The moniker "sex toys" has been in use less than two decades and even today is not in wide circulation. Broadly defined, it includes any object used to enhance sexual activity, whether or not the item was specifically designed or marketed for that purpose. By that broad definition, if a woman uses a hairbrush handle for vaginal stimulation, or a man masturbates with a silk handkerchief, the hairbrush and the handkerchief are sex toys. However, this discussion will be limited (with one significant exception) to objects designed, marketed, or primarily used for the purpose of sexual stimulation. When these items are marketed in North America, they are typically called "sex aids" or "marital aids." Both of these terms suggest that potential customers need help with their sexuality, that the sex aids will make up for presumed inadequacy on the part of consumers. Because these terms were so widely used, it became a requirement of the Food and Drug Administration in the United States that sexual or marital aids be labeled "sold as a novelty only," assuring consumers that no therapeutic claims are being made for the use of any product so labeled. These products are now known as "adult novelties" or "sex toys." The term "sex toys" was coined in the early 1970s at the same time women were starting to more openly acknowledge their interest in sex and were also becoming much more likely to purchase items previously usually bought for them by their husbands or male lovers. For many years before that, cylindrical plastic battery-operated vibrators advertised and ostensibly used for facial "massage" had been sold directly to women through advertising in the backs of women's magazines. The phrase is somewhat problematic, in that the word "toy" still refers in many people's minds exclusively to the playthings of children. Nevertheless, most people exposed to this term for the first time find it pleasing because it reintroduces playfulness into the sometimes all-too-somber sexual ideation of adults.
Dildos Over time, the most widely recognized sex toy is the dildo, thought of by many as an artificial or substitute penis. Collectors of erotic objects d'art will be familiar with statues of male figures with often exaggerated erect penises, dating from ancient times, and similar objects produced up until the present day by certain indigenous groups in the Third World. A variety of cultures have produced dildos, or objects so representational of the penis that it is safe to assume that they were utilized by at least some persons for vaginal or anal stimulation. Female fertility figurines, by contrast, are much less likely to have exaggerated genitals, and there is no indication that carved or molded objects resembling vulvas were historically used as masturbation enhancers by men.
Most dildos available commercially today are mass-produced in Hong Kong (and to a significantly lesser extent in the United States, China, Germany, and Japan). Virtually all of them are made of malleable plastic, vinyl or latex stuffed with cotton. Some are very realistic, including a few molded from life, complete with realistic skin colors, bluish veins, and "testicles" that can be manipulated inside the "scrotum."
Some dildos are hollow and are marketed as penile prosthetic aids. These PPAs (the term used for them in the sex industry) usually have an elastic strap at the base. The strap is worn around the hips in such a way that a man can put his flaccid or semierect penis inside the dildo and engage in sexual intercourse.
Dildos come in many sizes, ranging in length from 4 inches to 12 inches and in diameter from three-quarters of an inch to two inches. Double or double-headed dildos are also available. A few specialty dildos are huge and some are even shaped like a forearm and fist.
Dildos molded of pure silicone are also being hand-made by craftspeople. Designed and manufactured primarily for direct sales to women, these dildos include a wider range of smaller sizes. Despite the fact they are considerably more costly than mass-produced plastic, vinyl, or latex dildos, they are quite popular because the material they are made of is very smooth, warms quickly to body temperature, and does not have an unpleasant "rubbery" odor. Throughout history, dildos produced in Japan have had fanciful designs; they are often molded to look like people or animals. One manufacturer of the new silicone dildos includes zucchini and corn cobs, along with dolphins, human figures, and cats, among her many dildo designs.
All the silicone dildos and a few mass-produced dildos flare at the base so that they can be worn in a harness that holds the dildo in place over the pubic bone so the wearer can simulate intercourse. Vinyl and elastic dildo harnesses have been available for many years. People who use dildo harnesses regularly, however, prefer the sturdier all-leather or nylon webbing harnesses. The fact that silicone dildos and leather harnesses are in demand, even though they are considerably more costly than the mass-produced varieties, suggests that many consumers now expect better quality sex toys and are willing to pay higher prices for them.
Vibrators Today, and presumably since the invention of the hand held massagers/vibrators powered by small electric motors, women have used these devices for clitoral stimulation to generate arousal and orgasm. However, since neither women or men typically discuss their masturbatory practices, both have assumed that a woman wanting to arouse herself would simulate intercourse with an artificial penis of some sort. Only recently have women openly acknowledged that they may use their dildo-shaped vibrators for clitoral stimulation.
The earliest vibrators, and by far the majority of vibrators sold today, are essentially dildos with a small battery-operated vibrating motor inside. The resemblance of most of these hard plastic devices to an erect human penis and are typically seven or eight inches in length and cylindrical in shape.
A considerable range of styles of battery-operated vibrators is available. In addition to smooth or ribbed hard plastic cylindrical vibrators and softer plain, realistic vinyl vibrators, there are egg- and bullet-shaped vibrators and several versions of the "butterfly." The butterfly is a vibrator designed for clitoral stimulation. It is held against a woman's genitals with lightweight elastic straps encircling her hips and thighs, freeing her hands and those of her partner for other activity. Certain vibrators originating in Japan called Triple Stimulators have a shaft molded to look like a penis, person or animal and designed to be inserted into the vagina, and a shorter shaft, usually looking like an animal, for clitoral stimulation. Like several other vibrators mentioned here, these have a separate battery pack. When they are turned on, the long shaft swivels internally and the shorter one vibrates. Some anal plugs (dildos designed for anal stimulation) are equipped with battery-driven motors as well.
With the invention of the electric motor, or perhaps even earlier when exposed by accident or design to other kinds of vibrating equipment or appliances, women have experienced sexual pleasure and even orgasms. For example, the treadle sewing machines, which often involved pelvic movement, were in folklore regarded by some as an erotic stimulus. The historian Maines has recently provided a wealth of information about turn-of-the-century medical treatment of "hysteria" (believed in ancient Egypt and Greece to be the revolt of the uterus against sexual deprivation) using electric vibrators. Maines shows that "the electromechanical vibrator, introduced as a medical appliance in the 1880s and as a household appliance between 1900 and 1905, represented a capital-labor substitution innovation designed to improve the efficiency of medical massage, a task performed since ancient times by physicians, midwives, and their assistants. Medical massage from the time of Hippocrates to that of Freud included the clinical production of orgasm in women and girls."
In 1869 and 1872, George Taylor, an American physician, patented a steam-powered massage and vibratory apparatus for treatment of female disorders, intended for supervised use to prevent overindulgence. By 1909, convenient portable models were available, permitting use on house calls. Until the end of the 1920s, vibrators were advertised in respectable women's magazines as home appliances, primarily as an aid to good health and relaxation. The sexual references in these ads were thinly disguised. A typical ad of the time reads "All the pleasures of youth will throb within you."
Within a decade after that, vibrators had disappeared from doctors' offices and magazine advertisements, in part because doctors started to treat hysteria with psychotherapy, and in part because vibrators had started to appear in stag films. Seemingly, as soon as this treatment modality became associated in the popular culture with sexual arousal and pleasure, the embarrassed medical establishment turned away from its use. Since that time, line voltage, brand-name vibrators or massagers have been widely available on the shelves of many drug and department stores. Package inserts do not even hint of possible sexual uses. In fact, one brand's instruction sheet warns ominously, without explanation, "Do not use on genital areas of the body."
Three different types of line-voltage vibrators are currently on the market. One is the wand type, which has a long, cylindrical body or handle and a spherical vibrating head, attached to the body by a flexible "neck." Other vibrators are powered by an electromagnetic coil instead of a small electric motor. This type operates in virtual silence. It is shaped somewhat like a small hair dryer or a hairbrush, with the vibrating head perpendicular to the handle. It is packaged with four to six attachments, designed to massage different parts of the body. One brand-name vibrator of this type is packaged with an attachment ideal for clitoral stimulation, although that is certainly not specified in the packaging.
Vibrators that strap over the back of the hand or Swedish massagers are rarely chosen by women for sexual use, but they are strongly favored by the few men who regularly masturbate with vibrators. Presumably, this is because this is the vibrator most used by barbers for scalp and neck massage and most likely to have been found around the house when men who are now adults were children or adolescents and because the man using this kind of vibrator can do so in a manner very similar to the way he masturbates using his hand alone.
Ben-Wa Balls Ben-Wa balls, two solid metal balls about three-quarters of an inch in diameter, are found in virtually every catalog of sex toys and adult stores. They are said to give orgasmic satisfaction when they are inserted into the vagina and the body is moved back and forth. Ben-Wa balls are actually not a sex toy at all. They are, in fact, weights for exercise! They are designed to help you do your Kegels. If you can hold em' in, you have a strong PC muscle!
Other Sex Toys Dildos and dildo-vibrators frequently are used for anal stimulation. Safety is an important consideration here, as it is surprisingly easy for a lubricated dildo or vibrator to slip into the rectum. It is advisable to use instead an anal plug (a toy that widens in the middle and has a flared base so that it will neither fall out nor go in too far). Anal beads are a set of five or six small plastic beads strung onto a nylon cord. They are lubricated and fed into the anus one at a time and pulled out all together at the moment of orgasm to heighten the sensation.
Beyond the scope of this entry are the accessories and paraphernalia used by persons who engage in S/M sexual activities such as restraints, whips, nipple clamps, and paddles. They are mentioned here because in the S/M community, they are frequently referred to as toys.
"Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So....get on your way." Dr Seuss