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A Brief History of Sex Toys and Their Effect on Female Sexuality

Health

The beginnings of the female sex toy are interesting indeed. As any Master of Sex fan knows, intimate vibrating devices were not created for the sole reason of bestowing pleasure to women, but instead to give male doctors a reprieve from the grueling task of physically stimulating their female patients back from “hysteria," a blanket term which covered a broad litany of issues that affected only women.


In 1859, a physician named George Taylor actually penned a seventy-five page document of possible symptoms of hysteria (many were forms of “nervous disorders" or undesirable female behavior like irritability) claiming that one in a quarter women were suffering from it. To wit, doctors decided manual stimulation of women would bring them to “paroxysms," a term coined due to the erroneous belief that women enjoyed no sexual pleasure.

A disguised ad for an early sex toy

“Until the 20th century, American and European men—including physicians—believed that women did not experience sexual desire or pleasure," wrote sex expert Michael Castleman, in Psychology Today. "They believed that women were simply fleshy receptacles for male lust and that intercourse culminating in male ejaculation fulfilled women's erotic needs. Women were socialized to believe that “ladies" had no sex drive, and that duty required them to put up with sex in order to keep their husbands happy and have children."

The electric vibrator was invented in the late 19th century by Mortimer Granville (played by Hugh Dancy in the vibrator origins exploring film, Hysteria). The original prototype was “a handheld battery operated device designed to relieve more muscle aches and pains," which would eventually evolve to become a tool manufactured and sold to physicians to treat "hysterical paroxysm" in female patients. Women began to seek the good feelings without the doctor visit, and thus the DIY "hysteria treating" market was born, in the 1900s.

“During the early 20th century, doctors lost their monopoly on hysteria treatment as women began buying the devices for themselves, thanks to advertisements in popular women's magazines, among them: Needlecraft, Women's Home Companion, and the Sears & Roebuck Catalogue, that era's Amazon.com," wrote Castleman. “However, to make vibrators' socially acceptable, their real purpose was disguised. They were called “personal massagers" (and still are in some catalogues today). But discerning women and advertising copy writers knew very well what “massagers" were all about. One 1903 advertisement in the Sears Catalogue touted a popular massager as “a delightful companion … all the pleasures of youth … will throb within you...."

Once the sexual revolution of the later part of the century began unfolding and more and more women started realizing they, like men, could indeed feel physical pleasure, sex toys went from secret to more mainstream. Today, the adult novelty market (which now includes "smart" toys that utilize everything from VR to 3D printing) is expected to grow 15.29% during the period 2016-2020. To better understand women's relationships with their own sexuality and where sex toys fit in, SWAAY asked a variety of our favorite influencers, journalists and sex columnists which toys were their favorite and the answer was almost unanimous; The Womanizer.

Unlike classic vibrators (think: The Rabbit from Sex And The City fame, or the much heralded Hitachi wand), this ergonomically shaped tool looks more like a tech accessory than a sex toy. Described as “life changing" and “perfect for the girl on the go," The Womanizer is a new age sex toy, made to mimic the sensation of oral sex with air pressure, and meant to work, fast.

“We have built-in sex toys. We have 5 on each hand. But, all jokes aside, I think people from as far back as you can imagine have been trying to improve upon what we were given. If there was hieroglyphic porn, there were definitely early sex toys." -Morgan Rossi

“There was a real lacking in the industry for something that effectively simulated oral sex," says Rossi. “There were tons of products that were tongue shaped and trying to get there but it was never creating the same sensation."

Rossi, who joined the Germany-based, all-male Womanizer team last year, says as the brand's spokesperson, her goal is helping women better understand the product's functionality (The Womanizer uses a unique "air technology" and what it does.

“What it does can be hard for anyone to understand," says Rossi, who handles almost 100 retail accounts in the US and Canada."We are pretty fortunate we got an excellent mainstream response right away largely thanks to our PR team. We got into Glamour, Cosmo, and O Magazine, and that made it approachable."

Additionally, the product's universally positive reviews have also helped it catch on and make women more comfortable with using it. “The puzzling design and complete departure from the mechanics of every other sex toy make it a head-scratcher for most men," wrote one Amazon reviewer. “I find the confusion on a partner's face when I break it out and proudly declare 'this is my favorite toy' just charming."

A still from 'Hysteria'

“The reviewers are huge for us," says Rossi. “We are pretty reliant on those bloggers and the reviewers. What's great about our company is we take comments and feedback to heart. The team in Germany is really good about making improvements. A lot been done in making it more aesthetically pleasing and more minimal. We are constantly getting better."

The Womanizer's parent company, which also makes facial cleansing devices and electronic toothbrushes, is all about education, especially for sales associates. “We make it a huge focus to make sure retailers all get products, try it, and can speak to it; we want them to have a personal experience," says Rossi. “Demonstrating on the floor can be tricky because people have been conditioned to seek vibration, and extra power, something that looks very different."

According to Rossi, working as a sex expert and brand ambassador has been rewarding, mostly because of the reaction she gets from customers. "For a lot of people The Womanizer unlocks pleasure for the first time, sometimes the first time in their entire lives," she says. "For me this is an eye opener I didn't realize the magnitude of this experience for women."

In terms of public relations and promotion, Rossi says the company has been working on social media promotions displayed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. When asked if there's been any push back due to the nature of what she's selling, Rossi says refreshingly that there hasn't. "We are really fortunate to have had a medical study done this year, which allows us to say with great confidence that we are a health product." she says. "Sometimes, however, the do figure it out, and we will be blocked."

“Women have by and large shaped the industry into something all can enjoy openly. I think it was more mainstream than people were once willing to talk about."

In terms of the Womanizer product assortment, the company releases limited-edition designs, including one encrusted with 14 karat gold, and various colors like red rose, magenta, white chrome. Available on womanizer.com, products range from $129 to $219. Long handle. The newest offerings is the Womanizer to go, which comes in a lipstick shape and can travel with you. “It's very TSA friendly," laughs Rossi. “It reminds me of Clinique."

A Few Questions with Morgan

1. Was there always a stigma around female sex toys?

Definitely. This would explain sex toys of the 50s to early 70s. They were always marketed as massagers. The boxes showed pictures of women and men “rubbing one out" on their face, neck and shoulders. I actually bought one of these golden oldies for the dead stock packaging- it had vignettes of golfers and tennis players, and then one woman with a torpedo-shaped dildo caressing the side of her cheek.

2. Why is the female orgasm so elusive? Any insight on how women explored this historically?

Many women endure the affects inorgasmia, owing to a multitude of factors. Those cases aside, I'm not sure if I consider the female orgasm elusive at all. If people are discouraged from self-exploration, sexual satisfaction can be a mystery into adulthood. Historically, women are less commonly taught and more often discouraged to masturbate. Now, we have fantastic array of products, like the Womanizer, which take some of the guess work out of the equation. This conversation is becoming much more pervasive with great toys that help women unlock pleasure, sometimes for the first time.

3. Were there any toys specifically to replicate the sensation of oral sex?

Not successfully. At least, not until the launch of Womanizer. There were some attempts at making toys that look like tongues and mimic those sensations, but they were always just a vibrator in the end. The Womanizer's Pleasure Air Technology is the most convincing.

4. Historically can you speak about how sex toys for men vs. female were perceived? Which were more popular/mainstream?

Sex toys have really exploded recently in quality and efficacy- for both men and women. Male toys were once often blow-up dolls or some version of stroker. These toys have done a 180 with today's technology. The same is true for women's toys. The better these products perform, the more people need to know and the more mainstream our products become.

5. Is it typical that the inventors of female-oriented sex toys are men?

Some successful companies were started by men with women in-mind. Ours is one of these. If a man can identify an opportunity for women's toys and can nail it with one product, I'm on-board. But, there have been great products by women for women that have been equally ground-breaking. As women continue to drive this industry, I have faith that they will increase their portion of the pie.

7min read
Culture

The Middle East And North Africa Are Brimming With Untapped Female Potential

Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.


A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.

To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.

The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.

In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.

Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")

The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."

This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.

Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.

She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."

Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.

"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei

While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.

Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.

The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."

This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.

Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.