Last week my “History of Vibrators” guest comic for Erika Moen‘s fabulous Oh Joy Sex Toy was posted, and many of you seemed to enjoy it. I’m so glad! I had a really fun time researching this topic. Most of my information came from Dr. Rachel P. Maines’ book, The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria,” the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction, which I recommend to anyone interested in further exploring this subject matter.
I found a lot of great photo-references of crazy contraptions while I was working on this. Many vintage vibrators came with several, sometimes terrifying-looking, attachments referred to as “nodes.” Some of the older ones were hand-crank operated! I suggest that anyone entertained by the following images visit antiquevibratormuseum.com, vibratormuseum.com, or vintagevibrators.com for more.
Possibly more entertaining than the vibrators themselves were all of the vintage advertisements for them that used to be featured in women’s magazines. These ads typically showed women applying the vibrator to their faces, and billed them as health/beauty devices (most people knew what they were really for, though).
It was interesting (albeit a little depressing) to trace the development of vibrator technology in conjunction with the social awareness and acceptance of female sexuality. When vibrators were first invented, it was to treat women with “hysteria,” a nonsense diagnosis that included many symptoms now recognized as normal emotional and sexual behaviors. Using vibrators to bring women to “paroxysms” wasn’t considered a sexual practice because people didn’t believe women had orgasms. The only type of activity that was considered sexual involved penetration, so stimulating a woman with a vibrator was thought of as simply a medical procedure.
By the time these things became household products, people were a little more aware of the concept of female sexuality, but no one was talking about it. Once they started showing up in porn films in the 1920s, magazines dropped the ads because it became impossible to deny the vibrators’ actual purpose. If you haven’t already, you can read all about this and more in my guest comic for Oh Joy Sex Toy. While you’re there, I encourage you to check out the rest of the site! It’s a terrific series.