Not all phallic objects are necessarily dildos. Phallic (i.e. penis-shaped) objects have been both worshipped and used as objets d'art throughout history, but dictionary definitions of 'dildo' require some physical, i.e. bodily, context.
The word "dildo" originally referred to the phallus-shaped peg used to lock an oar in position on a dory (a fishing small boat). It would be inserted into a hole on the side of the boat, and is very similar in shape and function to the modern toy.
What is a dildo?
There is some general disagreement about what precisely defines a dildo. There is general agreement that a nonvibrating device, resembling a penis in shape, size, and overall appearance, is a dildo. Some people include vibrating devices in this definition. Others exclude penis prosthetic aids, also called "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. Dildos can be used to penetrate both men and women.
Early dildos were made of stone, wood, leather, wax or pottery. Of these, leather dildos with a fairly solid filler of cotton rag remain popular with some people. 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.
In the 1990s, silicone rubber dildos became more popular, a trend that has continued as the price has come down. These are easier to keep clean and do not have the characteristic plasticy 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 high-quality material (especially when compared to the cheap, unsafe jelly rubber that many other dildos are made of) that can be sterilized by boiling or bleaching.
High-end, chrome-plated steel dildos are currently manufactured. Users might prefer steel because of its hardness firmness, durability, and very low friction, especially when used in conjunction with lubricant. Because they are heavy, they can be used to exercise vaginal PC muscles.
A steel dildo may be warmed slightly or cooled in a bath of water before use to elicit a range of temperature sensations. It may also retain body heat of the user. Because of its polished, poreless surface, it may be sterilized with ease in boiling water, or even in an autoclave.
More recently, dildos made of borosilicate glass (Pyrex) have come on the market. They are expensive, and inflexible, but have a following, thanks in part to the fact that they can be heated to body temperature in warm water, and sterilized via boiling.
Glass dildos have similar features to steel ones. Glass toys are solid, not hollow, and usually made of Pyrex glass, although this may vary depending on manufacturer. Like steel, glass toys may be used to apply firmer pressure than silicone can to a female's G-spot or male's prostate gland.
Conventionally, many dildos are shaped like a human penis with varying degrees of detail. Not all, however, are fashioned to reproduce the male anatomy meticulously, and dildos come in a wide variety of shapes. These may resemble goddess figures, or simply be practical creations which stimulate women more easily than conventional designs. In Japan, many dildos are created to resemble animals or cartoon characters, like Hello Kitty, so that they may be sold as toys, thus avoiding obscenity laws.
Vaginal penetration is the obvious use. Dildos have fetishistic value as well, and some couples use 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 or a sort of artificial fellatio, or for anal penetration.
Dildos are used by people of all genders and sexual orientations, alone or with others.
Safety and health
Some larger dildos are intended for visual appeal only and should not be used for penetration.
Dildos can transmit disease between users in the same way as other forms of sexual contact, and should not be shared among users where this is a concern. This is particularly true for dildos made of porous or micro-porous materials, such as most soft synthetics. On the other hand, smooth stainless steel or Pyrex dildos are easier to clean, non-porous, and can be more easily sanitized, either chemically or by boiling. Silicone dildos can also be sterilized via boiling. This is not meant to say that any unprotected dildo should be used by more than one person without being sanitized. An effective remedy is to use a fresh condom on the dildo.
Dildos without a flanged base or other mechanism to control the depth of insertion should not be used anally, because they can be difficult to retrieve without medical assistance!
A double-ended dildo is a long, generally strap-on, dildo with two ends.
They are meant to be worn by women who want to experience vaginal pleasure while being the penetrating partner. They may be used in lesbian relationships, as well as in heterosexual relationships for the anal penetration of the male, in a kind of role reversal. In the latter case the act is known as Pegging.
Some dildos are inflatable, so they can be inserted easily then enlarged once inside.
A dildo to be inserted in the anus is called a butt-plug. There are also double dildos, with different-sized shafts pointing in the same direction, used by women to accomplish both anal and vaginal penetration at once.
There are dildos designed to be worn in a harness, sometimes called a strap-on harness or strap-on dildo, or to be worn inside, sometimes with vibrating devices attached externally.
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