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Hysteria and the History of the Vibrator

August 17, 2011
by

For the most part, yes. This is a true story. Sure, they threw in a bit of raunchiness, camp, and romance, but this is, in fact, the true history of the vibrator.

Back in Victorian days, doctors believed that all the symptoms of depression and anxiety that came with being a repressed and oppressed woman in Victorian days was because of hysteria. Other symptoms of hysteria included faintness, nervousness, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and “a tendency to cause trouble.” So basically, all women suffered from hysteria.

It was believed at one time that the womb wandered around inside a woman’s body, and, according to Greek physician Galen, the key was paroxysm. Today we call it an orgasm, and it would lock the womb back into place, while all other symptoms seemed to disappear. Galen believed that through the “touch of the genital organs required by the treatment, there follows twitchings accompanied at the same time by pain and pleasure… from that time she is free of all the evil she felt.”

The Times explains the transition from hand assisted paroxysm to machine:

The trouble was that doctors regarded this treatment as numbingly tedious. Bringing a woman to paroxysm by hand could, understandably, take for ever. It was a job that required stamina and not a little patience. And, significantly, because it took so long, it wasn’t lucrative enough for doctors who needed to see many patients to achieve a reasonable income.

After the success of high pressure water massage in the 1860’s, steam power was used in the 1870’s to power a rotating ball attached to a table. But doctors needed something a little more… portable.

The first British vibrator was manufactured by Weiss in the early 1880s and it had several interchangeable “vibratodes”. It was battery-driven, but as electrification swept the world, devices rapidly appeared that were powered by street current.

Vibrators became all the rage and were even sold in the 1918 Sears catalog, seen in the image to the right. But their use was still, oddly enough, considered a medical procedure. Quoth the Wiki:

While physicians of the period acknowledged that the disorder stemmed from sexual dissatisfaction, they seemed unaware of or unwilling to admit the sexual purposes of the devices used to treat it.In fact, the introduction of the speculum was far more controversial than that of the vibrator.

Of course, people eventually caught on to exactly what a paroxysm is. By the 1920s, vibrators began appearing in pornography and were quickly removed from respectable store shelves. Hysteria was no longer considered a genuine mental and medical disorder by the early 20th century, so the use of vibrators as a medical treatment fell out of favor.

As to where vibrators stand today, I’ll let you research that on your own.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. lesbatwin permalink
    August 22, 2011 6:49 am

    This was a really great article!

  2. Jacqueline R. permalink
    August 23, 2011 9:50 pm

    Really interesting article!

  3. August 25, 2011 2:21 am

    I love the article and this is my first time hearing about the movie. I sell vibrators in home parties, kinda like tupperwear parties and it’s the best. Great stress reliever, Hahhaha…

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