Humans have been
using sex toys for an extraordinarily long time. Bonobos and apes indulge in sexual play, so it's not really surprising; but we've been discovering sex toys that are up to 30,000 years old, made from chalk, stone, and other crude materials (though anything would look a bit beaten up if it was that old). "Marital aids," as you could call them if you were coy, have been at the forefront of human invention for much of our time on Earth; but there have been some examples that are so stunning, so bonkers, or so absolutely disgusting that they deserve our special attention. You'll grip your humble vibrator a little closer while reading about these bizarre sex toys in history.
It's a serious misunderstanding in the modern world that we didn't truly "understand" human sexuality, or the female orgasm, until fairly recently. Many civilizations have known about, and invested in,
sexual pleasure in both genders for centuries, and gone to some pretty spectacular lengths to make sure everybody was happy, from penis insertions to dildos made of breadsticks.
Up until relatively recently in Western medicine, the female orgasm was
considered necessary for the procreation of children, so trust me, we haven't spent a lot of time being frigid. But the human imagination has led us to some fairly ridiculous inventions for the furthering of sexual pleasure.
A Goat's Eyelid Cock Ring
Francois Nel/Getty Images News/Getty Images
This tends to pop up a lot in histories of odd sex toys, but there's a good reason for it: it's phenomenally disgusting. The basic principle is that a goat eyelid is made into a circle of skin, with eyelashes still attached, and used as a kind of penis ring to stimulate erection.
Some historians date this to the
Jing and Song dynasties in China, but it may also have originated from a fascinating book of anthropology published in 1935, which said it occurred in certain Indonesian islands. (It's worth a read, if you're not squeamish; other sex aids noted by the authors, from various tribes worldwide, included the insertion of a brass wire into the penis, putting little gold and silver beads under its head, and binding it up with a bit of bird-down to tickle the sex partner at the same time.)
Historians of ancient China have noted that there was a rich vein of sex toys in its culture.
One expert notes a few that are outrageous enough to surprise even modern readers: one, the "Cantonese groin," was a root sufficiently penis-shaped to be used as a dildo by peasant women, but it's the "Burmese balls" that are the really weird ones.
According to records, people in the Ming dynasty used tiny bell or ball-shaped objects made of copper or gold, and supposed to contain the sperm of a mythical Burmese bird who had a famous sexual appetite. (Catching the sperm involved a fake woman made of straw. No, really.) If men inserted the small balls into their penises, they'd enjoy sex more.
Vulture's Lungs Wrapped In Crane Skin & Bat's Blood For Virility
Leave it to Pliny the Elder, the ancient Roman writer, to come up with one of the oddest marital aids in history. His records seem to indicate that this cure is a kind of cross between a sex toy and an aphrodisiac; "the right lobe of a vulture's lungs,"
he notes in his , "attached to the body in the skin of a crane, acts powerfully as a stimulant upon males." The same effects on the other gender can be achieved with "bat's blood ... received on a flock of wool and placed beneath a woman's head." Pendants and charms to help desire and performance have been a part of the sexual arsenal of many cultures. Natural History
The ancient Greeks really knew how to have a good time on a budget. One of their recorded sexual practices is the
usage of or dildos made entirely out of bread (baguettes, basically). Images of breadstick dildos olisbokollix, have been found in various sources, although it's not clear whether or not they were used for obscure ritual purposes or for normal everyday pleasure. The Greeks definitely used dildos in other contexts; the play Lysistrata, about women who go on sex strike, includes a discussion of the use of dildos to satisfy themselves while protesting.
So there you have it: No, you are not the only person who's loved bread so much you wanted to have sex with your baguette.
Nobody does a good time like the royal family. That at least was the case with King Edward VII of England, who
used the services of the Parisian bordello Le Chabanais on various occasions while a young prince, including on this spectacular chair. It's designed, as you may have guessed, to take the prince's weight while performing or experiencing sex acts, often with more than one woman at a time. Edward, or Bertie, was not the most brilliantly agile of men, and the specially constructed chair was designed so he'd have to do as little moving as possible.
Descartes' Rumored Sexual Automaton
This is scurrilous gossip, which is the best kind. According to legend, the philosopher Rene Descartes
set sail for Denmark in 1650 with a "woman" in his cabin, whom he dubbed Francine (the name of his long-dead daughter) and never took out to show off. Apparently, the sailors grew curious, broke into the cabin, and found that Francine was actually a leather-and-metal automaton, one which could apparently move rather like a human. The sailors, bewildered and scandalized, threw it overboard.
There are a few reasons why this story may not be about a sex toy at all. One is that Descartes was known to be fascinated by automata, and may have simply built "Francine" for the sake of exploring mechanics (not getting busy). The other is that the first "blow-up dolls" in history were actually the product of seamen of earlier centuries;
, as they were called, were human-shaped bundles of straw dressed in women's clothes and used for sexual gratification by sailors. Descartes' automaton, if it existed, may have been for his sexual delight — but if the sailors threw it overboard for being sinful, it's a case of pot calling kettle black. dames de voyage
The Steam-Powered Vibrator
The uses and ideas behind the vibrator have been vigorously debated by historians (the idea that the Victorians "invented" it, for instance, have been
debunked by Victorian expert Fern Riddell), but even though the vibrating devices invented at the time weren't intended for sexual use, it seems that some doctors were worried they'd be taken awry. The American inventor George Taylor patented a steam-powered one in 1869, but cautioned against women using it too much in case of "over-indulgence." Which sounds to me as if, while he likely knew there were much faster ways for people to get off, he was concerned that his strictly medical device would be used for ill. Because a woman satisfied is a very powerful thing, indeed.