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Hysteria and the History of the Vibrator

antique vibrator

With the new movie Hysteria and its lead actress Maggie Gyllenhaal making headlines recently, I figure that now is an appropriate time to blog about vintage vibrators.

Hysteria was a catch-all diagnosis up until the 1950s for women who experienced everything from anxiety to “a tendency to cause trouble.” The standard treatment for hysteria in the 19th century was for a doctor to administer a “pelvic massage” until the woman reached “hysterical paroxysm” (orgasm). This treatment was not as easy as it sounds, as the massage could take hours to reach its intended effect, and caused the doctor aches and exhaustion from physical exertion. Shortly after the use of electricity became widespread, a British doctor invented an electric massager for this treatment to save time and energy. The rest is history, and vibrators were sold as medical devices for treating hysteria through the first half of the 20th century.

With the recent interest in antique vibrators, it’s interesting to note that Good Vibrations has been collecting and displaying them at their stores for many years. You don’t need to live in San Francisco or Boston to see them, though. They’ve got their collection displayed online at the Good Vibrations Antique Vibrator Museum. They’ve got lots of pictures of antique vibrators, a YouTube video, and an in-depth write up on the history of the vibrator. It’s very fascinating stuff, and I highly recommend checking out their photo gallery. It’s amazing to see the vibrator’s progression from looking like a heavy power drill to a Hitachi-like wand in that ubiquitous 1970s yellow. I sort of wish they placed pictures of present-day rabbits or remote-controlled vibrators in the photo gallery to show how far the vibrator has come (no pun intended).

P.S. Keep an eye out for these vibrators in Hysteria as the Good Vibrations collection was photographed for use in the credits.

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