How The Dimmer Switch Changed Sex

It couldn’t have been long after Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb in 1879 that the novelty of having brightly lit night-time sex began to wear thin (“Not the light bulb again tonight, honey!”). After all, although it can be exciting to have sex in full light, there are downsides, too: namely, how apparent electric light makes each of our blemishes, stretch marks, wrinkles, cellulite and other imperfections seen. Certainly, someone somewhere must have wondered how they could have the best of both worlds: the attractive glow of candlelit sex without the dangers of accidentally knocking over one’s candles or gas lantern in the heat of passion.

Fortunately, in 1892, Granville Woods invented the first dimmer switch – a gadget that could control the amount of current sent to a light fixture. Though first used in theatres, dimmer switches eventually became smaller, quieter (early models involved heavy transformers) and easily installed by homeowners in city apartments and sleepy suburban spreads.

Dimmer switches quite literally changed the way that we see sex: they allow for people to have sex in the light of day even during the darkest of nights – and yet that light can be flattering, casting sensuous shadows under our cheekbones and suggesting candlelight rather than fluorescent light tones.

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Debby Herbenick, PhD is a sex researcher and educator, a widely read sex columnist and author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. Follow her on Twitter@mysexprofessor.

[Image of dimmer switches via Charles and Hudson.]

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at