Guilty Pleasures Friday: The History of the Vibrator

Oh, got your attention did I?  Things are getting steamy over at the Happiness Project!  And why not?  Nothing says guilty pleasure like a little self indulgence!

You all know I’ve been a movie watching fiend lately reporting the raw truth on all things Oscars!  To settle down from the award nominations, I caught up on a few fun films this weekend.  My favorite pick?

Hysteria

Hysteria:  n.  The term hysteria was once used to describe a medical condition thought to affect only women. Symptoms of the illness included partial paralysis, hallucinations and nervousness. The term is thought to originate from ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, who associated these symptoms with the movement of a woman’s uterus throughout different locations in the body. The term hysteria is from the Greek hysteria, which means uterus.  http://psychology.about.com/od/hindex/f/hysteria.htm

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The film Hysteria is a raucous retelling of history and how Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville invented the first vibrator.  A medical aid turned sex toy that is the most popular novelty item sold now!

In the early 1900’s, hysteria was a common medical diagnosis for women.

Symptoms of hysteria:

  • Faintness
  • Nervousness
  • Sexual Desire
  • Insomnia
  • Fluid Retention
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Loss of Appetite

Huh, I have a feeling 99% of women are suffering from sheer hysteria every day!

In 1952, female hysteria was removed from the medical list of diseases, and took various psychological routes which would become schizophrenia and anxiety disorders.

But before we knew very much about the female body, hysteria was a commonplace disorder that had a very distinct kind of treatment.  It was believed that the symptoms of hysteria were caused by the retention of fluids in the vagina, and therefore treatment was a [“pelvic massage” – manual stimulation of the genitals by the doctor until the patient experienced “hysterical paroxysm” (orgasm).]  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_hysteria

No joke!  Women all over the country were going to their doctors for hand jobs! 

(image courtesty Mrs. Inman Artwork – Creative Commons)

Don’t you just love history?!

Ok, so Dr. Granville is a young, up and coming (he he he) doctor that can’t withstand the treatment demands from the growing number of patients.  Trying to create a mechanical tool that would offer the same results with less demanding skill from the doctor, he created the first electromechanical vibrator.

Early Form of Vibrator (copyright CreativeCommons)

What this accomplishes is a decrease in skillset required by the doctor, and faster treatment time.  Instead of an hour long treatment, some women were released as early as 10 minutes.  More patients could be seen, and with more visits came more money!

Behold:  The Birth of the Vibrator

Advertisements for vibrators showed up all over and more and more models were made.  There was roughly a 40 year period where we didn’t hear much about them and conservative beliefs took over mass media.  But with the rise of the 60’s, they were back.  The second wave of Feminism also helped the vibrator become buzzworthy again!  Female sexuality was being studied.  Workshops about orgasms were held!  And as history unfolds, we begin to learn more and more about women’s health – sexual and otherwise.

(Mrs. Inman Artwork – Creative Commons)

*****

As a girl who performed in The Vagina Monologues four years running, climaxing to the role of “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy” I must say I thoroughly enjoyed this film and history lesson.  And as a side note, if you’ve never seem TVM, you should really go see that play too!

If possible, I highly recommend you rent the actual DVD for this film because the special features have a fantastic short documentary about the history of female orgasm and early vibrators.  Did you know in some states the sale of vibrators is illegal???  And there are also laws out there that limit the number of sexual toys a person can own!  Seriously, you have to watch the documentary because it also introduces us to a teacher who was trying to make some extra cash by becoming an in-home sex toy saleswoman.  An obscenity charge was filed and a warrant for her arrest made!  Even though she was never convicted, she lives the rest of her life with this stigma of being a bad person – all for selling a few dildos to women who welcomed her into their homes!

Who knew the vibrator had such a long and scandalous history?  Learn more yourself by viewing this positively electric film!

On behalf of all women, may I say “Thank you, Dr. Granville!” 

What are your thoughts?  Had you any idea the vibrator began as a medical aid?  Tell me about the first time you learned what a vibrator was!  When it’s Guilty Pleasures Fridays, it’s good to indulge!

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32 responses

  1. Just sitting here shaking my head. You are off the charts, girl!

    1. Thanks for the compliment Jane!

  2. Thanks for sharing the history of the vibrator. I’ve been wondering what all the buzz was about!

    (SO much more to say, but it would be too HARD not to come across sounding dirty. See?!).

    1. Yah I wondered what tidbits of wisdom you might share with us Mark! Lol.

  3. Hahaha! I’m writing about my guilty pleasure now. It is much more innocent. This is great. Also, you are going to get all kinds of pervy followers and quality SPAM. Trust me on this. 😉

    1. What do you think Jenny Hansen gets with all her undie chronicles and August McLaughlin with the Girl Boner series? I feel honored to join their company.

  4. I remember reading about the vibrator’s medical start at some point, but your telling of it is ever so much more fun! The first time I actually “saw” a vibrator was when I watched the movie “From The Hip.” Hilarious scene, although it had nothing to do with sex (it was in a courtroom). I had heard about vibrators before – I was a teenager – but was VERY curious after that!

    1. LOL. From the Hip, huh? I’ll have to check it out.

      Truth, I don’t think I really knew what they were until high school, and I didn’t even see one until college when I happened upon my friends after she asked me grab something out of her dresser. Ha! Think she forgot what was in there?!

      1. – great 80’s movie. The vibrator is part of a courtroom strategy : ).

  5. The IYKWIMs in this post slayed me, Jess! “Buzzworthy”?

    1. Too much fun! This writing thing is just too much fun!

  6. You are right, Jen, Hysteria is a great movie for all the reasons you mention. Did I read this correctly … you had a role in TVM for four years? Awesome!

    1. Yep, every year in college! Have you seen the show? If so, you’ll probably know most the pieces I performed. I did the piece about birth, the woman with the wet dream about Burt Reynolds, the British woman who goes to the Vagina Workshop for the first time, and then the ultimate envious role, “The Moaner.”

      I LOVE this show. Our women’s studies student association sponsored it every year and we raised funds for our local women’s shelter with the proceeds. We also sold chocolate vaginas. They were a big hit for Valentine’s!

  7. LOL- I can’t wait to see this movie, it looks like a lot of fun.

    1. It’s positively screechworthy!

      Yah…I said that.

  8. OMG, that’s awesome! I seem to remember a Greek comedy that featured a trio of women arguing about a dildo. Now I have to go look that up…

    1. Is it Lysistrata? That’s a great play!

  9. Awesome.
    That is all.

    1. Paging Dr. Granville. Dr. Granville, you have a patient in room 5…

        1. Having a family doctor is really “handy” isn’t it Dawn?

  10. LOL. So, writing conference essentials now include pens, pencils, notebooks, and batteries?

    Good laugh, Jess.

    1. Don’t forget your top hat, Nigel!

  11. I can’t believe I missed this! Fabulous post, Jess. Hysteria has been on my to-watch list, and you’ve bumped up to #1.

    Imagine… Pleasure and healthy physical interaction being medicinal–LOL. I’m so glad the world has changed, and continues to move in the right direction. I love films, books, performances and blog posts that help facilitate it all. 🙂

    1. Yay! So glad you liked it, August. The documentary in the special features was really interesting, so if you find the DVD, I hope you check it out!

      Say it with me now, Cheers to Dr. Granville!

  12. That Maggie Gyllenhaal makes me hysterical. I don’t think there’s a cure though…

    1. LOL. I don’t mind Hugh Dancy one bit either. 😉

  13. […] Guilty Pleasures Friday: The History of the Vibrator (jesswitkins.wordpress.com) […]

  14. Did you hear about the water massage treatments back in the day? Being “all wet” ain’t bad. 😉

    Awesome post!

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