Episode 21: The History of Sex Toys

February 11, 2021 by Justin Lehmiller

Sex and Psychology Podcast
Sex and Psychology Podcast
Episode 21: The History of Sex Toys

Ever hear that story about how Victorian-era doctors were using vibrators on female patients who had been diagnosed with “hysteria?” That used to be one of my favorite stories to tell in my human sexuality class. However, it turns out that the story isn’t true. It’s time to learn the real history of the vibrator—and sex toys more generally.

For this episode of the Sex and Psychology Podcast, I interviewed Hallie Lieberman, a sex historian and journalist. She is the author of Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy, and she is currently working on a book on the history of gigolos. We had a fascinating, wide-ranging conversation all about the past, present, and future of sex toys. This is one episode you definitely don’t want to miss!

Here’s a sampling of what you’ll learn in this episode:

  • How long have humans been using sex toys? What’s the earliest known sex toy in existence?
  • Did you know that butt plugs were once marketed as a cure for asthma? (Seriously—I’m not joking!)
  • What’s the real story of the history of the vibrator?
  • Did you know that selling and possessing sex toys was illegal in many U.S. states until very recently—and that it’s still illegal to sell sex toys in one state? (You’ll have to listen to find out which one!)
  • How do sex toys vary across cultures?
  • How are sex toys going to change in the future?
  • Can women really get “addicted” to their vibrators?
  • Is it safe to share sex toys?

Toward the end, we also talk a little about what Hallie has learned from studying the history of gigolos.

To learn more about Hallie and her work, check out her website here, and be sure to pick up a copy of her latest book, Buzz, to learn more about the “stimulating” history of sex toys.


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Credits: LEGIT Audio (Podcast editing) and Shutterstock/Florian (Music). Image created with Canva; photos and book covers used with guest permission.


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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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