TOYS: The History of the Good Vibrations

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Words: Tess Hardy (She/Her)

Since the dawn of humanity, the Cambrian explosion wasn’t the only evolutionary burst of life to report. As we explored the world around us, we quickly began to utilise it to bring us closer to sexual gratification. The history of sex toys reaches much further back in time than the utilisation of technology in our never-ending quest for stimulation. From Victorian-era steam-powered dildos to hand-cracked vibration devices, and the famous Hitachi Magic Wand to the more modern devices with Bluetooth control leaving a throbbing memory. Who would have thought a little pink bullet could possess years of breathtaking lore, while also being a symbol of the politics of female sexuality and the perpetrator of good vibrations.

This stimulating history stretches back 30,000 years to the Palaeolithic period. A siltstone phallus was found in Germany and is said to date back 28,000 years, making it the oldest known ‘sex toy’ ever discovered. Our Palaeolithic pals really got creative with it. Phalluses made from stone, wood, leather, and even camel dung have all been found during excavations. The Egyptians and the Greeks used unripe bananas, or animal dung coated in resin as sexual aids believing them to be aphrodisiacs, a substance alleged to increase libido. 

Some say that the Egyptian queen Cleopatra invented the first vibrator in history. She had the idea of filling a box with bees (no mid-wank-battery-dying for her – simply shake and go) and the violent buzzing caused the box to vibrate and then… Well, the rest is history. Cleopatra’s saucy secret gave a new meaning to the status of “queen bee”, and she really put those bees to work. Despite her box remaining shrouded in mystery, Cleo nonetheless remains an Empire-ruling, pearl-eating, vibrator-creating Baddie. 

RIP Cleopatra, you would have loved Sexyy Red and 

In ancient Greece, traders in the city of Miletus reported the making and selling of objects called ‘olisbos’, created to help wives achieve sexual penetration while their husbands were away. Nowadays, for a mere £40 you can ‘Clone a Willy’ for your night-time itches (I wonder what the rate of inflation for such devices is). History has proven that absence makes the pussy grow horny, I guess women never change.

These types of aids were also used in Renaissance Italy, typically made of leather and doused in olive oil for lubrication. High class members of society would even display their sex toys, often made from silver, gold, and ivory. Picture this: you walk into your neighbours house and compliment them on their ‘ever-so-thrilling’ mantle piece adorned with metal appendices in the place of flowers or candles. 

The first dildos didn’t arrive in the UK until the 1500s. The term dildo was first coined in around 1400 AD and originated from the Latin for ‘dilatare’, meaning ‘open wide’. Up until the 1920s, vibrators were used among physicians to ‘massage’ female patients into an orgasm in order to treat them of ‘hysteria’. A devastating, life-threatening, earth-shattering condition that has been recently denominated, 

drumroll please…

‘Female pleasure’: an ailment considered both common and chronic among women. 

Enter: Dr. Macaura’s ‘Pulsocon Hand Crank’ from 1890 (the name alone is as scary as an angry beehive). Apart from being hand-cranked, the mechanics and effectiveness of this Victorian Era device are unknown, and I, personally, am content with such ignorance.‘The Manipulator’ (I know) was another vibrating Victorian favourite, and this steam powered beast was apparently as powerful as it was noisy. 

‘Honey, what’s taking so long in the bathroom?’

Full steam-spunking power from Level One to Eleven.

In 1970 there were fanny-flutters all round as the famous Hitachi Magic Wand entered the market. An MVP in the sex toy world, the GOAT, the Micheal Jordan. Sex Toy Experts say that it is, still to this day, the best plugged vibrator in existence. Imagine 110 volts of alternating currents being transformed into a massive rotating and vibrating power ball of pleasure. 

What is pink, nine-inches long, twirls, flutters and vibrates, and is known for its disarmingly cute bunny ears? ‘The Rabbit’. This vibrator catapulted to fame 20 years ago when it featured on Sex and the City. It became a pop culture sensation and Kim Kattrell single handedly ushered in a new era of sexual consumerism. Thank you Samatha Jones, we are eternally grateful to you. For the first time, female shoppers boldly strutted into sex-toy stores. ‘The Rabbit’ became an instant classic and Sex and the City took vibrators out of the shadows. No need to be plugged in; just a couple of triple AA’s and lift off! 

Nowadays, the sex toy represents autonomy and allows for self-exploration. They are a pink, jiggling symbol of liberation, particularly for women, given the turbulent history of the shaming of female sexuality. The androcentrism of sexuality and typical heterosexual intercourse has created a vast orgasm gap: the marked difference in the frequency of orgasm between cisgender men and women in intercourse. This has pushed women into finding their own pleasure, and toys lend a buzzing helping hand (or member). Post COVID, like Renaissance Italians, we are embracing a new age of sexual pride in our toys. When showing ‘What’s in my bag’ to British Vogue, Emma Corin nonchalantly whips out a little pink lipstick-looking gadget and plainly states ‘my vibrator’. Charlotte York gleefully explained their charming significance: “Oh, it’s so cute! I thought it would be scary and weird, but it isn’t. It’s pink! For girls!”. 

As of a 2021 report by strategy&, the global sexual wellness market is estimated to be worth over $19 billion. The market (rather unsurprisingly) grew by 36.8% over COVID-19 and the forecast for the market is to keep thrusting forward by 7% annually. The popularity of vibrators and dildos has endured since the Roman era, as they account for  27% and 25% of the global market In the UK. You can buy them online at ASOS, Urban outfitters, or Boots to be delivered right to your doorstep (thank me later). 

Gone are the times for a painful and humiliating trip to Ann Summers and cluelessly buying the first thing you see in an attempt to be in and out as quickly as possible. Now, just one click and bzzzzzzz… bring on the Good Vibrations! (treat yourself!)


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