Tag Archives: sex toys

Are Men Afraid of Sex Toys?


Has this man just seen a dildo?












Imagine for a minute that your female friend were contemplating purchasing a masturbation sleeve for her boyfriend. What advice would you give her? Would you tell her that giving him a masturbation sleeve would jeopardize her femininity? That her boyfriend would become addicted to the pleasurable sensations produced from the masturbation sleeve? That such a purchase would augur the end of the relationship? That woman cannot compete with machine?

Such statements would be absurd. Yet if a male friend were purchasing a vibrator for his girlfriend, such a conversation would be likely. When I discuss my research, usually someone tells me that men are intimidated by sex toys, and consequentially that sex toys will always be taboo because of this male uneasiness. On the surface of it, the argument seems to be logical: How could a man not be afraid of a powerful mechanical device that produces consistent orgasms that are sometimes more pleasurable than those provided by their penises or tongues? So I set out to investigate one of the most persistent claims about sex toys, in an attempt to discover the origin of this belief in the male fear of sex toys, as well as whether or not data back it up.

There’s no way of knowing for sure how men felt about sex toys throughout history because surveys of sex-toy attitudes only came about in the 21st century. Even The Kinsey Reports  in 1948 and 1953 did not include much information about sex toys, aside from the finding that a few women masturbated with vibrators. But this idea has existed for at least a century, as warnings about women’s dependency on vibrators show up in sex guides fromthe early 1900s. However, it’s in underground erotic comics from the 1930s and 1940s ( known as Tijuana Bibles or Eight-Pagers) where the theme is most vividly articulated.

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Why can’t we just call a Dildo a “Dildo”?

As I pore over the vice reports of our mutton-chopped 19th century postal censor, Anthony Comstock, I’m continuously surprised that he refused to refer to the dildo as a dildo. “Too gross to be described,” he says in a published vice report from 1882 in reference to “immoral rubber goods,” a sweeping category that included condoms, dildos, French ticklers, and odd things like fake dog poop. He didn’t feel comfortable describing them in detail, but he took pleasure in quantifying the amount of sex products that he confiscated. In 1882 alone it was 64,836 pounds.

It’s as if Comstock believed that the word itself was so dangerous that printing it could have a deleterious effect on all who read it. Sometimes in the confidential arrest reports he has scribbled the word. When he arrested sex goods proprietor Louis Beer, he noted: “The man who brought the dildoe to America.” Of course he was giving Beer too much credit because most likely the man who brought the dildo to America has been dead for 3,000 years. What would be more correct is to call him the man who brought the rubber dildo to America, but my research shows that it definitely wasn’t Beer. The father of American gynaecology, J. Marion Sims, did more to popularize the dildo than anyone else I know. In the mid-1800s, he advocated the use of dilators (now referred to as “medical dildos”) as treatments for vaginismus, a condition where the vagina spasms and tightens so much prior to sexual intercourse that a penis is unable to penetrate the wall of rigid genital tissue.

For some reason the task of avoiding the use of words like dildo, condom, and French tickler caused government officials to wax poetic about rubber sexual devices.  In an 1873 speech to the House of Representatives, New York congressman Clinton L. Merriam, stumping for an obscenity bill, had this to say:

“It is terrible to contemplate that more than six thousand persons are daily employed in a carefully organized business, stimulated to activity by all the incentives that avarice and wickedness can invent, to place in the schools, and homes of our country, books, pictures and immoral appliances, of so low and debasing a nature that it would seem as if the brute creation itself would turn from them in disgust

By avoiding using the word dildo, America’s censors ended up imbuing it with a mystical power, making dildo the word whose name they dared not speak, and whose etymology is a mystery. But the word may be making a comeback. This month postal censors made Vice magazine cover up their picture of a dildo with a DILDO sticker. Progress? Not really. We won’t be truly progressive until neither the word or the device offends.

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When I tell people that I’m a dildographer, most of them laugh.

Hallie Lieberman, dildographer and penis historian

I’m not asking for sympathy here. You don’t choose the profession of dildography if you want to be taken seriously. In fact, dildography chose me,  or more precisely, I stole the title of dildographer from the 1971 movie Is There Sex After Death? One of the characters in the film is a professor of dildography who spends his days luxuriating in a penis-filled office, brushing giant feathers over nubile, half-naked young women. When I saw this movie at age 17, I decided that this was my calling. Some people are called to the priesthood, but I was called to be a sex toy scholar. Like a child who watches a Disney movie and decides that she wants to become a princess, I was disheartened to learn that there is no direct path to dildo studies, no degree program, no support group, nothing. So, logically, I  majored in English in my undergraduate years at the University of Florida and wrote a paper on the marketing of sex toys, all the while dreaming of my life as a dildographer.  I then went to the University of Texas-Austin to get a master’s in advertising and began a side job selling sex toys for in-home sales company Passion Parties. To this day, I feel guilt for convincing a bride to buy a butt plug to bring on her honeymoon, by claiming that “Most men think butt plugs are normal. All men would be happy to use one on their honeymoon.”

Side note: Selling sex toys was illegal in Texas in 2005 when I worked for Passion Parties. My mother was terrified that I would be arrested. As long as you claimed you were selling “massagers” that were “for novelty use only,” you could get away with selling vibrators. It was the Comstock Act all over again.

I wrote my master’s thesis on the marketing of sex toys, but it wasn’t until I went to the University of Wisconsin that I realized I wanted to study their history .  No comprehensive history of sex toys exists, so that’s the topic of my dissertation. For the next nine months, I’m on a fellowship with the sole goal of uncovering this understudied layer of American history. This blog is going to be dedicated to my most interesting historical findings, as well as sex toy reviews of contemporary products.  I’m also developing a timeline of sex toys in American popular culture, which I’m hoping readers can help me cobble together.

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