A Brief History Of Sex Toys

A look back on 2000 years of sex toys...

by Alicia | 12 May 2021

From the negatives to the positives, we’ll explore the history of sex toys – dating way back to the BC’s!

We still live in a world where society frowns upon us exploring and discovering our individual sexualities. It’s no surprise however, considering the past that sex toys have had. They were (and still are to some extent) perceived as dangerous weapons. Society puts efforts into hiding them and keeping them discreet. Some people are even ashamed to admit that they use them!

Infact, the only time that sex toys have received much airtime is during execcsively sexualised film scenes – such as Fifty Shades Of Grey. The issue is, is that we don’t normalise sex toys. A time that they were, can date back in the late 1800’s where they received airtime in places such as The New York Times, however they were rarely advertised for ‘pleasure’, instead more as a cure… 


500 BC Phallus

500’s BC:

To start of the history of sex toys, let’s go way back. Phalluses were carved out of stone, leather, wood, tar and sometimes even unripe bananas! These phalluses had multiple purposes in countries such as Greece, Italy and Turkey. With different uses in each country – from symbols of marital sex, to trade items in Miletus for wives sexual penetration whilst husbands were absent. In Renaissance Italy, people made these phallus objects from leather and people used them with olive oil for lubrication. 

High class members of society would even display their sex toys. People made these toys from silver, gold and ivory.


1400’s –

This was when the first term “Dildo” came about. It derives from the Latin word ‘dilitare’ = ‘open wide’ and the Italian word ‘diletto’ = ‘delight’. Many traded them however many found them uncomfortable and painful – so they didn’t fully take off until a bit later!



1700’s –

This was the official first vibrator the ‘Tremoussoir’. The French created it in order to help cure ‘Hysteria’. Hysteria was a condition in women that Hippocrates and Galen discovered. The womb caused this condition. The condition then caused many issues in women. Issues such as insomnia, anxiety, bloating, loss and gain of appetite etc. They found that the root of these issues were due to sexual deprivation! Society heavily discouraged masturbation, and doctors didn’t have the time to see these women. The French made the Tremoussoir to relieve the women of their troubles!


scary vibrator


Similar to the Tremoussoir, the Manipulator was created by Dr George Taylor. Similar to the French design, the Taylor created the Manipulator with the intent to climax. It stimulated the clitoris and vagina by literally rubbing and penetrating! It saved doctors’ time and the ‘toy’ further gave women the ‘cure’ for hysteria. The manipulator’s usages were simply health, although who knows, women may have faked it to use it!


1883 –

Dr Joseph Granville found that although the previous vibrator machines had great use, they had a downfall. This was that they were all powered by hand or steam – which can be pretty tiring. He found ways to produce an electro-mechanical vibrator – using electricity. This meant that they were faster, stronger and much easier to use. How uncomfortable they were however, we can’t tell you for sure – but they don’t look the most luxurious! A common misconception however is that Granville’s electric device was for women’s hysteria. Actually, Granville had designed them for men:


1900’s –

Many of the ‘vibrators’ and machines that were around were for male impotence. Yep! That’s right. They were infact used for male health issues – from headaches and irritability to erectile dysfunction and constipation.

Although there is proof in the early stages (as with the Manipulator and Hand Vibrator) that the machines were for female hysteria, it was later founded as nonsense. There are theories as to why this was – for instance maybe society had found out that women were getting sexual satisfaction from these machines and so a stop was put to them.


1915 –

American Medical Association – Vibrators were found ‘ineffective’ to treat hysteria as mentioned above, however whether this was to hide the true disgrace of women receiving sexual gratification we will never know. And the AMA vowed the vibrators ‘ineffective at “treating hysteria”. The American Medical Association named the industry “a delusion and a snare” in an attempt to put an end to vibrators. The makers of vibrators then saw to change tactics and target their products as “Home appliances”, from curing wrinkles and malaria to adding extra beauty!


Polar club vibrator

1920’s – 1950’s

As vibrators became more and more popular under new identities, people soon started to realise that actually masturbation with these worked. Alfred Kinsey released some findings in 1954 that 62% of women had masturbated. Although he didn’t mention vibrators or any sexual aids it was clear that female sexuality was slowly starting to spill out. Magazines back then regularly published vibrators and sexual aids (such as The Polar Club), as “Superior Beauty Aids”. Magazines advertised them as machines to transform the face and body. They became incredibly popular, and all stores sold them. Even including a large department store called Sears in the late 1950’s. They advertised and marketed their product as something which gives you “that great to be alive feeling”!



Magic Wand

1960’s – 1970’s –

Although sexuality was being celebrated and explored during these decades, with things like the birth control pill and other forms of contraception being easily available, it might be surprising to know that female masturbation was still sincerely frowned upon and discouraged. For instance, in 1973 Texas put a law into place (the “Obscene Device Law”). Texas made devices illegal for anyone. This was in an attempt to put a stop to female masturbation and sexuality.

Although some places made attempts, it seemed that society as a whole was actually on the opposite side of the argument. A whole new world of female sexuality exploration came about. From changing the name of vibrators to ‘personal massagers’, it enabled shops to open (for instance Eve’s Garden in New York). Further, Betty Dodson began women-only masturbation workshops in New York City thus massively opening the taboo topic of female masturbation.


Purple DIldo


In 1983, Vibratex became the first company to sell vibrators and sex toys globally. To get around the strict laws in Japan, Vibratex made the vibrators bright coloured and animal themed. They all predisposed the way for the sex toy industry. Most of the famous models which Vibratex sold were the beaver, kangaroo and turtle but by far the most popular was the rabbit. One which is still extremely popular today!


Loads of vibrators


Today – It’s hard to measure how far we’ve come with the history of sex toys since the start, as although for many of us in the UK, Europe and parts of the USA we are liberated with sexuality and can explore ours whether it be buying sex toys in store, online or even just speaking about it. Society still oppresses many people’s sexualities – for instance sex toys are still illegal in many countries today; including: 

  • Maldives, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Saudia Arabia, United Arab Emirates. Even in some states in the USA it is illegal to use or purchase them – as in Alabama and Texas!

As a society, we still have a lot of work to do. We can work to ensure that our individual sexuality and liberties are not being denied! Let’s keep changing the history of sex toys.