A Brief History of Sex Toys

by Cailin

on Feb 20, 2023

From paleolithic dildos to steam-powered vibrators, humans have been fans of pleasure for thousands of years

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In the 21st century, sex toys are still considered taboo in many parts of the world. A crazy reality considering humans have been using inanimate objects to get off with for tens and thousands of years.

Of course, your rechargeable battery-powered vibrator isn’t the same kind Cleopatra used to use - although she was falsely rumoured to fill a hollow gourd with angry bees and hold it up to her cooch to feel the good vibes - but you get the idea.

The history of sex toys is filled with plenty of myths like Cleopatra’s bees, as well as surprisingly true stories, bizarre materials and somewhat unsettling methods.

Only very recently, a two-thousand-year-old object found at Roman fort in Northumberland in 1992 has been reassessed by archaeologists. Phallic shaped and measuring 16cm in length, it's thought that the Vindolanda phallus could have been larger still in it's prime day.

The Vindolanda wooden phallus.

Photograph: Newcastle University

First catalogued as a darning tool, it's since been asked whether this life-like dildo was otherwise a culinary pestle or a good luck charm to protect people from misfortune. Although, ask us here at Lovehoney, and we'll place our bets the raunchy romans were onto a good thing.

As a brand which has built its business around sex toys for the past 20 years, we're naturally intrigued by the history of sex toys. We've done our research into what worked then and how it's changed for us all now. From bread dildos to the first vibrator to market, here's a brief look into our sex history files.

Sex Toys in the B.C. Era

paleolithic dildo

The oldest dildo ever discovered by humans is a 28,000 year old, polished, phallic-shaped, 8-inch stone found in a German cave. Archeologists believe it could have been a tool for a few things but its size and shape indicate it may have also been a sexual aid. Long nights, lonely cave — who can blame them?

Fast forward a few thousand years (and probably quite a few stone dildos later), the Ancient Egyptians were also on board with this kind of play. Drawings around 1150 BC depict romantic and sexual scenes with “objects” (some phallic-like) to aid in the experience.

In Ancient Greece, a popular saying was “anything can be a dildo if you want it to be.” Just kidding, but with what I’m about to tell you, it should have been.

Alongside leather and wood, dildos were also occasionally made out of bread fashioned and baked into the shape and size the user desired and called “olisbokollikes”. The Ancient Greeks of course also knew the importance of lubrication (as we all should) and applied a liberal lather of olive oil to their dildo of choice before each use. Here’s a more modern option for you.

Sex Toys in Ancient Asia


During the Chinese Han Dynasty, aristocrats took it a step up from your average stone or leather materials by using bronze and jade to carve out their bespoke butt plugs and dildos. While we know these were mainly used to seal the orifices of the dead so that their "chi" could be maintained, they were also used on the living for sexual stimulation.

Worn by all genders, researchers also believe these dildos were sometimes attached to silk or leather thongs like a strap-on.

Here’s one to add to your list of weird sex facts to bring out at parties (just us? Okay.) During the Jin and Song dynasties (1600 A.D.), cock rings made out of goat eyelids were the way to go for maintaining a harder and longer lasting erection.


As you can see, eyelashes were kept on to tickle and stimulate the wearer and their partner. By soaking the dried ring in water prior to use, it would become enlarged and once put on, would tighten around the shaft as it dried. In case you were wondering, yes, you can actually still buy cock rings made from goat eyelids and no, we don’t sell them.

Around 500 A.D. in Japan, rin-no-tama (A.KA. Ben Wa balls or kegel balls) came into popularity

thanks to their smooth, subtle stimulation. One or two hollow balls made from metal or stone were inserted into the vagina, anus and sometimes even the penis to enhance sexual pleasure.

Not much has changed today except for the addition of string for easy removal and balls which are occasionally made from plastic. Why change when you’re on to a 2,000 year old good thing?

Skip past the hay day (mind the pun) of handmade sex dolls made from straw by lonely—but probably mostly horny—17th century seamen and we find ourselves in the 1800s when the first vibrator was born.

The Modern Age of Good Vibrations

During the 19th and 20th centuries, women were often diagnosed with “hysteria”, a now debunked medical disorder which covered anything from mood swings and depression to straight up arousal. There are historical theories which claim doctors used mechanical tools in order to internally massage hysterical women, bringing them to orgasm and temporarily curing them of their ailments. While this theory is no longer as widely accepted, it sure is fun to think about doctors unknowingly getting their patients off.

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These mechanical tools began as hand-cranked devices and developed into steam-powered machines (unsettling, we know) in 1869, until eventually, we had our very first electric vibrator invented by Dr Joseph Mortimer Granville in the 1880s. While it was originally invented to treat

pain, blindness and impotence in men, once the technology was commercialised by 1902 and people could use them in the privacy of their homes, it was a very different story.

Personal massagers (and their off-label uses) continued to grow in popularity and in the 1960s, the Hitachi Magic Wand was invented and its non-phallic design and strong vibrations changed. the. game. Artist and sex educator, Betty Dodson began including the massagers in her sex workshops during the 1970s sexual revolution, showing women how to use it for masturbation.


This revolution inspired first-of-their-kind women-focussed sex toy shops to open in the U.S. all ready to take on the newest and best in vibrator technology to bring it to the masses, including the famous rabbit vibrator.

At the turn of the century, online sex shops began popping up and two guys from Bath in the UK decided they were going to start

their own. In 2002, Lovehoney was born and well, the rest is history… Happy Sex Toy Day everyone!


Written by Cailin. Lovehoney Editorial Team
Cailin is Lovehoney Australia's in-house content queen and loves to talk sex positivity, positions and possibly panties from time to time. And no, she still can't believe she gets to write about sex and dildos for a living.

Originally published on Feb 20, 2023. Updated on Nov 2, 2021