by Jenni Podolski
It is difficult to explore the history of female sexuality even if you look for it, let alone find it represented in popular media. There’s a sense that we are either the first to embrace sex and pleasure, or are taking it further than our female ancestors.
If anything, our inheritance is mostly dominated by anti-sexual archetypes: The Virgin Mary, the Virgin Queen (Elizabeth), blushing prudes in Victorian novels, and the ultra-puritanical Joan of Arc. The secretive and little-documented nature of female sexuality becomes an interesting mystery, however, when you look at the history of the dildo.
Earliest records of sex toys originate 15,000 years ago, with sculptures of penises found in places like Germany and Austria. It’s still unclear whether these were used for ritualistic purposes (as many things were) or personal pleasure, but both are likely.
When the ancient Greek and Roman eras come along there is suddenly plenty of documentation of all manner of sex toys being used. Plays and texts by such famed writers as Aristotle and Aristophanes have women talking about oblisbos (wooden or stone dildos) candidly, using olive oil as lube, and even the borrowing and lending of such tools. They even came up with the idea of using leather or animal intestine on these oblisbos to create a more natural feel – something manufacturers still struggle with.
There are also depictions in art, and it seems like sex toys were an acceptable and common part of everyday life in these cultures. Vicki Leon, in her book The Joy Of Sexus even claims that in poorer or more sheltered communities, where oblisbos were hard to find or acquire, breadsticks and other foods were used. The origin of the word dildo comes from the Italian word for delight, diletto, and open wide, dilatare.
A lot of us have a back-of-the-mind thought that progress occurs on a linear, forward-looking scale. Looking at how open, discussed, and unproblematic sexual devices were in these societies makes the world right now look a long way off where it could be. But it’s worth remembering we can go backwards sometimes too. Read more