Victorian Sensibilites: Dildo’s and Dildon’ts


This post is really a follow on from the earlier  which seems to have intrigued a number of people. In it I mentioned that sex aids have existed since the dawn of time, with countless museums and archives displaying and debating the role of a fake phallus in religious and ceremonial activities, as well as for personal use. Having previously talked about aids for male use, it is only fair that we have a look at the female answer to the Femme Du Voyage. And so, I give you, The Female Syringe.

Doesn’t that sound unattractive?!

This advert, which has come from the same source as the Femme Du Voyage, is shown here in a shortened form. Spread out over two pages, it contains directions for use and for care, as well as remarks from satisfied customers. Priced at £5-20, and out of the range of most people, my timeline estimation places it in the 1860-1880 period.

But let’s return to that name ‘The Female Syringe’. When I read it first I immediately dismissed it as just another example of the Victorians need to medicalise any aspect of female sexuality. The fact that the advert is almost three times as long as those for male use, becoming – in places – almost pornographic, as well as and the terminology used, just made me mad. I think a number of you will have heard the term ‘Female Hysteric’ before. The Victorian’s monopolised this idea that almost any aliment that could be suffered by a women was due to her womb. From irritability, to nervousness, sleeplessness and anxiety, ‘hysteria’ became the focus for the medical establishment whenever it dealt with a woman.

And the cure? Pelvic massage or manipulation. In 1880, the first electrified vibrator was created by an English doctor, Joseph Granville – the story of which is about to be immortalised by Rupert Everett and Hugh Dancy in the aptly titled ( ) ‘Hysteria’ – which proved to be a highly successful device, occurring almost simultaneously as the rise in female diagnosis’s for the disease began to move towards it’s peak in the 1890s.

But the idea that women need to orgasm to maintain their health and mental well-being is an old one. We might like to think it was just another sad symptom of the patriarchal social dynamic of the Victorians, but they cannot be blamed for this one alone. Women’s role as the reproductive core of humanity, which many think was idolised in the pre-classical world, became man’s biggest reason for subjugating her. As early as the Greeks, the womb’s effect on female mental health was seen as the single most important factor when diagnosing women. The Romans took the view that married women just needed a good roll in the hay, and those not contracted to a man were advised to seek pelvic massage at the hands of a midwife. This idea remained influential throughout Europe right up to the 17th century, and is a feature of ancient medical advice in both the Eastern and Western schools of thought. So we can’t really blame the Victorian’s, they just took an old idea and industrialised it, mass produced it, and marketed it. As they did with almost everything.

What is important to note about this period, in terms of the history of sexuality, is that it began to open up the debate on female desires, which in turn lead to female voices being heard for the first time. The message from this period, hidden underneath male confusion and early female silence, is the first move towards an acknowledgement that woman had sexual desire, even though it hidden behind the belief that the repression of their sexual desire could make them hysterical.

*Original advert has been reproduced to apply with the archives Terms and Conditions

The Victorians and the Blow Up Doll Femme de Voyage


Blogging as a historian can be tricky. Sometimes you want to get into a deep discussion of the theories and issues surrounding the discipline. Other times you just want to run up to people and scream, ‘EEEEEEEW, look at what I’ve FOUND’. Which is what I’m going to do today.

I found this advert for the ‘Femme de Voyage or Artificial Fanny’ in a scrapbook of late Victorian erotica. Now, it’s not the idea I’m objecting to, it’s the wording used. Specifically the idea that ‘the only essential part wanted by a man’ can be fitted ‘into a hat’ for the ease of transportation or concealment. A HAT ladies, FITTED INTO A HAT. If you ever wondered why hats were so important in this period…now you know.

Once I’d managed to stop laughing like a mental person at this idea, I tried to get back into serious historian mode and ask a series of questions. Firstly, is this advert real? From it’s inclusion in the scrapbook, which can be dated to the late nineteenth century, and where it is placed in the collection, the typeface and paper used…I think it is highly likely that the advert is genuine. However, that doesn’t mean that it is meant to be taken seriously, it could easily be a satirical joke, something intended to make its reader laugh.

But what if it’s not? What if it IS the genuine article, did the Victorians actually invent the first blow up dolls? The very act of inflating the device highlights the mechanical and technological inventiveness that this period is renowned for. What material could they have possibly used? How was it inflated? Was the idea patented? Why have I never heard about this before?! Recently a lot of work has been done to bring attention to the Victorians as the birthplace for our modern ideas on sexuality. Rupert Everett and Hugh Dancy in Hysteria, and Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightly in A Dangerous Method, have helped to bring this part of history to the notice of popular audiences. But the idea of blow up dolls bouncing around in the homes of the uptight and virtuous Victorians is a little controversial.

Sex aids have existed since the dawn of time. Countless museums and archives have displayed and debated the role of the phallus in religious and ceremonial activities, as well as for personal use. The female form as a sexual object has been both worshiped and brutalised, but I have never seen anything that was used solely for the purpose of heterosexual men, removing the participation of anyone else. You need to remember; this is the time when masturbation and self-abuse was thought to be highly destructive to the body and soul. Just the fact that the idea for the product existed and was shared, regardless of whether it was actually real, is amazing. A quick Wikipedia search claims that some form of ‘living doll’ has existed since the 1600s, primarily invented to ease the burden of sailors stuck out at sea for long periods of time. But the relationship between the Victorians and this form of sexual aid has not been explored.

Honestly, I am stuck for answers. I think this reflects wider discussion on how female sexuality has been objectified by history for over a millennium, while male sexuality is often hidden and kept secret. Why do we openly discuss the female use of sex toys, but still view any man who has its partner as weaker and less manly? It’s intriguing.

*Original advert has been reproduced to apply with the archives Terms and Conditions.