For the next 60 years, vibrating devices were available, but they were not explicitly associated with sex. Carol Queen, a sexologist at sex-positive adult toy company Good Vibrations, told us how it worked: “It isn’t quite right to call vibrators “sex toys” from Victorian times through the 1940s or so,” she says, “the vibrators were not marketed and sold for this purpose.”
“They were healthcare devices that just happened to cause orgasm if you knew where to apply the vibration,” she continues, “there is no evidence that people who owned them knew this… though there’s also no evidence that they didn’t.”
20th century sex toys were sold as home-care appliances and could be bought from your local shop, pharmacy or via mail order. “To use a contemporary analogy,” Caroline explains, “these were sex toys in the way a shower massager can be a sex toy. You could buy these anywhere except sex shops.”
As people became more open about sexuality in the ‘60s, they also started recognising female masturbation and the first female-run sex-positive adult toy shop opened in the USA in 1974.
“The really big jump in the world of vibrators is associated with two things: technological advances; and social acceptance,” Caroline says, “as sex toys became an acceptable topic, their quality got better. Design, tech, materials all improved.”