Anticipate This!™ | Patent and Trademark Law Blog

Review: The Hidden History of Sex at the U.S. Patent Office

Posted in General Commentary by Mike Dockins on April 25, 2007

At the risk of losing the interest of the reader in the first sentence of this post, the below is a book review that has no real scandal and that does not appeal to any prurient interests. The book is titillating (pun intended) only in its informative and enlightening look at the Patent Office and its approach to sex. Sorry to disappoint.

The Hidden History of Sex at the U.S. Patent Office: American Sex Machines by Hoag Levins is quite an interesting, and at times disturbing, look at patented devices involving human sex organs and copulation. Levins carefully researched the patent archives and found more than 800 inventions pertaining to the subject matter. Levins then organized the inventions into various categories such as: early american sex (the rubber revolution, contraception, etc.); the male reproductive organ; the bra and industrialization of the breast; and the modern era of sex (anti-rape technology, means for stimulation, exercisers, etc.). The book starts with a plethora of devices aimed at curbing maturbation (a nineteenth century obsession) and spans to the field of AIDS-inspired protection devices such as oral condoms and condom garnments. The remarkable display of inventiveness spans from odd to downright dangerous and becomes an absolute page turner.

In the book Levins weaves a wonderful thread and balance of describing the inventions and societal preoccupations of an era through the eyes of the Patent Office. The book is scholarly and enlightening; for instance, the history of the brassiere is detailed and concise and dismisses various urban legends and other nonsense pertaining to the invention of this device. American Sex Machines contains a section of chapter notes describing the source material and additional readings, and includes a solid index. The book is written with grace, style, and a good deal of humor and leaves the reader well informed, if not enlightened.

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