Industry Trends

The History Of The Development Of Sex Toys


The Evolution of Sex Toys

Before the 16th and 17th centuries, “hysteria” was believed to be a religious rather than medical condition. Women diagnosed with this condition would often undergo exorcisms, interrogations, and executions rather than receiving proper treatment. In the 17th century, European doctors attempted to bring “hysteria” back into the realm of medicine. French physician Charles insisted it was a brain disorder, while others believed it was caused by long-term unresolved sexual desire leading to anxiety and depression in women.

In 18th-century England, many women were diagnosed with “hysteria”. As early as 1900 BC, it was observed that some women deviated from conventional norms, either unwilling to marry and bear children, sexually frigid, or having excessive sexual desires, resulting in strange behavior and abnormal personalities. Saint Augustine believed that these women were possessed by the devil, while Plato, Hippocrates, and others attributed their symptoms to abnormalities in the uterus, thus classifying them as “hysteria”.

The mainstream treatment options at the time were either institutionalization in mental asylums or surgical removal of the uterus. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century when an anonymous British doctor discovered that massaging the patient’s vagina to induce orgasm provided significant relief from hysterical symptoms. This method was much safer than removing the uterus. By 1854, most hospitals in Europe began adopting this technique to treat “hysteria”. This can be easily understood as, at the time, there were many brothels available for men, but hardly any places for women to seek sexual satisfaction. Therefore, if a woman had an unhappy marriage, there were scarcely any channels to fulfill her sexual needs. Suddenly, an affordable, skillful, hygienic, and polite establishment emerged where one could openly claim to be seeking treatment for a medical condition. Compared to men going to brothels without any moral burden, who wouldn’t prefer this option? The influx of patients overwhelmed doctors. Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville wrote in frustration, “to bring patients to orgasm is an incredibly laborious task; by the end of the day, my fingers ache.” Finally, around 1869, a steam-powered vibrator was invented.



The Prototype of Sex Toys

Although it may look a bit frightening, we have to admit that this is the first mechanized adult toy in human history. Powered by a steam engine and driven by gears, it greatly liberated the hands of doctors at the time. In 1880, an improved vibrator called “Macaura” was developed, which no longer used steam as its power source but instead utilized a “hand-operated vibration”.

Its instruction manual claimed that with skilled use, it could achieve a frequency of 5,000 vibrations per minute. In 1928, the first vibrator powered by electricity, called the “Polar Cub,” was developed and introduced to the market. To bypass regulations on medical devices, it was advertised as a “muscle massager”.



The Beginnings of Sex Toy Popularity

It is worth mentioning, as historian Lisa Fogarty pointed out in her article “Here’s What Sex Toys Have Looked Like Throughout History,” that European men at the time were very concerned about their female counterparts seeking treatment for hysteria in hospitals. Such behavior, once discovered, would become a subject of ridicule. Therefore, these disguised sex toys that masqueraded as fascia guns or beauty devices sold so well, not because women at the time actively and freely pursued sexual pleasure as they do today, but because men were afraid of not satisfying their partners and secretly prepared these products. However, regardless of the reasons, once such a clever scheme emerged and proved successful, everyone began to imitate it.

In 1940, a wearable vibrator called the Oster Stim-U-Lax became popular in the European and American markets. By attaching a high-frequency vibrator to the fingers, the device provided a vibrating effect throughout the hand.



The Initial Development of Sex Toys

It wasn’t until the 1980s that countries began to relax their strict control over “sex toys.” From the need for women to pretend to be sick in order to “trick” their way into sexual satisfaction, to the wide array of sex toys available for free selection, there seems to have been a significant transformation over time. In his paper “The Use of Sex Toys from the Perspective of Sexual Health,” Tong Li points out that the history of women’s sex toys actually reflects the development of concepts such as women’s rights, gender equality, body exploration, and reproductive control. It has evolved from initially considering excessive sexual desire as a disease, to attributing women’s sexual pleasure to their husbands, and then returning sexual agency to women themselves. Sex toys have consequently undergone stages of being seen as medical devices, disguised products, and now openly presented items.


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