Not only was it unheard of, it was unspoken of - female sexual liberation and self exploration were simply not acknowledged despite it happening behind closed doors.
Fast forward to 2017 and women are not only dominating the adult toy industry as owners, but as users of products as well.
“Back in the days when I started in the field of sexology pre-apartheid, the notion of female masturbation didn’t exist. It is quite revolutionary how women have claimed their sexuality and the sex toy sales really affirm that women are proudly buying these products,” clinical sexologist Dr Marlene Wasserman, popularly known as Dr Eve, explained.
“Before, there was silence around female masturbation no one spoke about it publicly, whereas male masturbation was seen as ‘something men do’ and a sign of masculinity. For women, there was a lot of shame and guilt around a woman pleasing herself in that way,” she said
Adult World store chain owner Arthur Calamaras attested to this, adding, “The adult toy and pleasure industry was traditionally a male-controlled industry and mostly about men selling to men. But in the last few years, the market has gone a different direction and women are now driving the market. There are a lot of women now opening their own stores.”
Earlier this year, a survey commissioned by Desir, luxury brand for high-end adult toys, involving more than 700 respondents, revealed that the vibrator was the most sought after and bought toy among South Africans with 29% of the respondents purchasing them.
Last year, a report on the global sex toy industry released by the Statistic Brain Research Institute also showed that SA had the third-highest number of Google searches for sex toys in the world, and that the top five most popular items bought online were, in order, vibrators, rubber penises, lubrication, anal beads and penis rings.
“There are a lot of single people out there looking after themselves. We are also getting healthier and some couples are outliving each other. We’re living up until 70-80 years old and some people are still sexually active past their 70s,” Calamaras added.
“Lubrications are also a very big market. We bring in R400000 worth of lubricants every three months (in their stores).
"Also, there are far more expensive vibrators that have come out into the market than in previous years. We’ve seen women want more classier, streamlined toys like the ‘Rabbit’ and other ranges”.
The only trouble with this openness about sex toys, according to Dr Eve, “it’s created another tide” of pressure to self-please and achieve orgasm for women.
“We tend to pathologise things too much as a society. Now, if a woman doesn’t masturbate, there’s suddenly a problem with her. People want women to get edgier and edgier when so many women are already so uncomfortable with their bodies.
"I can’t stand these magazines that project women as these sexual vixens - women just want to be who they are,” Dr Eve countered.
“Masturbation is part of a woman’s health and pleasure - it shouldn’t be forced, it should be consensual,” she said.
Dr Eve has also noted a “huge shift” in her own sex toy store that has seen sales of higher-end toys drop as an emerging market of younger, black people sought more affordable access to the toys.