Need a Christmas idea that is fun, shocking, informative, historical, and delightful to read (even if you don’t like to read)? Then you need American Sex Machines: The Hidden History of Sex at the U.S. Patent Office by Hoag Levins. Buy it used from Thriftbooks or Abe Books. A used book about sex machines adds an additional layer of thoughtfulness.
You need this book!
I’m a huge Mary Roach fan. She writes all the best books about “obscure” history and science subjects. I don’t want to get on a tangent about Mary because this book report is about Sex Machines but suffice to say I have to credit Mary’s book about the science of sex Bonk for the heads up–pun intended.
Mr. Levins, much like Mary, does a fabulous job of navigating what most people find to be an uncomfortable subject. I don’t know about you but the first time I went to an adult toy store I sat in my car debating whether to go in. Then I realized someone might notice my white, convertible, 2000 Pontiac Firebird. Then they might notice me inside it. I left.
I’ve grown up since (a little) and finally reached the “wokeness” that sex is very much nothing to be embarrassed or uncomfortable about. We all bang. It’s fun. Why not experiment and make it for fun? We do the same thing with food, TV shows, and when we travel. I bet most of us are always looking for a positive experience that is curated for our tastes. It’s a solid bet by the way. A quick Google or Facebook post on privacy, especially news, will reveal what most of us already know, both companies (and others) are in the business of stealing your privacy so that they can personalize ads. They want to direct your attention to things you like and things you might “also” like. Experiment. Open your wallet. It feels good. Like sex toys!
Levins offers a Mature Approach to Adult Content
Mr. Levins is adept at walking us through historical context of a vast array of “sex machines” that begins in the 1830’s. Think about that. It’s not long after the American Revolution and the mechanism for protecting original inventions was … invented. Bam, sex toy patents. Snake oil and sex toys (which Levins indeed covers).
Levins approach to educating us about the sex component to the human experience is as direct yet introspective as the title. American Sex Machines! A title shocking to many. It’s perhaps something you’d put another book cover over if you’re consuming the words at an airport. I mean, I wouldn’t, but I suspect there are plenty of people out there that might be concerned by the raised eyebrows that orbit their uncomfortable airplane terminal chair sitting posture. But then the rest of the title activates a different sort of intrigue: The Hidden History of Sex at the U.S. Patent Office.
Holy smokes! That’s right! If you want your invention patented you have to submit your designs and descriptions to the patent office. Then it is up to the good people at the Patent Office to determine whether to grant the inventor a patent. Those poor people, maybe. Or, maybe, how awesome! I’m thinking, what a treat! If day after day I’m inundated with inventions that must often be seemingly similar to others and now I have to go digging through records to determine whether it is genuine and then determine if it is useful. I can imagine that it could be like any other job, interesting some days but often the same.
And then, what is this gem that has graced my desk? A penile splint that works like a Reebok Pump!?!?! I’ll need another cup of coffee. I’ll be marking my status as away. See U.S. Patent 4,175,554 or American Sex Machines page 125. The quick and dirty on the pump design by Frank Gerow was targeted toward impotent men. It’s an aware, compassionate, and advantageous invention all at once. You can search U.S. Patents here.
Patent office must be a fun place to work!
I bet U.S. Patent Office employees have some of the best stories. Those who handle inventions, at least? What an amazingly human ordeal.
Like I say, though, this book has an amazing baked in duality. Mr. Levins weaves in original diagrams and schematics of the sex inventions, permit them to shock or intrigue, and he provides you with all of the historical and cultural context behind them. It is this duality that makes this book so damn interesting and ultimately obvious. There was a time when sex didn’t carry the weight of a shame or the falsehoods of pseudoscience (masturbation can cause diseases), thus the inventions reflected this cultural agreement. Advances in science, the invention of rubber for example, always seem to produce some new sex invention that is flavored by the cultural texture of the moment.
It makes sense. We want this stuff. Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t sit in your Firebird outside the store debating to yourself if you want to go in. You are sitting there for a reason. Who gives a shit what anyone thinks. Also, buy this book and give it as a gift and then get yourself one.