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Dildo 101: The History of the Phallus

    From Freud to historical art, we love history at GetLusty headquarters! We love history so much that we want to learn as much as we can about sex's past. Just recently we dove into the history of the blowjob. Since we got great response to that post, we decided to give you all the history of the dildo! Where did the dildo come from and who invented it? Well, Bethany Kibblesmith is here to answer all your historical questions revolving around this phallic toy.

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    Have you wondered where and when your favorite phallic friend sprang into existence? Well, the history of the dildo is actually quite an interesting story. It’s a long one, too.

    Fake penises have been a part of human culture since before we had writing, metal tools and agriculture. The oldest phallus found that could have been used for insertion dates back around 30,000 years, hailing from Germany. Archaeologists have all but called this a dildo. The reluctance to label it a dildo is one I share, because it’s so difficult to substantiate claims on prehistoric cultures.

    As well, it’s impossible to tell whether these were used by women, men or both, and such claims have a tendency to ruffle various feathers. You can’t very well tell Swedes that the most recently found Ice Age “baton” (archaeologists’ codeword for dildo) was probably up their ancestor’s butt. At least not without proof. It’s hard enough to call things dildos, with the assumption that they were for vaginal insertion.

    Labeling artifacts as sex toys is even trickier when you consider that almost all cultures have had a fertility god at some point in their existence, and subsequently we have an absolute truckload of fake penises used for religious purposes. As for masturbatory uses, women have used wooden dildos, leather ones, and stone dildos. They were even sometimes made of tar and straw. Yikes!

    The dildo has a surprisingly public presence throughout history. Greek comedies have many references to women buying or using dildos, and in one play mourning the loss of hers. Poems and plays told tales of lusty, dildo-obsessed women and dildo-makers hiding their real profession under various fronts. One Greek vase even shows a man inserting a dildo into a woman’s anus while she fellates a different man (Greek sexuality is a whole other article).

    While it was usually used for comic effect in Greece, other parts of the world saw the dildo very differently. Chinese women, for example, used dildos that were made of lacquered wood, and lovingly crafted with grooves, bumps and all kinds of stimulating little details. Lacquer was made from beetles at this time, and this was an expensive, time-consuming process. What this tells us is how important a pretty dildo was! More seriously, dildos weren’t being hidden away shamefully, but were in fact significant enough for lacquer.

    India had a similar lack of embarrassment for dildos. The Kama Sutra, as one of the most well-known sexy texts, is a great source for old-timey dildo information. It lists FIVE different ways to construct dildos, along with very detailed instructions on what materials to use. What is most significant in this, is the dildo is incorporated into coupled sex, not masturbation. Furthermore, the incorporation of sex aids was solely for improving the woman’s pleasure. This positive attitude towards women’s sexual pleasure is much more common in Eastern history than in Europe.

    Europe presents a stark contrast to India and China. For example, in a medieval penitential — a book listing sinful acts and corresponding punishments — the reader is quizzed as to whether she has ever fashioned a fake penis for her sexual pleasure. In fact, the penitential goes so far as to correlate women’s lust to the size of the dildo they fashion. The punishment ascribed? Penance on holy days, for five years. I don’t know how much you know about medieval religiosity, but there were a lot of freaking holy days.

    It is from England, though, that we get the word dildo. At least by the 1590s, dildo referred to penises. To the right, you'll see examples of 18th Century dildos from England. The word was common in bawdy songs, and even appeared in a Shakespeare play. When the word dildo was used, it was in a naughty sex song intended to make listeners laugh. “Signior Dildo” is a perfect example, and contains tons of innuendos and sex puns.

    Dildos have appearances in pornographic literary works, from the 17th century onwards. Victorian private diaries chronicle dildo usage. Saul Bellow and Williams S. Burroughs refer to them in their 1950s era books. And of course, the dildo’s incorporation into pornography gradually begins around the 1900s, around the time of photography’s rise, until it becomes a mainstay for masturbatory and lesbian flicks.

    As a whole, culturally, technologically, and so on, humanity has advanced far past the days of the medieval era. However, there is one aspect in which we haven’t advanced at all: the humorous aspect of the dildo has yet to lose any of its power. Though John Wilmot’s “Signior Dildo” was published 339 years ago, dildos are still a punch line.

    Women and sexuality are still complicated subjects for most people. Treating something used for solo pleasure humorously actually shows a lot of distrust and insecurity, possibly because it excludes men. Women who admit to masturbating are still sometimes treated oddly, like hypersexuals, and vibrators and dildos are relegated to the sock drawer, the shoebox in the closet, or some other hidden little spot. Women are expected to be mortified if their dildo is uncovered unexpectedly, rather than shrug it off and say, “Yeah, that’s mine. So what?” Even though progressive attitudes toward sexuality have been increasing more and more as time passes, sex toys and masturbation are still somewhat taboo.

    Worldwide, there are still countries where dildo possession and selling is illegal. Ironically, considering its history, India is one of these countries. What might surprise you is that it’s only in recent times in the U.S. that laws against sex toys have been abolished.

    Texas only legalized dildos in 2008. Alabama, in fact, still has laws against the selling of sex toys, to this very day. What makes this issue more complicated are the use of religious rhetoric and religious leaders classing sex toys in biblical arguments. An Irish preacher went so far as to say “there is no moral way to use one of these devices” and blamed the humble dildo for causing poor morals and promiscuity. Never mind that exactly zero babies and STDs have been caused solely by dildo use.

    Today, regardless of illegality in some countries, glass, acrylic and silicon dildos vary wildly in shape and size. Many are beautiful enough to set up on a shelf like any other artwork. If you’re looking to buy one, for your health’s sake, please avoid PVC! I know they’re a little cheaper, but other materials are safer. PVC leaches out cancer and birth defect causing chemicals, and it cannot be sterilized. Silicon, glass and steel are much better options for your health, and will last much longer. Consider what stimulation would please you best and look for a good material in the shape best designed for that kind of stimulation.

    We're very excited to have Bethany Kibblesmith as GetLusty's newest writer. She's passionate about keeping it sexy inside and outside the bedroom in her own relationship and in yours.

    Bethany is twenty-two and an English major. When she isn't scrambling to finish homework, she's with her boyfriend, reading, doing yoga or cooking. She enjoys the finer things in life like, secondhand clothes, warm showers, and socks without holes. She writes plays when she isn't writing for school or GetLusty. And if you meet her she will, without question, make a sex joke at some point. Email her at Bethany@GetLusty.com if you have any questions!
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