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Once Upon a Time, People Thought Butt Plugs Cured Insanity

Once Upon a Time, People Thought Butt Plugs Cured Insanity

Once Upon a Time, People Thought Butt Plugs Cured Insanity

Your great grandparents’ faux-medicinal butt plugs "cured" just about anything. 


It’s the year 1899. You’re constipated, asthmatic, nervous, dyspeptic, mensing, and you have hemorrhoids. You can’t sleep. Your toes and fingers get cold easily. You have bad breath and severe acne.

What’s a civilized American to do?

“Have no fear!” Dr. Young might say. “My rectal dilators will cure you of not only your intestinal and dermal problems, but of your insanity — whatever the cause!”

And how!

Yes, some people actually thought that Dr. Young's Self-Retaining Rectal Dilators could cure "three-fourths of all the howling maniacs" in just a few weeks' time, and his inventions were actually prescribed by doctors to relieve some of the above symptoms back before bran muffins, Miralax and real science. If you’re still not quite sure of how, just take a gander at the ad below and things might click into place (as much as they will, because they probably shouldn't).

DrYoungsIdealRectalDilators Advertisement DetroitMedicalJournal August1905.jpg

You put them in your butt, one after the other until you're cured, with Dr. Young’s Piloment (i.e. lube), which included petrolatum, phenol and the sometimes-poisonous belladonna extract.

According to Dr. Jeremy Agnew's “Medicine in the Old West: A History 1850-1900,” the devices were seen as especially helpful for women during pregnancy and menstruation, and men were likely recommended the treatment for “prostate troubles.”

Agnew, a Ph.D. in engineering, also says these kinds of instruments were “later coupled with electricity to make heated rectal probes that warmed the prostate internally.”

Not that those aren’t sold today, and not to kink-shame their fans at all, but no. I probably wouldn’t trust a 19th-century electric buttplug.

You can imagine the medical establishment didn’t react positively to Dr. Young's endeavors, nor without comedic grace. In good, old-fashioned academic style, The Cleveland Medical Gazette published in its eighth volume a read-worthy diss from Medical News against both Dr. Young and his journal The New Way’s grammar.

“ ‘Dr. Young’s vertal dilators seem (sic!) to create a demand (sic!) for an article long desired by the medical profession, if the number of orders received for it (sic!) indicate (sic) anything.’ We particularly note the power of vertal [rectal] dilatation to cure insanity, as we are assured that at least ‘three-fourths of all the howling maniacs’ of the world may be wholly cured ‘in a few weeks’ time by the application of orificial methods.’ Why, then, in the name of pity and of kindness, do these men not apply the dilators each to himself or to each other?”

Sic burn. I think a friend told me about that RedTube video.

The fun all came crashing down in 1940 — yeah, a good 48 years after Young’s patent was approved, albeit only two years after the 1938 Federal Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act allowed the government to do anything about it — when the U.S. district attorney for the Southern District of New York filed libel suits against a number of Dr. Young’s medical miracles.

’Twas a sad day for Dr. Young's purportedly demanding patients. His shipments were seized and destroyed by the feds.

Just in case the history of these precious little medical gems isn’t funny enough, in January 2015, Antique Trader published a response to a harmless, unsuspecting inquiry into some antiques a reader found in their dad’s stuff.

“My curiosity grows as I comb the Internet for answers,” K.W. wrote, “but so far I have no idea what these four hollow graduated metal cylinders are. … Could they be some kind of weights and measures gadget? A medical device? Any suggestions?”

Without using the word buttplug (props?), the Trader responded with not only an answer to their reader's query but directions for the dilators' use.

“The first step was to place the dilators in warm water before use (could you imagine forgetting step one? Who would need caffeine?). After the dilators were sufficiently warm, the smallest was lubricated, inserted (yes, you know where) and retained for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour before inserting the next size up and so on until the fourth and largest dilator was used (not exactly something you could do on your lunch break). The largest was typically 4 ½ inches in length and 1 inch around.”

Finding your dad's maybe-medically-intended buttplugs: also not something I'd be thrilled about.  

So, dear readers, belladonna extract can be dangerous, maybe don’t try to use buttplugs for your acne or schizophrenia, and if you’re so inclined, grab one of these antique treasures on eBay before they disappear.

h/t: Pink News

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Ian Martella