Part 3 Early Beginnings: Unveiling the Intimate History of Adult Novelties

A brief historical overview with evidence of adult toys and sexual aids in ancient civilizations, the Victorian Era and their societal implications.

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Today, we journey through the ages, peering into the distant past to witness the discreet whispers and subtle proclivities that shaped our modern perception of intimacy and their intimate connection to human desires. 

Ancient Origins: Historical Evidence of Adult Toys in Ancient Civilizations

While some may scoff at the notion of adult toys in antiquity, rest assured that our ancestors were no strangers to indulging their desires and they laid the foundations of human curiosity about pleasure and desire.

Silent witnesses to the intimate lives of our forebears, uncovered artifacts are evidence that across the world, people were unafraid to explore the boundaries of desire.

The ancient Greeks, known for their intellectual pursuits, also exhibited a keen interest in the sensual arts. Even the esteemed Greeks, who pondered the cosmos, saw fit to immortalize the phallus in statues and amulets, believing it to be a potent symbol of fertility and protection.

Human Curiosity About Pleasure and Desire Is Not A Modern Phenomenon

  • Ancient Egyptian “Ostracon”: In ancient Egypt, love and desire were integral parts of life, and this is evident from various artifacts and writings. Archaeologists have discovered “ostraca” – pieces of broken pottery or limestone flakes with inscriptions and drawings – that depict erotic scenes and sexual acts. These ostraca served as a form of entertainment and were likely used for amusement and arousal.
  • Roman Fascination with Phallic Imagery: The Romans, like the ancient Greeks, were not shy about incorporating sexual themes into their art and artifacts. Phallic imagery was common in Roman culture, and they crafted various objects, such as wind chimes and amulets, in the shape of male genitalia. These objects were believed to bring good luck, ward off evil spirits, and enhance fertility.
  • Indian Temple Sculptures: In ancient Indian temples, intricate carvings and sculptures often depicted sensual scenes and erotic acts. The temples at Khajuraho in central India are famous for their explicit depictions of human passion and desire, showcasing a profound acceptance of human sexuality as a sacred aspect of life.
  • Chinese Ancient Erotic Art: Ancient Chinese art also featured erotic motifs, such as carvings, paintings, and writings. The Chinese saw sexual desire as a natural part of human existence and embraced its expression through various forms of art.
  • Japanese “Shunga” Art: In Japan, during the Edo period (1603-1868), a genre of erotic art known as “shunga” flourished. Shunga depicted explicit sexual acts and intimate scenes, often serving as a way to educate and entertain people about human relationships and the pleasures of the flesh.
  • Ancient Mesopotamian Sexuality: In Mesopotamia, the world’s earliest civilization, erotic artifacts have also been uncovered. Cylinder seals, for example, featured engravings of sexual encounters and intimate moments, suggesting that sexual expression was a part of everyday life.
  • Ancient Sex Toys: Archaeologists have also discovered ancient sex toys across various civilizations. Some of these artifacts include phallic-shaped dildos made of materials like stone, wood, and leather, demonstrating that our ancestors sought pleasure and satisfaction through crafted objects.
  • The Kama Sutra: Written around the 2nd century CE in ancient India, the Kama Sutra is a famous treatise on human relationships, sexuality, and pleasure. It provides a comprehensive guide on various sexual positions, techniques, and advice on relationships, reflecting the ancient Indian society’s sophisticated understanding of human desire and intimacy.
Image of dildo found on the side of a bike trail in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Victorian Era: The Emergence of Discreet Adult Novelties and Their Societal Implications

If we look at the Victorian Era, we find ourselves in a prudish yet paradoxically titillating world. A period rife with conflicting values, it was an age that both celebrated virtue and furtively indulged in clandestine pleasures.

The Victorians, ever mindful of propriety, deemed open discussions of sexuality scandalous. Yet, beneath the surface of this rigid facade, a thriving trade in discreet adult novelties burgeoned, hidden away from the prying eyes of moral guardians.

From anatomically correct sculptures to delicate ivory and pearl creations, these novelties were coveted by the upper echelons of society, who sought to sate their desires discreetly. Dimly lit parlors of the time were a nod to the clandestine desires that lay beneath the veneer of respectability — much like sex rooms of today.

As these indulgences whispered secretly behind closed doors, the veil of virtue remained intact, concealing the shadow of hushed indulgences, the discourse around intimacy and desire remained fraught with tension and contradiction.

The Victorian era, which spanned from 1837 to 1901, was a time of significant social and cultural changes in the United Kingdom and had a profound impact on shaping the perception of pleasure and desire.

Did you know that St. Augustine, Florida once had as many as 20 brothels? It did! If you’d like to read more about the steamier side, check out this story “’Wicked St. Augustine’ details the oldest profession in Florida’s oldest city” by Peter Willott

Click here to read in full at

Values and Morality

Often associated with strict moral codes and conservative values, the Victorian Era placed a strong emphasis on virtue, modesty, and proper behavior, especially concerning matters related to sex and sexuality. Discussions about sexual topics were considered taboo, and open expression of desire was heavily frowned upon. Below are 6 factors that helped lay the groundwork for many of the trends and laws we see now. 

  • The “Cult of Domesticity”: The concept of the “Cult of Domesticity” or “Cult of True Womanhood” was prevalent during this era. It idealized women as pure, pious, and focused on their roles as wives, mothers, and homemakers. Any deviation from this ideal was considered immoral and unacceptable.
  • The Obscenity Laws: During the Victorian era, there were strict laws against obscenity and pornography. Publications, art, or any form of media that were deemed explicit or offensive were subject to censorship and legal action. These laws aimed to protect public morality and maintain the prevailing conservative values of the time.
  • The Rise of Consumer Culture: Despite the emphasis on modesty and restraint, the Victorian era was also a time of significant economic growth and the rise of consumer culture. As the middle class expanded, there was an increase in discretionary income, leading to a rise in the consumption of various goods and services.
  • Erotica and “Underground” Markets: Despite the strict moral codes and censorship, there was still a demand for erotic materials and objects. As a result, a clandestine market for adult-oriented items emerged, often operating in the shadows to avoid the watchful eye of authorities.
  • Technological Advancements: The Victorian era saw various technological advancements, including the development of new printing techniques and the expansion of mass media. These innovations facilitated the production and dissemination of written erotica and other adult materials.
  • The Growth of Urban Centers: The growth of urban centers during the Victorian era brought together diverse populations and contributed to the development of subcultures and alternative lifestyles. In larger cities, discrete establishments catering to adult pleasures began to emerge, though they operated discreetly and often under the radar.

Additional Series Readings

Part 1 Unveiling the History of Adult Novelty Stores In the Spirit of Independence Day

Part 2 Exploring Taboos: A Historical Journey through Adult Novelty Stores

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