Tomorrow night Heather Shayne Blakeslee will be hosting the Salon. She is a musician, writer, editor, producer, and advocate. Learn more about Heather and Root Quarterly, her new Philadelphia-based journal of art and ideas: https://www.heatherblakeslee.com.
The 30,000 Year History Of The Dildo
From the Stone Age to Ancient Greece to the present, there’s been one tool that nearly every civilization has kept handy.
The 30,000 Year History Of The Dildo
The dildo is not a modern invention. Instead, it is an ancient tool that is believed to date back to the Stone Age.
Archaeologists have attempted to conceive of non-sexual uses for the distinctly-shaped objects of this period that they’ve vaguely referred to as “ice age batons.” However, scientific opinion is gradually shifting toward the idea that these objects were being used for sexual pleasure.
This changing opinion is due to the incredibly detailed nature of a few of the phalluses. For example, some of these objects have retracted or totally absent foreskin, piercings, tattoos, and scars. This specificity — along with their life-size and smooth, polished construction (from siltstone, chalk, or antler bone) — leads scholars to believe that these ancient phalluses were used as dildos.
Following the Stone Age, the ancient Greeks did not look to the outside world for sexual inspiration in terms of their artificial phalluses, but to the inside of the kitchen. One of their most notorious sexual practices is the usage of olisbokollikes, or dildos made entirely out of bread (baguettes, essentially). Images of bread dildos have been recorded in a range of sources, although it’s vague on whether they were used for ritualistic purposes or everyday pleasure.
Furthermore, the Greeks used dildos in other contexts. In Aristophanes’ famous play Lysistrata, for example, Greek women go on a sex strike that leads to a discussion of the use of dildos to satisfy themselves while protesting.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the jaw-dropping wealth of the Western Han dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.) led to incredibly elaborate tombs that held a variety of exquisite items — including a number of ancient sex toys.
Essentially, the Hans believed that their spirits would be living on inside these tombs in the afterlife. And Han royalty expected to maintain the same standard of “living” after death, which means that they took some of their most important possessions with them, including intricate bronze dildos.
These toys were common sexual aids among the Han elites, and were products of high quality. However, although these dildos were toys, they had the additional function of being tools.
“When I say ‘tool,’ I also mean that these phalluses had a larger purpose than sheer physical pleasure,” Jay Xu of San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum told Hyperallergic. “The Han believed that the balance of yin and yang, the female and male spiritual principles, could be achieved during sex…In this regard, sex, especially if it was pleasurable and lasted for a sufficient amount of time, had a real spiritual dimension.”
Thus, for the people of the Han dynasty, the inclusion of these lavish sex toys in their tombs was not a naughty afterthought. Instead, it was a vital step meant to ensure that the deceased would have a peaceful and loving afterlife.
However, moving forward to 16th-18th-century Europe, dildos became more scandalous. For example, Italian writer Pietro Aretino recorded how nuns began to use dildos in the 1500s to “quell the gnawing of the flesh.”
A century later, dildos began to be more readily available to the wealthy, but their increasing ubiquity did not mean that they were condoned in polite society. When the daring John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, imported dildos into England for his sex club in 1670, for example, they were destroyed immediately.
Nevertheless, plenty of people apparently ignored the Wilmot episode and continued to attempt to get their hands on dildos. English women began making their own dildos, in fact, only to be penalized for it once it was made illegal.
At about this same time in Edo-period Japan, people had a far different, and decidedly relaxed, attitude about sex toys. The Japanese depicted these sexual aids in their erotic books and images known as “shunga.” In shunga, women were depicted purchasing and enjoying dildos.
In general, in this type of literature, women were shown as being incredibly sexual, even to the point of being the aggressor. Even after the Japanese government banned shunga in 1722, it flourished in underground markets.
In modern times, the dildo has been made out of a number of materials, but the most successful material by far is the silicone dildo, created by Gosnell Duncan. In 1965, Duncan sustained an injury that left him paralyzed below the waist. His accident inspired him to become active in the disability movement, and advocate for improved and safer options for penile substitutes.
During the 1960s and 1970s, dildos were largely made out of rubber, which was a poor material for the job, as it could not stand a strong washing or heating without losing structural integrity. Moreover, dildos were only sold as medical aids and intended only for straight couples that were struggling with sexual intercourse.
But, in the early 1970s, Duncan created the silicone dildo. He did do so as a medical aid for people with disabilities. However, as we all know, it took off as a product for anyone looking to improve or simply augment their sex lives.
Since Duncan and long before, phallic sex toys throughout history have remained fairly consistent in look, shape, and length — and remained a hidden staple in many of the world’s cultures for millennia.
Today, sex toys are more out in the open and part of an industry that pulled in about $15 billion dollars in 2015 according to Forbes. It’s safe to say that the dildo has come an incredibly long way since the days of stone and antler horn.