Sunday, January 11, 2009

A potted history of the phallic baton

A dildo (alternative spelling: dildoe. Synonym: godmichè) is a penis-shaped device intended for bodily interaction during masturbation or sexual intercourse. Archaeological finds support, dildos were present both in pre-history as well as ancient civilisations.

Controversy reigns as to who invented the modern vibrator, some authorities consider it was an UK invention whereas others claim the efficacious appliance came from the USA. There is no doubt the vibrator appeared in the late 1800s, when genital massage was a standard treatment for hysteria. Induced "hysterical paroxysm" (clitoral orgasm) was physically demanding and required highly developed manual dexterity. As a labour and time saving initiative, nineteenth century physicians (males) were delighted when vibrating machines then later portable vibrators became available.

Phallic Batons

Phallic batons have been around for many thousands of years and were depicted in Upper Palaeolithic art (circa 40,000 years ago). The dimension matches the size range of modern dildo vibrators, but whilst it is easy to recognise their symbolism, it is quite impossible to gauge their potential utility. Archaeologists have been reluctant to associate the carved batons with dildos, preferring to seek a more ritualistic association for ‘batons de commandment’. One ritual found in many societies is defloration of virgins, if these artifacts were used for that purpose, then it could also be used for vaginal, anal, or oral stimulation. Some authorities associate the phallic baton with the beginning of paternity and monogamy in early society. With the men away, their women will play.

Pussy Foot

Many experts consider artificial penii were used in Babylonian times, with the earliest sex toys fashioned from dried, camel dung. These dildos were coated with a resin to prevent the device from crumbling. Siberian woman were known to masturbate using the calf muscle of reindeer and in other parts of the world cat’s paw were also used for clitoral stimulation. Certainly gives a meaningful grounding to the term ‘pussy foot”? Only dildos made of stone and pottery have survived but evidence exists to conform wooden and leather phallic barons were also used in antiquity.

Phallic Worship

As Mediterranean civilisation changed to trade, female deities became less important as male dominated societies developed. Emphasis on the penis and its worship was evident in Egyptian artifacts depicting female dancers gyrating nearly naked, carrying a sculpture of an oversized erect penis to honour the god, Osiris. This male fascination filtered through the centuries until it reached its peak with the Roman God of fertility, Priapus.


In 500 BC, the dildoe was called 'olisbos' and the Greek seaport, Miletus became famous as the source of quality wooden and leather dildos. These were sold across the Mediterranean, and popular with whom lubricated them with olive oil for comfort. Female masturbation is well documented in Greek literature. Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata was first performed in 413 BC. The plot involves a sex strike by Athenian women tired with the Peloponnesian war. A large leather phallus features prominently in the comedy. In the third century BC. a young woman named Metro calls on her friend Coritto to borrow her olisbo when her husband is away. Sadly the friend has lent the precious phallic baton to another lonely maiden. Metro departs crestfallen. Another Greek comedy finds a woman complaining her dildo resembles the real thing as the moon does the sun. They are both similar in appearance, but her dildo has no heat!


In Roman Times brides at their wedding would observe a custom known as Lactantius and Arnobius. This involved offer up her virginity to Priapus (Roman God of fertility), by placing her sexual parts against the end of a dildo, sometimes this involved introducing the phallus and tearing the hymen. The ceremony was thought to conciliate the favour of the god, and to avert sterility. Similar customs were still found in other parts of the world from India to Japan and the islands of the Pacific. According to some experts therapeutic clitoral stimulation was undertaken from the first century A.D. and physicians would manually massaged women to orgasm, in the anticipation of purging them of mysterious illness. Galen, a well-respected Roman physician, described massaging a woman’s genitals until "she emitted turbid and abundant sperm" and was "free of all the evil she felt".

Dark Ages

Cylindrical devices fitted over the erect penis to make them look larger, were first mentioned in the Kama Sutra and were crafted from wood, leather, buffalo horn, copper, silver, ivory or gold. In Europe eighth century nuns were known to use artificial phalli. At first this was part of religious custom (probably pagan) but once it lost its religious significance clitoral stimulation degenerated into a mere indulgence of passion.

The Dildo

In 12th and 13th century China, dildos were made of ivory and wood. Stand-alone or strapped to the body many ingenious devices were available. The double olishos accommodated two women at the same time. The movement of one woman created pleasure for the other. There were also dildos that could be manipulated by either moving the heel of the foot of the head and neck. Vegetables were also used and in 14th century Chinese women used a plant called So-Young. This was similar to a pointed bamboo shoot but has a scaly texture when placed in the vagina the plant absorbed the vaginal fluids causing it to expand.

In the 16th century, St Foutin was worshiped throughout France. When in 1585, Protestant armies sacked the French town of Embrun they found the statue of Saint Foutin with its phallus head stained red from wine. St. Foutin was the first bishop of Lyons, and was attributed the distinguishing attributes of Priapus given to him by his parishioners. His statue had a large phallus of wood, which was an object of reverence to barren women. The faithful either took shavings of the wooden phallus and made an infusion for their husbands to drink, or poured wine over the phallus and kept the run off in containers until it soured i.e. sainte vinaigre. Documentary evidence is scant what the women employed it for.

A much larger phallus of wood, covered with leather, was an object of worship in the church of St. Eutropius at Orange. Other phallic saints were worshipped under the names of St. Guerlichon, or Greluchon, at Bourg-Dieu in the diocese of Bourges, of St. Gilles in the Cotentin in Brittany, of St. Rene in Anjou, of St. Regnaud in Burgundy, of St. Arnaud, and above all of St. Guignolé near Brest and at the village of La Chatelette in Berri. Many of these were still in existence and their worship in full practice in the last century; in some of them, the wooden phallus is described as being much worn down by the continual process of scraping, while in others the loss sustained by scraping was always restored by a miracle. The reason was less Godly that believers thought because priests continued to secretly hammer out the wooden extension.

In the case of some of the priapic saints mentioned above, women sought a remedy for barrenness by kissing the end of the phallus; sometimes they appeared to have placed a part of their body naked against the image of the saint, or to have sat upon it. This latter trait was perhaps too bold an adoption of the indecencies of pagan worship to last long, or to be practiced openly; but it appears to have been more innocently represented by lying upon the body of the saint, or sitting upon a stone, understood to represent him without the presence of the energetic member. In a corner in the church of the village of St. Fiacre, near Mouceaux in France, there is a stone called the chair of St. Fiacre, which confers fecundity upon women who sit upon it; but it is necessary that nothing should intervene between their bare skin and the stone. In the church of Orcival in Auvergne, there was a pillar which barren women kissed for the same purpose, and which had perhaps replaced some less equivocal object. Many traditions were known and a common custom for girls on the point of marriage was to offer their last maiden robe to that saint. This superstition prevailed to such an extent that it became proverbial. A story is told of a young bride who, on the wedding night, sought to deceive her husband on the question of her previous chastity, although, as the writer expressed it, "she had long ago deposited the robe of her virginity on the altar of St. Foutin."

During the Renaissance Italy, the olisbo became known as the "dildo". The origins of the name are thought to come from the Latin dilatare, to open wide, or perhaps from the Italian diletto, to delight. Renaissance Italian dildos were made of wood or leather and required liberal lubrication with olive oil for comfortable use. In the harems of Constantinople during the 16th century, cucumbers were expressly forbidden. Only sliced cucumber was allowed.

Signor Dildo

The 17th century Italy becomes the country associated with the manufacture of quality phallic batons. Hence the term ‘Signor Dildo’ became popular among occidental libertines. A famous poem by John Wilmott (circa 1673) was first published in 1703 extolling the virtues of Senior Dildo.

In the orient, Mr Horn appeared in the late Manchu dynasty (Qing Dynasty 1644-1911) this was a phallic shaped rubber hot water bottle, which strapped to the waist and could be used as a dildo. During the Edo period (17th Century) in Japan, the Iwami Kagura Masks were worn for traditional dance. Originally made from wood then paper, these highly decorative artifacts were commonly hung on house walls as good luck talisman. One particular favourite was the goblin, Tengu, who had a very large nose. This was detachable and used frequently as a dildo. Medically induced paroxysms using the doctor’s fingers were documented at this time.

18th Century

By the 18th century French dildos were in vogue but 18th century Japanese women favoured harigata, phallic baton made from leather, wood, buffalo horn, porcelain or tortoise shell. Apparently the ladies strung cords around their necks and through the dildos. By moving their backs and shoulders, the phallic baton would move inside their bodies, leaving their hands to caress other parts of their bodies.

19th Century

In the nineteenth century when the industrial process known as vulcanised rubber became established this give new life to phallic batons. Now stronger and more flexible, the rubber dildo was introduced circa 1850. Electric vibrators first appeared soon after electricity became widely available in the late 19th century. There is controversy as to whether it was an Englishman or an American who first invented the dildo vibrator but George Taylor, American physician, did introduce a large, cumbersome steam-driven vibrator in 1869. Taylor’s vibrator was recommended as a time saving device for physicians when treating "female hysteria." A common belief in Victorian times was females suffered psychiatric disorders, which were directly related to uteral disturbance. The symptoms of this disease were based on the Greek idea of a “wandering womb” and were varied and all-encompassing. Anxiety, irritability, sexual fantasies, and shortness of breath were prime symptoms of the disease. This was often accompanied by pelvic heaviness and vaginal lubrication. Today some of these symptoms might best be described as ‘Pre-Menstrual Tension’ (PMT). Hysteria, was regarded as a serious and recalcitrant disorder, which required ongoing treatments.

Hysteria was the second most diagnosed disease behind fever and generated a market, for new medical instruments. It was reported “pelvic massage treatments” comprised more than half of medics’ business. Medical treatment involved massage of the vulva with fragrant oils. Whilst Victorian Society frowned upon masturbation, "paroxysm" (orgasm), through clitoral stimulation did not involve penetration. Therefore was not considered androcentric ‘sex’ and provided it was conducted by a medically trained professional there was no stigma attached. This was imminently more palatable then being committed to a mental institution and or have a clitorotomy. Both barbaric actions were commonly undertaken at the time. At first medical vibrators did not look phallic and were instead heavy pieces of equipment weighing in at between 5 - 15lb' depending on the size of their engine.

During the 1860s, health spas offered higher-tech alternatives to manual therapy with gravity fed systems that sent powerful water jets into bathing pools and steam-powered and other vibrating devices. While not specifically developed for female genital massage, surviving accounts hint that some women spent considerable time leaning into water-jet spouts. The first battery powered vibrator appeared in 1880, and was invented by a UK physician. Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville recognised the therapeutic benefits of micro-massage and developed a battery-powered vibrator for the treatment of muscular strains. Vibrators came into widespread medical use in the 1890s, when there was an “epidemic” of hysteria among Western women.

Maines suggests that hysteria was simply the result of female sexual frustration in an age where women were supposed to orgasm through penetration, and masturbation was discouraged.

Hand held Vibrators

Clarence Richwood patented the first handheld vibrator in 1907. His dildo was not battery powered but worked on water pressure, which meant the operator had to be near a water source which obviously limited its use. Early AC electro-mechanical vibes were smaller and less cumbersome freeing the therapist to vary the vibratory sensations the device produced.

Hand crank vibrators such as Dr Johansen’s Auto Vibrator were popular in the early twentieth century because of their lower cost and lack for power source. Air powered vibrators were also available at the turn of the century.

By the 1900s dry cell battery operated vibrators were sold through mail order. By the 20s, belief in the medical myth of ‘female hysteria’ was less strong and adverts for vibrators with a variety of attachments appeared in magazines and sales catalogues aimed directly at women as home appliances. The vibrator was only the fifth household device to be electrified, after the sewing machine, fan, teakettle and toaster.

The first advertisement for a home electric vibrator, the Vibratile, appeared in the US magazine ‘McClure’. It was portrayed as therapeutic agent suitable to cure headaches, wrinkles, and neuralgia. Soon they were openly sold to the public as self-treatment for hysteria. Vibrators were advertised as body massagers, recommended for all body parts but discretely omitting the erogenous zones. Not to offend public morality advertising copy was written in coy and oblique language but the point was not missed with double-entendres like, “all the pleasure of youth ... will throb within you" or "tingle with the joy of living." "Delicious, thrilling, health-restoring sensation called vibration" or for the more pragmatic consumer, “perfect for those hard-to-reach places." As electricity became widely available, plug-in home vibrators were one of the first electrified home appliances. These adverts appeared in many popular women’s magazines, including Needlecraft, Home Needlework Journal and Woman's Home Companion. The 1918 Sears Roebuck catalogue sold one vibrator as a "very satisfactory...aid every woman appreciates." In male magazines young men were urged to buy the devices for their wives as Christmas gifts to keep them "young and pretty" and free from the scourge of hysteria (Heart Magazine, 1921). Mail order was a standard method of marketing vibrators up until 1920.

After the Great War, the influence of Hollywood was immense, the popularity for adult Stag Films (Blue Movies) was no less than today and the quest for erotic material incorporated graphic depiction of sexually explicit use of the vibrator. Most of the films were shot in Buenos Aires, Argentina and like the Tango, shocked public morality of mainstream Europe and North America. In any event the marketing of vibrators moved underground. In The Widow's Delight, showed a well-dressed matron at her front door bidding good night to her equally dashing suitor. After rejecting a kiss, she races off to her bedroom, where she strips down to her underwear, grabs her vibrator and finishes off her evening.

When stricter censorship followed in the thirties, vibrators were no longer openly advertised. During the War years, rationing and lack of advertising opportunity meant falling sales. Some of the most artistic dildos came from Japan and these were brought back to the US as soldier’s souvenirs.

This increased their popularity in post war USA and when vibrating, rubber battons were enhanced with steel spring spines for stiffness this enabled better twist, thrust, and rotation. By 1949, a sex manual entitled ‘The enjoyment of love in marriage’, actively promoted the use of vibrators. Four years later hysteria, the female disorder, was no longer officially recognised and removed as a disease classification from the American Psychiatric Association.

In the 1950's, vibrators were advertised as massagers, zit removers and effective weight loss appliances but Kinsey’s research had indicated the locus for female stimulation was the clitoris, and not the vagina. The use of vibrators for recreation first featured in sex manuals in 1959 and 1960, and by the time, Masters and Johnson, well known sex therapists published their researches into sexuality in the late 60s, the use of vibrators was well established.

In 1966, John H Travel designed the cordless torpedo shaped vibrator which ran on batteries. This became the most popular sex toy of the flower power generation. Soon, PVC dildos with a softer PVC filler, became popular. Most of the inexpensive dildos sold today are made this way although chrome-plated steel dildos are also available. Penis-shaped vibrators began to sell in sex shops and via mail order, but they retained a steadfastly seedy reputation during this time.

Androcentric sex therapists prescribed vibrators for orgasmic dysfunction and the 70s feminist writer, Betty Dodson encouraged women to explore their sexuality through electric vibrators and promoted the use of the vibrator through her workshops. Dodson’s booklet Liberating Masturbation (later renamed Sex for One) was self published in 1974 and distributed through mail order. The author considered herself to be influential in reviving the mail-order vibrator business. In 1976, Joani Blank wrote Good Vibrations: The Complete Guide to Vibrators which remains a milestone on the subject. As greater sexual freedom for woman prevailed vibrators sold as 'Sex Toys'. Changing attitudes to sexual liberation and the appearance of Adult Sex Shops in the sixties gave the vibrator, now called a massager and sold as a beauty item, a new lease of life.

By the 1990s, silicone rubber dildos were introduced and although initially expensive but prices soon fell. More recently, dildos are available made of borosilicate glass (Pyrex). There are double dildos, with different-sized shafts pointing in the same direction, used by women to accomplish both anal and vaginal penetration at once. There are dildos designed to be worn in a harness, sometimes called a strap-on harness or strap-on dildo, or to be worn inside, sometimes with vibrating devices attached externally. Japan continues to manufacture a quality product.

The Rabbit

Candida Royalle, best known for her feminist porn films, has created the Natural Contours vibrator, a curved device designed to mould itself to the shape of the vulva. The Japanese, always fabulous with technology, have given us the ubiquitous rotating pearl vibrators which have become some of the most popular sex toys on the market today.

A more recent development is the Fukuoku 9000, a tiny vibrator that fits over the tip of the finger. Powered by watch batteries, it is considered to be the easiest vibrator to use during sex. Another recent addition to the market is the Eroscillator. This electrically-powered device oscillates from side to side, instead of vibrating up and down, and comes with attachments designed specifically for the clitoris.

The sex police

In 1998, the US state of Alabama passed a law, banning vibrators. It was deemed obscene to sell or manufacture a sexual device which was considered to be “harmful”. The penalities were harsh with 1 year hard labour or a $10,000 fine if found guilty. The law was similar to those in 5 other states, including Texas and Georgia. Outraged, six women and their Civil Liberties Lawyers took their case to court, saying the law invaded their privacy. They also pointed out that Viagra, a device which could be purchased to obtain an orgasm, was on sale in that state. A year later, a judge struck down the law, saying it denied therapy for people with sexual dysfunction, although he refused to guarantee the right to privacy when it came to sex toys. The law still stands in the other states.


The vibrator has not really changed in 100 years. The vibrator was a handy household device long before the electric frypan and the iron. Their efforts helped transform society's view of sexuality into something more natural and wholesome, compared to the rigid rules with which they were raised. By selling, buying and using sex toys to enrich their lives, the strident women of the seventies paved the way for their grateful offspring to do the same. Modern dildo vibrators are made for vaginal and anal penetration, however according to Bishop and Osthelder (2001), many women prefer clitoral stimulation. Some vibes are designed specifically for clitoral stimulation. Others are dual-stimulators that touch the clitoris and also have a shaft for insertion. Some vibes are designed for G-spot stimulation whilst others have multiple uses. Each product description tells you exactly what areas the toy will stimulate, with tips and tricks on how to make the most of your new toy.

Bishop C & Osthelder X 2001 Sexualia: From prehistory to cyberspace Cologne: Konemann.
Castelman M The History of Sex Toys Sexual Solutions.
Danielou A 1995 The phallus: Sacred symbol of male creative power Rochester: Inner Traditions (translated by Graham J.)
Davis C M, Blank J L, Lin H, & Bonillas C. 1996 Characteristics of vibrator use among women The Journal of Sex Research 33:4 313-341.
Levins H 1996 American sex machines: The hidden history of sex at the US patent office Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation.
Maines R 1989 Socially camouflaged technologies: The case of the Electromechanical Vibrator" IEEE Technology and Society Magazine Vol 8: 2
Maines R 1999 The technology of the orgasm: ‘Hysteria’ the vibrator, and women’s sexual satisfaction Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.
Rancier L 1998 The sex chronicles: Strange but true tales from around the world Santa Monica: General Publishing Group.
Rilly C Great moments in sex NY: Three Rivers Press.
Sears Roebuck Company 1927 Edition of The Sears Roebuck Catalogue USA/Canada:Crown Publishers, 1970.
Scott GR 1996 Phallic worship : A history of sex and sexual rites London: Senate
Taylor T 1997 The prehistory of sex: Four million years of human sexual culture NY: Bantam Books.

Interesting Links
Antique Vibrator and Quack Medical Museum
Antique vibrator museum
Betty Dodson

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