The book Buzz by Hallie Lieberman is the most in-depth read about sex toy history yet. It starts off with a quick overview of ancient history, talking about things like the world's oldest dildo, it then focuses on about ten people that had big impacts on the sex toy industry in the late 1900s.
Hallie is a witty and engaging author, and I couldn't put the book down. I was gasping at how Doc Johnson was created, feeling euphoric rushes when I heard the tale of the first silicone dildos, and had my world turned upside-down when I found out who purchased Good Vibrations in 2007.
In this post i'll try to summarize some of the main historical figures in the book and their impact.
Hallie Lieberman is the author of the book, and one of the world's best sex toy historians. Her writing style is witty and there was never a dull moment in Buzz. She has two awesome websites: dildographer, dedicated to her sex toy history research, and hallielieberman.com, which talks about her other writings and projects.
This guy is the main antihero of the sex toy universe. He created a ruthless porn empire, eventually owning hundreds of porn shops across America and controlling 70% of sex toy production.
Sturman started off with his own adult book shop, but really gained momentum after he invented the peep-show booth in the 60s. These booths let people pay a quarter to watch 10 minutes of porn in a semi-private booth. This was before VCRs, so it was one of the few ways to watch porn movies in private. Demand quickly became huge and Sturman re-invested his earnings into opening more shops. He used ruthless tactics, and even hired the mafia to enforce other adult shops to pay him 'mortgages' aka extortion fees.
During the 60s and 70s he blanketed the USA map with new porn shops. He was regularly in court for obscenity charges because of his porn distribution, but the charges were always found unconstitutional and he continued to expand his empire.
Next, he created Doc Johnson in 1976, a dildo and sex toy company that's still huge today (and using questionable sex toy materials). To create it, he purchased a dildo company called United Sales, rebranding it to Doc Johnson, and took over their factory in LA. Doc Johnson is one of the sketchier dildo companies around when it comes to shady materials, so it makes since it has its origins with the porn godfather himself.
While he was never charged for extortion or obscenity, eventually he got hit with 15 counts of tax evasion and was sentenced to 75 years in prison in 1992.
He was newly married and in love at the time. He and his wife had just had his first daughter, and he was getting ready to retire. Before going to prison in 1992 he divorced his wife to protect them, leaving his small family a large fortune.
In 1994, he managed to escape prison on foot. Authorities started notifying airports, thinking he'd flee the country, but he was found at an In-and-out burger, where he was having lunch with his 7 year old daughter. It turns out he spent all of his two weeks of freedom spending time with her. I thought that bit was kind of a sweet moment in his intense and ruthless life.
After recapture, Sturman was returned to prison, where he died in 1997, he was 73 years old.
Self-described as a "let's have sex, let's have fun" feminist, Betty Dodson was enthusiastic about teaching women how to masturbate. Her book, Liberating Masturbation was a how-to-guide on masturbating. It also included dozens of drawings of different labias, so women could get an idea of how different vaginas looked.
At the time, in the 60s and 70s, female masturbation was still seen as very taboo, and considered dangerous. Thanks to Betty Dodson and others, it's different now. She was quoted as saying “vibrators are not fattening, illegal, or immoral”, in her attempts to convince people that being a "vibrator zombie" was not a bad thing.
She was also famous for hosting her body-sex workshops in the 70s and 80s. In these classes being naked was mandatory, and Dodson taught groups of women how to masturbate using vibrators like the Hitachi Magic Wand.
One woman who attended Betty Dodson's body-sex workshops was Joani Blank. She even had her labia drawn by Dodson and featured in Liberating Masturbation.
After returning to San Francisco, she soon started Good Vibrations, a woman-only sex shop that sold vibrators. It had a boutique style and was down-to-earth, Blank really didn't care about making a profit as much as helping women out.
Good Vibrations soon inspired a movement of independent woman-owned sex shops: Smitten Kitten, Babeland, Sugar, Come as you are, Grand Opening, Self Serve, and many others.
While the men in the sex toy industry, like Sturman, seemed to create empires and seek profits. The women seemed to be creating movements and social change.
Dell Williams was another woman that often bumped into Betty Dodson. After going to her body-sex workshops she tried to buy a magic wand at a Macy's. However the sales associate in the store teased her about it.
She was then inspired to create Eve's Garden, another woman-only sex shop. The shop sold vibrators out of her apartment at first, but eventually moved to street level. Through the help of Gosnell Duncan, they would create some very innovative silicone dildos.
Duncan is my new personal hero. He was the original silicone dildo hobbiest, before there was ever an Etsy or Tumblr, he was creating silicone dildos by hand in his basement.
After an accident in his auto-repair shop, he became confined him to a wheelchair and was unable to have an erection. He noticed he wasn't alone, some disabled people wished to be able to have sex again, more than being able to walk.
He experimented with the PVC strap-on dildos. But dislike the smell and feel of the material. He had often used silicone parts in his work on automobiles, and thought it would make a great dildo material.
Soon he was writing letters to GE chemists learning about how to mold and cast silicone. He developed a process where he would make a dildo model out of clay, pour a mold around it, then pour silicone into the mold.
He named his company Paramount Therapeutic Products, and started selling his dildos for $20-$40 each.
He reached out to Eve's Garden and Good Vibrations to see if they wanted anything unique. Together they collaborated to make the first non-phallic dildos that didn't look like penises. They were also the first dildos to come in different colors like blue, pink, and toffee.
Buzz is only 290 pages, and I wish it was longer. I hope Hallie Lieberman decides to make a 2nd edition that includes the details of European and Japanese sex toys, or vibrator companies like Lelo and Fun Factory.
But until then, I don't mind re-reading Buzz a few more times.
What did you think of Buzz? Does it seem like an interesting book to you? Leave a comment below and we can discuss it more!
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