Daniel Gingras

The vibrator as we know it had its earliest beginnings as a firehose aimed at a woman’s crotch, or vulva, by doctors seeking to cure hysteria. “This week is booked solid, but I can pencil you in for a vaginal power-washing sometime next week.” It was the first mechanical improvement over the practice of medical vulva massages that dated back to Hippocrates. The first “electric” vibrator is a 126-year-old British invention, and is an industrially sized medical contraption meant to be installed as a permanent fixture.

       In 1899, a men’s vibrating device was patented, but just like Betamax and Segways, it never caught on.  The women’s vibrator, however, became the epicenter of a huge entrepreneurial market, and is even cited as a driving force for the development of small electric motors.  Wisconsin became the mother of the vibby in 1902, when the vibrator made history as the fifth electrical appliance to be introduced into the home. The fourth was the sewing machine, and the sixth was the electric iron. Buzz sticks from this era were so durable that they still circulate as semi-valuable antiques. Scan eBay if you don’t believe me.

       Then, in the 20s, 8mm porn reels began using vibrators as “props.” A startled society soon dropped the idea that vibrators were medical and was forced to consider the concept of a “sex toy,” which did not sit well. To skirt the sexual stigma, the vibrator industry began ‘”camouflaging” its products with innocent pretenses. Everyone has seen one of those mail order catalog ads where the young model with the peculiar look on her face rubs a plastic banana all over her back as expects us to believe it’s relieving her muscle tension. (I once saw one poorly disguised vibrator that masqueraded as an oversized tube of lipstick). Discretion and multi-function were trends in vibrator production for the next several decades.

    By 1970, society was reconsidering the vibrator. Betty Dodson publicly led women’s masturbation groups, claiming she could wake even the “most somnambulant clitoris” with her Hitachi Magic Wand, and authored the book “Sex for One.” Notable sex shops Eve’s Garden and Good Vibrations opened in New York City and San Francisco respectively.

    By the 1990s, vibrators were once again mainstream, and were even backed by the Reagan administration. In light of AIDS and the looming health threats, the surgeon general published a list of safe-sex optionswhich were mailed to every household in the USA. ‘Vibrators’ were one of the nationally endorsed options.

    Most recently in June 2005, a ‘teledildonics,’ (remote control vibrator sex via computer) demonstration was held in the Museum of Sex in New York City. A gal named Violet Blue achieved two orgasms while riding a “custom-made mega-vibrator” known as the Thrillhammer.

    In 126 years, the vibrator has gone full circle – beginning as publicly accepted medical machinery, shrinking to taboo pocket-sized personal devices and again growing to the colossal dildoic proportions as embodied by the ThrillHammer, there’s no telling what direction battery powered penis substitutes are headed in next.

For questions, comments or to cast your vote for best battery brand, write to dgingras@calpoly.edu.

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