Breadsticks to Rabbits: A History of the Dildo

1918 Sears Roebuck ad

1918 Sears Roebuck ad

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

Posted on by Jenni Podolski in Feminism 2 Comments

Displaced Ownership of Female Sexuality: The Case of the Purity Ball

Logo for the 2007 Hollywood Father-Daughter Purity Ball

Logo for the 2007 Hollywood Father-Daughter Purity Ball, showing a heart. Inside the heart is a stick figure of an adult male holding a key and the hand of a little girl with a key-hole on her skirt.

Gender Focus welcomes new contributor Jennifer Geinosky! Jennifer Geinosky is an aspiring author, lifelong student, and brand new blogger bring her thoughts to light on her website: This Much I Know is True: A Place for My Thoughts.

Historically from virginity to marriage, we’ve witnessed the displaced ownership of women’s sexualities. Today, girls across the world are participating in “purity balls” where they dress to the nines to pledge their virginity to their fathers. I wanted to write a piece critically assessing these purity balls, since they relate to our discussion of sexuality.

To better understand the concepts that fuel the purity ball trend, we have to look at them independently. We must first address virginity. Our familiar notion of virginity has no scientific grounding or basis in reality beyond the meanings we’ve given it. We typically think any discussion of virginity refers to females. The idea that women “lose” something – their virginity – during their first experience of vaginal intercourse is problematic. Firstly, vaginal intercourse is a severely limited description of female sexuality. In a more general sense, “losing something” implies that something is misplaced by force or accident, in which both cases the owner lacks control. The language also implies that virginity is lost forever, never to be recovered or shared again.

The physical act that has defined a woman’s loss of virginity is the breaking or tearing of her hymen. In reality, this can occur at anytime between birth and death for a variety of reasons, and for some it never occurs regardless of sexual activity. While one’s first sexual experience can be a very special time, it can also be very awkward, confusing, or traumatic.

We’ve evolved to expand the definition of virginity to both males and females, and now consider it to be given and not just lost, but the definition is far from comprehensive and harmless. Read more

Posted on by Jennifer Geinosky in Feminism 1 Comment

We’ve Got to Talk About Enthusiastic Consent

by A. Lynn. This article was originally posted at A Nerdy Feminist. Cross-posted with permission.

A recent work event got my wheels turning and I began to think about how we so rarely talk to teens about enthusiastic consent.  [TW some discussion of rape culture. Detailed discussion of consent.]

I’ve written a bit about the topic before here and there, because I think it’s really important. In it’s simplest form, enthusiastic consent is a move away from “no means no” to “yes means yes.” It’s a paradigm shift that requires open communication and challenges the assumptions of our rape culture.
As Elfity explains at Persephone,

The idea of enthusiastic consent is quite simple. In a nutshell, it advocates for enthusiastic agreement to sexual activity, rather than passive agreement. Many of you may be familiar with the book Yes Means Yes!, which popularized the idea. The concept also requires that consent be given to each piece of sexual activity, meaning that a yes to one thing (such as vaginal penetration) does not mean consent to another (like anal penetration). Basically, we’re saying, “Yes! I want this!” or, “No, I don’t think I want to do that,” and we’re asking “Is this ok?” To do these things is to be respectful of not only your own bodily autonomy, but also your partner’s. It’s just common courtesy, really. To give enthusiastic consent isn’t exactly to scream that you want it at the top of your lungs; it’s more that an unsure or hesitant yes is not enthusiastic consent, and needs to be considered.

Clearly, this is great stuff. Like I said, it challenges our rape culture which far too often shames people, especially women, into being afraid to openly articulate what they really want. I’m ecstatic that this concept is making headway in leftist circles. But I am concerned that this message is not making its way to the people who probably need this information the most: teens.A few years ago I was a part of a sex education program that I was really proud of. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but it did answer girls’ most pressing questions and was not abstinence only. We didn’t assume that all girls were straight. We didn’t assume that sex would only occur within a marriage. We told girls that they had to communicate their boundaries with their partners before they were actually in a sexual situation. We told girls they had a right to protect themselves and that no one had a right to their bodies. However, I can’t say that enthusiastic consent was totally present. I mean–consent certainly was. We affirmed repeatedly that no one should ever do something they don’t want to do or that made them uncomfortable, but I’m not sure it went beyond that.And the more I think about it, the more I am certain that a sex education can’t be complete without a section on enthusiastic consent. What I’m particularly concerned with is the feelings that accompany enthusiastic consent and the fact that we’re not talking about them with youth. Read more
Posted on by A Lynn in Feminism 10 Comments

Cuddling Doesn’t Mean What You Think it Does… Apparently

by Jasmine Peterson

Dating – it’s exhausting.

At first I thought it was fun (being new to the dating scene, and never having really done the dating thing in my younger years), but as time has gone on, I’ve discovered that it can be really, really exhausting.

I’m a pretty open and honest person. I’ve put a lot of myself out into the ether of the internet (from discovering myself to be polyamorous to the health repercussions of my breakup and consequent brief personal meltdown). So when I’m dating, I’ve got no qualms about being honest about my intentions, my feelings, and my desires. And because I’m such an honest person, an open book really, I often expect that others will be the same. I’ve discovered that this is just me projecting my own qualities onto others; they are not always coming from the same place of transparency as I am.

How much easier would dating be if we could all just be honest about our intentions? I’ve met a few men who were pretty upfront about exactly what they were looking for – whether it was to settle down into a relationship or strictly a relationship of a sexual nature – and it made knowing how to proceed so much easier. What I want keeps changing, it seems, but I articulate it as I go to ensure that any man I am seeing knows that. I’m a work in progress, and I can understand that what someone else wants might also change, so I like to keep the conversation open and evolving to accommodate that.

But what I’ve found to most often be the case is that men are reticent to admit to wanting to have sexual relations, as though admitting that is somehow going to result in some catastrophic implosion of the dating universe. At first, I found this baffling.

“Do you want to cuddle?” a guy would say.

And if I didn’t, I would say no. But some nights, I really did want to cuddle and would accept the offer. Little did I know, “cuddle” is apparently a code word for sex. Because every single time a guy would come over to “cuddle”, he would start making sexual advances. Read more

Posted on by Jasmine Peterson in Feminism 36 Comments

Fifty Shades of Blaaahhhhhhh

by Alicia Costa “I don’t get what all the fuss is about. Danielle Steel has been writing ‘mommy porn’ since the 80s,” a work out buddy of mine said jokingly as we chatted about the recent popularity of E L James’ book Fifty Shades of Grey. Truthfully I had been avoiding this book, as a bit of literary snob I tend to try and avoid best-seller fiction. And as someone who has enjoyed her fair share of…erm…erotic fiction I didn’t think something dubbed ‘mommy porn’ would really be something I’d be into. However, as I did more research and say more and more article with titles like, “Women are going crazy for Fifty Shades of Grey and it’s making men nervous” I was intrigued. What is about this book that is sending men into a panic? Could it be the realization that their wives and girlfriends are sexual beings as well as wives and mothers? Are they scared women are going to throw down their aprons and refuse to cook another meal until they get some satisfying sex? Is it possible that women are actually interested in bondage and spanking? Read more

Posted on by Alicia Costa in Feminism, Pop Culture 1 Comment

Intersections: Gender and Disability

London Fourth Plinth sculpture 2005 woman with disabilityby Matilda Branson

A girl is born into a very poor family living in a remote rural village. As she grows up, it becomes apparent to her parents that her limbs don’t function the way they should and is unable to walk. Rumours flit about the village that the girl’s mother may be cursed for giving birth to such a child. The child is kept at home, hidden away, a constant source of shame and embarrassment to the family. She does not go to school. She associates only with her family and is confined to the home. In her teens her father begins to sexually abuse her. As she reaches adulthood, she remains at home. Socially, culturally, economically, she is not seen as what a woman should be. She will never marry, bear children, or work. That is her lot in life.

It may seem pretty heavy, but the above scenario could be any one of the many case studies in a range of countries on gender and disability. Throughout the world, 650 million people – 10% of the world’s population – live with disabilities (Beijing Platform for Action, 1995). I’m not going to blab on about definitions of disability as that’d take forever – but yes, definitions vary, and yes, one shouldn’t necessarily make “disability” a huge umbrella term. But the point is that women with disabilities in general are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence; lack access to economic opportunities, health, and education; and experience conditions of poverty and forced medical interventions to control their fertility.

While mainstreaming gender into the disability sector is becoming more and more common, all too often you see that women with disabilities are perceived as asexual, passive beings, in need of constant care. What’s with that? Protective instincts? Surely we’ve moved beyond that though, in this age of rights, choice and autonomy. Quite a common issue the parents of young women with disabilities face, or refuse to face, is the fact that their daughter is a sexual being who may be keen to have boyfriends, have sex, get married and have children. This issue pops up in the shocked conservative Australian media from time to time about irresponsible parents choosing (imagine!) to allow their sons with disabilities to visit a brothel – yet these stories only seem to centre around boys with disabilities.

Regardless of whether we’re talking about developing or developed contexts, the real question is how do you, the people around you and wider society perceive gender and disability?  Is there any way that you – in your school, uni, workplace, wherevs – can perhaps help to mainstream the issue a bit more? Educate people; transform some of the persisting attitudes into seeing women and people with disabilities as empowered, autonomous individuals who can make up their own minds about things.  It just makes sense, right?

(photo CC-licensed, part of the Geograph Project)

Posted on by Matilda Branson in Feminism Leave a comment

It’s the Genderbread Person!

Genderbread Person
It’s Pronounced Metrosexual came up with this awesome infographic that helps clarify some gender binary terminology. The cool thing about it is how it shows all these aspects are on continuums – it’s not one or the other. And as the creator, Sam, points out, it shows: “Gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual orientation are independent of one another (i.e., they are not connected).” That means not everyone is stuck on one side of the chart or the other.

For a more detailed breakdown of the chart and the continuums Sam describes, visit the original post here.


(h/t to A. Lynn of Nerdy Feminist

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism 6 Comments