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A dildo is a sexual device resembling an erect penis in shape, size, and overall appearance. Some expand this definition to include vibrators. Others exclude penis prosthetic aids, which are known as "extensions". Some include penis-shaped items clearly designed with vaginal penetration in mind even if they are not true approximations of a penis. Some people include devices designed for anal penetration (butt plugs) while others do not. These devices are often used by people of all genders and sexual orientations, for masturbation or for other sexual activity.
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Vaginal and/or anal penetration are the obvious uses. Dildos have fetishistic value as well, and some users wield them in other ways, running them over the skin during foreplay for example. If of appropriate sizes, they can be used as gags, for oral penetration for a sort of artificial fellatio. Some people also use specially designed dildos to stimulate the G-spot.
A dildo to be inserted in the anus and remain in place for a period of time is called a butt-plug. Dildos used for repeated anal penetration, such as thrusting, are usually referred to as simply "dildos" and must have a flared base to be safe for anal play. There are also double-ended dildos, with different-sized shafts pointing in the same direction, used by women to accomplish both anal and vaginal penetration at once, or for two partners to share a single dildo. In this case, the dildo acts as a sort of "see-saw"; each partner takes an end and receives stimulation.
Strap-on dildos may be double-ended, in which case they are meant to be worn by users who want to experience vaginal or anal penetration while also penetrating a partner. They may also be used for anal penetration of men. If the penetration is done by a female partner to a male partner, the act is known as pegging.
Other types of dildos include those designed to be fitted to the face of one party, inflatable dildos, and dildos with suction cups attached to the base (sometimes referred to as a wall mount). Other types of harness mounts for dildos (besides strapping to the groin) include thigh mount, face mount, or furniture mounting straps.
Recent social acceptance and popularity has resulted in the emergence of highly adorned dildos. These are often made of expensive materials and may also be jewelled.
The etymology of the word dildo is unclear. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) describes the word as being of "obscure origin". One theory is that it originally referred to the phallus-shaped peg used to lock an oar in position on a dory (small boat). It would be inserted into a hole on the side of the boat, and is very similar in shape to the modern toy. It is possible that the sex toy takes its name from this sailing tool, which also lends its name to the town of Dildo and the nearby Dildo Island in Newfoundland, Canada. Others suggest the word is a corruption of Italian diletto (for "delight").
According to the OED, the word's first appearance in English was in Thomas Nashe's Choise of Valentines or the Merie Ballad of Nash his Dildo (c. 1593). The word also appears in Ben Jonson's 1610 play, The Alchemist. William Shakespeare used the term once in The Winter's Tale, believed to be from 1610 or 1611, but not printed until the First Folio of 1623.
Olisbos is a classical term for a dildo, from the Greek ολισβος. A godemiche is a dildo in the shape of a penis with scrotum.
In some modern languages, the names for dildo can be more descriptive, creative or subtle—note, for instance, the Russian Фаллоимитатор ("phallic imitator"), the Hindi darshildo, the Spanish consolador ("consoler"), and the Welsh cala goeg ("fake penis").
Dildos in one form or another have been present in society throughout history. Artifacts from the Upper Paleolithic which have previously been described as batons were most likely used for sexual purposes. However, there appears to be hesitation on the part of archaeologists to label these items as sex toys: as archaeologist Timothy Taylor put it, "Looking at the size, shape, and—some cases—explicit symbolism of the ice age batons, it seems disingenuous to avoid the most obvious and straightforward interpretation. But it has been avoided."
The first dildos were made of stone, tar, wood and other materials that could be shaped as penises and that were firm enough to be used as penetrative sex toys. Chinese women in the 15th century used dildos made of lacquered wood with textured surfaces. With the invention of modern materials, there appeared the possibility of making dildos of different shapes, sizes, colors and textures. There have been many references to dildos in the historical and ethnographic literature. Haberlandt, for example, illustrates single and double-ended wooden dildos from late 19th century Zanzibar.
Until recently, many Southern and some Great Plains states banned the sale of dildos completely, either directly or through laws regulating "obscene devices". In 2007, a federal appeals court upheld Alabama's law prohibiting the sale of sex toys. The law, the Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1998, was also upheld by the Alabama Supreme Court on September 11, 2009.
In February 2008, a federal appeals court overturned a Texas statute banning the sales of dildos and other sexual toys, deeming such a statute as violating the Constitution's 14th Amendment on the right to privacy. The appeals court cited Lawrence v. Texas, where the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 struck down bans on consensual sex between gay couples, as unconstitutionally aiming at "enforcing a public moral code by restricting private intimate conduct." Similar statutes have been struck down in Kansas and Colorado. As of 2009, Alabama is the only state where a law prohibiting the sale of sex toys remains on the books.
Some Conservative Christians believe that the use of sex toys is immoral and prohibited by The Bible. American Baptist preacher Dan Ireland has been an outspoken critic of such devices and has fought to ban them on religious and ethical grounds. According to Ireland, "Sometimes you have to protect the public against themselves....These devices should be outlawed because they are conducive to promiscuity, because they promote loose morals and because they entice improper and potentially deadly behaviors." Ireland believes that "there is no moral way to use one of these devices."
Dildos may be seen in Greek vase art. Some pieces show their use in group sex or in solitary female masturbation. One vessel, of about the 6th century BC, depicts a scene in which a woman bends over to perform oral sex on a man, while another man is about to thrust a dildo into her anus.
Herodas' comic Mime VI, written in the 3rd Century BC, is about a woman anxious to discover from a friend where she recently acquired a dildo.
She eventually discovers the maker to be a certain Kerdon, who hides his trade by the front of being a cobbler, and leaves to seek him out.
Page duBois, a classicist and feminist theorist, suggests that dildos were present in Greek art because the ancient Greek male imagination found it difficult to conceive of sex taking place without penetration. Therefore female masturbation or sex between women required an artificial phallus to be used.
In the early 1590s, the playwright Thomas Nashe wrote a poem known as The Choice of Valentines, Nashe's Dildo or The Merrie Ballad of Nashe his Dildo but this was not published at the time, due to its obscenity. The poem describes a visit to a brothel by a man called "Tomalin". However, the prostitute he hires resorts to using a dildo as he finds himself unable to perform sexually.
Dildos are humorously mentioned in Act IV, scene iv of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. This play and Ben Jonson's play The Alchemist (1610) are typically cited as the first usage of the word in publication (Nashe's Merrie Ballad was not published until 1899).
John Wilmot, the 17th century English libertine, published his poem Signor Dildo in 1673. During the Parliamentary session of that year, objections were raised to the proposed marriage of James, Duke of York, brother of the King and heir to the throne, to Mary of Modena, an Italian Catholic Princess. An address was presented to King Charles on 3 November, foreseeing the dangerous consequences of marriage to a Catholic, and urging him to put a stop to any planned wedding '...to the unspeakable Joy and Comfort of all Your loyal Subjects." Wilmot's response was Signior Dildo (You ladies all of merry England), a mock address anticipating the 'solid' advantages of a Catholic marriage, namely the wholesale importation of Italian dildos, to the unspeakable joy and comfort of all the ladies of England:
This ballad, which was later set to music by Michael Nyman for the Wilmot biopic, The Libertine, was subsequently added to by other authors, and became so popular that Signor became a term for a dildo. In the epilogue to The Mistaken Husband (1674), by John Dryden, an actress complains:
Dildos are obliquely referred to in Saul Bellow's novel "The Adventures of Augie March"(1953) : "....he had brought me along to a bachelor's stag where two naked acrobatic girls did stunts with false tools".  A dildo called Steely Dan III from Yokohama appears in the William S. Burroughs novel The Naked Lunch (1959). The rock band Steely Dan took their name from it.
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Rubber dildos, usually incorporating a steel spring for stiffness, became available in the 1940s. This was a less than satisfactory arrangement because of the potential for serious injury from cuts from the spring when the rubber finally cracked and came apart.
Later, PVC dildos with a softer PVC filler became popular. Most of the inexpensive dildos sold today are made this way.
PVC and jelly-rubber toys have often been found to be problematic because they contain unsafe phthalates, softeners added to many plastics that are also found in some jewelry, food containers, and other soft rubber toys. Phthalates have been linked to health problems such as cancer and prenatal defects. Products made of PVC or jelly rubber cannot be sterilized. Manufacturers recommend using condoms with these toys if users share them.
In the 1990s, silicone rubber dildos became more popular, a trend that has continued as the prices have lowered. These are easier to clean and do not have the characteristic plastic aroma of PVC. They were expensive when introduced but are now reasonably priced, making them an excellent choice for the first-time user. Silicone holds body heat well, and is an excellent conductor of vibrations, allowing users to hold a vibrator at one end. Silicone is also a robust material (especially when compared to the cheap, unsafe jelly rubber that many dildos are made of) that can be sterilized by boiling or bleaching (using a bleach solution, diluted: 10% bleach 90% water).
High-end, chrome plated steel dildos are also popular in the BDSM scene. Some users prefer them because of their hardness, firmness, durability, electrical conductance (see erotic electrostimulation), and low friction, especially when used in conjunction with lubricant. Because they are heavy, they can be used to exercise vaginal PC muscles. (Betty Dodson's "barbell" is an example.)
A steel dildo may be warmed or cooled in water before use to elicit a range of temperature sensations. It may also retain body heat of the user. Because of its polished nonporous surface, it may be sterilized in boiling water, or in an autoclave.
Glass dildos have similar features to steel ones. In most of the cases, glass toys are solid, and made of Pyrex or other types borosilicate glass (Schott-Duranglas and Simax), although this may vary, depending on the manufacturer. Like steel, glass toys may be used to apply firmer pressure than silicone can to a female's G-spot (urethral sponge) or male's prostate gland. Unlike other types of toys, glass sex toys can also be personalized with inscriptions.
Cyberskin is a synthetic material that feels more like human skin. It is a porous material and cannot be sterilized. It often gets sticky after washing (which can be remedied by a dusting of cornstarch) and is more delicate and more prone to rips and tears than silicone dildos. "Packing dildos", which are not designed for penetration, are often made of this material.
Phallus-shaped vegetables and fruits, such as bananas or zucchini have even been used as dildos, possibly since prehistory. Smooth rocks of phallic shape are suited to use as a dildo. Any object of sufficient firmness and shape could be hypothetically used as a dildo.
Conventionally, many dildos are shaped like a human penis with varying degrees of detail, others are made to resemble the phallus of male animals. Not all, however, are fashioned to reproduce the male anatomy meticulously, and dildos come in a wide variety of shapes. These may resemble figures, or simply be practical creations which stimulate more easily than conventional designs. In Japan, many dildos are created to resemble animals or cartoon characters, such as Hello Kitty, so that they may be sold as toys, thus avoiding obscenity laws. Some dildos have textured surfaces to enhance sexual pleasure.
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