The dong side of history

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February can feel a bit like fitting into a new pair of pants. Having just peeled yourself out of the previous year’s pair, the new ones aren’t quite worn-in enough to be comfortable yet. You’re optimistic though. Every morning you squeeze yourself back in, stretching that fabric out just a little bit more. These new pants are practically still fresh enough to avoid washing them for another week—unless you’re hitting the gym. But let’s face it: February’s already here. If you haven’t gone by this point, you’re not ever gonna go.

With respect to ill-fitting pants, February is also the month you’ve begun to recover from the caloric Christmas indulgences of the holidays. However, Cupid comes along and stabs you right in the rump with a fudgy heart-shaped arrowhead. It’s a chance for couples everywhere to express their mutual affection by cramming chocolates down each other’s infatuated throats. If you do happen to be lucky enough to be getting lucky for your V-Day, the entire month might feel like an intoxicating candy-flavoured cloud of romantic seduction. It’s also a great time to dig up that 8-dollar card you couldn’t use last year because you got dumped. Decorative hearts of white-out are a good way to show you really care. Still, Valentine’s Day can equally present an opportunity to let everyone know that the trivialities of a manufactured holiday “aren’t really important to you”—especially if no one’s swiped right on you since last spring. Yes, February is a sugary-sweet season of pink, white, red, and brown. Topped off with a tacky bow, and blown out of proportion.   

Of course, for the many who remain dateless, that “intoxicating cloud” can feel more like exhaust fumes. They fill your lonely lungs with putrid public displays of affection and gush from every pore of your friend’s social media pages. Couples you’re normally cool with can induce vomiting on Valentine’s Day. Fortunately, if you can’t find—or don’t want to find—a prospect for this seasonal love-sickness, there are other top-shelf options for your self-satisfaction. Some people keep them in the bottom shelf, though.

I’m talking, of course, about sex toys. Those magical, flesh-coloured counterparts to potentially flaccid date nights. Far more reliable than any partner with a pulse, and available in more colours than the rosy pastels February could ever provide. Like most of life’s pleasures, the best sex toys seem to be simple. It’s fascinating to realize that their evolution hasn’t seen them diversify all that much. Sure, there are modern varieties that you can connect to USB cords and attach to computers. Personally though, I feel wetness in private is best kept wireless.

Which brings me back to the importance of historical simplicity in sex toys, namely dildos. “With the Hand: A Cultural History of Masturbation,” by Mels van Driel and Paul Vincent, notes that dildos can be traced as far back as the stone age—thousands of years before the wheel. In 2005, archaeologists uncovered a dildo that is believed to be 28,000 years old, easily making it the oldest adult novelty toy ever found, without the annoying plastic packaging. The dust collecting on your dildo has nothing on this one; the grand-daddy of dildos. At 7.8-inches long, and 1.1-inches thick, this ancient phallic “tool” was found in Germany and crafted out of polished siltstone; although models from later periods were constructed from leather, wood, and bread. Oh—and camel dung. But if you closed your eyes and really concentrated, the “dung-dong” was probably just as good as an actual caveman.   

There is a large collection of ancient Egyptian artwork depicting the type of glorious debauchery that only dildos can provide. These images display dancing women wearing large phalluses in worship of the god Osirus, the handsome “lord of the underworld” who frequently wore robes. Kind of like Hugh Hefner. As for textual references, the earliest mentions of the dildo are provided by the Greeks, who included their brand of “lifestyle products” in plays and poems. They were known as olisbos and were used by both men and women. Primarily though, they were provided to women to prevent hysteria when their husbands had to leave for, uh, extended periods. Apparently, the Greeks believed that the No. 1 leading cause of hysteria was a “lack of sperm.” I’m not sure how dildos made up for this, but I’m hoping it had nothing to do with camels.

Speaking of sperm (or a lack thereof), 17th-century dildos in the Western world were commonly crafted from glass, and often filled with warm water, milk, and even urine to adjust to body temperature and simulate ejaculation. The entirety of dildo technology was making long, solid strides: silver, ivory, and other precious materials became the preferred “member materials” for members of the royal aristocracy. According to a Pietro Fortini novella from this period titled “Dei Novizi,” even nuns used them: “The glass full of warm water, to quell the gnawing of the flesh and satisfy themselves as well as they can.” After reading this, I’ll never be able to watch a nun drink from a bottle of Dasani ever again.

Origins of the word “dildo” itself are hotly (and deeply) contested. One possibility is that the word is a perversion of the expression “this will do,” while another suggests that it derives from “diddle-o,” (diddle simply meaning masturbate). Some other guy claims it has something to do with a boat or something. But according to Vincent and van Driel, one of the first uses of the word in its current, kinky context appears in the 16th century Elizabethan English poem The Choise of Valentines — On the Merie Ballad of Nash his Dildo, by Thomas Nash himself:

My little dildo shall supply your kind,

A youth that is as light as leaves in the wind;

He bendeth not, nor foldeth any deal,

But stands as stiff as he were made of steel.

I often wonder how future civilizations will analyse our dildos. What conclusions will they draw? After all, dildos do provide a deeper understanding of our culture that artifacts like cheese-graters just can’t provide. (Unless that’s like, your thing?) It’s probably good that the majority of us have moved on from things like urine-filled glass dongs, and that we no longer use olive oil for lubrication like the Greeks did. Of course, that isn’t to say that spontaneous affairs on stove tops don’t have their place—but even kitchen sex-scenarios prove that it still feels good to be primitive in the 21st century. Throughout our never-ending cycle of double-ended sexual accessories, we’ve remained relatively straightforward. Have we perfected the dildo yet? Are there limitations to its reach?

So far, the digital age hasn’t really taken the tickle-trunk of society into remarkably new territory. There are now vibrators that can be remotely operated through phone apps and are capable of long-distance operation, but all that seems to do is introduce software into our sex lives.  It’s gotten to the point where we can’t even touch ourselves without a touch screen. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to force quit my date after accidentally smearing Vaseline on its screen.

However you spent Valentine’s Day, I hope you find happiness with whoever’s hand you hold or whatever you hold in yours. Keep it simple, and keep your phone in your pants—no matter how tight the pockets might be.