She Bops, She Has Bopped, and She Will Continue to Bop
Masturbation. Everybody does it. Anyone who says they don’t is either dead—at least from the waist down—or a liar. From the first furtive frisson of frottage with which we learn to lull ourselves to sleep as little girls, the impulse to touch ourselves to bring pleasure and release is as ingrained as it is natural. (If you don’t want to take my word for it, just ask Kinsey.) We are, after all, apes, and what better prescriptive to fan the flames of lust than a little hot monkey lovin’ from the hand that knows us best … our own?
From an early age, however, we are taught discretion. Even in an increasingly sex-positive culture, society dictates that openly pleasuring ourselves in public is taboo, but by rendering masturbation illicit, have we actually increased its allure? Undoubtedly.
Outlawed activity combined with advancing technology has incited fertile minds to seek out ever-more-cunning permutations of bliss-inducing devices. From discrete lap-loving accessories such as Pipedream’s Remote Control Tiger Panty that can be secreted under the most staid business suit, to the bulky-but-beloved Hitachi Magic Wand (a.k.a.: “the world’s most popular vibrator”), the devilishly clever Infrared Massager from California Exotic to Lady Calston’s saucy “ultra-realistic, flesh-like” Mini Tongue, the galaxy of delicious, delightful, wiggling, diddling toys continues to expand eXXXponentially.
Of course, that is now…but what of then?
The development of modern female sexual mores can be traced at least as far back as ancient Greece, when Hippocrates conjectured that women who complained of nervousness, fluid retention, insomnia and poor appetite suffered from a blockage in the womb, which he believed to be a mysterious organ that, much like a gypsy tinker, traveled around the body with no fixed address and suspect intentions. The condition, known as “womb furie” or “hysteria,” is derived from the Greek word for womb (hysteros).
Most commonly observing this bizarre behavior in those femmes living sex-free lifestyles: postulants, virgins and widows…along with unfortunate married ladies whose husbands would not—or could not—satisfy their carnal appetites, Greek physician Galen (120something to 200 CE, which is something like AD but supposedly more PC) attributed “womb furie” to sexual deprivation. His prescribed treatment was manual pussy massage. “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,” Galen decreed. Amen to that.
Ironically, vibrators, as we know them today, are the happy byproduct of an unintentional equation that combined two of the seven deadly sins: greed and sloth, resulting in inspired invention. Manually stimulating female patients to “paroxysm” continued to be en vogue well into the 19th Century, however bringing a woman to climax by hand took both patience and wherewithal. Medical “wisdom” of the day classed approximately 75 percent of women as “hysterical.” The condition was considered chronic, meaning it could be treated, but not cured. Practitioners surmised that must be a way to turn a tedious activity into a lucrative gash cow, but how? Eventually, they hit upon the notion that to get the most bang for their clients’ bucks, they’d need a device that would allow them perform treatments on a conveyor-belt principle: get ’em in, get ’em off, and get ’em out the door, lickety-split. In 1883, Brit physician, Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville conceived and delivered to market the “Perceteur,” and thus, the vibrator was born.
The first vibes, much like first-generation computers, were bulky, obtuse and not meant for personal use. Remember the classic 1957 Tracy/Hepburn comedy, Desk Set? Electronic brain, EMERAC, swallows up almost an entire office floor, at the cost of untold thousands of dollars. Fifty years later, in real life, you can buy a 4-gig lipstick-shaped flash drive for under $20 bucks (which, by the way, bears a sinfully striking resemblance to Topco’s Incognito Lipstick Vibe).
Imagine yourself strapped to a cumbersome wooden table boasting a crotch-level cutout in which a nefarious steam-powered sphere spins maniacally at your clit. Shuddering shades of Goldfinger! “The Manipulator,” introduced in the 1870s, was just such an object d’horreur. Also popular at the time were hydrotherapy treatments that often involved aiming a high-velocity water hoses at a woman’s delicate private parts. Yikes!
By the end of the 19th Century, a plethora of vibrators had hit the scene. One manufacturer, Weiss, offered a snazzy battery-operated tool that featured a menu of interchangeable “vibratodes.” In addition to hand-held hysteria banishers, a savvy physician could avail himself of a variety of electric devices, from ponderous floor-standing models to the loopy Carpenter vibrator, which hung from the ceiling, like an absurd erotogenic trapeze.
The Onanism Schism
Now perhaps you’re wondering, if all this getting off was touted as the be-all, end-all, cure-all for what ailed women, why weren’t sisters doing it for themselves? Because back then, Onanism was a huge no-no. It was okay if a doctor touched you “out of medical necessity,” but heaven forefend you should touch yourself. Twisted logic of the times decreed that women could derive no sexual pleasure without penetration, so a bit of slap and tickle by a doctor was deemed kosher. (Done laughing yet?)
This egregious canard was finally blown out of the water when early 20th Century stag films revealed the vibrator for what it was—a pleasure toy. No longer “doctor-approved,” vibrators went underground, hiding in, of all places, plain sight. Hawked from the back pages of women’s magazines and mail-order catalogues as “muscle relaxing devices,” vibrators continued to proliferate like kudzu. In the dawning days of World War I, there were more vibrators in American households than toasters.
For the next few decades, the trend of the world’s worst kept secret continued, until the new conservatism engendered by the Eisenhower era forced vibrators under the radar. Like secret pleasure agents, sex toys became “camouflaged technology,” replete with a special code language to let consumers in on what was truly what. Tricked out in clandestine Get Smart identities, vibrators came disguised as a bizarre array of innocuous items such as backscratchers, hairbrushes, and even vacuum cleaner-attachments. Oh, Hoover me baby. Yeah, right there!
This double-life continued until the 1970s, when the hippy-dippy pendulum swung back and unleashed the sexual revolution. In 1973, her trusty Hitachi Magic Wand in hand, pioneering sex advocate Betty Dodson launched a legendary series of group masturbation sessions in which women were shown the path to sexual enlightenment. Thanks to higher consciousness and heavy media coverage vibrators found themselves smack-dab into the cultural mainstream. A few scant years later, with the advent of sex-toy shops such as Eve’s Garden and Good Vibrations openly selling their wares to a hungry public, the vibrator finally came of age.
In the ’90s, vibes got an unexpected image boost from then Surgeon General, C. Everett Coop, who included them on the official U.S. Government list of condoned safe-sex activities. (Makes ya’ wonder if Ron and Nancy ever gave a Juicy Deuce a trial run in the Lincoln bedroom.) 1999 saw the culmination of 20 years’ research into the history of the vibrator as Rachel Maines’ groundbreaking classic, The Technology of Orgasm, hit the stands; and in a now-celebrated 2005 bi-coastal exhibition, cutting-edge, sexista Violet Blue vaunted the virtual virtues of “teledildonics.” Using a remote control from her San Francisco lair, Blue brought her partner (who was, at the time, strapped into an enthrallingly erotic electric chair known as “The Thrillhammer” somewhere in bowels of the Museum of Sex in New York City) to climax twice for a select viewing audience.
These days, the Internet affords consumers both privacy and near-infinite variety of product, assuring that vibes are going to be around, if not from here to eternity, at least until the world exhausts its supply of batteries, or humans evolve beyond the burning quest for hot monkey love. (Yeah, I know. Ain’t happening.)