Introduction of the Vibrator to Treat “Hysteria”
This “condition” was originally thought to be related to an excess of sexual tension, and the treatment was to provide vulva massage to a female patient until she experienced a “release”. Electric vibrators offered physicians a fast and effective way to “treat” the many symptoms of hysteria. When they began appearing in early porn loops, they fell out of favor with the medical establishment, but found a new home in sex stores around the world.
Hysteria, from the Greek for "suffering uterus,"
For most of their history, the vibrator has been camouflaged, their sexual
purpose hidden behind "massage therapy." The first vibrators
were developed 130 years ago to treat an illness called "female hysteria."
Hysteria, from the Greek for "suffering uterus," involved anxiety,
irritability, sexual fantasies, "pelvic heaviness" and "excessive"
vaginal lubrication -- in other words, sexual arousal during the Victorian
era, when women were not considered sexual beings. Physicians treated
hysteria by massaging their patients' clitoris until they experienced
relief through "paroxysm" (orgasm).
It seems almost mind bogglingly bizarre that in Victorian society women were going off to the doctor to obtain the pleasure they clearly didn’t receive at home, and that society considered it to be normal. Rachel Maines, the author of The Technology of Orgasm: Hysteria, the Vibrator and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction, explains this in terms of the “androcentric model of sexuality” i.e. that sex consisted only of penetration to male orgasm. Since the external use of vibrators didn’t involve the vagina, it could not be considered to be sexual contact, and thus was a purely medical encounter. Indeed, more controversy accompanied the introduction of the speculum and the tampon than did the vibrator. Maines points out that the façade was maintained for so long because to suggest otherwise meant that men should be doing more than mere penetration, and this would really stuff up the comfortable status quo. She also suggests that many doctors didn’t recognise the paroxysm for what it really was – an orgasm – and thus obviously hadn’t ever seen one in their wives.
Some of the early models resembled heavy engineering machinery, and were ridiculously expensive. The “Chattanooga” model retailed for over $200 at the turn of the century. By 1905, however, vibrators had become smaller and cheaper, with a larger range of attachments.
As technology advanced, the vibrator soon moved out of the doctor’s surgery and into the home, where treatment could be self administered at a much cheaper rate. Popular women’s magazines of the time were filled with advertisements for mail-order vibrators, promising health and wellbeing. “The pleasures of youth will throb within you!” gushed one. The Sears and Roebuck catalogue featured a multi-purpose appliance that included a buffer, grinder and mixer along with the vibrator attachment. “Will be found to be very useful in many ways around the home!” it beamed. Indeed, the vibrator was part of the early vanguard of electrical appliances; it preceded the introduction of the vacuum cleaner by 9 years and the electric iron by ten – “possibly reflecting consumer priorities” says Maines.
The medical reign of the vibrator came to an end in the 1920s, when early
"blue" movies showed women using the devices for sexual stimulation,
stripping the vibrator of their social camouflage and respectability as
"everyone’s favourite appliance". Doctors, increasingly
knowledgeable of women’s sexuality and unable to maintain the facade,
stopped using the vibrator and by 1930, they were no longer openly advertised
in journals and mail order catalogues.
We are often disappointed after
Because most of us are like owners of a precious Stradivarius violin
that we have never learned to play.