Dr Young's Rectal Dilators

Source: Detroit Medical Journal August 1905

As you can see, this ad is aimed at the medical profession, and the product was (and still is) accepted by orthodox practitioners as helpful for certain conditions – it was not so much the dilators themselves but the claims made about their efficacy that at one point pushed them into the nether regions of quackery.

After the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, US promoters of medicines had to be very careful what they said in their advertising and packaging, but this did not apply to non-drug medical devices. The dilators, (patented in 1892 by Frank E Young but not widely promoted until the early years of the 20th century), were presented as ‘A Radical Cure’ for piles and constipation, the idea being that well-trained muscles in the area in question would be able to cope with even the most solid of ‘solids’. The newspaper ads of 1907 and 1908 (aimed at ordinary punters rather than doctors) included assertions like: ‘cure even the worst cases’; ‘guaranteed to cure’; ‘positive and lasting cure.’ Had they been talking about a drug, such absolute guarantees would have got the manufacturers into trouble.

To take advantage of the benefits, here’s what you had to do:

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. Hold in place a minute and the anal muscles will hold 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 on 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 a few times.

In case you’re wondering, the big ‘un was 4 inches long and an inch in diameter. Although at the time of this ad they were made of rubber, Bakelite was later used, and the design changed so that the flange at the bottom was flat and the dilators could stand upright, as in this photo of the exhibit at Glore’s Psychiatric Museum in St Joseph, Missouri (with thanks to cometstarmoon on flickr for the pic).

Dr Young's Rectal Dilators at Glore Psychiatric Museum

It wasn’t until 1938 that the new US Federal Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act encompassed the sale of medical devices, and once that was in force it didn’t take long for the dilators to attract the courts’ attention. In 1940, a shipment of dilators and their lubricant, Piloment, was seized at New York and the US Attorney for the Southern District of NY filed libels against them, alleging that they were misbranded.

The misbranding allegations related to the claims that the dilators would permanently cure constipation and piles, that they had many other benefits including promoting refreshing sleep and improving acne, urticaria and anaemia, and that the instructions advised ‘you need have no fear of using them too much.’

The hearing accepted that ‘it would be dangerous to health when used with the frequency and duration prescribed, recommended, or suggested in the following labeling,’ and the consignment was condemned and destroyed – one of many examples of a potentially useful product falling foul of claims beyond what it could really achieve.



UPDATE: Here’s an excellent photo of a set of Young’s dilators, plus some info on the history of rectal diseases, at the American Journal of Gastroenterology.


    • Hi, thanks for commenting, and sorry for the delay in replying. I’m no antiques expert so I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess at the exact value, but unfortunately I don’t think they are worth an awful lot.

  1. well, the quack doctor is full of quack references. looking at the Detroit Medical Journal, August 1905 on Google Docs, and there are no advertisements. Aug 1905 does have a home douching bulb in the new medical devices section, but that’s as close as it gets, so to speak…

  2. Not to put too fine a point on it (pardon the pun), but it seems obvious to me that these were used, if not devised, as sex toys. In fact, they make an appearance in the pornographic feature PASSIONS (1985), directed by Alex De Renzy. Actress Gail Sterling even reads from Young’s original instructions.

    • Many so-called quack devices were not really quack medicine, so much as things most people buying them knew were intended to be sex, toys, and the quack medicine side was a cover to get around obscenity laws. Remember, there are still parts of Texas when selling sex toys is technically illegal, and sometimes even enforced.

  3. I can tell you for a fact they actually do work for some cases of hemorrhoids and fissures brought on by a spasming sphincter muscle. The other option is surgical cutting of the sphincter muscle, which runs the risk of leaving you incontinent.

  4. From what I have found out after seeing these at a local museum today, is that YES they were infact used for MEDICAL treatment of Hemoroids, constipation, and overly strained anal tissue. As a matter of fact, there are still ways of obtaining prescriptions for these and being advised by a physician in using them! Yes they are also more widely used now a days as a sex toy, any research in historical medical artifacts will reveal that victorian era medicine was not only scary as all can be to the point of torture, there was an extreme interest in the butt. That and sexual release (i.e. masturbation, nightly emissions, getting a hard on etc) was considered to be a precursor to mental retardation and physical ailments, things were invented to both help assist in the “release” and “prevent” any well….you get the idea….but ya. They were all quacks, simply because there was no information on the human body, and if it weren’t for their trial and error, huge emphasis on ERROR here, we wouldn’t know half of what we know about the human body today.

  5. Yes i am interested in making an offer on these. Who do i need to talk to? im an antiquer and these so called quacks developed the first true and only natural non-medicated way to reduce overall bruising and festering over time, but through repeated dilation muscle buildup elimi.ated things from heavy, deep fissures, to constipation. I had problems for years fellas. Nearly had to be put on disability cuz i had that baseball sized hemmi on my butt that felt like 3000 man pregnancies. This cronic problem was quickly causing the end of my life. I couldnt sleep i was in so much pain. I couldnt stand, run, walk or do a single stinkin thing without the feeling if being jammed up the vertical buttcheeks hilton. Then my doctor asked me if i was gay… Haha true story. But to displease u readers out there i wasnt gay. Not at all. But to continue this really weird and by now i assume crazy proposition this doctor must be nearing to tell me, he offers me a dilation kit similar to whats on here. Folks, crazy quacky or not, and thouhg i bought them and never used them for a month until i had a horrible breakout. Most days id be in a mildly comfortable amount of pure hell and then whamo, the bomb burst, the baby has breeched… Get da pic? Well i had enough, ran and grabbed the kit, started with the smallest and i was like wooooaaaat the fluck! It worked, has worked and has been working since then. Ive never had to go back to the doctor, from going once a week and having two surgeries on avg per year… Now nothing. So, does anyone have these rectal dilators for sale?

  6. I bought a small one, #1, and a #3 today at an antiques shop in Mpls, MN. I paid $5 each. They had no #4 or I would have got that as well. Not for sale, though. I will put them on my cocktail table as conversation pieces. The shop also had “Cunningham’s Incontinence Clamps” in the original box for $10. A gag gift for a friend’s birthday. Amazing that the dilators actually work!

  7. Rectal dilators are absolutely useful and are still used today to treat anal stenosis due to radiation therapy. This is not quackery at all.

  8. .

    Yes, My wife and I Inherited the complete box set, black box with red inside, with all the sizes. They have been steam cleaned, but not to much to do any damage. Best Regards, Robert

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