A Brief History of Vibrators

· By Team PLEASE

We all love the vibratos we know today.
But who invented them?
What was the very first vibrator?
Let’s take a quick look back at the history of vibrators.

There are tons of stories and myths when it comes to the history of vibrators, from Cleopatra to Hysteria. Let’s run through some of them and get to the facts so that we can all sleep, or masturbate, tonight knowing where vibrators come from.

It’s said that Cleopatra (69-30 BC) used a gourd filled with bees to stimulate her genitals, similar to a vibrator, and while this is very intriguing, it’s unfortunately only a fabulous myth.

Then came the antidote that female ‘hysteria’ (described as uncontrollable emotions, anxiety, sexual arousal ) resulted in doctors coming to a solution of manually and then mechanically masturbating women back to health. This was in the 1800’s.

And while physician Joseph Mortimer Granville invented an electric vibrator in 1883, it has now been found that he did now birth this out of the need to stimulate women, but rather to treat pain - headaches, stomach pains, indigestion, in both men and women. And thank goodness I fact checked this, because I went down a dark path, reading about male doctors ‘treating’ females through stimulation and it was a creepy past I hoped was not true.

Hallie Lieberman, author of “Buzz: The Stimulating History of the Sex Toy,” points out that Granville knew the vibrator could have sexual uses, and even used it to treat male sexual dysfunction, but he never used it on women.

In the 1900’s, many doctors tried to make use of this technology to no avail unfortunately, eventually rebranding them as home appliances for men and women of all ages.

Ads ran in popular magazines, Christian publications, and the New York Times, claiming that vibrators could cure everything from wrinkles to malaria.

But were people using them to masturbate? Advertisers certainly seemed to be hinting at that. But at this time masturbation was widely viewed as shameful, and “obscene”. Funnily enough the concern was placed more on men using and abusing these new tools rather than women.

According to Fern Riddell, a specialist in Victorian sexuality, “Victorian doctors knew exactly what the female orgasm was; in fact, it’s one of the reasons they thought masturbation was a bad idea.” They knew about the function of the clitoris, some physicians going so far as to remove them as a “cure” for nymphomania in a patriarchal time.

Only one doctor of the era—women’s health advocate Clelia Mosher—actually talked to women about their experiences, confirming that they did masturbate. Were they using vibrators to do it? It seems that some of them were.

Fast forward to a better time, the 1920’s - 1950’s, Alfred Kinsey published groundbreaking research on female sexuality in 1954, including the finding that 62% of the women surveyed had masturbated, though he didn’t mention anything about vibrators.

In 1956 the department store Sears produced their own vibrator, which was advertised as giving you that “great-to-be-alive feeling”. Seemingly suggestive.

Then in the 70’s as birth control became available, and attitude towards premarital sex relaxed, not to mention the free love movement, sex and masturbation became positive topics to speak about, openly.

Magazine articles were published praising vibrators and even doctors enthused about them in their books like ‘The Joy of Sex’ (1972) by British doctor Alex Comfort, saying, “They can produce some sexual feeling in almost any woman.”

Although it was a liberating time, there was still a hangover from the closed minded 50’s and so sex toys were deemed unacceptable to market openly. Which is where companies began advertising them as personal massagers, much like Hitachi’s Magic wand, which was initially created as a massager, was widely accepted as a vibrator used for pleasure.

But masturbation was still stigmatised in the US. A 1974 study found that 61% of women surveyed, masturbated, but 25% of them said they felt guilty, perverted, or feared going insane from doing it. And in some places it was criminal. The “Obscene Device Law” introduced in Texas in 1973, prohibited “any device designed or marketed primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs.”

To get around these laws, companies marketed vibrators as “personal massagers.” Hitachi’s Magic wand, which was initially created as a massager, was widely accepted as a vibrator used for pleasure.

This era also saw the opening of the first women-run sex shop in New York, Eve's Garden and then in the 80’s, vibrators and sex toys went mainstream.

The Rabbit was invented, bringing both internal and external stimulation into the picture. It was actually designed along with other animal like, colourful designs that were only made to bypass the insane laws in japan around these products at the time. But thanks to that faithful episode in Sex & The City, The Rabbit broke ground and will forever be famous.

From the 2000’s onwards, vibrators are accessible, popular, normalised and brands continue to innovate with them. The internet makes it easier and more discreet to shop and even Oprah mentioned them on her daytime talk show.

It’s sad to think that in some places in the world, vibratos are still seen as taboo and in others they are actually illegal but for the most part we have come a very long way.

Brands are creating vibrators for women, by women. There’s so much innovation when it comes to design. We’re seeing constant elevation with modes and rhythms, technological advances, eco friendly and greener approaches.

Now that we know where it all began, we can’t wait to see where it will go.