The History of the Vibrator

Two-thirds of American women now own a vibrator. Those that do report a better sexual experience in both their solo and partnered play, as well as higher levels of sexual satisfaction. There are all sorts of vibrators now. Since approximately 70% of women need clitoral stimulation to orgasm, external ones, especially, have made a huge difference to the sex lives of women across the world to close the orgasm gap. However, that is not the reason they were initially invented. The history of the vibrator actually tells us a lot about the early twentieth century's perspective on sexuality, especially female sexuality – or what was considered to be a lack thereof.

Until the early 20th century, males in America and Europe did not believe that females experienced lust or sexual pleasure. During this time, people were socialized to believe that females had no sex drive and the act of sexual intercourse was merely a duty to satisfy their husbands and have children.

As you can guess, this resulted in a lot of sexual dissatisfaction and frustration among females. This condition was deemed to be female hysteria, a name based on the Greek word for uterus. Although hysteria has now been debunked as a medical term, it became a hugely popular diagnosis for Victorian women. The symptoms of hysteria were wide-ranging: everything from anxiety, irritability, depression, and fatigue to erotic fantasies.

During the late 1900s, the way that physicians dealt with hysteria in patients was to prescribe a manual pelvic massage, which would cause a hysterical paroxysm –aka an orgasm. However, because male physicians of the time did not believe that females could experience sexual pleasure, they did not realize that the patients were actually experiencing a sexual response. They considered paroxysms the breaking of hysteria, just as we talk about the breaking of a fever.

Pelvic massages were considered a success, and women kept coming back for more massages to keep their “hysteria” at bay. However, this manual massage was hard work, with some patients requiring up to an hour of pelvic massage at a time to reach orgasm. Therefore, physicians started to experiment with mechanical substitutes.

Initially, they tried water-driven options and even steam-powered dildos, but these were large, difficult to use, and yes, pretty damn dangerous. But soon electricity appeared on the horizon, and vibrators were quick to follow. In 1880, an English physician, Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville, patented the electromechanical vibrator, and it was an instant hit among physicians and their female clients.

During this time, vibrators were used on different parts of the body to treat all sorts of ailments. Doctors prescribed these tools as a remedy for insomnia, epilepsy, consumption, vomiting, gout, and even deafness. And, of course, they were also widely used for hysteria. They were much safer than other options, and they made quick work of treating hysteria patients, without causing hand strain for the physicians.

It didn’t take long for manufacturers to realize that vibrators were extremely popular among discerning women and that they could actually bypass the physician completely and sell them directly to the consumer. And so, vibrators for home use were created. They were smaller and easier to use, but still looked clunky and terrifying compared to what we have today. These products were so popular that advertisements appeared in all manner of popular women’s magazines, including Needlecraft and Good Housekeeping. They even appeared in the New York Times. Of course, they were advertised as tools for massage and improving the circulation, but the copy became more suggestive as more women seemed to catch on to the true purpose of these products.

Problems arose when the pornography industry caught on and vibrators for sexual pleasure began to show up in pornographic films and images. Unfortunately, this created a negative view of these products as society realized that they were being used for sexual purposes. Slowly, these products began to go out of fashion for many.

While the use of vibrators as female sexual aids never disappeared completely, there was a great resurgence in these products during the 1960s and 1970s as the feminist movement and female sexual liberation began to take hold. Female sexuality and masturbation were no longer seen as taboo and the first iteration of the vibrator, as we know it today, was born. In the 1970s, the Hitachi Massager was produced –yes, the first version of the ever-popular Hitachi Magic Wand. To get around Obscene Device Laws, these vibrators still had to be referred to as massagers, and this term is still (surprisingly) commonly used today.

After the wand vibrator came onto the market, the next big thing was the rabbit vibrator, which was created by Vibratex in 1993. This vibe had an internal part that had to remain entirely non-phallic due to the laws of Japan, so it was created with bright colors and a clitoral stimulator that commonly took on the shape of animals such as rabbits, dolphins, and even turtles.

From here, vibrators took off with a multitude of different styles, shapes, and colors. You can now choose from internal vibrators, phallic-looking vibrators, finger vibrators, couple’s vibrators, and bullet vibrators, to name just a few.

Now, vibrators are more common among females and easier to purchase than ever. They are talked about in magazines and on television talk shows and are even promoted on social media by celebrities and influencers. However, some of that taboo remains, as seen in certain advertising restrictions and even the naming of these products. They are still commonly referred to as massagers or novelty items rather than sexual aids, sexual wellness products, or sex toys.

Featured Image Credit: andreas160578 / Pixabay

In Post Image Credit: By New-York tribune - New-York tribune. (New York [N.Y.]) 1866-1924, January 05, 1913, Image 48, Public Domain