The World's Weirdest Sex Machines

Take one bicycle rim, three pairs of used women's shoes, and voila!
Mel Gordon

In 1926 Herr Bauer, a 41-year-old resident of Augsburg, Germany, publicly demonstrated his "Bachelor Motor," a masturbation device built from old wooden spools, a bicycle rim, three pairs of used women's shoes, and a metal chain gear.

A few years earlier, Bauer's neighbors had observed him rubbing his penis against a cow's stomach, after which he inserted his erect member into the vagina of a nearby calf. The vigilant Augsburgers informed the police. On still another occasion, Bauer's 72-year old mother was found naked and unconscious with her legs spread open. Authorities suspected incest, and forbade him from having further sexual contact with relatives or animals.

Desperate for sexual release, the enterprising Bauer constructed his shoe-and-wheel masturbation contraption, one of hundreds of such curious inventions that form the little-known history of sexual machinery.

Mechanical aids for sexual gratification were probably among the first human tools ever invented. Nineteenth-century European anthropologists were shocked to discover complex dildos that squirted warm seminal-like fluids, sophisticated vibrating instruments, "penile strengtheners," and other such erotic apparatuses in isolated African and Asian villages. One local community was celebrated throughout the Malay countryside only for its production of hairy "widow satisfiers." Who knew? The technology of sex was not all that primitive among the pre-literates.

Dr. James Graham is generally credited as the first pioneer of high-tech erotica. A British physician who lived at the time of the American Revolution, Graham traveled to Philadelphia to investigate Ben Franklin's electrical experiments. When he returned to London in 1775, Graham began to proselytize an intriguing theory: electricity was the antidote to sexual laxity. Four years later, he opened one of the most astonishing sites in sex history, the "Temple of Health and Hymen." It was a gallery of erotic delights, house of worship, theater palace, and futuristic medical clinic all combined into one bizarre vision. To fascinated Londoners, the Temple must have appeared like Plato's Retreat as designed by Evangelical engineers from NASA.

Breathtaking young women in diaphanous gowns greeted the Temple revelers. (The notorious Lady Hamilton got her start here as one of Graham's nude "Guardians of Divine Health.") Each of the Temple rooms in the three-tiered mansion was devoted to some sensual/technological aspect of Graham's True Church doctrine, a religious concept that was greatly enhanced by the various ether concoctions hawked in the foyer.

The "Celestial Bed," the centerpiece of the Temple, was located on the second floor. For 50 pounds, adventurous couples could purchase an evening of divine ecstasy on a rocking, 12" x 9" domed bed-platform. Built over 40 hydraulic lifts and framed by mirrors -- with a bedside panel for programming a mechanical symphony of music and scents -- the C-Bed resembled nothing so much as an Austin Powers' fantasy. What distinguished it from the run-of-the-mill Pocono honeymoon suite, however, was Graham's use of electrical current.

Hundreds of strategically placed magnetic lodestones and an enormous generator created a magical ring of "electric fire" that showered the bed with "Elysian" sparks and heated the aphrodisiac-laced mattress coils. Graham promised barren lords and ladies that a single night on his C-Bed would cure them of their impotence or sterility and guarantee the production of a cherished heir. On the headboard, under the automated canopy, was the biblical inscription: "BE FRUITFUL, MULTIPLY AND REPLENISH THE EARTH." Coitus was never so scientifically and religiously facilitated.

The Temple and its many rejuvenating gadgets dazzled London for six years. (Boxes of Graham's wondrous pamphlets and patented designs still fill a special locker in the British Museum.) But ether-addiction brought down the doctor, and he was last reported running stark naked through the streets of London's East Side.

Advances in cheap technology and faith in scientific therapies exploded in the second part of the nineteenth century. Most German and American inventions related to sex, however, were promoted as anti-erotic mechanisms -- essentially, spring-latched chastity belts, hydro-pumps to "flush" the female body of "unnatural" impulses, and prickly anti-masturbation devices. Fredrick Winslow Taylor, the leading practitioner of modern time-and-motion studies, even patented a wacky electrical coil to prevent nocturnal emissions among wet-dreaming teenage boys.

What we might consider sex machines today were thinly disguised as electric facial massagers, "calmative" vibrators or vaginal electrodes. The Sears, Roebuck catalogues at the turn of the century offered more than a dozen female "aids" that could be hooked up to fan belts, radiators and household mixers. Less discrete onanistic apparatuses, like the "Climbing Monkey" (a popular windup toy) and various pedal-driven "gratifiers," were available in brothel districts and back-alley bicycle shops in all the major cities.

Startling innovations in armaments, communications and artificial energy also stimulated a parallel underground sex industry in the 1910s and 1920s. "Rejuvenation" machines, which were said to harness the power of radium and radio waves, promised sexual potency only previously known to ancient gods and tantric masters. Much of the AMA's earliest newsletters were devoted to combating such claims and savagely punishing the quack purveyors. Local authorities and postal inspectors forbade even erotic mechanisms that obviously satisfied their randy clients. But illicit or not, sex machines were in great demand. And like banned firearms, pulsating dildos, flagellation and friction mechanisms, virile radiation kits and penile vacuum hoses were advertised under an array of phony names and lugubrious descriptions.

During the sex revolution of the 1960s, machine-generated or sex-aid pleasures ranged from female vibrators and plastic blowup dolls to the full armature of the SM scene. Science- fiction parodies like Barbarella and Sleeper fantasized about the techno-sex world of the future, which today is rapidly becoming a reality. For $3000 to $5000, adventurous pleasure-seekers can purchase state-of-the-art sex toys through such websites as,, and

Mel Gordon is Professor of Theatre Arts at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent book, "Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World Of Weimar Berlin" is published by Feral House and will be available later this year.

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