What is presumed to be the ‘first sex toy’ was a phallic piece of siltstone that was uncovered in Germany in 2005 – it’s believed to be over 28,000 years old. The information just keeps coming; from a bronze dildo to a jade butt plug, there have been discoveries of sex toys in tombs all around the world. All those years ago, there seems to have been a very high importance placed on these objects – so much so that they were made from rare or expensive materials like bronze and jade, and people were actually buried with them.
Somewhere along the way, society decided that wasn’t very appropriate… From the 1700s to approximately 1990, the sale and use of sex toys were frowned upon, so much so that toys were often branded as ‘blood circulators’ or ‘beauty tools’ to circumvent the associated stigma.
The 1700s and ‘Female Hysteria’
“What is ‘female hysteria’?” you ask, entirely sure it’s going to be something ridiculous and sexist? ‘Hysteria’ was used to define a wide array of symptoms, including anxiety, shortness of breath, fainting, nervousness, intense sexual desire, insomnia, and irritability, etc. – but only ever in females, mind you. This was a fairly common ‘diagnosis’ for women in the 1700s. While producing and owning sex toys was considered indecent, the cure for ‘hysteria’ was masturbation. Yes, doctors could literally prescribe masturbation as a ‘treatment’ for this condition.
While I think we’d all love to have that prescription these days, this ‘problem’ women commonly experienced led to the invention of a steam-powered device called the ‘Manipulator’. Far from the pocket-size playthings of today, this hand-crank tool, which was invented years before electricity would come along, was a cumbersome piece of medical equipment only found in in a few physicians’ practices and spas.
The ‘Health Aids’ of the 1800s
English physician Joseph Mortimer Granville invented the first patented electric vibrator in 1883. The device wasn’t intended for sexual use, and Glanville disassociated himself from its misuse when it was discovered that it could bring people with pussies paroxysms of (medical-grade, ‘curative’, totally not-just-for-kicks) pleasure. As it turns out, it was actually designed to treat pain, headaches and irritability.
Not too long after this, Gerald Joseph Macaura invented a vibrating massage toy that he later rebranded as a ‘blood circulator’ to boost sales. Although it was being sold as a blood circulator, it wasn’t long until people realized that the device (that could produce up to 5,000 vibrations per minute) was good for a few other things, too...
The 1900s and A (Slow) Leap Forward
The next leap in sex toy tech was in the 1920s with the invention of the Polar Club Electric Vibrator – the first sex toy to actually have the word ‘vibrator’ in its name. It was really the first sex toy that was branded and designed to be somewhat attractive in its appearance.
Although it was marketed as a ‘beauty tool’, the vibrator immediately sky-rocketed in sales when it hit the market in 1928 and people weren’t shying away from its true purpose. Then, in 1930, another advancement in the industry – the Andis Vibrator – was marketed to both men and women. Although, again, it was heavily marketed as a ‘blood flow circulator’, everyone knew what that meant by this point and exactly where that blood would be circulating.
Other inventions around this time include the Hollywood Vibra-Tone (which looks very similar to a Hitachi Wand, although that hadn’t been invented yet) and the Oster Stim-U-Lax, which was one of the first attempts at a more compact toy (although, by our standards, it’s still giant).
And then… Japan did a thing. The ‘Cadillac of Vibrators’ (the infamous Hitachi Magic Wand) was invented in 1945, and by 1975, it was being sold worldwide. It was a total game-changer in the world of sex tech.
By 1990, silicone had been invented and manufacturers had realized how great it was to use in the creation of sex toys. The first rabbit-style silicone dildo was being sold by a Japanese sex toy company called Vibratex. It was the first sexual aid to be able to penetrate the user and stimulate the clitoris at the same time.
The 2000s and the Steady Rise of Sex Tech
The 2000s have been a wonderful time for sex tech. Not only are we shying away from sex toys being taboo but we’re also making huge leaps – and faster than ever.
The world’s first ‘smart’ vibrator (Bluetooth-enabled) was released in 2010. It was able to be controlled through a Skype connection and had the ability to sync to vibrations of music playing out loud. Now, not only can vibrators sync to your phone to be controlled anywhere in the world, but there are also VR/interactive porn kits (from brands like Kiiroo), and sex toys that can pair with each other to provide the ultimate couple’s experience from a distance (from brands like Lovense).
In 2020, a global pandemic rocked the world and sex toy sales hit an all-time high, as did other adult industries such as porn and erotica. According to one article, in the first few months of the pandemic, America saw a 75 percent increase in purchases of sex toys online.
What’s next in the world of vibrators? Lioness already has a really future-forward vibrator with AI feedback. It comes with an app to help you actually track your orgasms and get to know your sexual health better. Really, as with the potential for pleasure, the possibilities are endless...