A History of Vibrators

Let’s face it, medical science has never paid much attention to the “mysteries of the female form,” and female sexual gratification hasn’t ever been high on their list. Self (and group) gratification was always possible, of course, but easier ways didn’t make it into our bedrooms until the mid-1950s!

Though we know now that folks of all identities use vibes on the regular, historically, they have their roots in female “relief” – perhaps because the straight male orgasm, (though pleasurable), was traditionally for a fairly specific purpose, and usually pretty easy to achieve. 

Let’s walk through the history of vibrators to get some perspective on the surprisingly feminist journey they’ve taken to come as far as they have.

The Invention of the Vibrator: The Myths

There are many myths surrounding where and how the vibrator came about. 

Published in 1999, a book called The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria,” the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction,” claimed that doctors manually gave women orgasms to cure them of “hysteria”, a medical ailment described as anxiety, sleeplessness, abdominal heaviness. 

Strained by the repetitive nature of “therapy”, one doctor devised a machine to solve the problem. In fact, the 2011 movie, “Hysteria”, was based on this book, and you can watch the whole thing play out!

The REAL History of Vibrators

Throughout the history of vibrators, there certainly were stories of physicians using manual – and then steam powered – genital stimulation on women to achieve “paroxysms of relief” for hysteria – a disease that primarily affected unwed or widowed women. 

In the 1700’s, pelvic douching devices were used to treat women for similar afflictions, and no “treatment” was thought to work in one session – women were prescribed regular treatment to see improvement. 

Gee. I wonder why. 

Though an electric vibrator was indeed invented in 1883, the invention was more like today’s neck massager (and intended for that purpose) than anything we’d use in the bedroom today. 

Marketed as a cure-all, everything from pain, headache, and irritability, to constipation and indigestion, could be treated with this electric or hand crank device. 

This is where our fun little friends found their beginnings.

Getting the “Job” Done: Vibrators as a Home Appliance

Devices of various constructions came on the market before the turn of the century, but by the 1900s, doctors had all but dismissed these massage devices for any legitimate purpose. The massage device industry (having evolved from hand crank through steam powered to electrical) had to pivot.  

Though advertising standards still banned marketing of devices for sexual purposes, in 1903 the Hygeia sexual appliance for men and women was invented. This brought the vibrator from the medical market into being as a “home appliance”. 

Their journey continued: through the 1930’s, vibrators became a beauty product, and made use of new materials like plastic and aluminum to achieve portability and visual marketability. 

Towards the 1950’s, advertising became more direct – and notably, the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, and papers throughout the UK marketed devices using imagery of women. 

In these advertisements, women’s’ sexual pleasure is considered and marketed to directly, which was uncommon up until this point. The type of device we think of today as a vibrator reached the market in the 1950’s, and became more openly sold in the 1960’s.

Women’s Sexualization, Masturbation and Liberation

In the 1960’s and 70’s, women began speaking more openly about masterbation and pleasure. 

The vibrator was a way for women to explore and own their sexuality, which was previously discouraged. With exponential growth in the porn industry, vibrators (like the Hitachi Magic Wand – still one of the most popular vibrators today) became a household item nationwide.

In the 1980s, vibrators hit the mainstream with the introduction of “the rabbit”, which was made with parts that stimulated internally and externally. 

In the 1990s, popular TV normalized sex and female pleasure, with shows like “Sex and the City”, paving the way for women to talk about, and achieve, limitless orgasm, with or without a partner.

Surprisingly, We’ve Still Got a Ways to Go.

Today, we have a multitude of devices that can aid humans in achieving the big “O”, but their history is largely muddled, in large part due to their underground existence and, in some places, their illegality. 

In much of North America, though vibrators are no longer taboo, it wasn’t until 2008 that the Supreme Court USA ruled that banning sex toys violated the constitution! 

Vibrators are a huge part of our industry, yet they’re still not all that openly talked about, and believe it or not, it’s still illegal to own one without a doctor’s note in Alabama! 

A doctor’s note? Talk about “cumming full circle”

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