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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.

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Politics

Do 2020 Presidential Candidates Still Have Rules to Play By?

Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.


When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.

2016: What rules?

Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.

Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.

And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.

And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?

Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

Digital policies for 2020 and beyond

While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.

Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy

Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:

  • If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
  • While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
  • If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
  • Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
  • Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?

Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.

Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply

The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:

  1. Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
  2. Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
  3. Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
  4. Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
  5. Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
  6. Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
  7. Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
  8. Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.

Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.