A Stimulating History Of Stimulators: Victorian Doctors Took Control of Women’s Pleasures


Yep, you read that right: Vibrators were originally designed as a tool for doctor-administered “emotional relief” for women. And as it turns out, those historical early adopters might have been onto something: Vibrator use is closely tied to sexual health and may even influence people’s health outside the bedroom.


In the Puritan-prudish Victorian England Mortimer Granville developed the world’s first electric vibrator, a drill with a small ball on the end. When clicking on the device, it would start humming. The electric power was supplied from the battery the size of a suitcase.

“Hammer of Granville,” as the invention was soon dubbed, made redundant a specific medical therapy practiced for centuries – a massage of the clitoris with fingers in patients with a diagnosis of “hysteria.” This process is clearly shown in the comedy Hysteria by American director Tanya Wexler. The film shows that this method required a great deal of time, did not always lead to the desired result, and made the doctor’s hand so tired that it had to be placed in a bowl of ice.  Physicians in antiquity also practiced this delicate hand work. The so-called hysteria (Greek word hysteria means “womb”) was regarded as women’s disease from the time of Hippocrates. The disease was believed to stem from the uterus and lead to stagnation of female juices in the body.

Hippocrates, who gave it the name “hysteria”, first described the hysterical aphonia (lack of voice in the preservation of sonority whisper voice), that a patient of his suffered from. Only Aretha Cappadocia (approximately 1st-2nd century AD), considered hysteria a chronic disease that manifested itself in young women. He also suggested that men could also develop the symptoms of hysteria.


To solve the female problem, doctors were charged with summoning “hysterical crisis” through a genital massage. In fact, it meant the female orgasm. Nevertheless, until the early twentieth century, no one perceived it as such. The prevailing view was that only normal sexual intercourse with a man could lead to satisfaction.

Ladies were enjoying the therapy. Wealthy women from the higher strata of society regularly visited their personal physicians. The massage was administered once a week, sometimes doctors have resorted to alternative procedures for stimulation. In the Middle Ages, they also repeatedly advised to conduct such activities with widows and nuns.

Various baths, Jacuzzi and spa treatments were very popular with European ladies of high society. British observer Therme Malvern back in 1851 wrote that after “hydrotherapy” women were happy as if “they drank champagne.”

Advertisers promoted vibrators as medical devices for massage, absolutely necessary in medical practice. Some doctors acquired all available models on the market and opened special offices where they served several patients at a time. Vibrators became popular among men. Based on some articles, they were a panacea for nearly all ailments. For those unwilling to entertain themselves, the ubiquitous ads offered a vibrator as a Christmas gift that can return women “shine in their eyes and blush on the cheeks.”
A vibrator was believed to be a remedy for arthritis, impotence, hair loss, constipation, or excess fat on the thighs. The omnipotence of oscillations seemed unlimited. “The entire life is based on the vibration,” Wallian urged his colleagues in 1905.

Today U.S. cultural attitudes toward women’s vibrators use are, in general, overwhelmingly positive. A national survey found that both men and women hold highly positive views about women’s vibrator usage  . Over 52 percent of women report having used vibrators, and vibrator use between partners is common in heterosexual, lesbian, and bisexual couples   .


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