Goodbye Hysteria, Hello Vibrator: The Odd Origins of Ending Hysteria

Good Vibes, ONLY

Vibrators can be used as sex toys for all genders, with partners or alone, but they’re frequently marketed to single women. Most people clits have an easier time reaching orgasm with clitoral stimulation than penetration alone, which is exactly what a vibrator provides. About one-half of all people who identify as women in the U.S. have used one and report more sexual satisfaction because of it. Oddly, vibrators were not exactly created with this in mind. Well, they were created to get women off, but because doctors in the 19th century needed a more efficient way to treat female “hysteria” in their patients.

The word hysteria makes it sound like horny women were just running around like chickens with their heads cut off. And maybe they were, sexual frustration can be pretty aggravating. Either way, they were certainly seeking out assistance in the matter, and so much so that the doctors were getting tired of helping them rub one out. Seriously. Those guys needed something to make their job of touching vaginas a little less demanding, so they invented an electric tool to streamline the process.

Until the 20th-century people didn’t think that women had sexual feelings, drives, or urges at all.

Since social norms are capable of influencing people, many of them believed this. Obviously, that’s totally ridiculous, and years of being glossed over in the bedroom and believes that masturbation was evil started to leave women a bit frustrated. This manifested as sleeplessness, fantasies, wetness, a heaviness in the abdomen, and irritability.

This mysterious syndrome was dubbed “hysteria” and the treatments began. At first, this reportedly involved some vegetable oil lube for dual finger penetration plus clitoral action from the other hand. Solid move. But there were so many women coming in requiring treatment that it just became too much to handle. The demand for orgasms was just too high.

Psych N Sex - Vibrator

 The Job No one Wanted

The doctors could have made it easy on themselves and simply acknowledged that women have needs. They could have sent them home with a handy “how-to” pamphlet for the boyfriends and husbands, (or whoever), and started the sexual revolution right there. But no, the world was not ready for female sexuality quite yet. Instead, the professionals went to work creating alternative options.

“Personal Massager”

Those initial options varied but were mechanical in nature some worked better than others. Then in 1880 came the invention of the first electromechanical vibrator thanks to a doctor named Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville. Their popularity took off immediately, although they were generally marketed as personal massagers. And often still are today. There’s actually an antique vibrator museum in San Francisco where these delightful contraptions can be admired throughout the years.

psych n sex - good vibes only

Ride it, My Pony

At one point in time, it was even suggested that women seek out some relief by horseback riding. (Basically the opposite of that country song that says “save a horse ride a cowboy.”) It’s really interesting that in a time of sexual repression people were being urged to handle their sexual needs publicly, while these days where there’s a lot more sexual freedom people are encouraged to do it privately. Intentionally orgasming on a horse would likely be considered quite lewd these days if not worse. And it sounds like sexual harassment to ask a doctor for an orgasm. Paying someone to give you an orgasm is pretty strongly considered prostitution, and that’s usually illegal.

 

Vibrators: What are they good for?

It’s a pretty odd reality that vibrators came into existence during a time when women weren’t given the freedom to be who they really were, but hey, we’ve made it pretty far since then. (At least in the United States.) We’re acknowledged as sexual creatures, and there are a whole plethora of sex toys to order from online if and when we feel like it. Heck, we can even sync a vibrator to our cell phones if we want to. These days people seem pretty comfortable taking things into their own hands if necessary, but back then not so much.

Can you imagine going to a doctor for an orgasm instead of handling it in the comfort of your own home? Yikes. Imagine the copays.

 

Psych N Sex - Vibrator

 

H.king@open.ac.uk. Galen and the Widow. Towards a History of Therapeutic Masturbation in Ancient Gynaecology* (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

Maines, Rachel P. “La Tecnología Del Orgasmo.” Debate Feminista 23 (2001): 166-219. Web.

Kate Ferguson

Kate Ferguson is a Los Angeles local and freelance writer for a variety of genres. When she’s not writing, the UC Davis graduate is focused on pursuits of the entertainment industry, spin class, and hot sauce. Find her on social media @KateFerg

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