Positively Sex: History wins when it comes to dildos

About 28,000 years ago, some bright Neolithic human figured that the main drawback to penises was the lack of portability. And thus, the dildo was born.

The name comes from the Latin word “diltare,” meaning “to open wide.” Or possibly the Italian word “diletto,” meaning “delight.” Or maybe “dildo,” the phallic peg used to lock an oar in position on a small boat, which also lends its name to Dildo Island, Nova Scotia — either way, it's old.

Found in 2005 by a Tübingen University team in the German Hohle Fels Cave, this siltstone dong measures about 8 inches. It was found in 14 fragments and after piecing them together, it was apparent the tool has been polished to a shine. Of course, there has been some debate as to its purpose. On one hand, evidence of wear on the stone-age stone rod indicates that it was used for flint knapping. On the other hand, the smooth surface and life-sized shape indicate that probably wasn't the only wear it saw.

Some anthropologists have been demure, saying that we can't know for sure that it was used for pleasure — and that's true. As archaeologist Dr. Martin Runkvist puts it, “There are many non-dildoish uses for which it may have been intended. But without doubt, anyone at the time would have seen the penile similarities.”

A bronze double-ended dildo was buried with prince Liu Sheng in Han Dynasty China. It was typical for noblemen to have more wives and concubines than they could physically shake a stick at, but the pressure to produce heirs was high enough to inspire the invention of the cock ring. This dildo could have been used for the Prince's viewing pleasure and may have been given to his women in an attempt to keep them satisfied and faithful.

The same logic applied to the leather olishoi (from the root meaning “to slip”) that Greek soldiers gifted their wives before going off to war. A tactic which backfired spectacularly in this scene from Aristophanes’ anti-war comedy “Lysistrata,” in which soldiers’ wives chat about their dildoes while withholding sex in an attempt to blueball their husbands away from the front lines of the Peloponnesian war.

In other places, dildoes had a much more ritualistic role. Cultures with a greater emphasis on mother goddesses and fertility sometimes considered virginal blood and hymen-breaking to be important. Too important to leave to fumbling in the dark. That work would have been left to those with first hand experience — women wielding dildoes. “The psychology of sex,” a book that was banned almost immediately after being published in 1904, describes a coast Salish myth of an old woman who uses a horn to have intercourse with other women.

We don't always have evidence of the tool itself. There are records of wood, leather, unripe bananas, bone and more. No matter how overwhelming your local sex shop’s dildo arsenal may be, they got nothing on human history.