Victorians Were Picking Up Good Vibrations

victorian vibrations.jpg

Victorian times, despite the fact they were named after a woman, were not a great time to be female. Women were treated like second class citizens, had no voice in government, and were often treated like property. However, probably the worst crime done against women of the period, was the widely held belief that female orgasms didn't exist.

Now of course this idea is entirely nonsense, as any woman will tell you, and any man who doesn't want to get a black eye, even though he was just trying to make a joke, though granted one in poor taste. However, an idea being nonsense rarely has any affect on how much it takes hold. The general view of the period was that women were just receptacles for making babies, and that if the man was having a good time, they were having a good time too. For men, sex was a necessity. For women, it was a chore. This did not really work out as nature intended, and women soon found themselves dealing with feelings they were told they weren't supposed to have. Old timey doctors, being mostly men, and probably rather uncomfortable with the whole thing given their own Victorian upbringing, decided that such complaints could only be caused by a disease, which they named hysteria. Symptoms of hysteria included anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, nervousness, erotic fantasies, feelings of heaviness in the lower abdomen, and wetness between the legs.

Now the idea of hysteria was nothing new. Doctors in the Middle Ages used to hand out dildos, and in the Renaissance women were told to encourage their husband's lusts. However, by Victorian times, both options were considered extremely improper. This led to an epidemic of hysteria, forcing doctors to literally take matters into their own hands. For a price, women would visit their local doctor, who would provide a pelvic massage until the woman received a hysterical paroxysm, which was viewed as similar to a seizure. Now one might think that this was a pretty good turn of events for the doctors, but one would be mistaken, given they were providing many paroxysms per day. Doctors quickly began to hate the procedure, which according to them, led to severe hand pain, and just plain took too damn long.

In 1869 an American doctor named George Taylor invented the first vibrator, a device he called the Manipulator. It was the size of a dining room table and was powered by a steam engine kept in another room. The thing was fucking scary as hell. Doctor's hated it because they couldn't take it on house calls, which was a significant portion of their business. Plus it killed a few people. The harnessing of electricity led to vast improvements which culminated in the invention of the first electric vibrator by an English doctor named Joseph Granville in 1880. The device was portable, or at least as portable as a device with a forty pound battery could be. The devices proved so popular that women began buying them for themselves. It was the fifth electrical device available in the Sears catalog, only being beaten by the teakettle, sewing machine, fan, and toaster.

The vibrator was an instant success, widely available throughout the western world. Doctors began suggesting their use for a myriad of diseases and conditions for both women and men. Advertisements were widely distributed in popular magazines. However, it all came crashing down by the 1920's. An increase in the understanding of female sexuality, combined with the appearance of vibrators in pornography, made it impossible to ignore the sexual connotations of the device. What had once been touted as a miracle cure, suddenly became dirty and sexual. The devices were renamed massagers, and generally disappeared from public view, not re-emerging as part of the sexual revolution in 1968.