Pop quiz: When were sex toys invented?
If you said any time within the last 100 years, you’re off by… well, a lot. Sex toys have appeared in drawings and poetry dating back thousands of years. In fact, one ancient sex toy was found in Germany and is believed to have been created in 2800 BC (5).
As you may have guessed, the designs of early sex toys were pretty different from what you might have hanging out in your bedside drawer. They were typically either makeshift objects used for vaginal insertion, or specifically-designed dildos crafted from wood or leather. To use these comfortably, the ancient people would use olive oil as a lubricant (1).
Thankfully, sex toys continued to evolve as time went on. The first vibrator was invented in the mid 1800s by doctors, who believed that stimulating women could treat a host of medical issues, such as now-debunked “hysteria” (2). This practice phased out when doctors realized this treatment was ineffective — after all, you can’t exactly “treat” a diagnosis that is rooted in sexism.
As people began to adopt vibrators and other developed toys into their personal repertoires, the products also became more taboo. This didn’t stop the industry from growing, especially in the 1970s.
The expanding space was largely dominated by male inventors, who were more often than not single-minded about the belief that all toys should be phallic. Thankfully, that’s changing — the sex toy industry is becoming a more gender-neutral space, and there are innovative options for everyone (3)
A word of caution: The FDA doesn’t regulate what toys are made of, so it’s worth checking what your toy is made from before you put it anywhere near your or a partner’s body. My best recommendation is to steer clear of the super cheap toys, and stay wary of more expensive ones for your own health. If you think I’m being hyperbolic, know this: Some sex toy manufacturers use ingredients that aren’t even allowed for use in children’s toys. Many of these harmful ingredients can cause skin irritations or infections:
- Propylene glycol
If you use your toy for vaginal or anal insertion, it’s worth being extra cautious: Unsafe ingredients can enter the bloodstream through the walls of the vaginal canal, or in microtears in the skin. These toxins can then act as endocrine disruptors, which affect the hormones, and wreck everything from your mood to your menstruation, just to name a few health issues(2).
Be sure to vet the company you’re buying your toys from. Reputable ones will be transparent about their manufacturing processes, and just as cautious about their toys’ use.
Sex Toy Store Recommendations
Whether you’re looking for your first toy or a new one, here are some great go-to’s:
Common Questions and Concerns
How to Choose a Sex Toy
Here’s the fun part: There’s no one answer for what kind of sex toy will “work” for you!
That said, there are a few sex toy options that can be good entryway picks for beginners. The bullet vibrator is a simple but effective clitoris-stimulating tool; not only are many of them fairly inexpensive but they are also small and make relatively little noise. For penis-focused toys, you can try the fleshlight or pocket pulse. If you’re looking for a first toy to use with a partner, you can try using a cock ring or specially-shaped toys meant for partner play.
Can Men Use Vibrators or Are They Just For Women?
Contrary to popular belief, vibrators can be used by anyone. The most frequently purchased sex toy is built to stimulate nerve endings, so that means the majority of options are technically unisex. While much of the branding for popular vibrators is geared toward women, it’s worth choosing your toy by what interests you, not by societal stereotypes about who is using it.
In less secure relationships, it’s not uncommon for a partner feeling a sense of competition with any sex toys. Many people worry that a sex toy could replace them in their partner’s bed — and by extension, their life — or that it offers a “better” experience. It’s always important to communicate with your partner, and that includes talking about how toys are just one of the many ways to enjoy a sexual experience, whether solo or partnered. You can also try introducing the idea of using the toy together, so your partner feels put at ease — and might even appreciate the same pleasure you do.
Will They Desensitize You?
It’s time to bust a common myth: Sex toys will not desensitize your genitals or make you unable to have partnered orgasm. Simply put, this isn’t something you need to worry about.
It’s true that some toys, such as vibrators, often offer many people a faster way to orgasm. So, if you notice that your manual efforts or partnered sex take a bit longer to bring you to the edge than your trusty bullet does, don’t worry; While sex toys can be efficient, the additive time of other methods can result in a more satisfying orgasm.
Therefore, at the end of the day, teaching your body multiple ways of experiencing pleasure will only benefit you.
- Barnette, Kristi. “A Look into the Past and Future of Sex Toys.” Historical Honey, 14 Feb. 2016, historicalhoney.com/look-past-future-sex-toys/.
- The Sex Issue: Everything You've Always Wanted to Know about Sexuality, Seduction, and Desire. Grand Central Life & Style, 2018.
- Curtis, Cara. “Female-Founded Companies Are Making Better Sex Toys and Confronting Taboos.” The Next Web, 20 Dec. 2018, thenextweb.com/tech/2018/12/19/female-founded-companies-are-making-better-sex-toys-and-confronting-taboos
- Petrarca, Emilia. “Introducing Dame Products, the Glossier of Female Vibrators.” W Magazine, 1 July 2017, www.wmagazine.com/story/dame-products-the-glossier-of-female-vibrators.
- “Sex Toys: A Short Version of a Rather Long History.” Core77, Feb. 2017, www.core77.com/posts/47207/Sex-Toys-A-Short-Version-of-a-Rather-Long-History.