Women have always desired sexual pleasure, even though, for centuries, this side has been repressed by men. Despite not fully understanding female orgasms and sexuality until fairly recently, there is evidence that women have been using sex toys for nearly 30,000 years.
Now, we admit that some types of sex toys used by our horny ancestors are slightly questionable - they are certainly not the slick, sexy toys made from the finest materials we are familiar with these days. But the evolution of the female sex toy industry is fascinating! It is astounding how long female masturbation has been concealed. But under the covers, women have secretly been getting their rocks off for hundreds of years!
For this article, we’ve collaborated with Yoxly, a sexual health company that provides at-home STI test kits for all genders, to put together a brief timeline of the history of female sex toys, highlighting some of the craziest inventions and important developments.
The first ever sex toy (29000 BC)
The oldest sex toy ever discovered can be dated back 28,000 years. When archaeologists were excavating a cave in Germany, they unearthed an unusual phallic-looking object made from polished flint stone. By looking at its uncanny resemblance to the male penis, researchers believed it was used as a dildo.
Sexy time in Ancient Greece (700–480 BC)
Ancient Greeks were generally a very sex-positive bunch and didn’t seem to get too hung up on sexual orientation. Instead, they just indulged in whatever gave them pleasure. Therefore homosexuality, pansexuality and sexual fluidity were celebrated, and same-sex relationships and polyamory were common.
They understood sexual pleasure better than their ancestors, and female masturbation with dildos is well documented in ancient texts. There is evidence that they made dildos out of various materials depending on the desired feeling, including stone, leather and wood. More bizarrely, dildos were also fashioned out of breadsticks, called an olisbokollix, and olive oil was used as lube - not your standard way of indulging in bread and olive oil!
The invention of rubber (1844)
In 1844, Charles Goodyear invented vulcanised rubber, which can withstand hot and cold temperatures. Along with the invention of rubber came the evolution of rubber sex toys. Little did Goodyear know, he had unintentionally revolutionised the sex toy industry.
Treating hysteria with…vibrators? (1800s)
In the 1800s, hysteria was a ‘medical term’ used to describe any problem a woman had, no matter how normal these were. From irritability and migraines to nymphomania and farting, hysteria was to blame.
The term came from the Greek word ‘hysterika’, which means uterus. Victorian doctors believed women with hysteria had ‘wandering wombs’, which was the cause of their mental or physical issues.
To treat this so-called illness, it is believed physicians gave women pelvic massages (ahem, masturbated them) until it led to a ‘hysterical paroxysm’ (ahem, an orgasm). But back then, very little was known about female sexuality, so it was unknown that patients were actually receiving sexual pleasure.
This treatment was initially done by hand, but if your job is to get women off for medical reasons, your hand is bound to get tired. In 1869, Dr George Taylor invented a steam-powered vibrator (sounds scary, doesn’t it?) to relieve the fatigued hands of physicians. This involved women sitting on a table with a vibrating ball in the middle while coal was shovelled into a boiler to produce steam to power the vibrations.
When electricity was invented, vibrators were upgraded to more sophisticated electric devices. In 1883 the English physician, Joseph Mortimer Granville, invented an electric hammer-shaped vibrator to relieve muscle aches. Much to his dismay, this device was then used by physicians to help with masturbating hysterical women.
However, historians have since investigated the theory of women treated for hysteria with masturbation and believe it may be nothing more than a myth, as popular as the theory might be. Old advertisements of vibrators show they were marketed as back or neck massagers for pain relief, but they were also shown to be used in a sensual way by women.
The booming sex toy industry (1900s)
In the early 1900s, vibrators slowly improved whilst still hiding their true purpose. They were advertised as massagers, weight loss tools, beauty devices and pain relievers, but never sex toys. Their popularity soon skyrocketed (I wonder why), and then they were used to cure nearly every ailment, from insomnia to haemorrhoids to digestive problems.
Women at this point wouldn’t own up to what they actually used these devices for, but by looking at them, it’s pretty obvious. There were probably many women around this time complaining of neck or back pain!
Electric vibrators became more and more advanced. New models were invented featuring customisable vibrations, and some possessed different textured knobs (not that kind) that you could change to provide different sensations.
Rubber latex was invented in the 1930s and had many advantages over vulcanised rubber, including being softer and more pliable. This paved the way for the development of latex sex toys which are still a popular material choice for sex toys today.
In the 70s, when the love was flowing, vibrators were finally celebrated for their true purpose, thanks to women like Betty Dodson, an American sex educator, who taught private masturbation classes to women. Finally, it was becoming increasingly accepted that women desire and are entitled to sexual pleasure, as well as men! (Read our blog article about slut-shaming)
Sex toys in the present day
Nowadays, we are spoiled for choice with all sorts of toys for all sorts of activities promising all sorts of earth-shattering pleasures - we’ve come a long way from baking bread dildos and using steam-powered vibrators. So here’s a few of our favourite ultra-modern and, ahem… effective… accessories for sexual pleasure.
- Dame’s Fin Finger Vibrator is designed to ergonomically slip between the fingers and provide seamless and non-intrusive vibration. This cute and compact little friend is made of medical grade silicon, is water resistant and also comes with a detachable tether to make sure it doesn’t slip in the heat of the moment
- Crave’s Vesper Vibrator Necklace proves that sex toys needn't be hidden away in the bedside table anymore. Designed by Ti Chang and her woman-led team who believe in creating pleasure products that people do not feel ashamed about, this sleek pendant necklace can be worn with any outfit, and promises an exciting night even after the clothes have come off
- Tenga’s Sakura Massage Vibrator from their exclusive Iroha range is a smooth, delicate handheld vibrator specifically designed to “pinch and please” with its indented tip that is just perfect for clitoral stimulation. Tenga believes that pleasure-seeking is a key aspect of self-care, and the Iroha promises to provide a delectable experience unlike any other
- Dame’s Arc G Spot Vibrator is specifically designed for “exploring” your G spot. It’s sleek design, perfect curves and variety of patterns and intensities make it an absolute JOY to play with.
Phew, is it getting hot in here? Whether you prefer steam-powered or USB-powered, one thing is for sure; sex toys have certainly secured their space in the world of female pleasure.