The history of masturbation, at least for women and people with vulvas, is littered with misinformation and myths. Masturbation is, of course, as old as human history, and sex toys—like prehistoric dildos—are nearly as ancient. As our founder & CEO Lora Haddock DiCarlo loves to remind people, the oldest dildo is about 28,000 years old—while the wheel is only 3,500 years old.
To understand how we arrived at high-tech sex toys like wifi-operated vibrators, personal pleasure microrobots, and even sexting, it’s important to understand the millennia of history that came before it. The benefits of masturbation include boosts to emotional, physical and mental well-being, and since May is Masturbation Month, there’s no better time to brush up on the history of masturbation and learn about some of the oldest sex toys in the world.
One of the most common myths in the history of masturbation is the idea that Cleopatra used to use a gourd full of bees as a vibrator. While it’s an intriguing story, there’s no historical evidence to prove this is true.
In the Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices, Brenda Love claimed Cleopatra used the gourd for clitoral stimulation, and the story has been repeated in other histories of vibrators. But historian Helen King said there’s no evidence this actually happened. Love’s book cites no sources and other historians have never found any writings or artifacts to support the story of Cleopatra’s invention, or whether it would be effective.
The Oldest Dildo
The oldest known dildo in the world was found in Germany and outdates the wheel by at least 24,000 years. The phallus, about 20 cm of highly polished siltstone, was discovered near Hohle Fels Cave near Ulm, Swabia, by a Tübingen University team.
Experts on the team who discovered the stone model say it was likely used as a prehistoric sex toy, suggestively noting just how “highly polished” it was. The team also stated that female genitalia models were more common, and that a male model is quite rare given the time period it was created in.
Jumping ahead several thousand years in history brings us to the Victorian period, in which the first real electromechanical vibrators were developed. Personal massagers were marketed in the late 1800s and early 1900s as cure-alls for multiple ailments like chest congestion, arthritis and headaches, but they had more effective and pleasurable purposes for women. As these devices became more readily available, the benefits of masturbation were suddenly more accessible.
There are conflicting reports about other uses, including for “hysteria,” which women were often diagnosed with during the time period. The 2011 film “Hysteria,” based on the 1998 book by Rachael Maines, featured English physician Joseph Mortimer Granville and his 1883 electric vibrator. In the film it’s depicted as a solution for the outdated diagnosis and offered an alternative to the intrusive pelvic exams and massages often prescribed as treatment.
Both the book and the film take artistic liberty with facts, and Maines herself admitted that the vibrator likely wasn’t invented for this purpose.
“People just loved my hypothesis and that’s all it is really, it’s a hypothesis, that women were treated with massage for this disease, hysteria… and that the vibrator was invented to treat this disease,” Maines later said. “Well, people just thought this was such a cool idea that people believed it, that it’s like a fact. And I’m like, ‘It’s a hypothesis! It’s a hypothesis!’”
The Magic Wand
In the late 1960s, now-nonagenarian sex educator Betty Dodsen began teaching workshops on female masturbation and genital stimulation, often in groups, encouraging women to become more comfortable with their bodies and how to pleasure themselves.
During the 70s, Dodsen became an avid promoter of the Magic Wand, a highly effective massager also used as a vibrator. With her support, the iconic design became one of the most recognizable in history and is hailed by many as the best women’s vibrator. Dodsen is still an activist and was recently interviewed in the New York TImes, offering insight on the benefits of masturbation and the importance of taking power and responsibility over orgasms.
“A real orgasm,” Dodson said, “is something that no matter where it comes from, a woman takes for herself.”
While many readers may fall somewhere else on the gender spectrum, the Magic Wand remains a popular tool for orgasms and clitoral stimulation. One of the many benefits of masturbation, as Dodsen taught, is the ability to easily reach climax using toys like the Wand.
The Rabbit Vibe
In the 1980s, Babeland introduced the rabbit vibe in their Seattle shop, and a new star was born. Shortly after, the Sex and the City writers did an episode on the new vibrator, and with millions of viewers, helped make conversations about female masturbation more common and mainstream.
The rabbit vibe has continued to enjoy popularity despite more technological developments, and can still be found in many sex toy stores and online shops around the world.
Sex toys, vibrators and other devices today are more advanced than German prehistoric dildo carvers could have ever imagined. Wifi, remote-operated vibrators give partners and sex workers the opportunity to enjoy and display masturbation online, even when thousands of miles apart. Products like Lora DiCarlo’s personal microrobots offer features that mimic human touch and intimacy with G-spot stimulation designed with the “come-hither” motion to mimic human fingers, and clitoral suction that feels like the intimate touch of a partner’s mouth and tongue.
Many innovations like Lora DiCarlo’s are made by female-founded companies, allowing people with vulvas to own a vibrator designed by a woman. In many cases, the best sex toys for women are made by women, and anyone can now own an award-winning, woman-designed vibrator. The age of sextech is here, and it’s female led. What better way to celebrate Masturbation Month than with a new high tech toy designed to intimately stimulate and care for all your most sensitive parts—made by teams who care deeply about femme pleasure.