Whilst the pursuit of sexual pleasure for men in the Georgian period is well recorded and was often, as in the case of the Beggar’s Benison Club joyously celebrated, the predilections of women at this time are more opaque. Certainly in the late seventeen century female sexual desire was widely acknowledged and considered necessary for women’s health. The Maid’s Complaint for want of a Dill-Doul written in 1660 eloquently upholds the right of women to have sexual satisfaction, declaring:

This girl long time hath in sickness been,

Which many maids do call the sickness green.

I wish she may some comfort find, poor soul,

And have her belly filled with a Dill doud.

The ‘green sickness’ was a condition which afflicted women when they did not have any sexual release. However, by the mid-eighteenth century a more misogynistic discourse had reframed female sexuality as ‘unnatural’, even monstrous. For example, while a dildo in the 1690s represented something that any woman might use to satisfy her lust, half a century later it became unmistakably a symbol of a woman who was sexually deviant. Indeed, whilst masturbation for men at the Benison Club became a communal activity, for women sexual pleasure outside the confines of marriage was increasingly considered transgressive.

An intentionally titilating pamphlet entiled ‘The Sappho-an’ (1749), which describes in cynical detail female same sex practices, highlights the perception that female self pleasure was somehow a violation of traditional hetrosexual relations, even attritbuting the source of the narrative to a ‘promoter of Jacobitism’. The pamphlet also records the history of lesbianism from Greek times onwards and describes a group of goddesses attempting to create the perfect dildo – a dildo which appears strikingly similar in design to the one displayed in this exhibition. The dildo they create is made from burnished ivory, which was consided superior to the soft leather dildos stuffed with rags. The goddesses invent a belt to strap it on and Minerva adds a small tube filled with milk to simulate ejaculation.

Source: In Pursuit of Pleasure: Entertaining Georgian Polite Society (Fairfax House, 2016)