A Brief History of Sex Toys

A Brief History of Sex Toys

Language, pottery, double-ended dildos. Which one came first?


If you said double-ended dildos, you’d be right.

Although the global sex tech market is currently witnessing unfathomable growth, with its size being valued at 31.4 billion US dollars in 2022, the invention of tools to aid sexual pleasure is certainly nothing new. In fact, such tools might even have been around for over 30,000 years.


As it currently stands, the oldest known sex toy dates back to around 28,000 BC and was discovered in southwestern Germany. Measuring 7.56 inches in length and 1.1 inch in width, the tool looks very much to a modern toy fanatic like a double-ended dildo. Whilst there has been much speculation over the actual use of this tool, many archeologists consider it likely that this polished siltstone instrument would have been used for sexual gratification. Who said cavemen couldn’t get freaky?


For the next 20,000 years, early Europeans continued to fashion dildos out of antlers, bone, and stone, materials which would have otherwise been used to make precious, combative tools. These toys boasted an array of etchings resembling scars, holes, and marks, with scientists suggesting that these could have been for either identification or ornamental purposes. In other words, personalized dildos existed long before Clone-A-Willy kits were first put on the market. And seemingly, so did cock worship.

Now a kink involving intimate adoration of the penis, the Ancient Egyptians seem to have taken cock worship a little more literally, as paintings dating back to 3,000BC depict women wearing phallic objects to praise the Egyptian gods. The Ancient Greeks living around 520BC shared this sense of celebration of sexuality, demonstrated by their new and very exciting invention: the olisbos.


Made using softened, polished leather and stuffed with wool, these olisboi were dildo-looking instruments sold commonly on the Ancient Grecian marketplace. They were likely used alongside olive-oil, the Greek’s first choice of lubricant, with scripts from the time recommending in particular that olive oil be used for orifices that weren’t naturally lubricated (ie. the anus). The Greeks were also most likely the first group of people to refer to these dildos as ‘toys’, once more demonstrating their liberal views regarding sexual pleasure and sex as an act of absolute enjoyment.


It’s hard to imagine a society more sex-positive than this, right?


Enter: Kama Sutra.

The Kama Sutra, alongside detailing several elements of sexuality, eroticism and emotional fulfillment, certainly does not shy away from engaging with the topic of sex toys. It provides a list of toys, from strap-ons to sex dolls, all made from materials such as wood, rubber, gold, silver, copper, ivory, and horn. Meanwhile, in China, the aristocrats of the Han dynasty were also experimenting with a range of toys, such as double-ended bronze dildos and jade butt plugs. Only a century later, citizens of the Roman Empire were beginning to diversify the ways in which they used such toys. For example, evidence of use on the exterior of these Roman dildos suggest that they may not have been used for penetration but rather for clitoral stimulation. Either that, or they were used as pestles to break up food whilst also bestowing upon it a range of magical, penis-facilitated properties.


Either way, this era certainly observed a deep appreciation for sexuality, and a lot of new discovery in the growing sex toy industry.


Unfortunately, however, it didn’t last. Queue: the Middle Ages, bringing us centuries of regression.

The medieval ages were renowned for a conservative approach to intimacy and a severe over-usage of references to the devil when talking about sex, masturbation, and any kind of female pleasure. The prohibition of dildos can be traced back to the 8th century, as throughout the medieval period, many women were tried after accusations of using sex toys including, but not limited to, wooden dildos, silk testicles, and pointy shoes called poulaines.


Whilst some would argue that we never fully recovered from this turn towards viewing sex in a shameful light, the following centuries did observe some advancement in what would now be considered the sex tech world. The eighteenth century, for example, saw the invention of what is now a staple in every vulva-owners bedside draw.


That’s right: I’m talking about the vibrator.


The clockwork vibrator was first invented in France. Named the tremoussoir, it worked similarly to a manual egg-beater, and was operated by a hand crank. The basic vibrator model underwent a major glow-up in 1869, as physician George Taylor introduced his ‘manipulator’ – effectively, a vibrator powered by steam. Two decades later, and finally, the first iteration of what we might now recognise to be a vibrator was brought into the world. In the late 1880s, aided by the vulcanization of rubber, Dr Joseph Granville invented the electric vibrator, a handheld device designed to relieve male muscle aches and pains. Of course, women quickly became aware of its uses – and suddenly, Dr Granville was responsible for a steep rise in female orgasms all across the globe, with over twenty vibrator models commercially available by the end of the nineteenth century. What a player.

By the 1970s, second wave feminism and the hippy movement had revived, at least for certain social groups, a Grecian appreciation for all things pleasure. And the question of who exactly deserved to receive this pleasure was becoming more and more inclusive.


In the late 1960s, after being paralyzed in an accident, the pioneer and former mechanic Gosnell Duncan set out to make sex more accessible for disabled people. This ultimately led to the invention of a modern-day dildo, designed to resemble an anatomically correct penis with a head, veins, and realistic colouring. These dildos were picked up by feminist Dell Williams, owner of the Eve’s Garden sex toy store; however, she refused to stock the product whilst it so heavily resembled a penis. So, Duncan created The Venus, a simple, smooth, silicone dildo, available in pink and brown. This accessible, smooth design has remained popular to this day, with many brands opting for non-phallic designs to appeal to a wide range of audiences and recentre female pleasure as, ultimately, something completely detached from men. Check out our range of sleek designs to see exactly what we’re talking about.


This sense of sex inclusivity continued as in 1971, American erotic artist and sex educator Betty Dodson pioneered the pro-sex feminist movement with her famous Bodysex workshops. These encouraged women to masturbate, and usually involved each woman being given a Hitachi Magic Wand. Dodson’s memoir and instructional series, Sex for One, was later published by Random House and translated into 25 languages. Her commitment to helping women experience sexual fulfilment and eradicate feelings of shame transformed Betty Dodson into an icon of the women’s liberation movement, and a household name for many modern sex educators.

By the year 2000, sex toys had entered the realm of common household appliance. HBO’s famous series Sex and the City helped to bring the rabbit vibrator, originally invented in Japan in the 1980s, to a mainstream, American market. Huge advances in mobile technology also saw the introduction of remote toys, which were controlled first using Bluetooth and later by using the internet. Now, remote-controlled vibrators, such as our Dorothea toy, are a common and popular choice for couples play – and the ways in which we use technology to improve these toys are advancing every day.


Overall, whilst the purpose of these toys has remained relatively the same since their conception over 30,000 years ago, how we value these toys has hugely changed. Now, we expect more than a miniature steam-powered engine and a rickety hand- crank. We want an experience.


After millenniums of using toys created and sold by men, we want businesses who care about the issues faced by women in the twenty-first century. We want eco- conscious brands who craft pleasure sustainably, brands who value pleasure for all bodies, and brands who we feel we can really trust.


And we shouldn’t have to settle for less.


Read more about BON.’s commitment to sustainability here.

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