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Day 3 of Our 31 Day Series of How Medicine Got It Wrong

The Long and Vibrant History of Vibrators and the "Wandering Womb"

Vibrators have a long and interesting history that can be traced back to ancient civilizations, where different tools and techniques were used to stimulate sexual pleasure. However, the modern vibrator as we know it today originated in the late 19th century as a medical device used to treat "hysteria."

Hysteria was a common medical diagnosis in the 19th century, and it was believed to be caused by a wandering womb, which would move around the body and cause a variety of symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, and sexual dysfunction. The treatment for hysteria involved manual stimulation of the clitoris, which was believed to help the womb return to its proper position.

However, the manual stimulation was a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, and doctors soon began looking for mechanical alternatives. In 1869, an American physician named George Taylor invented a steam-powered vibrator that could be used to treat female hysteria. The device was cumbersome and difficult to use, and it was primarily used by doctors and midwives.

It wasn't until the 20th century that vibrators began to be marketed as consumer products for sexual pleasure. In the 1920s and 1930s, vibrators were advertised in popular magazines as a way to achieve "better health" and "personal hygiene." However, the stigma around masturbation and sex toys meant that vibrators were still primarily sold as medical devices or "personal massagers."

In the 1950s and 1960s, vibrators became more widely accepted as a tool for sexual pleasure, thanks in part to the work of sex educators and researchers such as Alfred Kinsey. In the 1970s, the feminist movement helped to further destigmatize vibrators and promote their use as a tool for female sexual empowerment.

One key figure in the history of vibrators is Joseph Granville, a British physician who invented a battery-powered vibrator in the 1960s. Granville's vibrator was smaller and more discreet than previous models, and it was marketed as a consumer product rather than a medical device. Granville's vibrator was a commercial success and helped to cement vibrators as a tool for sexual pleasure.

The notion of the "wandering womb" and hysteria as a medical diagnosis have long been discredited by modern medicine. However, the history of vibrators as a medical treatment for female sexual dysfunction is an important reminder of the ways in which medical knowledge and societal attitudes toward sex have changed over time.

Video Links





  1. Maines, R. P. (1999). The technology of orgasm: "Hysteria," the vibrator, and women's sexual satisfaction. JHU Press.

  2. Lieberman, H. (2016). Buzz: The Stimulating History of the Sex Toy. Pegasus Books.

  3. Hallie Lieberman (2020). “Female Hysteria and the History of the Vibrator”. In Psychology Today.

  4. Rachael Revesz (2019). “The history of the vibrator: How doctors used it on women as a medical tool”. In The Independent.

  5. Image: The Vibrator’s Long, Fascinating History of Discovery (And RSI…), Huffpost

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