For a long time, medicine was pre-occupied with the question "can this be solved by putting something in the butt?"
Take, for example, tobacco smoke enemas, in which 18th Century physicians saw drowning victims and attempted to de-deadify them by blowing tobacco smoke up their rectums with a pipe. Despite having no medical benefit whatsoever, the practice was popular, and enema kits lined the Thames like lifebelts, ready to be used as one final humiliation for somebody who was crap at swimming.
This practice ended sometime after 1800 when it became apparent that it didn't really work, given how the anus famously isn't really connected to the lungs, but doctors weren't quite finished with having a poke around in the general area to see what happens just yet.
In short, as a Valentine's Day tweet from UK TV show QI puts it:
Dr Young's Ideal Rectal Dilators, created in the 1890s, were not marketed as a sexual object, but as a serious medical tool – and we're sure they were used as such. The instructions told users – who were encouraged to self-prescribe and administer – to begin with the smaller dilator and work their way up.
"First warm dilator in warm water; then lubricate outside of dilator with Dr Young’s Piloment (or if it is not available, with vaseline) and while in a squatting position – or while lying on the side with knees drawn up – gently insert in the rectum as far as the flange or rim," the instructions read.
"Hold in place a minute and the anal muscles will close and retain it. Sit or lie down and allow it to remain for half an hour or an hour to get the best results. Ten minutes will accomplish much."
“When ready to go to the next larger size, it is best first to use for a few minutes the same size you have been using, inserting and withdrawing It several times. This is very beneficial and should not be overlooked.”
The packaging noted that they should not be used by anyone under the age of 8, without doctor supervision.
Dr Young admitted that people would often panic when they saw the sheer girth of the largest size, but assured them that by moving their way through the sizes they would be able to accommodate it, and may even want to take on an "Extra Length" dilator number five, which was more than an inch and a half (3.8 centimeters) thick.
Some of the theory behind it made sense, or at least weren't a huge leap in the imagination. For instance, it was promised that they would help with defecation by "strengthening and toning the muscles controlling defecation", and were mainly marketed as a tool for relieving constipation.
Customers using it for this purpose seemed satisfied, including Reverand Cook and S.F Loughborough, who said that they would not sell their butt plugs for any price under $100 and $10,000 respectively.
Then the claims went off-piste, stating that the product promoted more refreshing sleep, could relieve foul breath and bad tastes in the mouth, sallow skin, acne, anemia, lassitude, mental hebetude, insomnia, anorexia, headaches, diarrhea (which you can see might be true if you just leave it in), hemorrhoids, prolapse, flatulence (see diarrhea), indigestion, nervousness, irritability, and cold extremities.
The claims were far from the medical truth, as a court case with an amazing name would attest.
In a court case with an extremely pleasing name – U.S. v. 67 Sets of Dr. Young's Rectal Dilators and 83 Packages of Dr. Young's Piloment – the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled that not only were the claims not backed up by evidence, but that the device "would be dangerous to health when used with the frequency and duration prescribed, recommended, or suggested in the labeling."
The products were ordered to be destroyed before they even found out that Dr Young had also claimed in a medical journal that the rubber sex toys (let's face facts here) would be effective in curing insanity.