Sex & Relationships

Which of These Sex Toys Did Your Ancestors Use?

The oldest known dildo dates back nearly 30,000 years.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

It might be safe to say that trying to be good at sex is what separates humans from animals, who presumably just do what comes naturally. And to be sure, sex itself is good enough fun for an awful lot of us. But being the thinking beings we are, it can also be nice to introduce some variety into the bedroom. Sometimes it’s downright necessary to keep the fires burning. Of course, the desire to play around with different techniques and toys isn’t unique to us modern fornicators. It was true of our ancestors as well. Listed below are some of the most recognizable sex toys that go all the way back to ancient times.  

1. The dildo

When a 28,000-year-old phallus was discovered in Germany, researchers were excited. But they were also a little coy. Archeologists gave the discovery and those like it the name “ice-age batons.” Apparently the word “dildo” was too rude for those in their circle. The term, however, has its own interesting history. The word dildo was coined around 1400 CE, originating from the Latin word “dilartare,” meaning, “open wide.”

Before then, the Greeks referred to these instruments as “oblisbo,” meaning, “to glide, or slip.” They were often given to women when their husbands were away to protect against hysteria, which was then thought to be caused by a lack of sperm. But the dildo made its way outside of sexual scenarios, as well. Phallic symbols were often used to ward off evil. Those living in the ancient city of Pompeii refered to such charms as “fascinum.”

As history dragged on, "improvements" were made. The stone dildo faded in popularity and was replaced by phalluses made of leather, wood and even camel dung.

2. The cock ring

The Chinese introduced the world’s first cock ring around 1200 CE. In contrast to the silicone-grade products on the market today, these were made of cruder material, goat’s eyelids to be exact. In the interest of providing pleasure to the female party, the rings often came with the eyelashes still intact. That way, the lashes could rub against the woman’s clitoris during sex, and (hopefully) bring her to orgasm.

3. The vibrator

Cleopatra is often credited with developing the world’s first vibrator. Legend holds that the Egyptian queen filled a hollow gourd full of bees. When provoked, the buzz from the bees would provide a vibrating sensation. Pleasurable, but risky if the gourd springs a leak. A more modern vibrator was introduced in 18th-century France. The Tremoussoir was a handheld, wind-up contraption. One hundred or so years later, American physician George Taylor invented a steam-powered version called the Manipulator. While in a modern context, most of us equate the word “vibrator” with “pleasure,” 18th-century physicians had a different association in mind. These contraptions frequently used on women who were showing symptoms of “hysteria”  (the Greek word for uterus). Bringing these ladies to orgasm was thought to be an effective cure.

4. The butt plug

In 1892, a visionary by the name of Frank E. Young introduced the American public to the butt plug. The young doctor marketed the 4.5-inch device as a “rectal dilator” meant to cure piles and constipation. These early butt plugs were sold across the United States for a good 40 years before the federal Food Drugs and Cosmetics Act banned them for “false advertising.”

5. Penis extenders

Back in pre-modern times, some not-so-well-endowed men realized their women needed a little something extra to reach orgasm. Fortunately, they had the good sense to create something to help them get there. The Kama Sutra is one of the first texts to make reference to what we now know as “penis extender sleeves.” Its author, Vātsyāyana, recommended wood, leather, ivory, gold, silver, cooper or even buffalo horn as materials from which to carve them. Once assembled, the man could wear the sleeve much like a modern day strap-on. It should be noted that it wasn’t just a small penis that warranted an extender; most men blamed the need for a longer penis on their wives’ unusually “deep” vaginas. 

6. Penis piercings

The Kama Sutra states that the people of southern countries believe true sexual pleasure cannot be obtained without perforating the penis, “like the lobes of ears.” The (at times dangerous) tradition is still around today, known as the “Prince Albert piercing.” But things weren’t so sterile back in the day, and the text recommends that after the penis is pierced, the man should stand in water to let the blood drain. Then he should quickly jump into bed and have sex “with vigor” to clean the hole. Erotic body piercings were popular in other areas as well. It’s said that the Timorese of Indonesia would pierce the frenulum, the elastic ban of tissue located under the glans of the penis, to enhance stimulation during sex. 

Carrie Weisman is an AlterNet staff writer who focuses on sex, relationships and culture. Got tips, ideas or a first-person story? Email her

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