Under the category of things that might surprise you: the origin of sex toys
There are things in life that will surprise you—that much is inevitable. We don’t know and can’t possibly understand everything there is in the world; so when it comes to things that we can’t fully grasp, we just have to accept them. Being surprised, after all, is not always a bad thing.
Falling under this category—along with society’s weird obsession with avocados and milk tea—is the origin of sex toys. Ladies and gents, sit back because I’m about to take you on a strange and historical journey.
Sex toys aren’t a new concept. Hallie Lieberman, who holds a Ph.D. in media studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and wrote Buzz: A Stimulating History Of the Sex Toy, notes that there is evidence of dildo-like objects that date back some 30,000 years. We see these images in Greek vases and Japanese art, which just means that the idea of use of sex toys have been part of human civilization for as long as we understood the idea of civilization.
Let’s get down to the specifics.
The goddamn stone age
In southwest France, researchers discovered a 36,000-year-old bison horn carving that’s called the Blanchard phallus. And in some cave in Germany, archaeologists found a 28,000-year-old stone object that looks like a dildo. It’s 7.8 inches long and rounded at the end like a penis and polished to perfection, too.
But just to lay it out there, historians are afraid to call these things sex toys—in fear, apparently, of applying “modern” understandings to “ancient” tools.
Ancient Greece, home of democracy and sexual gratification
You know how the paintings on Greek wine vessels are meant to depict their everyday life? Well, according to some paintings, they were using dildos as early as 8th century BCE. But while this is all well and good, the best evidence might be Aristophanes comic story of Lysistrata, which was written in 411 BCE. The comedic story is of a woman’s desire to end the Peloponnesian War by denying all men of sex and states: “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 cunts.”
Steam-powered dildos? Yikes.
In 1869 and 1872, American physician George Taylor patented a steam-powered massage and vibratory apparatus. And while his designs were marketed to “cure” female disorders and were sold primarily to spas and doctors who had large physical therapy practices, we know what it really did. Taylor even warned practitioners to supervise clients with pelvic complains because they could just be overindulging themselves.
Hi to the Han Dynasty
A few tomb excavations have revealed that the Han Dynasty’s elite knew how to enjoy themselves quite thoroughly. Findings indicate that they were very into their customized bronze dildos and—get this—jade butt plugs. But before you start thinking “Whoa, there’s a kink!” the butt plugs were actually used by embalmers, as jade was believed to help ward off spiritual and bodily decay.
You know the Japanese don’t half-ass anything
In case you haven’t heard of Shunga, it’s a genre of Japanese woodblock prints that featured pretty much anything (and everything!) with a sexual nature. We’re talking graphic orgies, oral practices and octopus beastiality.
Of course, there were also carved ivory and wooden harigata, of which were used to sit on top of the penis in order to give the impression that a man was bigger (and harder) than he actually was.
Now that we know it’s been around for hundreds of centuries, doesn’t it seem completely unnecessary that we still talk about sex toys in hushed tones and order them online while praying to the heavens that they come in packaging that’s subtle and common? Sure, the sex toy industry is far from perfect (what woman actually wants to have her cervix hit by a 10-inch dildo?), but we as a society have even further to go.
Education leads to proper understanding, kids. What’s natural is fucking natural.
Art Alexandra Lara