Butt plugs were the 1800s’ ‘asspirin’ originally invented to cure headaches and insomnia

By Malavika Pradeep

Updated Nov 28, 2022 at 02:44 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

Repurposing has been a trend since time immemorial. But what if the purpose of an object was entirely redefined by our ancestors in the process? Bubble wraps, for starters, were originally meant to be used as textured wallpaper. Lysol, on the other hand, was advertised as a ‘vaginal douche’ in times when birth control was expensive and difficult to come by. And intentionally or not, butt plugs seem to be the latest addition to the list.

Invented under the name ‘Doctor Young’s Ideal Rectal Dilators’, the existence of butt plugs can be traced back to the late 1800s. They were sold in sets of four and included ‘torpedo-like’ dilators made with hard rubber varying between 1 to 4 inches in length.

 

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An instruction card sold with the set informed users to begin with the smallest dilator and work their way up, further guiding them through the process: “First warm dilator in warm water. Then lubricate outside of dilator with Doctor Young’s Piloment (or if it is not available, with vaseline) and while in a squatting positionor while lying on the side with knees drawn upgently insert into the rectum as far as the flange or rim.”

“Hold in place a minute and the anal muscles will close and retain it. Sit or lie down and allow it to remain for half an hour or an hour to get the best results,” the instructions continued, with further advice along the lines of: “When ready to go to the next size, it is best to use the same size you have been using for a few minutes first, inserting and withdrawing it several times.” Highlighting the need for ‘supervision’ only if the user was under the ripe age of…8, Doctor Young encouraged all of his patients to self-prescribe and self-administer the instrument.

Butt why? How exactly did all of this help back then? Initially marketed as a tool for constipation by “strengthening and toning the muscles controlling defecation,” Doctor Young’s dilators claimed to be a ‘miracle cure’ for every ailment under the sun. Headaches, insomnia, bad breath, acne, anemia, anorexia, hemorrhoids, nervousness, irritability, cold extremities—you name it, they cured it. In fact, the doctor also recommended rectal dilation as a cure for insanity, claiming that at least “three-fourths of all the howling maniacs of the world” were curable “in a few weeks” time.

So what happened to these claims? Why do doctors recommend pills instead of 4-inch butt plugs if you approach them with these ailments now? Well, this can be credited to a certain court case with an extremely pleasing nameUS v. 67 Sets of Doctor Young’s Rectal Dilators and 83 Packages of Doctor Young’s Piloment.

Even though the packaging of the dilators advised to “have no fear of using them too much,” the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that the claims were not backed up by evidence, instead declaring the device “dangerous to health when used with the frequency and duration prescribed, recommended, or suggested in the labeling.” All consignments of Doctor Young’s Ideal Rectal Dilators and their lubricant, Piloment were ordered to be seized and destroyed, putting an end to all of the quackery in 1940.

No longer used for its intended purpose, and no longer just self-prescribed or self-administered, it is safe to say that the butt plug has come a long way. The invention now adds to an increasing list of sex tech defying its original intent. Curious to know what else is on this list? Well, vibrators! Don’t be bummed out, we promise to cover their evolution soon too.

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