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Most common sex toys 2: vibrators

by Beth Divine 5 Oct 2018

Vibrators are now commonly found in most bedrooms, whether those bedrooms are occupied by singles or couples. Vibrators can be used solo or to enhance intercourse, but the origin of this sexy little appliance is a lot more respectable than you would think!

Traditionally, women’s sexual urges were unacknowledged – women did not want sex, they did not particularly enjoy it, and the thought of ensuring a regular orgasm to a wife or partner was unthinkable – not frowned upon, but simply not considered at all.

However, all this repression had a poor effect on Victorian women who would suffer from a condition known as ‘hysteria’. The cure to this condition – which caused abdominal heaviness, feelings of irritation, and chronic anxiety – was termed pelvic massage, but was nothing more or less than masturbation to orgasm… Doctors, working with fingers and hands to achieve hysterical paroxysm, complained that their fingers and wrists become sore and that the work was tiresome and tedious. They were also highly in demand as satisfied female patients would return regularly to experience the relief of paroxysm, so their hands and wrists were hard-worked, albeit for a nice fee each time.

A doctor invented a mechanical contrivance that would do all the hard work for them, and in rather less time too. The first vibrators were entirely mechanical, operating rather like a hand drill, or with clockwork. At first, once the device was patented, patients would still come to the doctor’s office to be ‘massaged’ but they soon realised that they could buy their own device and use it to pleasure (although they did not phrase it that way!) themselves on demand. There was absolutely no shame in possessing a vibrator (although one does wonder if it was seemly for a woman to – ahem – relieve herself in company of her husband, female friends, or the entirety of society… One assumes not, but you never know…

Shortly after this, the electric vibrator came along. Running off a massive generator, it was only doctors who had the space and equipment to run one of those machines, so for a short time at least, the cash-cow of pelvic massage continued to bring revenue into the medical profession’s coffers.

But then batteries were perfected, and other materials came along, enabling women to have a unique and self-powered toy with which to destress. Vibrators – as they eventually came to be known – were finally outed as provider of pleasure when they appeared front and centre (so to speak) in a porn film in the 1920s. Almost overnight, they vanished from public view, no longer a medical tool to be used as needed, now a shameful sexual utensil that ‘nice girls’ didn’t need and that ‘bad girls’ abused because they were no better than they should be.

Vanished from public the vibrator might have been, but gone it was not. As with any product demand there were places from which vibrators could be purchased, and once mail order (and later online shopping) came into play, business boomed. The refinement of plastic and rubber products meant that the range of choice widened dramatically, and the miniaturisation of batteries meant that sex toys became ever more discreet.

Two things happened to welcome the vibrator back to mainstream society in the 80s. Firstly, movies and television shows daringly portrayed women with disparate sexual needs, women who purchased and used their vibrators will no shame and few inhibitions. Secondly, Ann Summers introduced their world famous ‘rampant rabbit’ – a vibrator with an appendage at the front designed to heighten clitoral stimulation and strengthen orgasm. It is called a rabbit because the clitoral stimulator looks like a bunny, with ears that vibrate in just the right place…With this combination – television and millions of sales (Ann Summers sold more rabbits in 1999 than washing machines were moved, on a city by city basis) – it now became acceptable for a woman to buy a vibrator or other sex toys for her own pleasure.