Using a vibrator is the most effective and reliable way for a woman to have an orgasm, according to most research.

Hallie Liberman

Hallie Liberman

The most expensive sex toy on the market is a jewel-encrusted vibrator made by an Australian artist and distributed by a Scottish company named Fornicari. It sells for £1 million.

A ventriloquist named Ted Marche started the first major sex-toy company in America in the late 1960s. He used the same material in his dildos as he used to create the face for his dummy, Georgie.

Dildo-like devices are 28,000 years old. They date from the Ice Age. Apparently, before humans invented writing or the wheel, we had invented dildos. These dildos were made of bone, ivory, limestone, siltstone, or sometimes even teeth.

In the early 1900s, ads for “rectal dilators” (aka “butt plugs”) appeared in American medical journals and popular health magazines. Made of vulcanized rubber, they supposedly treated constipation and asthma, and even “cured” men of masturbation.

Doctors didn’t use vibrators on women’s clitorises to treat women for hysteria in the 19th century: That’s a myth. American and British doctors didn’t even really like vibrators. Instead vibrators caught on when they were sold to consumers in the early 1900s as quack medical devices that could purportedly cure everything from sciatica to deafness. Ads, which ran in popular publications like The New York Times, were filled with busty women in low-cut dresses, and declared that vibrators would provide quivering and pulsating joy that would run through your veins.  

The inventor of the silicone dildo, Gosnell Duncan, was a paraplegic from Grenada who created dildos in his Brooklyn, New York, basement in the early 1970s after being frustrated with the lack of devices for handicapped people. Silicone dildos were a big leap forward in the sex-toy industry. Before Duncan’s invention, most dildos were made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which had major drawbacks, including porousness, a “plastic” smell and the inability to retain heat. Silicone dildos were much more sanitary: they could be sterilized through boiling in water.

The Pleasure Chest was the first sex-toy store in the U.S. to bring sex toys out of the dark, dingy pornography stores and sell them in a well-lit boutique environment. Founded in 1971 by two gay men, Duane Colglazier and Bill Rifkin, The Pleasure Chest was targeted to the gay crowd, but it soon became popular with women who appreciated that it didn’t have pornography or erotic movie booths in the back.

Although named after a woman, the UK-based sex-toy store Ann Summers was founded by a man in London in 1970. In the beginning, only 10% of its customers were women. Today, 80% of its customers are female, thanks to Chief Executive Jacqueline Gold, who had the smart idea to get rid of the erotic-movie booths in the back of the store.

London-based erotic store Coco de Mer carries a sex-toy line inspired by famous female royalty and other notable British women. For those who like their sex toys high brow, there’s a cock ring named after Middlemarch author George Eliot; a vibrator inspired by suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst; a Duchess of Devonshire-inspired G-spot vibrator, and, my favorite, vaginal strengthening balls named after the Queen of England, Catherine Howard.

Buzz, by Hallie Lieberman is out now (Pegasus Books, £21.99).