Best Toys Through the Decades

I’ve been full of lookbacks and flashbacks lately because of Good Vibrations’ 33rd birthday. I first started visiting good Vibes in the early 1980s, on trips to San Francisco, and I’ve been working in the company for very close to 20 years. One of the things I did in March, our birthday month, was list Good Vibes’s most notable toys and products through the decades we’ve been around; this started out as an exercise to help create anniversary posters, but it became a way, too, for me to think about the way our industry has and hasn’t changed since the Seventies.

Of course the history of toys goes back even further than this, but it’s safe to say that the history of intimate toys and products was forever changed by Joani Blank’s and Dell Williams’ decisions to start women-focused shops in 1977 and 1973 (our own GV, and Eve’s Garden, the first of the bunch — to our knowledge, only the German company founded in the 1950s by Beate Uhse is older). We have many sister stores, of course, some of which we have close relationships with. But except for the lingerie-focused, sex toys-on-the-side boutiques, none of them came along until the mid-1990s, when the founders of Grand Opening! and Toys in Babeland (now Babeland) came to intern with us at Good Vibes’s short-lived program to foster other women-friendly stores.

Before sex toy sales were anything but a twinkle in any of those entrepreneurs’ eyes, here’s what was hot back in the day, and up to the present.

1970s Toys:

Hitachi Magic Wand: The strong, reliable vibe that started the women’s vibrator revolution! Joani wanted to put one in every pre-orgasmic woman’s hand, and Betty Dodson swore by them (and still does) in her BodySex workshops.

Wahl Coil Electric Vibrator: Quiet, long-lasting and versatile. Don’t let their warning to not use it genitally throw you off: they know darn well why we sell so many of them.

Charlie’s Sunshine Massage Oil: Natural oils for sensual touch. Back before condoms, some people used the unscented version as a lube.

Smoothie: The basic battery vibe. Still in production, still a simple, strong, dandy vibrator.

Scorpio silicone dildos: The original manufacturer of the material that changed sex toys forever! Wheelchair-using Scorpio founder Gosnell Duncan made a silicone toy for his wife, then launched them at a disability conference. Everybody wanted one, including the therapists!

’70s Books:

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Groundbreaking feminist sexual health access.

For Yourself by Lonnie Barbach: Important support for women’s masturbation. (Joani Blank worked with her pre-orgasmic women’s groups — it’s where she got the idea to start GV!)

Good Vibrations, Playbooks, Kid’s First Book About Sex:  GV founder Joani Blank’s books formed the core of our early sex ed library.

The Hite Report: A woman surveys women about sexuality.

My Secret Garden and Forbidden Flowers by Nancy Friday: Women reveal their fantasies.

Sapphistry by Pat Califia: Lesbian sex information.

’70s Movies:

Note: GV did not carry videos in the ’70s, but Susie Bright curated our collection starting in the late ’80s and included these and more.

The decade of the 1970s is widely regarded today as the Golden Age of Pornography, with most movies shot on film and many talented performers, directors, and technicians making far more ambitious movies than are generally attempted now. If you haven’t watched any, start with one of these, and and prepare to be amazed!

Alice in Wonderland: The beloved children’s book becomes a beloved porno musical!

The Opening of Misty Beethoven: A magnum opus porn movie based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion!

Anything else by Radley Metzger: Also known as Henry Paris, this auteur brings humor, hot sex, and amazing performances from the most terrific actors of the day.

The Devil in Miss Jones: A dark, existential meditation about life, death, and lust. Georgina Spelvin’s performance is spellbinding.

V, the Hot One: It might not have the most sex-positive plot, but seeing Annette Haven and John Leslie fuck on the sofa with “Tubular Bells” in the background will blow your mind.

1980s toys

Rabbit Pearl: Dual action stimulates clitoris and vagina simultaneously. Customers love it! (And it attains cult status in the ’90s when it gets a cameo on “Sex & the City.”)

Pink Pearl: Japanese quality in a small handheld bullet-style vibe.

Honey Dust (and other Kama Sutra products): Tasty and sensuous, plus attractive packaging.

Dills for Does silicone dildos: A lesbian-owned company makes the dildos women want! Some of the most fanciful designs ever seen on a sex toy, too, with the dolphin dildo possibly being the most popular.

Stormy Leather harnesses: Woman-owned leather artisan lets us strap them on.

Probe lube: Water-based lubricant is good for safer sex and so much more.

’80s Books:

Betty Dodson’s Sex for One: “The Mother of Masturbation” is in the house! Encouraging words and fine-art vulva drawings from the woman whose self-published writings had already sold a jillion copies.

The G-Spot: Introducing a new erogenous zone!

A New View of a Woman’s Body: More feminist health and sexuality, with a clear eye and a radical new interpretation of the clitoris.

Erotic By Nature, David Steinberg: Sexually focused fine art photos and writings collected mindfully as an alternative to porn.

Anal Pleasure and Health: We publish the first comprehensive guide to anal play.

Herotica: We publish women’s all-orientation erotica – edited by Joani Blank and Susie Bright.

Pleasure and Danger: Feminist analysis of female sexual empowerment.

Caught Looking: Incisive essays on porn, illustrated with antique erotic photos.

On Our Backs:  Goundbreaking lesbian porn magazine.

Macho Sluts by Pat Califia: Intense porn stories explore SM sexuality.

’80s Videos:

Dracula Exotica: This retelling of the Dracula vampire legend features the late, great Jamie Gillis as a very believable Count and is not for the faint of heart.

Talk Dirty to Me: A great buddy movie with John Leslie and Richard Pacheco, loosely based on Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men! Also includes the wonderful Juliet Anderson.

Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle: Future performance art star shows the world how she wants to be seen-quirky and creative!

Café Flesh: While most porn is downgrading to the video medium, this edgy dystopian tale was political and far ahead of its time.

Candida Royalle’s Femme series: A former porn star makes movies for women and couples.

Erotic in Nature (first lesbian vid): A lesbian porn star makes movies for her own community.

Nina Hartley: “America’s sweetheart of porn” enters the industry, becomes a big star and an important spokeswoman.

1990s toys:

Pocket Rocket Vibrator: Strong and portable Japanese-made vibe.

Vixen Silicone dildos: Fine-quality silicone in a wider size and shape range.

A much wider range of g-spot toys: The curved vibrator is here to stay!

Silicone Lube: Super-slick and long-lasting!

I Rub My Duckie vibe: The first sign that the sex toy industry was about to become a playground of new design.

Cyberskin and softskin toys: Besides making much more realistic dildos, this soft, pliant material allowed us to carry a better line of men’s toys.

’90s Books:

Good Vibrations Guide to Sex: GV staffers distill in-house knowledge to share with the world.

Best American Erotica series: Susie Bright collects the best of the best.

Madonna’s Sex: Pop superstar makes an erotic splash with her metal-covered book.

Exhibitionism for the Shy: We publish the first guide to erotic showing off! (It’s also my first book — which has just been re-issed in an updated second edition).

Femalia: We publish a photo book of women’s vulvas.

Survivor’s Guide to Sex: Former staffer Staci Haines brings a sex-positive prespective to healing from abuse.

Richard Kasak books: Longtime NYC editor takes a chance on high-quality, smart erotica and sexual politics.

’90s Videos:

Bend Over Boyfriend: An adventurous couple’s guide to male anal pleasure!

Nina Hartley’s sex ed vids: Nina makes a successful series of explicit instructional films.

The Masseuse: Porn with a plot and production values makes a return!

Sluts and Goddesses: Annie Sprinkle’s video workshop ushers in a new era of sex movie.

Fatale, SIR:  Lesbian porn grows up!

Andrew Blake: Beautiful sets and fashions make mainstream porn more appealing to women.

Chloe, Belladonna: GV staff’s fave porn stars bring authentic, edgy desires to the screen.

2000s Toys:

The entire range of “premium toys”: Beautifully-designed, functional pleasure objects.

JimmyJane, Lelo, Fun Factory, JeJoue, and more.

Tantus silcone dildos (I believe they’ve been around since the late 90s, but they really came into prominence in this decade): Gorgeous colors and innovative designs.

Sliquid Organics Natural Lube: Lube goes organic!

Tenga male masturbation sleeves: Guys who used to work in the Japanese car industry used their high-level design talents to revolutionize male masturbation!

2000s Books:

Violet Blue’s sex books: Former staffer takes on oral sex info, collects erotica, and much more.

Tristan Taormino started taking over the world in the ’90s, but has certainly continued the project into the past decade, most recently with her book on polyamory and open relationships, Opening Up.

Cleis Press: After becoming an erotica publishing powerhouse in the 1990s, Cleis has tackled the market for Best Of erotica anthologies with something for everyone. Especially notable is their Best Sex Writing series — not erotica, but essays.

I Love Female Orgasm: Dorian Solot and Marshall Miller’s wonderful book informs women young and old about their bodies and pleasure potential.

2000s Videos:

: New, urban, diverse queer porn.

Fashionistas: The adult industry discovers high-glam fetish.

Pirates: If it’s good enough for Johnny Depp, it’s good enough for porn! Swashbuckling sex and a big-ticket set.

Reel Queer and HeartCore: our sister company makes cutting-edge indy queer and straight porn. Especially notable: Courtney Trouble’s Nostalgia takes on the Golden Age classics of the 1970s!

Sasha Grey: Porn’s new girl next door is smart and sex-positive.

Did I miss anything crucial, lovely people? You tell me!


Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at

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