. . . and where you can get one!
Hysteria and Prescription Vibrators: A Brief History
Since at least the fourth century B.C. until the American Psychiatric Association dropped the term in 1952, women were commonly treated by physicians for an ailment called “hysteria.” Considered chronic in women, symptoms included fatigue, anxiety, headache, neuralgia and depressed mood.
[Side note: The word “hysteria” comes from a Greek word meaning, “that which comes from the uterus.” Interesting, considering current popular meanings of the word include, “upset to the point or irrationality” when applied to a person, and “very funny” when applied to a situation.]
The standard treatment? Genital massage to orgasm.
There’s no evidence that physicians enjoyed or showed any enthusiasm for treating hysteria in their female patients. In fact, they most likely considered it a tedious, difficult, and time-consuming chore. Enter the vibrator! The vibrator emerged as a medical instrument at the end of the 19th century in response to demand from physicians for more rapid and efficient therapies, particularly for hysteria. The new device reduced the time it took physicians to produce results from up to an hour to about ten minutes.
Rachel P. Maines, author of the book, “The Technology of Orgasm: ‘Hysteria,’ the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction,” cites two main sources of demand for treatment: the predominant view of female masturbation as unchaste and possible unhealthful, and the failure of male partners to produce orgasm regularly in most women. This isn’t a slam on you undoubtedly talented partners out there, but a comment on the historically dominant model of healthy, “normal” heterosexuality as penetration of the vagina by the penis to male orgasm. However, this method fails to consistently produce orgasm in more than half of the female population. Hysteria, indeed!
In the early 20th century, doctors faced competition from beauty parlors, which began offering vibrator treatments to their female customers. With the introduction of electric lights in the home in 1876, women were recognized as significant consumers of electrical appliances. The first home appliance to be electrified was the sewing machine, followed soon after by the fan, teakettle, toaster, and – that’s right – the vibrator. The earliest known advertisement for a home vibrator is for the “Vibratile.” Featured in McClure’s magazine in 1899, the Vibratile was offered as a cure for “neuralgia, headache, and wrinkles.” As the vibrator evolved to become a relatively lightweight and inexpensive device that could be operated in the home, it effectively transitioned from medical device to a “personal care appliance.”
Fast forward more than a hundred years, and more than 52% of women have reported vibrator use, according to a nationally representative study by the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction and the Department of Gender Studies at Indiana University. Now you’ll find inexpensive vibrators advertised on MTV and boldly displayed at Duane Reade, Walgreens and other mainstream drugstores, mere steps from the Bengay and Dr. Scholl’s. At the other end of the spectrum, sex toy manufacturer, Lelo, offers a top of the line vibrator, which for $15,000 offers a “virtually silent” engine, according to the company, and either an 18-karat gold-plated or stainless steel finish.
Vibrators can be used to stimulate not only the female genitals, but many sensitive and pleasurable parts of female and male bodies. (They work the very best with lots of lube – for more information on which to pick, check out our lube blog post.) So where can you get in on the action? We’re raffling off vibrators, books, and other sexy toys at tomorrow night’s event, “Orgasm? Yes, Please!” sponsored by Counseling and Wellness, along with UNC’s own Project Dinah and UNC Panhellenic Council. It’s a fun, free event focusing on the best part of sex: pleasure. But pick up your tickets fast! Less than 100 remain at the Union Box Office.
Orgasm? Yes Please!
Friday, September 21, 7-9pm
Union Great Hall
- The Technology of Orgasm: ‘Hysteria,’ the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction by Rachel P. Maines
- Prevalence and Characteristics of Vibrator Use by Women in the United States: Results from a Nationally Representative Study by Herbenick, et. al.
- Vibrators Carry the Conversation by Hilary Howard