Sex Ed: Vibrators 101

Vibrators 101
By Vonna Harper

Is or isn’t it true that Cleopatra devised the world’s first vibrator? The story has long been around that the innovative queen captured, or caused to be captured, a swarm of bees and placed them inside a gourd she closed up and applied to—well, I’m sure you’ve guessed the rest.

Despite his brilliance, there was a lot Hippocrates didn’t know about the female body. He believed the womb moved around and maintained that during orgasm it traveled to the windpipe and contributed to heavy breathing. He blamed the womb for nervousness, fluid retention,  insomnia, and lack of appetite.

Later the Greek doctor Galen proclaimed that those symptoms and others were caused by sexual deprivation because he saw a lot of that among his patients who were virgins, widows, bored housewives, and nuns. The cure: orgasms. There’s no record of how he went about prescribing orgasms for the above-mentioned patients.

Fast forward to Great Britain and the Victorian Era when almost all doctors were men. It’s likely they didn’t understand the female body let alone female emotions and sexual needs. Female hysteria was a condition in need of treatment—in part because it resulted in excessive moisture in the vagina. An orgasm was ‘hysterical paroxysm’. According to the doctors, orgasms had nothing to do with sex and were time-consuming and hard work but sometimes necessary to help their patients retain a measure of sanity.  Women of that time weren’t encouraged to masturbate and achieving orgasm became a medical treatment—a not very good use of physicians’ time. Fortunately for the doctors if not for their patients, help was on the way.

The Tremoussoir, invented in France in 1734, was one of the first vibrators. It was featured in the historical comedy-romance movie Hysteria. For the record, the Tremoussoir relied on a wind-up key. Looks somewhat like a sanding block.

Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville (1833-1900) from England is credited with inventing the first electric vibrator. His intention was to devise something that would relieve muscle aches but Granville’s Hammer became popular with physicians worn out from performing “medicinal massages” that required them to insert a finger and gently rub women’s genitalia. Dr. Granville himself percussed a female patient because, “I do not wish to be hoodwinked, and help to mislead others, by the vagaries of the hysterical state…”

The Chattanooga vibrator came along in the early 1900’s and sold for $200, mostly to doctors. It was used on both men and women. How successful it turned out to be hasn’t been recorded.

In 1902 Hamilton Beach patented the first electric vibrator. In fact, the vibrator was the first domestic appliance that was electrified. It appeared in the Sears, Roebuck catalog and was marketed for sore muscles. Vibrators fell out of favor when they started appearing in pornographic movies.

On June 30, 1966 Joh H. Tavel applied for a patent for the Cordless Electric Vibrator for Use on the Human Body but it took until the 1980s for vibrators and sex toys to become part of mainstream culture. In March 2009, Dr. Laura Berman appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show and recommended that mothers teach their teenage daughters how to use a clitoral vibrator. The HBO show Sex and the City broke ground in 1998 when the character Charlotte became addicted to a rabbit vibrator.

Today vibrators are on the shelves of national US chain retailers.  A 2009 issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine cites research which shows that some 53% of women and about 46% of men in the U.S. ages 18-60 have used a vibrator.

I’m among the 53%. Hey, I write erotic romance such as my just-released One Hot Night.  Writing sex scenes can turn me on and a vibrator comes in handy.

One thought on “Sex Ed: Vibrators 101

  1. Only 53%. I’m thinking we have some closet vibration fans out there, LOL. I’ve heard of that, orgasm used to treat “hysteria”. Now that’s long term medical treatment I could get with.

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