29 May, 2011

Masturbation - A History

We live in amazing times, indeed. Research and technology have made huge leaps in the communications and medical fields, for example. But because it's still masturbation month, allow me to praise such technologies as realistic, skin-like materials, slippery lubes, small and quiet vibrating motors, and so on that make my - and many others - solo sex lives very satisfying! 

Despite the fact that there hasn't always been Rabbits and Pleasure Glide at hand, our ancestors were just as freaky - and arguably more creative - than we are today.

In the first part of this blog post, I'm going to go through a brief history of artistic depictions of masturbation and technological developments. In the second part, I'll talk about historic attitudes toward masturbation. So enjoy the history lesson, admire the ingenuity, and thank your lucky stars you are alive now.

Depictions of Masturbation and Various Inventions Throughout History

Not only is this little gem believed to be the first piece of erotic art, but it is also thought to be the earliest piece of art depicting the figure of a human at all. Which has some experts hypothesizing that this is indeed the first pornography. (Note the exaggerated vulva and breasts.)

Venus of Hohle Fels ~ 35 000 - 40 000 BCE

Around 26 000 BCE is when this impressive device is said to be made. Fun fact: It's from the same area as the statue above was made, in what now is Germany. 
Phallus ~ 26 000 BCE

Images of masturbating males were very prevalent in the ancient world, and it is generally accepted that attitudes toward masturbation were very relaxed, as it was believed to increase potency. 

6th Century BCE Greek krater depicting a satyr masturbating

In ancient Egypt, it was believed that the god Atum, created Shu and Tefnut (think Adam and Eve) by  masturbating. The ebb and flow of the Nile river was also thought to be attributed to the frequency of Atun's ejaculations. 

Depiction of males masturbating -Egypt

Dated around 500 BCE, this Greek vase depicts a woman using an olisbos, or dildo. (derived from the word "to glide"). Olisbos were promoted in Greek literature at the time as a "stand-in" for husbands at war.

Greek vase ~ 500 BCE

It is also believed that olive oil started being used for more than cooking around 350 BCE. It seems that couples with lubrication issues around the Mediterranean got quite creative indeed!

It is believed that in the 2nd Century CE, the infamous Kama Sutra was compiled. In it is a very poetic lesson on the best way to masturbate: "Churn your instrument with a lion's pounce: sit with legs stretched out at right angles to one another, propping yourself up with two hands planted on the ground between in them, and it between your arms". (My word!) 

Ben Wa Balls are said to have been invented in China around 500 CE. Used for both increased stimulation of the penis during coitus and as a way for women to strengthen the pelvic muscles, these are still widely used today! And although not strictly a masturbation aid, the modern Duotone Balls which evolved from Ben Wa Balls, are used for self-pleasure by women by inserting them and enjoying the vibration while in a rocking chair or going for a walk.

As it turns out, we owe a lot of thanks to the Chinese, because around 1200 CE is when they invented the cock ring! (I'm glad we have stretchy materials now though...) Again, not specifically a masturbation aid, but cock rings are designed to strengthen and prolong an erection and provide for more powerful orgasms.

Early cock ring - China

About 200 years after the cock ring, the term "dildo" appeared in Renaissance Italy. They were typically made of wood or leather. (Hope they had some olive oil!)

in 1841, the process of vulcanizing rubber was developed by Charles Goodyear. This meant that rubber was now stronger and more elastic.  This was the first step of many toward the modern rubber dong. (Later, around the turn of the century, latex rubber was invented making a huge leap forward for prophylactics and sex toys.)

This painting, from the 19th Century Japan depicts a woman engaging in a little bit of self-love!

Shunga painting by Kunisada - Japan

In 1869 George Taylor, an American physician invented the vibrator. Albeit steam-powered and terrifying. He designed this machine to treat an affliction then known as "female hysteria". (At this time, it was not understood that women had sex drives, so rather than explain certain behaviour as: "That bitch is horny!" The medical "experts" chalked it up to a medical condition called hysteria.)


First invented in 1927 as a comfort aid for women during pelvic exams, KY personal lubricant soon found an over-the-counter market.

The first electric vibrator was advertised in McClure's magazine in the US in 1899. It was said to cure wrinkles, headaches, nerve pain and hysteria. Do a quick google image search for "history of vibrators" and you'll thank your lucky stars we live in these times!

So far, my research has been very entertaining and educational. But my mind just got blown. Brace yourself. The sex doll was invented... in 1941... by... HITLER. That's right! In order to relieve tension among the storm troopers, Hitler instructed "Borghild" to be designed with blond hair, blue eyes, and large breasts.

The emergence of Playboy magazine in 1953 paved the way for modern day pornography. 
Marylin. Still a legend!

Ahh, the 90's. They gave us The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Grunge music, and mini back-pack purses. But I'm forgetting something: The Rabbit Vibrator of course! This little gem, popularized by Charlotte preferring to stay home with her new vibe rather than go out with the girls on Sex and the City, sparked a whole industry of "branched" vibrators.

The Rabbit Pearl Vibrator

Attitudes to Masturbation Throughout History

If fertility-worship is ancient, so is condemnation of masturbation. Experts link this attitude to the species-propagating notion of "safety in numbers". A larger tribe meant greater chances of survival. This concept is thought to be the reason that historically, non-procreating forms of sexual pleasure have been frowned upon - or outright condemned. (eg, homosexuality, masturbation and anal/oral sex.) Luckily, we no longer live in times where extinction of the human race is an actual concern. Unfortunately, too many still hold this archaic view.

Often, in Western cultures, the Bible (Specifically Genesis 38 - The story of a man who was instructed by God to impregnate is dead brother's widow, and was punished when he "spilled his seed") is used to justify condemnation of masturbation. However, the "spilling of seed" that is referred to is what we now call coitus interruptus or "pulling out".

Fast forward to the 18th and 19th Centuries. Masturbation was considered to be the cause of around 60% of medical and mental illnesses including blindness, deafness, mental retardation and insanity. So great was the fear of self-stimulation, that extreme measures were taken to prevent it, from severe physical discipline to genital surgery to mechanical restraints.

 One of the 33 patents awarded by the US patent office from 1856-1932 for anti-masturbation devices.

And as I mentioned before, females weren't even thought to possess a sex drive, so any sexual behaviours displayed by women was considered simple "hysteria". 

The beginning of the 20th century saw a slight change in attitudes, but it wasn't until Alfred Kinsey's work in the 40's and 50's (He said masturbation was instinctual and beneficial) and the Sexual Revolution of the 1970's that self-pleasure was no longer viewed as deplorable. 

We have a long way to go still...
In the 1990s, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abd al-Aziz bin Baz, declared that masturbation causes disruption of the digestive system, inflammation of the testicles, damage to the spine, "trembling and instability in some parts of the body like the feet", weakening of the "cerebral glands" leading to decreased intellect and even "mental disorders and insanity". But this also comes from a man who believes that women shouldn't drive, nor show their ankles in public...

But in Western culture, we're totally enlightened, right? Right? Wrong. In 1994, then-US Surgeon General Dr. Jocelyn Elders, mentioned as an aside that it should be mentioned in school curricula that masturbation was safe and healthy. She was then forced to resign by then-President Bill Clinton. A year later, May was declared Masturbation Month in her honour.  

So as Masturbation Month comes to a close, I hope you're still celebrating your sexuality in all forms, and loving yourself!



  1. I am Helga of Borg(hild), you will be assimilated!

    Seriously now, informative post, and well written.

    Also... Women walking around with Ben Wa Balls or Duotone Balls inserted? My word indeed!

    Heard of Fleshlights? I can't imagine many guys admitting to having one, but they might make an otherwise dull evening more interesting.

  2. Hey thanks! I'm really glad you like it! And I have heard of Fleshlights. Kind of like a vibrator disguised as lipstick for women!