A dildo is a sex toy, often explicitly phallic in appearance, intended for sexual penetration or other sexual activity during masturbation or with sex partners. Dildos can be made from a number of materials and shaped like an erect human penis. They are typically 10-15cm in length, about the average length of an erect penis, but some may be longer, and circumference is typically 4-5cm.
Dildos in one form or another have existed widely in history. Artifacts from the Upper Paleolithic of a type called bâton de commandement have been speculated to have been used for sexual purposes. Few archaeologists consider these items as sex toys, but archaeologist Timothy Taylor put it, "Looking at the size, shape, and—some cases—explicit symbolism of the ice age batons, it seems disingenuous to avoid the most obvious and straightforward interpretation. But it has been avoided."
The first dildos were made of stone, tar, wood, bone, ivory, limestone, teeth, and other materials that could be shaped as penises and that were firm enough to be used as penetrative sex toys. Scientists believe that a 20-centimeter siltstone phallus from the Upper Palaeolithic period 30,000 years ago, found in Hohle Fels Cave near Ulm, Germany, may have been used as a dildo. Prehistoric double-headed dildos have been found which date anywhere from 13-19,000 years ago. Various paintings from ancient Egypt around 3000 BCE feature dildos being used in a variety of ways. In medieval times, a plant called the “cantonese groin” was soaked in hot water to enlarge and harden for women to use as dildos. Dildo-like breadsticks, known as olisbokollikes were known in Ancient Greece prior to the 5th century BC. In Italy during the 1400s, dildos were made of leather, wood, or stone. Chinese women in the 15th century used dildos made of lacquered wood with textured surfaces, and were sometimes buried with them. The Choice of Valentines mentions a dildo made from glass. Dildos also appeared in 17th and 18th century Japan, in shunga. In these erotic novels, women are shown enthusiastically buying dildos, some made out of water buffalo horns.
Dildos were not just used for sexual pleasure. Examples from the Eurasia Ice Age (40,000-10,000 BCE) and Roman era are speculated to have been used for defloration rituals. This isn't the only example of dildos being used for ritual ceremonies, as people in 4000 BCE Pakistan used them to worship the god Shiva.
Many references to dildos exist in the historical and ethnographic literature. Haberlandt for example, illustrates single and double penetration dildos from late 19th century Zanzibar.
Some art work from ancient Greece shows dildos beingh used in group sex or in solitary female masturbation. One vessel, of about the sixth century BCE, depicts a scene in which a woman bends over to perform oral sex on a man, while another man is about to thrust a dildo into her anus.
They are mentioned several times in Aristophanes comedy of 411 BCE, Lysistrata.
Greek dildos were often made out of leather stuffed with wool in order to give it varying degrees of thickness and firmness. They were often lubricated with olive oil, and used for sexual practice and other activities. The Greeks were also one of the first groups to use the term “toy” in reference to a dildo.
Early modern period
In the early 1590s, the English playwright Thomas Nashe wrote a poem known as The Choice of Valentines, Nashe's Dildo or The Merrie Ballad of Nashe his Dildo. This was not printed at the time, due to its obscenity but it was still widely circulated and made Nashe's name notorious. The poem describes a visit to a brothel by a man called "Tomalin"; he is searching for his sweetheart, Francis, who has become a prostitute. The only way he can see her is to hire her. However, she resorts to using a glass dildo as he finds himself unable to perform sexually to her satisfaction.
Dildos are humorously mentioned in Act IV, scene iv of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. This play and Ben Jonson's play The Alchemist (1610) are typically cited as the first use of the word in publication (Nashe's Merrie Ballad was not published until 1899).
Many other works of bawdy and satirical English literature of the period deal with the subject. Dildoides: A Burlesque Poem (London, 1706), attributed to Samuel Butler, is a mock lament to a collection of dildos that had been seized and publicly burnt by the authorities. Examples of anonymous works include The Bauble, a tale (London, 1721) and Monsieur Thing's Origin: or Seignor D---o's Adventures in London, (London, 1722). In 1746, Henry Fielding wrote The Female Husband: or the surprising history of Mrs Mary, alias Mr. George Hamilton, in which a woman posing as a man uses a dildo. This was a fictionalized account of the story of Mary Hamilton.
In the 21st century feminists have argued that dildos were designed by men and that sex toys designed by women deprioritise sexual penetration. This would appear to be at odds with the many thousands of years in which dildos were designed and manufactured primarily for the enjoyment of women.
- Marshack, A. 1972 The Roots of Civilization McGraw-Hill New York: 333
- Taylor, T. 1996. The Prehistory of Sex. New York: Bantam. p. 128.
- Paul L. Vasey, Intimate Sexual Relations in Prehistory: Lessons from the Japanese Macaques. World Archaeology, Vol. 29, No. 3, Intimate Relations (Feb., 1998), pp. 407-425