Dildo

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Dildo

A dildo is a phallic object used for sexual gratification. Dildos can be erotic objects in their own right, but have historically been viewed as substitute or supplementary penises. Dildo-like objects have been around for at least 4,000 years, and have been found in archaeological sites around the world. They have been made of stone, jade, glass, pottery, rubber, silicone, horn, wax, and leather. They are usually shaped like penises, but can look like animals, which allows them to subvert obscenity laws and be sold as toys in countries, such as Japan and certain American states such as Texas, where the sale of dildos for sexual use is illegal. Dildos can also vibrate, though many people consider vibrators to be a separate class of sex toy.

Sources agree that while the origins of the word "dildo" are not precisely known, it may trace to the Italian diletto, which means delight. The dildo first appeared in English as an object that would satisfy a woman when her lover's stamina runs out in Thomas Nashe's Choise of Valentines or the Merie Ballad of Nash his Dildo (1593), a bawdy poem that circulated in unpublished form until 1899. As this poem illustrates, dildos in literature and song are usually comic in that they signify the sexual voraciousness of women and the virile insufficiency of men. Mainstream cultures have historically promoted lesbians as the stereotypical users of dildos. Rather than an actual representation of lesbian sexual practices, this belief reflects the inability of conventional societies to imagine sex without a penis or penis-substitute and the often associated tendency to label any kind of female sexual appetite as monstrous and deviant.

In gay male culture the dildo is most often used as a detachable object and an outsized representation of the penis. It can be used to penetrate repeatedly or can be inserted and left there, like a butt plug, another type of sex toy. Double-ended dildos can be used for mutual anal penetration. There appears to be little anxiety over whether or not dildos look like penises or are interchangeable with them in the gay community. Lesbian culture, however, has a historic anxiety over the relationship of dildos to penises, an anxiety that can be traced to feminist ambivalence about the relationship of lesbian gender roles and sexual practices to heterosexuality. Women who lived in established in urban United States lesbian communities in the middle part of the twentieth century report having seen dildos owned by others, but very few lesbians from this era admit to using them. Lesbian dildo use often involves the assistance of a harness to facilitate one partner's vaginal penetration by the other, and lesbians use double-ended dildos for mutual penetration.

In the 1980s feminist debates concerning the political correctness of penetration raged for months at a time in publications such as the magazine Off Our Backs, engendering a backlash movement of sexually radical lesbians, bisexuals, and queer-identified heterosexual women who allied themselves with gay male leather culture, sadomasochistic sexualities, and sexual practices where dildos and other sex toys figured prominently. By the 1990s dildo use lent a sex-radical aura of sexual autonomy and sexual empowerment to a wide range of lesbian, bisexual, and queer-identified straight women, facilitating a move to appropriate phallic penetration and phallic display for queer women's culture. For many women, dildos signified the transitivity of gender, and wearing them was seen as an act of genderfuck.

For other women, dildos signified something less playful and more serious. While many lesbians were seeking to disassociate dildos from their status as penis-substitutes and redefine them as lesbian-specific objects, a move analogous to the reclamation of butch-femme roles as lesbian-specific genders rather than heterosexual imitations, some butches began to signal their gender identity, sexual availability, and sexual prowess by wearing a dildo under their clothes in public, a practice known as packing. Transgender-identified butches wore dildos as an expression of their inner masculinity and male identification. The variety and uses of dildos multiplied; there were non-representational, multicolored feminist dildos; dildos that looked like circumcised, erect male penises, replete with veins and scrotal sacs; and flaccid, non-penetrative dildos for wearing in one's pants around town. Advertising shifted from the anxious feminist insistence on the incommensurability of dildos and penises to a new comfort with realistic-looking dildos.

The proliferation of sex boutiques and sex toys in the 1980s and 1990s led to unprecedented popularity for the dildo. Sex toys and videos became acceptable as vehicles for safe sex in the midst of the HIV-AIDS epidemic. Stores such as San Francisco's Good Vibrations targeted heterosexual couples and single women as well as lesbians. One of their bestselling videos, Bend Over Boyfriend, features women using strap-on dildos to anally penetrate male partners. The recent dildo craze of casting real penises to create silicone replicas further conflates real penises with their substitutes, confounding original and copy. Dildo use is no longer a subcultural practice, nor does it say much about a person's gender identity, beyond indicating an ability to participate in commodity acquisition. Not everyone has or wants a penis but, these days, almost anyone can have a dildo.

see also Sexual Practices.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Findlay, Heather. 1992. "Freud's Fetishism and the Lesbian Dildo Debates." Feminist Studies. 18(3): 563-580.

Kennedy, Elizabeth Lapovsky, and Madeline D. Davis. 1993. Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community. New York: Penguin.

Reich, June L. 1999. "Genderfuck: The Law of the Dildo." In Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject: A Reader, ed. Fabio Cleto. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

                                              Jaime Hovey

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Dildo

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