded easily, so Duncan used silicone to develop a body-safe alternative. At this time, the Comstock Act was still in place, so you had to be very careful not to get on the wrong side of the law.
Feminism and Sex Toys
As well as advocating for female rights and female pleasure, feminists shaped the sex toy industry by opening the first feminist sex toy stores, creating a safe and welcoming environment for women to shop for sex toys.
- 1975 Eve’s Garden opened by Dell Williams
- 1977 Good vibrations opened by Joani Blank
The feminist movement also sparked the movement away from sex toys that looked like penises towards sex toys designed purely for female pleasure. While a lot of feminists were open supporters of vibrators, many were not in favor of dildos due to their likeness to penises and the desire to see female pleasure as being independent of men.
Japanese Law and the Rabbit Vibrator, the 1980s
Japanese sex toy producers started making animal-shaped vibrators to get around the strict laws surrounding sex toys. The rabbit vibrator was catapulted into the spotlight when it was featured in Sex and the City in 1998.
Steve Shubin Makes the First Fleshlight, 1995
Steve’s wife was carrying a high-risk pregnancy and Steve was dissatisfied by the sex toy options for people with penises, so he got busy designing something better. Shubin went from being a SWAT officer to owning the brand that has become synonymous with male masturbation!
RealDoll Started by Matt McCullen, 1996
A much-needed upgrade from inflatable dolls, RealDoll started producing realistic love dolls for those with more refined sex toy tastes and a few thousand dollars to play with.
Sex Toys in the 2000s
- 2006 – Danish Ministry of the Environment Survey and Health Assessment of Chemicals Substances in Sex Toys
Until this time, many sex toys were cheaply made and often contained toxic materials. The report detailed the dangers of phthalates, including disrupting the reproductive system. While this prompted some positive changes in the sex toy industry, we still need more regulation of sex toy materials. Always opt for non-toxic, non-porous materials and shop from trusted stores.
- 2010 – Lovense Starts the Teledildonics Revolution
The founder was looking for ways to create more intimacy in his long-distance relationship. The Lovense journey started with an internet-controlled sex toy and now the company produces high-tech, app-enabled sex toys that connect lovers no matter where they are in the world. These interactive sex toys have also been massively popular in the camming industry.
- 2011 — Fifty Shades of Grey Released
Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James hits the books stores – love it or hate it, it did wonders for the sex toy industry, boosting sex toy sales all over the world. It also played a massive role in bring BDSM into the mainstream. Following the success of the book and the movie, the Fifty Shades empire turned towards making their own sex toys! Check which ones we love the most.
- 2014 – The First Womanizer Launched
The Womanizer was invented by Micheal Lenke to minimize the orgasm gap (women orgasm far less frequently than men). It uses air to create indirect clitoral stimulation rather than vibrations. This was a revolution in female pleasure, putting a focus on female pleasure and starting a trend that is still going strong.
- 2018 — A Sex Toy Wins a Robotics Award
Lora DiCarlo is awarded a Robotics Innovation Award by CES for their innovative dual stimulator, the Osé 2. The award was retracted due to the product being a sex toy but later reinstated. The whole thing highlighted there were still some stigmas around sex toys.
- 2020 – 2021 Sex Toys and the Global Pandemic
As the world shut down to limit the spread of COVID 19 and people were forced to stay at home, sex toy retailers suddenly got very busy. App-enabled sex toys kept long-distance lovers connected and people started to use sex toys for the sake of their sanity!
Sex, Tech, and Wellness
Nowadays, app-enabled sex toys are commonplace, and biofeedback and AI are becoming more popular. We have toys that buzz, pulse, oscillate, and heat up and of all shapes, sizes, and materials.
Never before have we had so many wonderful options to choose from. Sex toys are no longer ugly jelly things to be stashed away in a drawer but beautiful works of art to be proudly displayed on your bedside table and openly discussed with your friends.
It’s not only sex toy design that has come a long way, our attitudes towards sex toys and masturbation are also changing, with sex toys becoming part of the growing wellness industry.
Not everything has changed though, we still have many of the same forms, dildos, butt, plugs, sex dolls, but thankfully, with some high-tech upgrades, body-safe materials, and beautiful design,
It seems like we are coming back to a time where self-pleasure and sexual pleasure are a natural and joyful part of life.
Sex Toy History Myths Debunked
Cleopatra: Ruler of Egypt and Inventor of the Vibrator?
There is a legend that can be found in many articles citing Cleopatra as the inventor of the vibrator. Rumour has it that the ruler of Egypt, whose sex life has garnered a lot of attention, used a gourd full of bees to create a sensation similar to a vibrator. While this makes a fantastic story, there isn’t any real evidence for this. All I know, if it was true, If you thought replacing batteries was a hassle, imagine how often you’d have to replace bees!
Doctors Treated Hysteria with Vibrators
We’ve all heard the claim that the first electromechanical vibrators started in doctors’ offices and were used to stimulate women out of hysteria, a practice that is said to date back to the time of Hippocrates. Problematic on so many levels. Luckily, while this claim has been repeated far and wide, it seems it lacks validity. Hallie Lieberman, a sex and gender historian and author of Buzz: The Stimulating History of the Sex Toy, co-authored a paper with Eric Schatzberg in which they dismantle this claim citing a lack of evidence that this was ever a standard medical practice due to a lack of evidence.
Source: Lieberman, H., & Schatzberg, E. (2018). A failure of academic quality control: The technology of orgasm. Journal of Positive Sexuality, 4(2), 24-47.
Have you heard any other great sex toy myths or have anything to add to sex toy history? Drop us a comment and let us know!