We’ve covered The Technology of Orgasm before, a hugely influential book arguing that 19th century doctors were using Victorian vibrators to cure ‘female hysteria’ through the induction of [serious look] ‘hysterical paroxysms’, but it seems that the main argument may not be as breathtaking as it first appears.
Cory Silverberg discusses how historians of sex have been less than impressed with the idea and the issue has now become a hot topic because the book, written by author Rachel Maines, has been made into a film starring Maggie Gyllenhaal.
The Technology of Orgasm is a somewhat controversial book. Controversial in that the thesis of the book has been almost universally accepted and embraced by the mainstream press and the sex toy industry, while at the same time being quite seriously critiqued by historians of sexuality. In her book Maines contends that the vibrator was regularly used by doctors to treat “hysteria” which they had previously been treating by manually stimulating women to orgasm. Included in this argument is the idea that the women didn’t know they were having orgasms and the doctors didn’t seem to worry about the professional boundaries involved in essentially masturbating their patients.
Silverberg also notes a comprehensive page by historian Lesley Hall who has detailed difficulties with the ‘Victorian vibrator cure’ idea.
The page also has loads of other fascinating information about 19th century sex.
Don’t be put off by the page’s dreadful green background – as the title suggests, it is full of wonderful ‘Victorian sex factoids’, including why it is unlikely that Queen Victoria ever used cannabis to help alleviate period pains.