Despite first being 'diagnosed' as 'womb furie', women have always suffered a "complaint characterised by nervousness, fluid retention, insomnia and lack of appetite." The great Hippocrates called it hysteria thinking that the womb was blocked and causing the problem (Greek for womb = hysteros). Galen, a Greek physician way ahead of his time in more ways than one, was on the right track because he claimed it wasn’t any blockage but in fact sexual deprivation among women of a 'passionate nature' or those who weren’t passionate at all, either through choice or not: "nuns, virgins, widows and occasionally in married women whose husbands were not up to the job". Galen said
The trouble was that doctors regarded this treatment as numbingly tedious...ha-ha, the image in my mind is indeed hysterical – those doctors! Who would have thought it, eh? However not all agreed, maybe due to religion: the Persian polymath Avicenna said
"Arising from the touch of the genital organs required by the treatment, there follows twitchings accompanied at the same time by pain and pleasure...from that time she is free of all the evil she felt"
"Women [with hysteria] should not resort to rubbing,”…[this was ]… “a man's job, suitable only for husbands and doctors".
The image is of an 1860 water treatment - to save the doctors having to do it – and was claimed to 'free the evil' in less than four minutes
Come the 1870s and steam power helped 'The Manipulator' do the business but it was not suitable for the doctor's treatment room and so was a "a niche market poised for exploitation"…what a profession!
The first British vibrator, a battery device, was manufactured in the early 1880s and by the early 20th century electrification made vibrators available in the home. Interestingly they were available a full decade before either the washing machine or vacuum cleaner – getting the priorities right! Keep 'em happy to keep 'em working!
Click HERE for a slide show about the history of vibrators on Slate.com it is interesting - no really!! – some of the contraptions look more suited to a workshop and if you ever found your grandmothers' or great-grandmothers' sewing/knitting magazines it may have been something else altogether they were interested in - easing forehead creases!