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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. Instead they were created 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. And let's be honest, they never would have been invented had they not had some initial benefit for men.


In 1859, a physician named George Taylor actually penned a 75 page document of possible symptoms of hysteria. Many of these "symptoms" were forms of “nervous disorders" or undesirable female behavior like irritability. Taylor claimed that one in a quarter of all women were suffering from hysteria. To wit, doctors decided manual stimulation of women would bring them to “paroxysms," which is basically just a fancy term to describe an orgasm 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. In the 1900s women began to seek the good feelings without a doctor visit, and thus the DIY "hysteria treating" market was born.

“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 latter half of the century began unfolding and more women started owning that 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) was 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 it works fast.

“We have built-in sex toys. We have five 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," says Morgan Rossi, a spokesperson for Womanizer.

“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."

“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."


Via Womanizer


“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 been. "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, they 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, and white chrome. Available on womanizer.com, products range from $129 to $219.

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.

This piece was originally published on June 25, 2017.

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Featured

Judge Tanya Acker On Overcoming Racial Barriers And Her Rise To The Top

You may recognize Judge, Tanya Acker, from her political and legal commentary on different networks and shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, Wendy Williams, CNN Reports or The Insider. Acker is more than an experienced commentator. She is also a Judge on the fifth season of Emmy nominated CBS show, Hot Bench.

Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life.

The show, created by Judge Judy, is a new take on the court genre. Alongside Acker, are two other judges: Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. Together the three-panel judges take viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers. “I feel like my responsibility on the show is, to be honest, fair, [and] to try and give people a just and equitable result," Acker says. She is accomplished, honest and especially passionate about her career. In fact, Acker likes the fact that she is able to help people solve problems. “I think that efficient ways of solving disputes are really at the core of modern life.

“We are a very diverse community [with] different values, backgrounds [and] beliefs. It's inevitable that we're going to find ourselves in some conflicts. I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life. Particularly, her time working right after college impacted the type of legal work she takes on now.

Shaping Her Career

Acker didn't foresee doing this kind of work on television when she was in college at either Howard University or Yale Law. “I was really open in college about what would happen next," Acker comments. “In fact, I deliberately chose a major (English) that wouldn't lock me into anything [because] I wanted to keep all of my options open." Her inevitable success on the show and throughout her career is an example of that. In fact, after graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Dorothy Nelson who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It was not only her first job out of law school but also one of the formative experiences of her professional life. “[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law," she exclaims. “She delivers it all with a lot of love." Judge Nelson is still on the bench and is continuing to work through her Foundation: The Western Justice Center in Pasadena, California, where Acker serves on the board. The foundation helps people seeking alternative ways of resolving their disputes instead of going to court.

"I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

“It was important to her to try and create platforms for people to resolve conflict outside of court because court takes a long time," Acker explains. “I'm proud to be a part of that work and to sit on that board."

After her clerkship, she was awarded a Bristow Fellowship and continued building her career. Outside of the fellowship, Acker's legal work incorporated a broad variety of matters from civil litigation, constitutional cases, business counseling, and advising. One of her most memorable moments was representing a group of homeless people against the city. “They were being fought for vagrancy and our defense was, they had no place to go," she shares.

As part of her pro bono work, Acker was awarded the ACLU's First Amendment Award for her success with the case. Though, she has a hard time choosing from one of many memorable moments on Hot Bench. Acker does share a few of the things that matter to her. “Our show is really drawn from a cross-section of courtrooms across America and the chance to engage with such a diverse group of people really means a lot to me," she discusses.

How Did Acker Become A Judge?

In addition to Judge Nelson, Judge Judy is certainly among her top professional influences. “I think it's incredible [and] I feel very lucky that my professional career has been bookended by these incredible judges," she acclaims. “I've really learned a lot from Judy about this job, doing this kind of job on television." Before Acker was selected for Hot Bench, she hadn't been a judge. It was Judge Judy who recommended that she get some experience. Acker briefly comments on her first experience as a temporary judge on a volunteer basis in traffic court. “I was happy to be able to have the chance to kind of get a feel for it before we started doing the show," she comments. “Judy is a wonderful, kind, generous person [and] she's taught me quite a lot. I feel lucky."

Judge Acker in white pantsuit with her dog. Photo Courtesy of Annie Shak.

Acker's Time Away From Home

Outside of Hot Bench, Acker took recent trips to Haiti and Alabama. They were memorable and meaningful.

Haiti, in particular, was the first trip she excitedly talks about. She did some work there in an orphanage as part of LOVE Takes Root, an organization that is driven to help children around the world whether it's basic aid or education. “Haiti has a special place in my heart," she began. “As a person who's descended from enslaved people, I have a lot of honor and reverence for a country that threw off the shackles of slavery."

She was intrigued by the history of Haiti. Especially regarding the communities, corrupt government and natural disasters. “They really had to endure a lot, but I tell you this when I was there, I saw people who were more elegant, dignified, gracious and generous as any group of people I've ever met anywhere in the world," she goes on. “I think it left me with was a strong sense of how you can be graceful and elegant under fire." Acker is optimistic about the country's overall growth and success.

“[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law."

“There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," Acker says. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving."

Her other trip was different in more ways than one. She traveled there for the first time with her mother as part of a get out to vote effort, that Alabama's First black House Minority Leader, Anthony Daniels was organizing. “It was incredible to take that trip with her [and] I've got to tell you, the South of today is not the South of my mother's upbringing," she explains. Originally from Mississippi, Acker's mother hasn't been back in the South since 1952. “Every place has a ways to go, but it was a really exciting trip [and] it was nice for me to connect with that part of the country and that part of my history."

Overcoming Racial Barriers

As a black woman, Acker has certainly faced challenges based on her race and gender. But it doesn't define who she is or what she can accomplish. “There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," she says. “There's no sort of barrier that someone would attempt to impose upon me that they didn't attempt to impose on my mother, grandmother or great-grandmother." In a space where disparity is sometimes apparent, she recognizes that there is no barrier someone would try to impose on her that they didn't attempt to impose on her mother or grandmothers. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving," Acker states. The conversation continues truthfully and seriously. Acker shares what it can be like for black women, specifically. “I think we're underestimated and we can be disrespected, whereas other folks are allowed the freedom to enjoy a full range of emotions and feelings," she articulates.

At times black women are often restricted from expressing themselves. “If someone wants to make an assumption or jump to a conclusion about me because of my race or gender, that's on them, but their assumptions aren't going to define me," Acker declares. “If something makes me angry or happy I will express that and if someone wants to caricature me, that's their pigeonholing; that's not my problem." A lifelong lesson she learned and shared is to not let other people define who you are. It is one of three bits of wisdom.

Three Pieces Of Advice From Judge Acker

The Power Of Self-awareness

“It's really important that you have a really firm sense of what you want to do and be, and how you're moving in the world because when people try to sway you, judge you or steer you off course you've got to have some basis for getting back on track."

Know Your Support System

“Have a strong community of people who you trust, love and who love you," she advises. “But also learn to love and trust yourself because sometimes it's your own voice that can provide you the most comfort or solace in something."

Learn From Your Experiences

“Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself.

“There are times when it's not enough to say this is who I am. Take it or leave it. Sometimes we've got things that we need to work on, change or improve upon," she concludes.

Acker stands out not only because of her accomplishments, but the way she views certain aspects of her life. These days, she's comfortable accepting what makes her different. “I think there's a time when you're younger when conformity feels comfortable, [but] I'm comfortable these days not conforming," she laughs. She enjoys being a decision maker and helping people work through it on Hot Bench.

This article was originally published May 15, 2019.