Dildos may seem like a recent development, but in actuality, they are part of a more expansive history of sex toys spanning thousands of years and a variety of stigmas.
Today, sex toys encompass a booming economic market. Forbes reported that the sex toy industry has an overall value of $15 billion. This staggering figure is one that can stand up to numerous other less sexy industries, exemplifying the staying power that sex toys have.
Though the sex toy is thriving today, the history of the dildo and its assorted offshoots is one that is much longer.
According to an article in All That’s Interesting (ATI), archeologists have recently unearthed evidence of dildos dating as far back as the stone age. These dildos were made of antler bone, chalk, and siltstone. Once debated, the objects were determined to be penises after it was made clear by the detailed nature of the objects including, foreskin, piercings, and tattoos accompanying the objects.
Later, in the Classical Era, the Greeks were responsible for innovating the dildo by way of using what were essentially baguettes and other household items for sexual pleasure. According to an article in Complex, the Greeks were able to experiment more with sexual pleasure because of their lack of stigma around sex, further advancing the innovative and ever-changing history of the dildo.
At the same time, according to ATI, in China during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - 220 A.D.), sex toys were used in ritual burials. Consistent with other religious beliefs, the dildos found in the ancient tombs of China allowed the buried to “maintain the same standard of living” as they did in life. This stands as a testament to the cultural ubiquity and the lasting power that the dildo had in ancient times, paralleling the modern day.
The dildo even graced the likes of England’s most sacred literature. In England, many centuries later, Shakespeare referenced them in “A Winter’s Tale," where a peddler sings songs “with such delicate burthens of dildos and fadings, ‘jump her and thump her.’”
Later, yet another example of a literary dildo evidence surfaced. According to ATI, during the 1700s in Japan, the dildo and other sex toys were ubiquitous in their usage. There were many references in literature and other media that revolved around the dildo and other types of female sexual pleasure. There were erotic books such as the “shunga” which depicted women using dildos. However, in 1722 the Japanese government banned the books.
In 1899, the first battery-operated vibrators were invented. According to Complex, they were marketed as “home appliances” to women. However, the inception of the vibrator happened a little earlier, in 1743, as a way to cure hysteria — a made-up diagnosis that usually meant a woman was being “over-emotional.” By the 20th century, the vibrators were marketed toward women as a device specifically for their pleasure rather than a “medical” aid.
Moving on to the post-1960s, dildos have had a more restrictive history. Throughout the 1960s and ‘70s they were only available for heterosexual couples who needed sexual aid for medical reasons. This limited their use as a tool for pleasure, further relating to the sexual censure of the time.
Meanwhile, the invention of the silicone dildo was pioneered as a more effective method of authoring sexual pleasure, as they had previously been made of rubber and were not durable.
In the 21st century, Dildos have had a litany of legal issues associated with them. The ongoing narrative associated with the dildo is one of stigmatization and criminalization. In an effort to repress the use of sex toys, some counties in the U.S. have gone so far as to attempt to regulate the sale of sex toys. According to a news report in Lubbock, Texas, in 2007 a lingerie store was accused of violating the state obscenity laws because of their sale of dildos. The possession of six or more devices violates the law.
Similarly, the Supreme Court of Alabama approved the Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act in 1998, which made the sale of any sex toys illegal. In an article by the Huffington Post, the author details how the law in place slaps harsh sentences on those who violate it. Even after an 11-year court battle, Alabama still upholds this law. Violators could be met with up to $10,000 in fines and repeat offenders could face a 10-year prison sentence.
Where we are now with the dildo is not where we have always been. There has been a narrative of sexual censure throughout history, but new laws and ideologies reinforce the public stigma around sex and sexual desire.
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