The History of the Vibrator

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The History of the VibratorVibrating along in my Automobile….

“You just have to go and see this play, I’m quite sure you’ll love it, after all, it’s right up your alley…” I received this message from a good friend of mine a few weeks ago; she was talking about a play called “In The Next Room (or the vibrator play)” by Sarah Ruhl. As the title suggests this was a play about the mid-nineteenth century use of an instrument designed to relieve hysterical symptoms in women and men; and you guessed it, was the first electricity-powered vibrator. The play itself was humorous, lively, and full of innuendos and double entendres, with a final scene that included full nudity and a fake blowjob, that took us back to a time when sexual pleasure was taboo, and self-pleasuring became the escape of those in need of sexual release.

So, I started to think, just how many people really know anything about the history of that famous (or infamous) instrument of pleasure, the vibrator? Nowadays, we take it for granted that vibrators are easily and readily available. There are many kinds, many shapes and sizes designed to explore the nooks and crannies of waiting vaginas and anal cavities, from the high-capacity nuke voltage of the Sybian’s 6900 rpm, to the heavy buzzing of the Hitachi Magic Wand, the double duty of the Jack Rabbit, the vaginal bullets and the ever reliable pocket rocket. If it buzzes and makes you cum, we have a type for you!

But, back to the history of the vibrator…. Once upon a time, many, many eons ago, women didn't have orgasms; at least society tried to tell them they didn’t. If they did experience any type of pleasure from sexual congress they were told that there was something wrong with them, that they should stop enjoying whatever it was that brought them sexual pleasure since that was a sign of nymphomania or worse mental disorder (only women of ill repute and prostitutes did it…) Thus, women developed strange anxiety disorders that rendered them “neurotic”, and in more extreme cases hysterical, and in need of treatment. Sidenote: the term “hysterical” comes form the Greek “hystera” that means uterus; hysterical women were believed to have a traveling uterus that rendered them incapacitated and susceptible to unmanageable emotional disorders.

To make a long story short, physicians, quacks, and healers come up strange techniques and contraptions that brought about relief from these hysterical symptoms by allowing the patient to experience some sort of physical release (what was then called “hysterical paroxysm”, and we nowadays call it orgasm…).

Thus enter the “pelvic massage.” As the name suggests, it was a technique designed to “massage” the area of the body responsible for all hysterical “malfunction.” The procedure was a daily event, the physician would have the patient lie on a medical table and covered the patient’s body with a sheet; then he would insert one or two fingers inside the vaginal canal and massage the pelvis from the inside bringing about symptomatic relief, usually accompanied by some sort of fluid discharge (probably the “cause” of the hysteria…) Talk about find the G spot before there was one, to say nothing of inducing female ejaculation before it’s time…but, back to the vibrator. Not sure if it was because physicians arms and writs would get tired or they were starting to develop carpel tunnel syndrome during pelvic massaging, someone thought that if there were a machine that could do the job of the hand and the fingers, this would be a very good thing.

Enter in the middle 18th century and an apparatus called the Tremoussoir, a wind-up French invention that not only carried a proud and promising name but also promised some sort of relief for the doctor’s tired hands and wrist and seemed to be quite thrilling to the patient. This instrument could be considered a “rubbing” machine, massaging the outer regions of the pelvic region (the pussy…)

Towards the middle of the 19th century, Georges Taylor developed an instrument appropriately named The Manipulator, the first actual vibrator per se. And as the name suggests, it certainly did manipulate all of those vaginas into a state of bliss. Except that there was a small draw back; the instrument was steam driven (talk about a steamy “hot-pussy”…). The Manipulator consisted of a large table, from which protruded a ball that was connected to a drive train powered by a steam engine placed in an adjacent room. The contraption actually resembled some of today’s more powerful and intricate power tool sex machines (the piston types). The problems with the Manipulator: not portable, high cost, erratic, and susceptible to water shortages and leaky pipes, all of which could impair the users ability to reach nirvana at the drop of a dime, or sound of a steam whistle (not like today’s’ pocket rocket, the “jack of all trades” and a great companion of mine, guaranteed to lend a buzzing hand when a quickie is in order…).

However, it was John Mortimer that patented the first electric vibrator (the hero in the play mentioned above); and he, more than anyone else, changed the course of women’s orgasmic history by conquering hysteria and restoring the dignity of acceptable orgasms to women. Soon, portable electric vibrators were everywhere. They were advertised in magazines such as Sears, Women’s Home Companion (there’s a pun in here, somewhere…), Needlecraft , because everyone knows that there’s nothing like a good orgasm or two when you knitting or doing needle point, and these vibrators were advertised as “massager” and thus an acceptable instrument designed to bring about “muscle” relief (lest people think of other more nefarious usages for these instruments of muscle relief).

And before we knew the Sixties were upon us; cordless vibrators were everywhere, at the campsite, the supermarket, the car, the kitchen, the office, the bank, the lecture hall, the rock concert (I’m sure Woodstock was humming with more than the sounds of music…). Finally, we arrived at today’s Vibratorland, the Shangri-La of electric sexual bliss, the utopia of penetrating and pulsating vibrations, and to the ultimate orgasmic apparatus, the Sybian. Interesting, that the Sybian is very much like a combination of the Tremoussoir and the Manipulator, except on “steroids” (meaning, unheard of high RPMs…). And so we go, hummming and hummming, rotating, penetrating, gyrating, pulsating, listening for the wet sounds of vaginal fluids flowing and dripping, listening to the screams of pleasure and shouts of ecstasy of those liberated women that dare have an orgasm through electricity; how quaint, how natural, and damn hot if you ask me….

Perhaps, the lesson is that the more things change the more they remain the same.

Wish you all good vibrations, get in your car and vibrate along in your automobile…..if you have a chance, check out the play! Cheers!

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DrZiggy, Social Scientist, Sexologist, Professor of Psychology, Author, and Sex Researcher "extraordinaire" of the Swinging Lifestyle. Web at http://drziggy.com

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    The play you reference is great! We saw it last year and were taken back by who was in the audience…. The 55+ crowd out weighed the 20+ crowd. I was almost embarrassed but quickly got over it as they were laughing harder than us! Women’s sexuality is becoming less & less of a taboo….thankfully!

    Thank you for the review & mini history lesson

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