Some folks like to pretend we live in an era of debauchery, and that everything that happened over 20 years ago was in the "good old days." You could leave your doors unlocked, movies cost a nickel and hobos hadn't even been invented yet.
They're full of shit, of course. As long as humans have had genitals, they've looked for ways to keep them entertained. Here's a quick history lesson on ...
Some evidence suggests that dildos may have been in use as early as the Upper Paleolithic era, which was from 40,000 to 10,000 years ago. This indicates our caveman ancestors may have been hunting woolly mammoth while the women-folk were at home going to town on themselves with wang-shaped pieces of rock or bone. There hasn't been a huge amount of research into this, probably due to scientists' fears of making a career-defining breakthrough and getting called "Doctor Dildo" for the rest of their life.
By the 5th century BCE, the Greeks began producing something called an olisbos that was sold in the port of Miletus. Because if there's one thing you needed in the era when the movie 300 took place it was a leather and wood penis to ensure that every aspect of your life was intense and splinter-inducing.
In an age when the Greek and Persian empires were at war and Greek philosophers were dabbling with little boys, the local women were apparently no longer ashamed to name an inanimate penis Carl and sleep with it at night.
The fact that they chose leather and wood, and probably lubricated with olive oil indicates that the sexually liberated Greek lady of that era had a steel-like vagina that would most likely chafe today's man something fierce, and probably devour any small pets he didn't watch closely.
Giving more support to the idea that those Upper Paleolithic stone willies were actually sex toys is the discovery that cave paintings from around 40,000 years ago depict what is believed to be some of the first purely sexual art works. While a number of stuffy, scholarly types will go on about fertility symbols, the paintings found in caves in Spain and elsewhere in Europe show sex not so much as a biological function but a kick ass way to spend an afternoon.
Rudimentary drawings of a lumpy man having sex with a lumpy woman and then going out to hunt buffalo may not be Larry Flynt's definition of a good time, but the cave drawings also portrayed acts that could only result in procreation by a miracle of the human mouth. Scholars can keep calling it whatever they want. We're more than happy to claim the video files we've been collecting on our hard drive constitute a comprehensive tribute to the fertility Godess.
Of course, most of the art work depicts women as child bearers and men as wang bearers (yes, drawing wangs has been with us since we evolved thumbs), but a few kinky gems occasionally pop up. Such as, a 13,000 year-old etching of a couple having sex while a 3rd person watches.
We like to picture the artist timidly showing this to his wife with a cocked eyebrow, saying, "So, this is the picture I've been working on. This is me and this is the slave girl here. This is you. So ... what do you think?"
The Art of Love by Philaenis of Samos is the first sex guide we know about. It was written probably around the third century BC and therefore was likely missing the all important chapters on handjobs on ferris wheels that modern guides swear by. The author, one of the few women to ever tackle the subject way back when, is believed to be a courtesan, which was the fancy word people used for hooker in polite company.
Evidence of the manual was found in the Oxyrhynchus papyri, a pile of papers found in an ancient garbage dump in Egypt. Only bits and pieces survived but it did inspire the poet Ovid to write his dirty story of the same name later in history, so it must have been pretty awesome. Either that or, since no other sex guides seem to have ever existed before, it was cool the same way that the bra section of the Sears catalog is hot reading material for boys when they're 13.
Actual Art of Love excerpt, (probably).
The book went through a methodical approach to sex, kind of like a how-to book for our primitive, Cosmo-deprived ancestors, including a listing of positions, aphrodisiacs, how to pick up the ladies, how to kiss and a portion on cosmetics, presumably offering fun ways to trim your pubes so they resemble laurel crowns or chariot racers. Unfortunately, there's no record as to whether or not it included chapters on The Stranger and The Backhand. Many of the papers it was found with include early religious texts, so we're guessing the priests and nuns got to them first.
The act of a woman taking off her clothes to entice men probably dates back to the invention of clothes, whether or not any of the women getting undressed at the time knew it or not. As far as it being an intentional act, there are a number of literary cases of women peeling the layers back, and we can look to our dirty friends the Sumerians, who had a myth about a goddess who went through seven gates of the underworld, removing an item of clothing at each one. It's not the hottest thing in the world, but it was probably the closest most people came to masturbation fodder before Gutenberg's printing press showed up on the scene.
Oscar Wilde's play Salome written in 1893 depicts what may be the first instance of what we now consider a strip tease. Once the play was performed, the dance of the seven veils, which surprisingly enough involves a woman stripping off seven veils, became a standard in burlesque shows.
Other shows that may have kicked off the striptease include an 1890's performance in which a woman strips off her clothes in search of a flea crawling on her body, because in the 1890's even a woman infested with parasites was hot.
In Paris, Moulin Rouge and Folies Bergere were cabarets that started up in the 1890's and featured the odd nudie show to entice and audience. Back home in America, the ass end of the 1800s were giving us nude trapeze acts, which, if it could somehow include bacon and an explosion, would be the best thing ever.
Given that we've been scrawling pictures of people getting nasty on walls for about 40,000 years or so, it's no wonder the practice had to evolve and become more widespread as time went by.
Once photography was invented, history suggests nudie pics were invented, oh, about an hour later. In the 1880s halftone printing showed up and for the first time photography was cheap allowing man to bind a bunch of naked photos together and finally fulfill the role of pornographer as nature intended.
Naturally, France was where this process started, and a number of magazines sprang to life featuring softcore photos of naked and partially naked models presumably with unshaved armpits and bush that could swallow many an unwary traveler whole.
As the world wasn't super accepting of photo porn in all its black and white glory, porn mags soon started to hide themselves by claiming to be naturist publications or art magazines. As we all know from art class, naked people are artistic and the human form is beautiful. Of course the people who say that are always the first to freak out the moment you pull your penis out at the museum.
One of the earliest "naturist" magazines, H&E Naturist, was first published in 1900 and is still being published today, though it seems to now be legitimately about lifestyle features for people who just don't like wearing clothes. Our only question: why stop at a magazine when your lifestyle could produce history's most successful professional wrestling federation?
Proving filth has a long, lush history, the world's oldest surviving porn film, a movie from Argentina called El Sartorio, featured the devil running a train on three sticky ladies. Considering modern porn gives you a random dude with Fabio hair meeting a woman in the woods, or a couple of douchebags in a van pretending to pick up strangers, we've actually gone backwards on this one.
The aforementioned 1907 porn involved Satan kidnapping a woman and 69ing her, complete with close ups of penetration and various fluids oozing out of various places after the fact. We like to think it was similar to many old-timey films in that there was awesome, suspenseful music playing in the background and the devil twirled his mustache every few seconds.
Germany wasn't about to let South America gain too much of a reputation as the world's source of filth, and in 1910, produced the sexily named Am Abend. Some pervy German fellow watches a lady get herself off through a keyhole and, in what is likely the first instance ever recorded on film of totally unrealistic bullshit happing to a male porn star, he just walks in and does her. No sign of her calling the cops or macing him or anything.
Thus, the need for actual story development or realism in porn was abandoned forever and really hasn't been attempted since.
The history of the internet is long and rambling and, if we tried to summarize it here, some nerd scholars would trash us for overlooking ARPANET or some other thing which doesn't relate to masturbation and is therefore not important.
What is important is that, in 1994, when the internet became a viable tool for average Joes, the website sex.com was registered by Gary Kremen. The name may not have been as creative as modern porn sites like SpoogeSpelunkers.com, but it seems appropriate for the first porn on the web.
Within a year, the site had been taken over by someone else through some nefarious means including forgeries, fake faxes and assorted other chicanery. The site was one big, obnoxious, ad-heavy monstrosity of boobs and the promise of more boobs and it was getting about 25 million hits per day. The new guy in charge was reportedly making as much as a half million dollars per month, and rumors abound that in the years since, several other porn sites were started. For some examples, check the other tabs currently open in your browser.
The original owner of the site sued and in 2004 won a judgment for $65 million, indicating just how much cash is to be made from web porn and kind of making us wonder why any non-porn websites have been started after 1994.
Check out more of Ian Fortey's stuff at ScenicAnemia.com.
For a look at Greece's proud legacy check out Ian's look at The 25 Most Disturbing Sex Toys or his rundown of History's 10 Most Terrifying Contraceptives.