The Astonishing History of Vibrators

The title of this article is identical to an article I saved on delicious way back in 2008.  Originally hosted on TBD, written by one Michael Castleman for that site, it has since been taken down and can be found archived on the Wayback Machine. I found the story and book it was taken from to be quite entertaining, and for a long time I hosted a copy of the article here for my own amusement as well as the potential enlightenment of others.

Unfortunately for everyone concerned, the author of the book either made up most of her citations for historical information, or purposefully misinterpreted the historical record in order to promote the popular misunderstanding of the use and origin of vibrators. I was duped. Everyone who read the book and made the movie based on the book were duped, because we wanted to believe something that was not true.

The idea was that massaging the clitoris would calm down the hysteria. The vibrator’s origin story became so popular that it spawned a historical romantic comedy called Hysteria in 2011 starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, as well as the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-nominated play In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play). The thing is, it’s not true.

No one took the time to follow up on the research until years later when Hallie Lieberman was writing her dissertation on technology and technology’s use in orgasm. When she went back to do her due diligence work on the subject before publishing her dissertation, she discovered the injustice that had been perpetrated in writing Rachel Maines’ book.

It is important to remember that massagers were no different than any other type of snake oil back in the years when they were invented (Granville’s Hammer) and they were thought to be a good treatment for everything including the made-up female disease labeled hysteria. When someone is acting hysterically, it has nothing to do with their uterus wandering all around their bodies, just to be clear here. You can’t cure that with pelvic massage, either.

Yes, some doctors did use vibrators as described in Rachel Maines’ book. Snake oil salesmen and quacks used them for those reasons and for a whole host of other legitimate and made-up reasons. However, there wasn’t an accepted medical practice associated with their use. That never happened.

(H/T to the SGU episode 904)

I find the repression of sexual information which pervades US culture almost intolerable, but the fabrication of a false history of sex is just as much of a disservice as the repression of sexual information is. If we ever want to get past pornography dominating all our information services, the US is going to have to come to grips with the reality of sexuality in all its various forms. The place to start is to admit that women like sex, need sex, just like men do. Men need to stop pretending that sex is about them. Sex is about what the couple creates with their coupling, together. The interplay between yin and yang, dark and light, negative and positive, male and female.

More information on the subject of the history of vibrators can be found at the Antique Vibrator Museum. If you are more of a youtuber, or just want to explore the subject of sex with someone who clearly enjoys talking about the subject, let me suggest a further resource in the YouTuber LaciGreen, specifically her video titled SEX TOY HYSTERIA. I laughed my ass off watching Laci Green explain about the history of the vibrator. Laci Green is the featured guest of this episode of Point of Inquiry, from the Center for Inquiry.

Point of Inquiry – Laci Green – Truth And Myths About Sex And Love – February 14, 2015

It is also worth noting that the Texas law outlawing vibrators is no longer on the books. (This should have been the first warning sign that the book and the movie that this article was originally about were not well researched. -ed) In 2008 it was struck down after being challenged by two shop owners who wanted to be able to sell these devices in their stores. I actually blogged about this at the time in this article and I just found an article on Lonestar Q debunking the I09 article that I stupidly relied on previously.

Our sitting governor was the defender of the law in federal courts as the Texas A.G. He spent our money all the way up to the SCOTUS trying to deny women sexual satisfaction for as long as possible, because that is what Republicans exist for.

Misinformation corrected on December 22, 2022. My apologies to my readers.

Author: RAnthony

I'm a freethinking, unapologetic liberal. I'm a former CAD guru with an architectural fetish. I'm a happily married father. I'm also a disabled Meniere's sufferer.

Attacks on arguments offered are appreciated and awaited. Attacks on the author will be deleted.

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