It might seem like our attitudes towards sex change gradually over time: a slow and steady move away from ignorance and towards knowledge. As we learn more about human nature, and the human body, we back off from repressed or damaging ideas about sex and sexuality and embrace a healthier view. But alongside gradual changes in attitudes, there are also some radical inventions and ideas that come along and have a disproportionate impact on our sex lives.
In no particular order, here are five things that we think have changed sex for the better. We’d love this blog post to start a conversation about what would be on your list: which ideas, inventions, books or sex toys have had a disproportionate impact on your sexual experiences? Here are ours:
The Rampant Rabbit
Love it or loathe it, the Rampant Rabbit certainly deserves a place in the sex hall of fame, because it helped many people make the leap from seeing sex toys as something to be hidden, to viewing them as something to talk about publicly and recommend to their friends.
Sex and the City is famously credited with bringing the Rampant Rabbit – and sex toys generally – out of the shadows. In the episode The Turtle and the Hare – first aired in August 1998 – Carrie Bradshaw and her friends discover the delights of battery-powered pleasure, with formerly-prudish Charlotte discovering that once she starts using the Rampant Rabbit Miranda introduces her to, she can’t seem to stop. The Rabbit – with its familiar vibrating ‘ears’, ball-bearing-filled shaft and garish colour options – is still one of the most popular sex toys on the market today. So popular does it continue to be, nearly 20 years after the SATC episode that made it famous first aired, in April this year Ann Summers announced that they’ve now sold more Rampant Rabbits than there are actual rabbits in the UK.
R v. Penguin Books
We wanted to include something on this list that spoke to our changing habits surrounding erotic material. It would be easy to add ‘the internet’ – an invention which has revolutionised how many people get off, by making it easy to access high-quality video pornography without ever having to walk into a corner shop and buy a dirty magazine. But while the internet is definitely a game-changer for many people’s sex lives, we were having debates about porn long before Google existed to help us find our favourite videos.
R v. Penguin Books, however, was a landmark case in the evolution of our ideas around obscenity. The text under debate was D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, with the Crown arguing that the text was obscene and should not be published. The jury were tasked with deciding whether the steamy book could be considered ‘obscene’ – where ‘obscene’ could be defined as something likely to ‘deprave and corrupt’ the people who read it. If it was obscene, the jury then had to decide whether it still constituted a ‘public good.’
The trial lasted six days, and at the end of it the jury returned a unanimous verdict of ‘not guilty.’ Alongside the progressive outcome, the discussion surrounding the case highlighted just how much attitudes had changed towards ‘obscene’ material. After R v. Penguin, publishers could be braver about the kind of books they published, bringing more erotic material to the masses. As the Guardian explains:
“No other jury verdict has had such a profound social impact as the acquittal of Penguin Books in the Lady Chatterley trial.”
The Kama Sutra
Historians estimate that the Kama Sutra was written somewhere between 400 BCE and 200 CE, which makes this most famous advice manual roughly 2,000 years old. Given its age, it’s remarkable that the Kama Sutra still has plenty of advice that is useful to people today, on everything from sex positions to maintaining desire and nurturing relationships.
Sure, it has also spawned a lot of copycat sex tips and ridiculously-named or almost-impossible positions, but the Kama Sutra provided the foundations for millions of conversations about sex.
Bringing things much more up to date, we wanted to include one or two very recent things on our list.
You may not have heard of PrEP; it stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, and it’s a game-changer for many sexually-active people. PrEP is a drug that you can take to lower the chances of contracting HIV. It’s relatively new, though it’s already having a huge impact, as shown in this recent video by the BBC. In it, Matt, a gay man who was brought up during the peak of the AIDS crisis in the 80s, explains how revolutionary PrEP is: not in saving lives by preventing people from contracting HIV, but in helping to battle the stigma and fear that he was used to when he was younger.
Penis-focused sex toys used to be roughly of one type: penetrable sleeves that you could put your penis in, which gave a more pleasurable sensation than you could get with just your hand. These were – and still are – incredibly popular, and an excellent addition to your sex toy collection. But there’s one important flaw in this kind of sex toy: it can only be used by people who already have an erection. What’s more, it relies on the same kind of up-and-down stimulation that can be achieved manually, and so those who aren’t able to masturbate like that (due to arthritis, for instance, or mobility issues) won’t find much joy in that kind of sex toy.
Enter oscillation. This revolutionary technique was pioneered by doctors who wanted to help patients with spinal cord injury have children. Their patients needed to be able to ejaculate in order to take part in IVF programmes. Doctors found that using oscillation – deep, rumbling sensations that would travel through the whole penis – they could cause erection and even orgasm.
Fast forward to 2017, and we’ve harnessed the power of oscillation to create sex toys for everyone – not just those who can get an erection. PULSE III SOLO and DUO use patented oscillating technology, in a sex toy designed to wrap around your penis. The Queen Bee uses the same technology to deliver unique oscillating pulses to stimulate the clitoris and vulva. The sensations are powerful, and entirely different to what people may have experienced with a traditional vibrator. What’s more, they can bring pleasure and orgasms where these things may not have been possible before. And – biased though we are – we think that’s pretty cool.
Your suggestions: what changed sex for the better?
We’d love to get your thoughts on this: there are so many important moments in the history of sex that no list could hope to be comprehensive. But tell us what you would include on your list – ideas, books, sex toys, anything! Tell us in the comments below or over on Twitter and Facebook.