The History of Vibrators
As closely as vibrators are associated with sex today, it’s hard to believe that they were originally invented as a medical tool because a doctor’s arm kept getting tired.
Treating Female Hysteria
For centuries countless women had complained about extreme anxiety, sleeplessness, headaches and irritability. Doctors termed their condition “female hysteria” and treated it with a genital massage to induce “hysterical paroxysm,” known today as an orgasm. (Good luck getting your insurance company to sign off on something like that today.) The problem is that doctors could easily spend an hour or more gently massaging each patient before she finally had an orgasm. And they had a waiting room full of women to treat!
The First Electric Vibrator
Doctors naturally came up with a variety of devices designed to ease their workload. But these early contraptions were hard to use and not very efficient. Some of them – especially the early steam-powered models – could even be dangerous. But the development of electricity changed everything. Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville patented the first electromechanical vibrator in 1880. Granville’s vibrator was designed as a medical tool and was so large that it had to be permanently installed. But it was an instant success among doctors and patients alike. A vibrator could induce “hysterical paroxysm” in minutes instead of hours, and doctors everywhere wouldn’t have to worry about their arms wearing out anymore.
Vibrators in the Early 1900s
Smaller models of vibrators were soon developed for sale to the general public. Vibrator ads in magazines like Needlecraft and Woman’s Home Companion promised to keep women young, healthy and beautiful while making them “tingle with the joy of living!” The Sears & Roebuck catalog treated vibrators as a basic household appliance and sold them alongside vacuum cleaners, washing machines and refrigerators. Vibrators continued to be seen primarily as medical devices until the 1920s when stag films started featuring women pleasuring themselves with vibes. With the truth literally staring people in the face, vibrators quickly disappeared from public eye altogether.
Vibrators mostly gathered dust in back alley adult stores for the next few decades before the sexual revolution in the 1960s and 1970s re-energized interest in them. But it took a ground-breaking television debut on the HBO series Sex in the City for vibrators to worm their way back into the public spotlight. “The Turtle and The Hare” episode featured one of the main characters trying a vibrator for the first time… and refusing to leave her apartment for three days straight afterward. Women everywhere started talking about vibrators and clamoring to get their own. Vibrators were officially back and bigger than ever!
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