The Medical Evolution of Vibrators

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The electric vibrator became the fifth domestic appliance to be electrified, after the sewing machine, fan, tea -kettle, and toaster.

The vibrator was invented as a treatment for the medical condition Hysteria in the 1800’s. As a “disease” hysteria had been around since the 1700s, and was a singularly female  illness generally manifested as a breakdown of self-control caused by stress or chemical imbalance. This condition was either self diagnosed or was suggested by a spouse who thought his wife was irrational or acting out. The treatment for hysteria was initially only dispensed by male doctors (of course they were all male then) by putting a woman in lithotomy position (like a woman’s position in the missionary position) with a drape over her knees while the doctor massaged and stimulated her vulva and vagina with his hands covered in lubricant until she released her tension (today we call it an orgasm).  The goal of this treatment was to induce what was called “Hysterical Paroxysm”. Today we call Hysterical Paroxysm, Orgasm, and recognize that the medical treatment was really just doctor -performed masturbation. These physicians calmed women with hysteria through 20-30 minutes of masturbation. This was regarded as a treatment for a medical issue, it was not considered to be sexual in nature nor inappropriate in any way by the medical community and the community at large. This was the Victorian Era when anything sexual was frowned upon, thus the orgasm starved condition of most women.

Doctors who performed these medical cures, complained that they had to provide this treatment so often that their hands hurt and cramped after a day at the office performing hours and hours of masturbation. In 1869 someone helped them in their distress and invented a steam powered mechanical “manipulator” that allowed the doctors to automate this procedure, so they didn’t work their hands into tetany daily. A movie called “Hysteria” was made to portray the history of this issue and show graphically the treatment involved to overcome hysteria.  The machine that treated this condition took off after the first one was invented and in 1880 Dr. Joseph Granville patented an electromechanical vibrator ,and then in 1902 the Hamilton Beach Company patented the first electric vibrator available for consumer retail. The electric vibrator became the fifth domestic appliance to be electrified, after the sewing machine, fan, tea -kettle, and toaster and at least a decade before the vacuum cleaner and electric iron.

Vibrators were marketed for home use (no longer a medical treatment only provided by doctors) until the 1920”s as “personal massagers”. The marketing was still not sexually focused or explicit.  The sales pitch was to help you reduce muscle tension and create relaxation. But in the 1920’s the vibrators began to be used in pornographic movies and fell out of favor, driving the sale of these popular gadgets underground. They became “sexualized” and were seen to be smutty and sleazy or dirty after the 1920s in the US.

Fast forward to the 1960’s during the era we know for it’s motto of “free love”, and vibrators resurfaced and became extremely popular again, without the subterfuge of “a massager” to hide the real use for sexual release and pleasure.  Today vibrators are widely sold and manufactured; they are discussed openly in women’s magazines and can be obtained in most major retail outlets, and online. These retail outlets still tend to market them as personal massagers, but with the onset of the Internet, we can find them referred to as sexual devices and sex play toys by searching Google.

Our culture is changing rapidly in so many domains. One of these major areas is the increasingly widespread acceptance of masturbation. There are several medical reasons why a vibrator might be suggested by a physician and there are many reasons that a therapist might encourage a couple or an individual to consider using such a device for the improvement of their relationship and their sexual satisfaction.

In this week’s Healthcast Dr. Maupin and Brett Newcomb discuss in depth the history of these changes and the importance of the evolution of the vibrator to a self directed stimulator or orgasms, to release tension, or merely to stimulate the feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain.  This discussion is not intended to be prurient or racy but rather to be educational and informative. Hopefully that is how you will experience it.

This Health cast was written and presented by Dr. Kathy Maupin, M.D., Bio-identical Hormone Replacement Expert and Author, with Brett Newcomb, MA., LPC., Family Counselor, Presenter and Author.  

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