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Sometimes Mr Teddy Has To Watch - Ten Fascinating Things MyDaily Learnt About Sex Toys

18/07/2013 18:52 | Updated 22 May 2015

Visiting the Wellcome Collection's exhibition Superhuman, MyDaily caught sight of a fair few sex toys amongst the exhibits. Never ones to shy away from an interesting area of exploration we met up with Lesley Hall, senior archivist at the Wellcome Library and expert in the history of gender and sexuality, to talk sex toys, obscene pipeheads and, inevitably, 50 Shades Of Grey. Here's what we found out:

1. Until recently the only sex toy that had a name was the dildo...

Previously there were lots of euphemisms and "devices" and "objects" and "things". The only one there was a term for was dildo. Which I think reflects the extremely phallocentric assumptions of what sex is about. Obviously we don't know how they were used – men could have been using them for their own gratification – a spot of prostate massage.

dildo wellcome trust

2. A sex toy is...

They're things that enhance in some way, the [sexual] experience or provide sexual pleasure that's not just produced by two bodies engaging with each other in the classical fashion.

3. They're ridiculously hard to research...

It's very difficult to find out about sex toys in history. Things haven't survived and it's not well documented. But you do get things turning up – artefacts. In the last couple of years a carved wooden dildo came into one of the London sale rooms - the carving indicated that it was definitely a dildo! - but there's no kind of provenance – whose was it? What was it for?

4. You are entering a world of new phraseology that includes "obscene pipeheads"...

In the 1850s there's a letter from the Society for the Suppression of Vice to a government official about the disgusting trade in pornography and a lot of it is printed pamphlets and lewd images but there are also obscene pipeheads. And you think a) what is an obscene pipehead? and b) in what circumstance? Are you having men getting together smoking obscene pipes and telling each other smutty stories? Is it part of a male libertine subculture?

5. Until recently sex toys were either for prostitutes or well-to-do guys with a secret backroom of elaborate things they'd picked up on their travels...

The democratization and the dissemination of the idea of sex toys is really very recent. [It's because of] the pill. Well, that's a totally simplistic answer but the pill, sexual liberation, the sixties. In the early 70s companies which had been previously selling rubber goods realized that no-one was buying them because of the pill so they were moving into the marital aids market with vibrators and various other – cock rings and so on. It was a business necessity – a rebranding of what they're about. They're not just about stopping babies, they're about fun sex – but only when you're married.

strap on

6. And then along came Ann Summers...

That's around the time you get the evolution of the Ann Summers shop [whose first store opened in 1972]. The sex shop that women can go to that isn't this furtive place in Soho full of men in dirty macs looking for bestiality porn.

7. The internet is useful to women's sex lives - to a point...

There's a great deal of ambiguity about how useful the internet has been. It does provide valuable information, particularly for people who don't have access [otherwise]. But only if you can get it and fight your way past the immense amount of crap that's there. The issue around porn is problematic. The whole thing about women wanting genitoplasty because they think they look weird. Vaginal bleaching, shaving, various operations... It's creepy.

8. Sometimes Mr Teddy might have to watch...

Some people might think [sex toys] help them with something they can't do the way everyone else is doing naturally and others just think it improves the experience and enhances what we're doing. What people think of as a sex toy - some people might have a fetish object they have to have in order to have sex. "Mr Teddy has to watch" – you know?

dildo

9. Sometimes sex toys are just TOO MUCH...

I remember doing a television interview in a sex shop once – I don't think the programme ever got made it was on the history of masturbation. I was doing it in front of this glass case of hyper-realistic dildos. Some of which – they could only be performance art – you can't actually do anything with that!

10. 50 Shades of Grey is looooong and might well not get you off anyway...

I mean three volumes is a hell of a lot. And it's such a matter of personal preference, what people find erotic. Seeing this old film from 1938 at the weekend called La Bête Humaine with Jean Gabin and actually the scenes where he's driving the train are much hotter than the ones where he's having an extra-marital affair!

Superhuman, until 16 October, Wellcome Collection

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