What is the history of sex toys? From stone to silicone and beyond…

The used panty marketplace

According to this online study, around 44% of people said they currently use a sex toy or have used one in the past, and most commonly, that sex toy was a vibrator of some kind. Women ages 25-34 were the age-range most likely to use sex toys with 51% of the participants in this age group saying they commonly use sex toys. 

Although admitted sex toy use among men isn’t as common, women aren’t the only ones getting down and dirty with the latest sexy tech, according to another, more recent survey, 12% of men interviewed said they own a sex toy. 

Fun fact: the word “dildo” was coined in 1400 A.D and originates from the Latin word “dilatare”, which means to “open wide” (naughty, right?). However, the oldest sex toy known to us (which I’ll talk about below) dates back to around 26,000 B.C.

The beginning: the siltstone dildo

Siltstone dildos are the world’s oldest known sex toys, with the oldest one to be discovered (in 2005 in Germany) at approximately 28,000 years old. This particular dildo (which measures around 7.8 inches long) is now on display in London, was said to be from around 26,000 B.C. 

For those who aren’t aware, siltstone dildos are made of many different fragments of siltstone, which is a sedimentary rock composed of silt-size grains. 

Buzz, buzz: did Cleopatra really use bees for sexual stimulation?

A 1992 Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices written by Brenda Love claims that around 69-30 BC, infamous Cleopatra would use a gourd filled with bees (yes, you read that correctly - a gourd, the food, filled with bees and then resealed) to stimulate herself. This myth has been perpetuated over and over, rewritten in countless articles without much proof, according to historians. 

While I’m leaning more towards the “there’s no way this really happened”, you never know - our urges make us do some pretty wild things sometimes. 

What do you think - could this have really happened?

Luxury dildos found to be over 2,000 years old in China
A bronze dildo with a ring attached to the base was found inside the tomb of an aristocrat in the Chinese city of Yizheng. The dildo appears to be around 2,000 years old and historians have suggested that wealthier people in this time would have had similar toys. 

Around the same time, a bronze and jade butt-plug looking toy was discovered in a separate tomb of a king near modern-day Shanghai. 

I’m just going to say it: being buried with your dildos is quite the statement. I love it.

The creativity was endless, really…
Ancient Greece history unveils just how creative people (especially people who weren’t wealthy enough to craft bronze dildos) could get. According to experts, dildos made of bread were all the rage. Yes, bread. 

Vicki Leon, a self-proclaimed “historical detective” traveled thousands of miles from her home in California to Italy to speak with experts, visit archeological sites, and study artifacts, many of the erotic nature. 

The 1700s: a steam-powered vibrator to cure ‘hysteria’

Let’s circle back to that whole “masturbating women to cure hysteria” thing because - what? 

Hysteria was defined back then as exhibiting a wide array of symptoms from anxiety, shortness of breath, fainting, nervousness, intense sexual desire, insomnia, and irritability, to name a few.

This was actually a fairly common diagnosis for women back then, so of course, many doctors sought out various types of treatments - one of which included rigorous masturbation. (That’s a prescription I’m happy to take!) 

Introducing the Steam Powered “Manipulator” 
American physician George Taylor invented the steam-powered Manipulator, the first hand-crank vibrator known to us, years before electricity would come along and change the game. 

While looking at this thing is kind of scary, it was a real feat of engineering at that point. Back then, the goal of this wasn’t for a woman to reach orgasm, but simply to alleviate the symptoms of “hysteria”, which, again, was just sexual frustration. 

The 1800s to 1900s: sex toys that weren’t supposed to be sex toys

The 1800s brought the sex toy industry leaps and bounds ahead of things like bronze dildos and steam-powered devices. Hand-held vibrators started to appear (most with crank-style nobs to operate) and soon people started to play with the different kinds of shapes and sizes these toys could be, finding new uses for them.

Introducing the first electric vibrator 
In 1883, English physician Joseph Mortimer Granville invented an electric vibrator. Although similar machines (such as the “steam-powered manipulator”, which we’ll talk about below) were being used in other areas of Europe, this was the first toy of it’s kind in the UK. 

However, this unique device, Glanville admitted, wasn’t originally intended for sexual use although he knew it could be. He actually designed it to treat pain, headaches, irritability, and indigestion in men. (I don’t know about you, but a good orgasm will check most of that off my list these days - so he was definitely onto something there even if he didn’t know it!)

While it’s speculated that doctor’s actually used this device in their offices to masturbate women (to cure them of what was then referred to as “hysteria”), this has never actually been proven to have happened according to various historians.

The Pulsocon 
What was originally known as Macaura’s Pulsocon (invented by Gerald Joseph Macaura) was a vibrating massage toy, later rebranded as a blood circulator. It’s an instrument that is secured with one hand while the vibrating plate is placed over the desired body part while you turn the handle with your other hand. Apparently, this produces quite an intense vibration over the “affected area” - wink, wink - as turning the crank handle quickly can produce up to 5 thousand vibrations per minute.

Although this was introduced as a “mechanical massager”, it really wasn’t long until people realized it could be used to massage some very particular areas of the body for pleasure. 

DIY was popular, even back then
A 250-year-old sex toy was found by archaeologists in Poland back in 2015. This eight-inch leather dildo with a carved wooden head was discovered during an excavation of an old swordsmanship school in the city of Gdansk. This is likely one of the countless different types of dildos that were created by people in the 18th/19th centuries.

Hose her down 
In France, the “pelvic douche device” (essentially a hose with great water pressure) predated what we ladies refer to as the holy grail of pulsating water pleasure (aka, detachable showerheads) by at least 200 years, according to this article. 

The 1920s - 1940s: vibrators marketed as “beauty tools” and “weight-loss aids” 

While we now know all the incredible health benefits of orgasms, back then a person’s sexual pleasure really wasn’t at the top of anyone’s list and it was certainly casual proper to talk about sex aids or devices that could be used in the bedroom. 

The toys from this era were usually marketed as “beauty tools” or “weight-loss aids”, regardless if that was their true intent or not. 

Introducing the “Polar Cub”, a kind-of-sexy toy. 
The Polar Club Electric Vibrator was really the first sex toy that tried to be sexy, in my opinion. Popular in the 1920s, it gets goodie-points for the green handle and the fact that it doesn’t look too much like a torture device. Originally marketed as a “beauty tool” (the image on the package even shows a woman using it on her neck), this vibrator came out in 1928 and was immediately a hit. While it’s not really possible to know how many women bought this for the “beauty tool” and how many figured out it could be used to vibrate and massage better parts of the body, it was quite the popular toy. 

The “Andis” Vibrator that wasn’t fooling anyone.
Oh, look - another “beauty tool” (picture the biggest air quotes you’ve ever seen here, please.) 

Yes, the Andis Vibrator, another hand-held massager produced in the 1930s, was marketed to both men and women as another beauty tool to help circulate blood flow around the scalp and face. But with all different kinds of textured heads to use with the device, you can only imagine how this thing was really used behind closed doors. 

The Hollywood Vibra-Tone massager that looks eerily like the later-to-be-invented Hitachi Wand 
The Hollywood Vibra-Tone was marketed as what was called a “spot reducer”, as manufacturers of this device claimed it could help you lose weight. This hand-held vibrator was intense enough that it could give you a great massage and small enough (compared to other devices at this time) that it could target all your special places, making it another great sex toy masquerading as a beauty tool. 

The Oster Stim-U-Lax, the first try at something a little more compact. 
The Oster Stim-U-Lax was a device that was invented in the 1940s that was able to be strapped to the back of your hand to deliver powerful vibrating sensations wherever it was placed. Apparently it was marketed to barber shops to allow for scalp-massages after getting your hair cut, but again - it wasn’t long until people realized the true potential of this device and started using it how they wanted. 

The 1940s - 1960s: Japan’s little secret exposed

At last, we’ve reached the birth of the “Cadillac of Vibrators”, the Hitachi Magic Wand. In 1945 U.S military stationed in Japan became intrigued by the Japanese innovation that created the Hitachi Wand. Although it wouldn’t make its way to American shelves until the 1970s, people knew immediately this was a game-changer.

Originally marketed as a massager, it wasn’t long at all before people (as they always do) realized they could use this to get off. Betty Dodson, an American sex educator, eventually went on to do public appearances where she praised the wand for its ease of use as a sex toy - she even held private sex-ed courses and used the toy as a sample to show other women how to stimulate the clitoris during sex play. 

When the Hitachi company realized what their personal massage devices were being used against, they eventually sold the idea to sex toy manufacturer Vibratex (which you’ll remember from the first rabbit vibe) who renamed the product to be the “Magic Wand Original” that we all know today. 

1965: the introduction of silicone...the ultimate romantic gesture?

In 1965, a man by the name of Gosnell Duncan was welding on the bed of a truck late at night when a vehicle fell on top of him, paralyzing him from the waist down. While Duncan’s girlfriend didn’t mind the loss of the lower half his body (marrying him while he was still recovering in the hospital), he began to consider penile substitutes as a way to connect with his wife. 

When he became involved with a disability awareness movement in the 1960s, he started to realize he wasn’t alone in wanting to experience good sex with your partner as a disabled person but not knowing where to turn for help. 

Eventually, Duncan began investigating dildos that were already on the market. In an interview, he explains, “In the 70s, most dildos were made of heat-treated rubber and would melt with heat. I wanted to have a product that was different, something that you couldn’t melt by washing and cleaning it…” He went on to explain that being able to have a material that didn’t have a strong odor and that wasn’t irritating for penetration was his main goal. 

One of the biggest issues at the time was that the manufacturing and production of sex toys was a bit slow due to a law that barred sending sex devices through the mail. Dildos could be sold legally if they were used as “medical devices” (someone needs to tell me how to get a prescription for that one!). While Duncan’s needs fell into that category, many of his disabled friends did not and this bothered him. 

While working as a mechanic before his accident, Duncan had always been really impressed with pliable silicone that didn’t melt even when exposed to the heat of a car engine. The only problem here is that the silicone used in auto parts wasn’t body-safe. He’d have to come up with a new solution. 

While at a conference, Duncan met a chemist, and together they began tweaking the silicone formula to make it body-safe. When they finally found a body-safe silicone material, Duncan set up a dildo-making business in his own basement. (I am sure his wife was 100% on board with that!) 

You can read Duncan’s full story here

The 1980s - 1990s: the invention and rise in fame of the rabbit vibe 

In 1983, Japanese sex toy company Vibratex released the very first version of a rabbit-style dildo that could both penetrate you and stimulate your clit at the same time. Although it was sometime in the 70s when sex toys started to become more of a mainstream item and way less stigmatized, that wasn’t the case all over the world. 

A way around one big problem...
One major problem in Japan at the time was that manufacturers weren’t legally able to make sex toys - so they ended up shaping their sex toys into animal shapes (including things like turtles and kangaroos) to pass them off as something other than sexual aids.

Sex & The City doing what it does. 
You can say a lot about this show, but one thing it’s done for us that we can’t deny is bringing awareness to the fact that women have sex, we talk about it, we enjoy it and yes, we even use toys to make it more pleasurable. The rabbit-vibrator became even more infamous when a version of it (The Pearl Rabbit) appeared in a Sex and the City episode in 1998. 

The 2000s: a rise in the popularity of sex toys 

The 2000s have been a wonderful time for sex, porn, and the toys we use to make both of those things infinitely better. Big names entered the scene (like Lelo and JimmyJane) and they started challenging the notion that sex toys have to look like body parts of machinery. That innovation is what drove the industry to what we know it as today. 

Throughout the 2000s there have been some really memorable things that have impacted the sales, distribution, and acceptance of various kinds of sex toys.

Porn websites and adult content being sold in video stores
Although Playboy magazine had been around for a few decades, the early 2000s saw the rise in a mainstream type of porn that seemed to normalize what it was to be sexually curious in the 21st century. 

Pornhub, the visual porn juggernaut of the 2000s, launched in the spring of 2007. People everywhere now had access to viewing adult content which obviously showed a spike in sex toy sales. Along with that spike came another when adult films were allowed in video rental stores (RIP Blockbuster, your card will live in my wallet forever.)

50 Shades of Grey 
As much as I hate to include this (my thoughts on this franchise are well-known at this point) - 50 Shades of Grey launched us even further into the normalcy of sexy toys, particularly bondage toys, and we’re all really thankful for that. 

The 50 Shades franchise saw a giant boom in sex toy sales (I’m talking around 400% increases in some cases), some of which were even themed to suit the books. The things that were most popular around this time were blindfolds, bondage accessories, and love balls/beads. 

Sex podcasts and blogs 
In the digital age, everything can be written about - but nothing hits quite like sex does. Sex sells. It’s been this way for, well, forever. With podcasts on kinks and fetishes (like our very own Sofia Gray Show and many more), people are becoming more and more comfortable talking about sex which means more people are being clear about what they want in the bedroom, including the use of sex toys. 

2020 and beyond: where we are now…

Well, here we are...from stone to silicone and beyond. What’s next in the wonderful world of sex toys? Well, if the last few years have been any indication, we’re just ramping up - no end in sight.

Sexy tech takes a giant leap forward
While the evolution of sex toys is interesting, we’re all left to wonder: where to now? Even in the last few years, we have seen (for lack of a better word) absolutely insane innovation comes from sex toy companies. 

You’ve got Bluetooth vibrators that track your orgasms with a sensor in the toy to help you keep an eye on your sex life and you’ve got vibrators that can be controlled remotely from anywhere in the world. We’ve come a long way from stone dildos and gourds full of bees. 

The coronavirus sex toy frenzy 
With the global pandemic COVID-19 rocking the globe in 2020, people have been locked in their houses for weeks and months, only leaving for the essentials. All stores were closed - but online stores were booming, and the story was no different for online sex toy retailers. 

According to this article, between January 1 and March 6, 2020, sales soared in both Europe and the United States, with Italy seeing a 61% increase in purchases and America seeing over 75% increase in purchases of sex toys online. Australia also saw a bump in sales (a 31% increase). 

Tagline: From stone to silicone and beyond.