The thought of owning sex toys would either make a person shudder, teeter into fits of laughter or spark up an interesting debate over the moral grounding behind the ownership of such devices. However, what some of the more prudent individuals do not know is that toys that perform sexual pleasures have been around for a lot longer than they know. Of course these older forms of play equipment are nothing like what we see today, yet using extra instruments to spice up one's sex life was prominent even in prehistoric period.
Sex toys were not always rubber or latex based. In fact the earlier known toys were the penis shaped like objects which we call dildos today, dating as far back as the Palaeolithic period, almost 30,000 years ago. Early Palaeolithic art depict images of these shaped objects as objects of pleasure, proving that even before the development of the wheel people were using objects to pleasure them. It is believed that these were made from animal skin or even whale bone!
Ancient Greece were also big on using sex toys. The word dildos is derived from the Greek word 'olisbos' and appeared in much of their art and literature dating as far back as the third and fourth century BC. Some of the ancient artefacts consisted of images painted onto a vase, depicting a double-headed dildo. The Greeks did not classify themselves with sexual preferences like we do (heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual etc) making the images quite a common thing to see. The ancient society was very patriarchal and women were on average ten or twenty years older than their husbands.
The ancient Egyptians were also known to have used early forms of sex toys, with reported stories of Cleopatra having a number of objects to keep her company. There are evidence of the dildo being a familiar object, through paintings and images. As there are no plausible answers to the exact accuracy of an Egyptian person's sexual appetite one can only assume that using toys was not taboo.
Ancient China has also been a surprising inclusion in the world of erotic objects with evidence coming from erotic art, some of which are displayed in the Hong Kong Museum of History. The ancient Chinese bronze sex toy dates back to the Han Dynasty just over 2000 years ago.
One cannot ignore the Roman Empire, due to the reports on flagrant wild sex. The word sex is derived from the Latin word sexus, in which the word is commonly associated with dildos and other sex toys of this period. However, as the Middle Ages approached (476 AD to 1453 AD) the Roman Catholic Church deemed any form of sexual pleasure as being the work of the Devil. The Church persecuted those who acted freely in their sexual desires; those that were caught committing to such acts were held in shackles or burnt at the stake. Men and women were made to cover themselves up from neck to feet therefore modesty was imperative to their survival.
It would come as no surprise then that the 12th century men in Europe were using chastity belts as a method of keeping their women faithful. This was made from leather that had a metal band and was tightened by the husband and then secured with a padlock. The Victorian era was also a period where sex toys were seen as taboo objects, along with erotic art or images. Ironically this was the exact period in which rubber dildos and vibrators were created. These were much more realistic, hygienic and more comfortable than earlier toys.
Of course vibrators were not known as vibrators and were referred to as massagers. They were most popular with women who would purchase them on the open market or use them in health spas, which would stock an elegant array of alternatives. These were also used to treat women with hysteria, by doctors around 1880, with the first battery operated vibrator invented by a British doctor. Much of our contemporary toys are all as a result of the Victorian designs and are more closely related to them than any of the other toys previously used.
It would not be until the early 1920's that word was spreading around about how vibrators were a satisfactory and helpful aid to stimulating sex in marriage. It became a trendy gift for men to give to their wives believing that this would help to keep them pretty and prevent hysteria. This was also around the time of when pornographic films and 'blue movies' were being made, making the use of sex toys more common for pleasure rather than for medicinal purposes.
And so we finally come to the 1960's where free love and having multiple partners was all the rage! Sex toys were available for purchase from special retail outlets, making them increasingly popular. Thanks to the Hippies of the 60's, these toys are now readily available on the internet and easier to locate than they had been in the past. Vast quantities can now be found online or in specific retail shops, from a range of colours, brands, materials and sizes, depending on what suits the individual. The design of each toy is based on further knowledge about people's needs, now that sex is not so much of a taboo subject people are much more aware of what makes them feel better.
Anna Stenning is an expert on the history of sex toys having researched and studied Sexology.