When you think of adult or sex toys, you probably have an image of some gadget that runs on batteries or plugs in, but in reality, sex toys have been around for centuries and humans have been making dildos from whatever supplies they had access to. They started with stones and bones, then moved to marble and metal, then even bread (FYI -  the use of bread as a dildo is not advisable today.) We finally settled into our modern-day use of plastic and rubber.

The oldest sex toy known is dated around 28,000 BC when Neanderthals in the Swabian Jura region (what is now Germany) began carving rocks into phallic figures. We don't know for sure whether they were using them as sex toys, for fertility rituals, or whether they just thought it was funny to carve penis rocks, but we do know that they paved the way for today's sex toy industry. Ultimately, their true meaning and if they were used as dildos, tools, or ritual items remains a mystery. Though they provide insight into the importance of erections in the minds of our ancestors.

Sex toy creation got a little more creative in 500 BC when ancient Greeks started innovating dildos using all kinds of materials. Some were made out of brass or stuffed leather. Miletan traders sold what the Greeks called olisbos. The Greeks also pioneered lube by using olive oil.  

By 1300 AD the sex toy industry had really taken off. China innovated Ben Wahh Balls filled with animal semen to increase men’s pleasure during intercourse. Proto-penis rings (now known as cock rings) were made of goat eyelids with eyelashes intact. The eyelids were tied around men’s erections, and the lashes were said to increase lovers’ pleasure. (That’s not weird at all.) The actual word dildo wasn't coined until around 1400 AD, though, during the Italian renaissance. It stems from dilett o, which means pleasure. 

During the first few decades of the 19th century Holywell Street in London put out radical publications flamed by the French Revolution. The street was a hotbed of radical thinkers, police spies, informers and publishers who regularly committed acts of sedition, blasphemy and obscenity. Comic books were produced depicting the foolish behaviors of the Prince Regent, his brothers and their mistresses while churchmen, bishops and nuns were featured in group sex engravings. By 1834 there were an estimated 57 porn shops in Holywell Street selling novels, prints, etchings, catalogues on prostitute services, guides for Victorian homosexuals and flagellation connoisseurs. 

In 1869 the vibrator was developed by an American physician, George Taylor, M.D. It was a large, steam-powered contraption recommended to treat “female hysteria.” Hysteria, from the Greek for “suffering uterus,” involved anxiety, irritability, sexual fantasies, and “excessive” vaginal lubrication—in other words, sexual arousal during the Victorian era, a time when women were not considered to be sexual. The machine called “the manipulator,” was used to massage a woman’s vulva until they experienced sudden, dramatic relief through “paroxysm” (orgasm), thus relieving the symptoms of hysteria.1882 saw the debut of the electric vibrator. They were smaller and less cumbersome than Taylor’s steam-powered contraption. The new and improved vibrator was a battery-powered massager designed by British physician Joseph Mortimer Granville and featured attachments similar to those in today’s vibrator kits.

From 1900-1920 the vibrator became increasingly popular. As electricity became more available in homes around the United States, plug-in vibrators became one of the first electric appliances. They were advertised in many magazines, including: Needlcraft, Modern Women, Home Needlework Journal, and Woman’s Home Companion. Marketed to women as health and relaxation aids, vibrator advertising copy was filled with double-entendres: “all the pleasure of youth...will throb within you.” The popular Sears & Roebuck catalogue offered a vibrator, it touted as “very satisfactory...[an] aid every woman appreciates.” !n 1921, Hearst’s magazine published an ad aimed at men to buy vibrators for their wives as Christmas gifts to keep them “young and pretty” and free from the “hysteria”.

In 1930 vibrator advertisements are banished from magazines and catalogues. They came back in 1965 and men's magazines start pushing inflatable sex dolls. 

In the 1970s, feminist Betty Dodson began demonstrating how to use the Magic Wand in her sex workshops, so that women might experiment in private. In 1974, Ms. Dell Williams went to Macy’s to buy a Magic Wand. There, she wrote afterward, she found herself face to face with a “pimply 20-something” male sales clerk.

“What do you want it for?” he asked.

“I left Macy’s that day,” she wrote, “clutching my precious, anonymous brown shopping bag and thinking: Someone really ought to open up a store where a woman can buy one of these things without some kid asking her what she’s going to do with it.”

After that humiliating experience, Ms. Williams founded the first sex shop in the United States that catered specifically to women, called Eve's Garden. Founded at her kitchen table, discussions of female sexuality in general, and female orgasm in particular, had long been taboo. What sex shops there were, were owned by, and catered to men. Eve’s Garden popularized silicone vibrators that weren't shaped like penises and is largely considered the blueprint for the modern sex shop.

Nowadays, you can find all types of adult stores with sex toys, including blow up dolls, cock rings, anal beads, bondage gear, dildos, vibrators, clitoral stimulators, clitoral suckers, and many more. Research shows that half of all adults use sex toys regularly. We truly have come a long way.