Forget the Rampant Rabbit ladies; the vibrator has been around since the turn of the century!
The electric vibrator was introduced in 1902 and thus began the broad marketing of vibrators to the masses. Before that, for centuries doctors had been treating women for ‘female hysteria‘ by essentially performing masturbation, or a ‘pelvic massage’ as it was referred to then. This treatment was particularly popular in the Victorian period, (where sexual gratification was unheard of for ladies – wives made babies!), but as the doctor was performing the ‘vulvar stimulation’, it was therefore nothing to do with sex, but a medical need to cure their female hysteria! Symptoms of this ‘hysteria’ was anything from shortness of breath, gaut, ugliness, obesity, poor skin and insomnia. In short, most ailments in women were attributed to this deprivation of sex or more specifically, of an orgasm. Doctors reportedly found this task to be both time consuming and hard work, and often delegated it to their midwives. Eventually, vibrators were invented to take the work out of it for those poor fatigued doctors.
Around 1880, Dr JM Grancille patented the first mechanical vibrator and in 1902 Hamilton Beach, an American company patented the first electric vibrator for retail sale, making the vibrator the fifth domestic appliance to be electrified after the sewing machine, fan, kettle and toaster and a decade before the vacuum and iron, somewhat unbelievably.
The appearance of vibrators in porn, or ‘Stag’ films in the 1920s meant that it was no longer an option for ‘decent’ women in mainstream society to openly use these devices as they became sexualised. The vibrator made a public comeback in the 1960s, during the sexual revolution and miniskirt era. From the 1920s until the 1960s, vibrators seemingly disappeared from catalogues, magazines and from doctor’s offices, even though “female hysteria” was still considered a real illness until being dismissed by the American Psychiatric Association in 1952!
Yup, this 300 book teaches you how to massage your FACE, ahem.
Today’s sexual climate is certainly the result of the sexual revolution and women’s liberation movement of a generation ago, though clearly sex toys have an even deeper past. Now, Anne Summers and similar shops make owning a vibrator glamorous and cool.
Even though female hysteria has disappeared as a medical diagnosis, its remedy—an orgasm—still seems pretty healthy after all these years.