Good vibes only: The history of sex toys

From rocks carved into penises to steam-powered vibrators, here's just the tip on a brief history of sex toys that will leave you yearning to know more.

Various sex toys

The history of sex toys is certainly an interesting one, going as far back as the Neanderthals in 29,000 BCE, through the invention of the steam-powered dildo, all the way up to the modern day where some sex toys are linked to apps. Take a journey with me through this fascinating and freaky history.

Our lesson on the history of sex toys begins with the Neanderthals in the Swabian Jura region, of what we now call Germany, who began carving rocks into phallic shapes. We can’t say for sure if these rocks were used as toys, or in fertility ceremonies, or if they just thought it was funny. But what we can say is that these carvings paved the way for generations to come (pun intended).

Jade and bronze butt plugs from over 2,000 years ago were discovered in the tomb of a king near modern-day Shanghai. However, researchers believe that these plugs were actually used to seal a particular orifice in corpses to maintain the chi, the body’s life force and energy. Even if this was true, and the plugs were not used for sexual purposes, why are they quite obviously shaped like a penis?

The Ancient Freaks… I mean, Greeks, are well known for having sex with anyone they fancied regardless of gender, long before the labels we use today were even thought of. They also were very savvy in the materials they used for dildos; everyone has bread in their press so why not fashion a phallic toy out of some stale bread? It’s the eco-friendly and cost-effective way to go!


On our journey through the history of sex toys we take a leap in time to the more modern 1600’s, where lonely French sailors would take “women” made of straw on long voyages. These vintage sex dolls were known as dames de voyage. By this time, Shakespeare was talking about sex toys in his plays, with dildos being mentioned by name in A Winter’s Tale (Act 4, Scene 3, line 210ish for anyone interested). 


Speaking of dildos, in 1869 the steam powered “manipulator” was invented by American physician George Taylor. The contraption consisted of a dildo attached to a steam engine that produced vibrations. It was a hand cranked dildo invented to “cure” “female hysteria.”

In the 1800’s, fragile men began diagnosing anxious or unhappy women with hysteria, the symptoms of which included both sexual desire and a loss of sex drive. So these women were sent to their doctors to receive the pleasure they could not get from their husbands at home.

Unfortunately for these doctors, they started to lose business as at-home remedies were soon invented. In the 1880’s onward, hand cranked vibrators became available for sale. Capable of producing 5,000 vibrations per minute, one end of the “manipulator” was inserted inside the body while you held the other end and manually turned the hand crank.


Thankfully, the 1910’s saw the invention of electric powered sex toys, which had a history of being marketed as scalp and muscle massagers, and pain relievers. Of course they were also advertised as a cure for hysteria, and as such mostly marketed at women.

Some vibrators were marketed towards both men and women as a beauty tool that could be used to help the blood circulate to the face. Such as the Andis Vibrator which is on display in the Antique Vibrator Museum. It came with so many textured add-ons that I personally have a hard time believing it was exclusively used on the face.

The 1970’s saw the invention of the Hitachi Magic Wand, a battery powered massager meant for “serious back pain”… right. Women everywhere began using it for their…uh, back pain, and demand skyrocketed. The ’70s was also the decade that finally saw “massagers” become known as sex aids in the mainstream.


Another major sex toy innovation came in 1995 when the Fleshlight was designed. Originally, it was created to help collect samples from sperm donors, but the inventors quickly saw its wider potential and started selling it online.

Today, we’re living in the Golden Age of sex toys. Some toys have even won awards for technology innovation; such as the Osé pleasure wand, invented by Lora Haddock, which won a CES Innovation Award in 2019 in the robotics and drones category.

So now that you’ve caught up to date, you’re probably curious and interested in buying your own sex toy or seeing what’s available. For the best selection, look no further than Glamworld. Located on Mary Street in Dublin City Centre they have a great selection of modern and body-safe sex toys for all your needs, they also stock outfits, accessories, and all the things you need to spice up your sex life.

And you won’t even have to pretend it’s for “back pain”.

This feature originally appeared in GCN’s Pride issue, which you can read in full here.

© 2022 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

This post is sponsored by Glamworld

This article was published in the print edition Issue No. 372 (June 10, 2022). Click here to read it now.

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Mother's Pride

Issue 372 June 10, 2022

GCN Pride Issue Cover, stars from I'm Grand Mam podcast
June 10, 2022

This article was originally published in GCN Issue 372 (June 10, 2022).

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