If the world's oldest profession is prostitution, our oldest pastime is masturbation. We get ourselves off with evolved efficiency. We do it with ease, we do it often, and no matter what we tell our lovers, we know there's no hand like our own. I'm not saying it's the most thrilling or rewarding method, just the most economical. Still, humanity's quest for orgasmic facilitation is as antiquated as it is imaginative. We've discovered earthen dildos as ancient as the Dead Sea Scrolls and pornographic hieroglyphs as mystic as Stonehenge. But where did it start?
Once upon a time Eve told Adam to go fuck himself — and he did. Eve had the help of a naughty, slithering snake. How far have we come since Adam's first tugged his fig? From hot apple pies to fleshlights, and on through cucumbers, bananas, pillows, showerheads, sex dolls and power drills, we've proven to be an imaginative, resourceful and unapologetically horny species.
Take Jeff Bruland: His wife divorced him a couple years ago, General Motors dumped him in May, and he recently put his palatial Brighton estate on the market for hundreds of thousands dollars less than what it cost him to build. Bruland, a go-with-the-flow 49-year-old father of three, responded to life by conceptualizing and fabricating a machine that enables people to go fuck themselves, literally.
Before the buyout, Bruland worked for GM as a senior engineer specializing in instrument mechanics and ergonomics. By the sheer size of his pad and property, his marble-topped counters and the rebuilt vintage Shelby in the garage, Bruland looks to have done well for himself. He was one of those "too expensive to keep" guys who lost his job to a fresh-out-of-college kid thankful for the opportunity to work for a fraction of his salary. Bruland's not bitter — that's not his nature. "After I got laid off, I took a month to party," Bruland says with a roguish smile. "Then I asked myself, 'So, what do you want to do when you grow up?'"
Having worked for decades in product development, Bruland's hands-on experience and depth of knowledge in user friendliness, ergonomics, engineering and industrial manufacturing could be applied to any number of inventions, but, in the years leading up to his firing, sex toys were the subject of Bruland's water-cooler jokes. He'd been saying it for years: "Not only could I make sex toys, but I'd be a whole hell of a lot happier doin' it." It was only a matter of time before that joke would come to life.
Bruland says it has been at least five years since he first laid eyes on one of the raunchiest sex toys ever invented: the hydraulic-powered fucking machine. "I was going through some porn sites and came across fuckingmachines.com," he says. "I thought, 'Man, that thing looks really cool,' but I also thought, 'Man, that thing looks pretty wicked.' The dildo was attached to a metal rod on a motor that was doing like 3,000 strokes a minute — it looked like it had to be at least somewhat dangerous." However nefarious Bruland considered the sight of a hydraulic powered dildo drilling the nether-regions of a gagged and restrained woman, an impression was made. Bruland's inner engineer saw room for improvement, a crick in the kink.
"Over the years, I thought about it more and more," he says. "Then, with the calamity of the auto industry, I knew after I left that I wanted to do something in product development, but where could I go? What areas could I, and would I, work in?" Bruland concocted a number of aftermarket automotive and consumer product ideas, briefly even considering an all-out automotive manufacturing venture. "All of those markets are well-penetrated — I knew it'd be hard to get in," Bruland says, unaware of his penchant for puns. "Then I read an article on sex toys and thought, 'OK, what products are out there? Dildos and vibrators are marketed well, but how do people really use them?' That's when I thought back to the fucking machines I saw online. There were only a few on the market and they were nice, but they were all kinda crude. I looked at their functionality and then I just started tinkering around in the workshop."
So with the help of Leslie, his girlfriend and "test driver," Bruland dove headfirst into the world of autoeroticism. In just five months, he designed and built 12 prototypes of the Pleasuring Pony. The final model was launched in October 2009.
But Bruland's low-impact, comparatively "diet kink" fucking machine is only one of the most recent in a succession of coitus contraptions that date back to the mid-19th century.
Early French and American female orgasm inducers were invented under the guise of medical devices intended to relieve women of their inborn "hysteria," a loose medical term that covered a wide breadth of symptoms so archaic it actually dates back to medieval times. Early on, these orgasm inducers had to be used by a doctor or under a doctor's supervision, but the rapid industrialization of the late 19th century saw these hysteria relievers become common household items. The oldest orgasm-inducing device we found were sketches for a hydrotherapy tool dating back to 1860. For the less imaginative, picture a high-powered water hose aimed directly at a woman's exposed parts. Rachel P. Maines, the author of The Technology of Orgasm and the go-to gal for all things sex machine, mentions in her book that doctors failed horribly at delivering the racy goods, taking hours to bring their frustrated, uncomfortable and drenched (though not in the way they'd like to be) patients to the point of "hysterical paroxysm." Soon, doctors were losing business to midwives, women who could magically achieve in minutes what doctors were taking hours to accomplish. But loss in patients meant loss in money, and, seeing as how necessity is the mother of invention, it wasn't long before doctors were better equipped.
The first medical-use vibrator was patented in 1870, but it was driven by clockwork technology so it was a clunky motherfucker, and expensive. Three years later, we see the first electromechanical vibrator, invented for use in a Parisian women's asylum. The first full-on electrically powered vibrator was invented in 1880 by Kelsey Stinner to treat what was then being called "congestion of the genitalia." In 1902, the American company Hamilton Beach put their creative juices to work and patented the first electric vibrator available for retail sale, making the vibrator the fifth domestic appliance to be electrified, after the sewing machine, fan, tea kettle and toaster — 10 years before the invention of the vacuum cleaner and electric iron. Magazines such as Needlecraft, Woman's Home Companion, Modern Priscilla, and the Sears-Roebuck Catalog ran ads for vibrators for two decades. A French ad from 1920 pitched vibrators as a "superior replacement for male workforce," noting in fine print "do not use more than 20 times in a row." But by the time the roaring '20s came to a close, the buzz of self-love had died out. The appearance of sex toys in porno, apparently, made it unacceptable for polite society.
It wasn't until the late '70s that vibrators made their way back into the mainstream. The decade that brought us high-end hi-fi stereos, microwave ovens, digital dashboards, calculator watches, boomboxes, Kraftwerk and early video games also birthed the invention of the Hitachi Magic Wand massager, which, thanks to Sex and the City, has seen yet another resurgence in recent years. Vintage vibes aside, the past decade saw rapid progress in sex tech, rivaled only by the succession of medical innovations of the late 1800s. One of the most popular items sold on the Internet in the last ten years is the twisting, pulsating, clit-stimulating Rabbit — the Cadillac of vibrators.
The mountable Sybian, made popular by its frequent use by guests on radio auteur Howard Stern's show, is the first popular modern-day fuck machine. Picture a barrel cut in half, lengthwise, and set on its side so as to be straddled. A dildo with the ability to rotate 360 degrees protrudes from the middle and a textured rubber pad sits comfortably in front of the clitoris. The whole thing is motorized and the user, or a partner, can adjust rotation speed as well as vibration power. It's intense — so much so, in fact, that its effectiveness clearly translates over the radio waves.
Teledildonics — computer operated sex toys — was a term coined in 1975. Today, not only do we have the invention of Bluedildonics, which allows sex toys to be controlled remotely via a Bluetooth connection, but we've actually robotized the blow up doll.
In her recent article on Slate, writer Veronica Belmont exposes the Roxxxy and Rocky TrueCompanions for what they are. Visiting Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics show, Belmont popped into the Adult Entertainment Expo next door, which is where she met Roxxxy, a freakish and schizophrenic $7,000 sexbot fitted with software that responds to touch and offers audio feedback based on activity. "There's an inherent creepiness involved with human-modeled robots like Roxxxy," Belmont writes. "When they start looking too similar to the real thing, the uncanny Valley phenomenon sets in. As human beings, we become unsettled by artificial forms that too closely mimic ourselves."
Much, if not all, of the exposure and interest in autoeroticism is due to kink.com CEO Peter Ackworth, who launched the website fuckingmachines.com in 2000. Who knows how large this niche fetish was before the site (and Stern) brought it to the masses, but any casual scan through Internet porn in 2010 will undoubtedly lead you to a hardcore link. Ackworth's bent on BDSM, and his productions come with disclaimers that the women and men being caned, electrocuted, slapped, spanked, spit on and penetrated by unrepentant dildos thrusting with the power of an industrial strength jackhammer are there consensually. Short, post-session interviews are conducted for no other reason than to prove the health and well-being of the submissive.
Even the Bible Belt is loosening up a bit. Jacob M. Appel, a bioethicist and medical historian who writes for Huffington Post recently wrote that "a landmark ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2008 overturned a Texas ban on vibrators and likely invalidated a Mississippi statute as well. Similar laws have been struck down by courts in Kansas, Louisiana and Colorado. Alabama is now the only jurisdiction in the country where such toys are illegal. The average 9-year-old in Alabama probably knows more about human sexuality that several members of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. More fifth-graders can tell you what a vibrator does than can tell you what a Supreme Court justice does."
The fact sex toys are commonplace and that even steam-punk fucking machines are more "mainstream" wasn't lost on Bruland.
"With the diseases that are out there and people's general unwillingness to interact with each other I think these machines are losing their sense of taboo," he says. But Bruland's not a closet kink maestro, he's an average American male, as reflected in the passive (and frugal) nature of the Pleasuring Pony.
"I wanted to make something that was non-impact, maybe an aerobic-type exercise machine, and something that people could have fun with by themselves or with another partner."
So far, response has been good. He's sold 25 units, shipped all around the country, at $589 a pop.
"I think these products are hampered by their prices — some of which can easily run over the two grand mark," Bruland notes. "I have a lot of experience with injection molding. On my computer I have a design that'd use injection molding to manufacture a new model on an AutoCAD and, if it works, the price could hopefully come down to $289."
But price isn't his main concern. After all, he's an engineer first and a salesman second. In Bruland's extensive research, he found that almost all phallic fucking machines have dildos positioned, anatomically speaking, in awkward angles. "When a female is sitting upright, the vagina actually lays back in the body cavity because the uterus is in front of it, so when the dildo came straight up and down, it'd actually hit the pelvic bone," Bruland says. He made a mechanism that rotates the dildo so it properly angles with the correct body cavity — one angle is right for vaginal penetration and the other for anal. "It's ergonomics," says Bruland.
Aesthetically and practically, the Pleasuring Pony is rather vanilla. Where so many fucking machines we've seen to date are used in power play, the Pleasure Pony is autonomous. "Hopefully I'll capture a larger segment of the market," Bruland smiles. "You're still going to have people who want to go to the BDSM side of things — where they can tie somebody to a St. Andrew's Cross, set up the machine and have it do 4,000 strokes a minute. We wanted to make something that everyone can use. Older people and overweight people are going to have problems with their hips if they try to put a dildo on the floor and squat up and down on it. And it might be nice to have access to reach themselves. With my machine, you can mount it, glide yourself back and forth, turn the stereo on and rock yourself right to the beat of the music; however fast, however slow, however deep you want to go. And you can do it hands-free."
Unless, of course, Mistress says otherwise.
To learn more about Jeff Bruland's creation, see pleasuringpony.com.Travis R. Wright is arts and culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org