Vibrators Were Invented to Cure Hysteria

"Hysteria" with Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhall

“Hysteria” with Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhall

Strangely, vibrators were created as a medical device having nothing to do with a woman’s pleasure.

In the Victorian age in which they were invented, sex was thought to have little to do with a woman’s satisfaction.

In fact, Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville fabricated the device around 1880 to cure “hysterical paroxysm,” a condition that had been concerning the medical community since Hippocrates.

Symptoms included anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, nervousness, fluid retention, insomnia and erotic fantasy, and was thought to result from a blocked reproductive system. The cure involved clitoral stimulation to orgasm.

But women should not necessarily administer the cure themselves. As The Guardian explained: 

Avicenna, the Muslim founder of early modern medicine, advised women not to treat themselves for the condition. It was, he wrote, “a man’s job, suitable only for husbands and doctors.”

Vibrator as medicine and not sex aid? That’s probably why it managed to be the fifth electrical device to be mass marketed at the turn of the last century, right after the sewing machine, the fan, the kettle and the toaster. And that’s certainly why Sears was selling it in their 1918 catalog.

The movie, “Hysteria,” starring Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhall, tells how vibrators were created. With a slate of female directors making films like “Hysteria,” “Take This Waltz,” “Elles,” “2 Days in New York,” and on the small screen, “Sex and the City” and “Girls,” women’s sexuality is coming out of the Hollywood closet.

This is a rerun, I’m on vacation.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on July 28, 2014, in feminism, psychology, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Sure. ‘Hysteria.’ Did they actually think that, or were they forced to say that’s what it was for? Clearly some people were having fun curing and being cured of hysteria.

    • Hard to know. I wonder if some people who actually cared about women’s pleasure had to cover it up by calling it something else. But my guess is that they actually believed what they were saying.

  2. It makes sense that especially back in the day such a device wouldn’t have been devised merely for women’s pleasure. Interesting that sexual pleasure was considered a cure- and of course (written ironically) it would have had to have been administered by men.

    • Yes. And interesting that sex wasn’t thought to be satisfying to women, yet this was a tool for sexual pleasure that was recommended to be used by men on women.

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