Hello, pals. Today we start a new monthly (hopefully?) series called “What life’s like as ______”, wherein we talk to interesting sex-related folks. Our first interview is with Hallie Lieberman, Academic Dildographer, a rad young lady who is getting her Ph.D. in dildo studies.
So, what exactly is it that you do?
I study the cultural and historical aspects of sex toys—dildos, vibrators, cock rings. Basically, any man-made thing that people use to masturbate with or use to enhance their sex lives, I study.
Where did the title “Academic Dildographer” come from?
Is There Sex After Death?, a low-budget 1971 movie featuring Andy Warhol superstar Holly Woodlawn. One of the characters is a bearded professor who studies sex toys and calls himself a dildographer. It was my inspiration for grad school.
So how did this come about as a focus of study? What interested you about dildos? You basically created this field, right? How?
I’ve always been obsessed with sex, and sex toys have fascinated me because I think they’re awe-inspiring and gorgeous. Some people find beauty in nature, I find it in the aisles of XTC Adult Superstore. Sex toys demonstrate the human desire to enhance the sexual experience in any way possible, and make a profit along the way.
I don’t know if I’d say that I created the field. There are a few other people who study sex toys, but not many. I just decided to go to grad school, study sex toys, and take it from there.
What do you wish the lay person knew, dildo-wise?
1. There is nothing shameful about using sex toys. You should hang your head in shame if you don’t own a dildo.
2. Sex toys have been around since the Upper Paleolithic Period. There’s an intrinsic drive to create devices that improve sex. It’s a part of human nature, like jealousy or the desire for fatty foods.
3. Frequently sex toys correct a deficiency in the male anatomy: the fact that the penis lacks a clitoral stimulator. Maybe men will evolve to have one. Cock rings with clit stimulators are very popular to use during sex, and they’re so mainstream now that they’re sold in Safeway.
4. You can buy a talking vagina sex toy for $39.95. It’s called Jesse’s Sweet Talking Pussy. It doesn’t say anything good, however. It just moans. I would love to create a talking penis that reads Proust.
What are some interesting tidbits you’ve come across in your research?
The most interesting thing is that in the U.S. from the late 1800s to early 1900s there was a huge vibrator industry. Racine, Wisconsin, was a hotbed of vibrator production. The vibrators weren’t overtly marketed as sex toys, but sold instead as cure-alls like patent medicines. Many of the earliest electric vibrators were produced in Racine in the early 1900s by Hamilton Beach, a company that’s also famous for their blenders. In fact, they used the same motor to power their drink mixers and their vibrators, as well as fans and sewing machines. They were marketed as massagers, but the 300-page books that came with them instructed users to vibrate all parts of their body, including telling male users to insert the “soft rubber” anal attachment into their anus to treat impotence.
One of the founders of the commercial dildo business in America in 1974 also worked as a ventriloquist. He enlisted his children to help him whittle dildos.