No, the vibrator was not born to cure hysterical women

The British doctor Joseph Mortimer Granville did not design his electromechanical vibrator (to the right) to cure hysteria, but to “ease the pain” caused by a diseased nerve. Public domain

HISTORY OF MEDICINE – Invented in the early 1880s by British physician Joseph Mortimer Granville, it is said to have emerged as a medical device to relieve a diseased nerve.

It is an intimate object that often remains hidden in bedside tables. The vibrator would however have emerged as a medical device, long used by the expert hands of doctors to treat hysterical women. A funny, exciting, slightly terrifying and… absolutely false story!

It all started with the publication in 1999 of a book by the American academic Rachel Maines. Orgasm Technologies enjoyed great success in academic circles and the media, to the point of inspiring a feature film and a play. The historian defends the following thesis: since Hippocrates, vulvar massage would have been widely practiced by doctors to treat hysteria and neurasthenia, by provoking a “hysterical paroxysm” – which others would call an orgasm. At a time when masturbation was forbidden and sexuality considered solely by coitus, the author argues, many women were denied access to orgasm, and the…

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