The unexpected and underappreciated history of sex toys.
Years before sex expert Lieberman earned her doctorate in “Sex Toy History,” she invested in her first vibrator, and it became “love at first buzz.” She went on to participate in adult novelty parties while living in Texas, where the sale or promotion of sexual stimulators was considered legally obscene (things have changed since). The historically regressive nature of the availability and use of sex toys forms the thrust of the book, and the author’s vast knowledge of sex, eroticism, and the art of self-pleasure is on vibrant display. Lieberman describes ancient “phallic batons” in use as far back as 40,000 B.C.E. Though the information is readily available, she notes, there remains no definitive answers on the true origins and usages of sex toys, primarily because their history is shrouded in “male fear,” patriarchal regulation of women’s bodies, and shame. While Japanese societies celebrate the sex toy, the author encountered difficulty in tracing the tabooed subject matter within American culture until, tucked away in the archives of museums, libraries, and vintage catalogs, she discovered dilators, ticklers, and vibrators and their assorted histories as sexual apparatuses disguised as medical devices. Lieberman introduces us to a colorful cast of creators and purveyors who have played a role in destigmatizing masturbation and revolutionizing the sex industry. Among others, these include an enterprising paraplegic who embarked on a handcrafted dildo manufacturing business, which helped usher innovative variations on sex toys into the mainstream consumer market. Lieberman also profiles the two creative entrepreneurs behind the Pleasure Chest adult novelty chain and American artists and sex educators Betty Dodson and Joani Blank, and she updates readers on more contemporary advancements within the sex toy arena. On a deeper level, through its probing exploration, the text also becomes a sharp commentary on contemporary society’s ever changing sexual landscape and how sex is perceived, judged, accepted, and enjoyed with more variations than ever before.
Provocative, illuminating, and consistently entertaining.