Today's blog is all about sex toys! Not your plain ol' ordinary rabbit or bullet vibe, but ancient dildos and vibrators! Our ancestors have been getting freaky since the dawn of time, and today were going to explore a few examples of those makeshift vibrators and hand crafted dildos. Keep in mind the material in which these toys are made out of. Some materials will seem super unsafe and gross, but silicon, plastic and rubber weren't available during these times, and the local apothecary was a very common visit. As we go along, I'm going to talk about different cultures and groups of people that used these sex toys or phallic items in various ways. Let's get freaky!
The Han Dynasty
Between 206 BCE and 220 CE, the Han Dynasty ruled over China. The Han Dynasty was rich in more ways than one, but was truly rich in culture and it's interesting customs that were practiced. With only minor interruptions, it lasted a span of over four centuries and was considered a golden age in Chinese history especially in arts, politics and technology. One of the more interesting things, though, was how they dealt with death and burial. Among loofahs, oils and food, sex toys such as jade butt plugs and bronze dildos were found in tombs of ancient nobles of the Han Dynasty. The use for these butt plugs weren't for sexual pleasure though. The act of filling the orifices of the body with ornate jade plugs was thought to be helpful for keeping the chi intact and prevent the spirit from bleeding out. The Han Dynasty was well known for their Death Suits as well. Along with a jade butt plug, if you were a very important and elite man, you would be dressed in a very expensive and ornate death suit made from gold string and tiles of various expensive materials, usually jade and bronze. Children of these elite or noblemen would wear similar garb when they died, but of lesser expense. Usually they'd be made out of silks and silver, instead of jade and gold.
The Han Dynasty was a happily satisfied group of people, banking on the fact that they took part in sex often and engaged in activities like drinking and gambling regularly as well. They were so comfortable with sex, in fact, that they fashioned dildos from bronze to enhance sexual pleasure. A quote from an article I found reads, "They were all definitely made for use, and we can speculate based on their various bases how they were worn. They’re all [speculation], and the ones we have here might have been laced into place with leather or silk thongs, though it’s not clear if they were designed for men or women — they’re not heavy at all — though the phallus without the ring form was likely for a man since it was found in a king’s tomb." This implies that it's possible the playmates that owned this dildo didn't just use it manually - but with a harness! And they were used not only with women - but with men as well! How awesome is that?
The Victorian Era
Long live the Queen, and long live the hysterical orgasm. Back in the English Victorian 1830's, female hysteria was still something women were misdiagnosed with all the time. The cure at the time was a good ol' fashion rub down; literally a doctor prescribed orgasm. Your question at the moment is probably something among the lines of "what is hysteria? Why were these women prescribed orgasms for this?" Hysteria's symptoms included faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in the abdomen, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and a "tendency to cause trouble." If that isn't the most sexist description of "you're ignoring your wife and only having sex with her for your own pleasure, not hers," I don't know what is. Breaking this down quickly, most of these symptoms are emotions or feelings caused by distress or other issues such as anxiety and depression. Retaining fluid and "heaviness in the abdomen" can be caused by bloating, caused by the menstrual cycle, and including "sexual desire" and "loss of appetite for sex" should already paint a pretty vivid picture that she isn't satisfied and these men were clueless. Don't even get me started on "a tendency to cause trouble."
As you can imagine, doctors handing out orgasms can get pretty strenuous and boring, so an inventor by the name of George Taylor invented the first steam powered vibrator' in 1869. This model didn't catch on as much as the later model made by J. Granville in the 1880's. The 'electrochemical' design was more user friendly, and the Housewife found this to be a much better option. Blender manufacturer Hamilton Beach made an electric vibrator in 1905, instantly becoming the first domestic appliance that was electrified coming after the sewing machine, tea kettle, toaster, and fan. Soon after it went into production it started appearing in the Sears, Roebuck catalog and was marketed for sore muscles. Vibrators fell out of favor, though, when they started appearing in pornographic movies. In fact, many nations forbid the sale of vibrators for sexual uses at the time, as did Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia. Those laws would probably still be in the books if not for Joh H. Tavel. On June 30, 1966 he applied for a patent for the Cordless Electric Vibrator for use on the Human Body. His patent didn't exactly fix the problem, though. It took until the 1980s for vibrators and sex toys to become part of mainstream culture. The popular HBO show Sex and the City broke ground in 1998 when the character Charlotte discovered and fell in love with a rabbit vibrator. In March 2009, Dr. Laura Berman appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show and recommended that mothers teach their teenage daughters how to use a clitoral vibrator. And today shows on Netflix like Grace and Frankie openly talk about sex toys and sexual motivation regularly.
Ancient and Expired; Condoms
Everyone knows not to store your condoms in your wallet, over time they'll disintegrate and become useless, which is no good when it comes down to grind time. People have been using condoms or other types of contraception for a long time - since as far back as 1564. There is a lot of evidence that people wore something similar to a condom, but whether it was for protection is only speculation. Then again, after the Black Death, Medieval men were introduced to an epidemic of syphilis. Not unreasonably, people began to look for a way of having sex again without the threat of death. Luckily, all things work themselves out with the invention of a new technology, in comes Gabriel Falloppio with the invention of a linen sheath soaked in chemicals and left to dry. This may sound like an accident gone right, and it probably was, but when Falloppio tested the product on some 1,100 people, not one of them reported a case of the "French Disease." What did Europe do to thank him for his life-saving invention? They named part of our reproductive organs after him.
It has been suggested that the Ancient Egyptians used forms of contraception, not necessarily a condom, but types of contraceptive more so for prevention of diseases than prevention of pregnancy. However, upper-class Egyptian women would irrigate the vagina with honey and baking soda and believed this to be a way to prevent pregnancy. What it really did was simply raised the pH balance, which throws off the women's reproductive system, meanwhile the honey was used as a kind of 'sanitizer' since honey is a bactericidal. Other forms of contraception throughout time include today's 'diaphragm' invented in 1905, meant to be inserted into the vagina to catch the sperm before it got too far. Renamed the 'occlusive pessary', at the time, it was the 99% cure for children and worked the best. But back when when the local chemist was the only option for you, he was your best OBGYN. Botanical poisons meant to activate the menstrual cycle were taken as a means against pregnancy, and sometimes to prevent birth. Among some concoctions, teas and spices were used and their properties brought hope for contraception or abortion. Spices such as parsley sage, rosemary, thyme, tansy tea, and pennyroyal tea were used for trial and error. Some of the spices worked, but most of them ended up not doing much of anything.
Right around the same time the diaphragm was invented, conservatives started to get, well, conservative. Anthony Comstock, a politician dedicated to 'Victorian morality', decided in the 19th century he was pretty uncomfortable with so much sexuality and brought it up to the Supreme Court. At the time, they too thought this was a good idea and in 1905 banned the distribution of condoms and information about birth control and sexuality. Eventually, the Supreme Court rethought their previous decision and amended the harmful law, hence fueling the fire for better sexual health and contraception. The 1930's -1950's saw the worst of the support for the cause, but in the late 50's there was a breakthrough and in 1960, the first birth control pill hit the market.
Margret Sanger, credited to have lifted the movement to new heights and supported the fight for women's health in the 1950's, was the most iconic face for the movement. Margret ran undercover clinics for women who needed abortions or just needed their questions answered. In the 30's when the distribution of sexual health information was a federal crime, Sanger wrote multiple pamphlets, all very passive aggressive towards the stigma on sex, and all about women's health. A quote from one 'Family Limitation,' "It seems inartistic and sordid to insert a pessary or a suppository in anticipation of the sexual act. But it is far more sordid to find yourself several years later burdened down with half a dozen unwanted children, helpless, starved, shoddily clothed, dragging at your skirt, yourself a dragged out shadow of the woman you once were." I could write a whole other blog about how cool and amazing Margret Sanger was, so I'll just have to some other time.
Learning about how our ancestors got freaky is super interesting. Especially learning about their mistakes and weird remedies for their bodies, learning how certain things came to be part of our daily sexual routine by pure accident or circumstance, and seeing materials evolve as well as people's attitudes towards sex is super eye opening to learn about. Pleasure is super important and always has been to humanity, no matter how strong the stigma in that particular timeline. I implore you to keep learning about the history of sex toys and how other kinds of shapes came to popularize. Stay freaky!