Friday, September 23, 2011

Hysteria and Technology in the Bedroom

You may laugh hysterically when you learn the history of the vibrator.  Rachel Maines was one of the first writers to bring the fascinating story of our favorite electrical device to the public with her book, The Technology of Orgasm.  We learned early electric vibrators were used in medical treatment for women with hysteria.  Women, of course, had vague, persistent symptoms of fatigue, depression or exhaustion.  Women were often diagnosed with hysteria, and physicians feared their wombs were lost and floating around their bodies.

What new-fangled device could help?  The Vibrator of course!

Doctors once had to relieve women of hysteria via "manual assistance," and the vibrator was a labor-saving device, indeed!  Women would experience paroxysms (now known as orgasms) after application of the machines, and voila- hysterical symptoms were relieved.

The Toronto Film Festival premiered the film Hysteria in early September, featuring Maggie Gyllanhaal.  This film is a realistic account of the doctor who invented the vibrator in the 1880s.

Maines' book, the film Hysteria and the documentary Passion and Power (a movie Self Serve hosted at the Guild in Albuquerque) all lead us to believe it was common for Victorian women to receive medical treatments for hysteria at the hands of midwives and doctors of the day. 

There is debate in the academic world (redundant sentence already?) about the accuracy of these accounts of vibrator use.  In a shame-filled, Victorian society, some historians argue vibrator treatments were not quite so common, and certainly not acceptable socially.

Of course we can speculate about cultural norms and attitudes during the early days of vibrator use, but the stories are entertaining nonetheless.  I love how such history proves how our attitudes about sexuality, sex toys and how orgasms work is all so relative to our time, place and context.  Our attitudes about technology have changed drastically, and in most areas of life technology is ubiquitous now.  But still in 2011, many intelligent adults still feel shame, embarrassment and confusion over their desire to use technology in the bedroom.

Many folks talk to us at Self Serve about how they shouldn't need lubricant or shouldn't need a vibrator.  There is so much guilt in our culture over using a motorized little gadget as a labor-saving device for getting off.  At the same time, do you mail your letters only via post to prove a point?  Are you not reading this here blog on a computer?

I hope as more stories of sex toy history emerge, and the discussion comes to light, that more adults will shed their guilt, pick up these modern labor-saving devices, and enjoy their benefits.  You won't regret it.

Read more about the film Hysteria...

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