Vibrators today go hand in hand with masturbation and female sexuality. Yet for American housewives in the 1930s, the vibrator looked like any other household appliance: a nonsexual new electric technology that could run on the same universal motor as
their kitchen mixers and vacuum cleaners. Before small motors became cheap to produce, manufacturers sold a single motor base with separate attachments for a range of household activities, from sanding wood to drying hair, or healing the body with
In my research on the medical history of electricity, vibrators appear alongside galvanic battery belts and quack electrotherapies as one of many quirky home cures of the early 20th century. The first
electro-mechanical vibrator was a device called a percuteur invented by British physician Joseph Mortimer Granville in the late 1870s or early 1880s. Granville thought that vibration powered the human nervous system, and he developed the percuteur as a
medical device for stimulating ailing nerves.
Current medical opinion held that hysteria was a nervous disease, yet Granville refused to treat female patients , simply because I do not want to be hoodwinked... by the vagaries of
the hysterical state. The vibrator began as a therapy for men only. It then quickly left the sphere of mainstream medical practice.
By the early 20th century, manufacturers were selling vibrators as ordinary electric household
appliances. The merits of electricity in the home were not as obvious then as they are today: Electricity was dangerous and expensive, but it promised excitement and modernity . Electric commodities, like sewing and washing machines, became the hallmarks
of the rising middle class.
Vibrators were another shiny new technology, used to sell consumers on the prospect of modern electric living. Just as banks handed out free toasters for opening checking accounts in the 1960s, in the
1940s the Rural Electrification Administration distributed free vibrators to encourage farmers to electrify their homes. These modern electric devices were not thought of as sex toys.
In what may sound surprising to 21st-century
readers, these appliances promised relief of a nonsexual variety. Users of all ages vibrated just about every body part, without sexual intent.
Vibrators made housework easier by soothing the pains of tired housewives, calming the
cries of sick children and invigorating the bodies of modern working men. They were applied to tired backs and sore feet, but also the throat, to cure laryngitis; the nose, to relieve sinus pressure; and everything in between. Vibration promised to calm
the stomachs of colicky babies, and to stimulate hair growth in balding men. It was even thought to help heal broken bones.
A 1910 advertisement in the New York Tribune declared that Vibration Banishes Disease As the Sun Banishes
Mist. In 1912, the Hamilton Beach New-Life vibrator came with a 300-page instructional guide titled Health and How to Get It, offering a cure for everything from obesity and appendicitis to tuberculosis and vertigo. As such advertisements suggest,
vibrators were not standard medical treatments, but medical quackery, alternative medicine that didn't deliver on their promises. Yet the electrical cure-alls sold by the millions
In 1915, the Journal of the American Medical
Association wrote that the vibrator business is a delusion and a snare . If it has any effect it is psychology. The business was dangerous not because it was obscene, but because it was bad medicine. The potential, acknowledged by doctors, for the
vibrator to be used in masturbation was just further evidence of its quackery.
Sex toy scholar Hallie Lieberman points out that nearly every vibrator company in the early 20th century offered phallic attachments that would have
been considered obscene if sold as dildos. Presented instead as rectal or vaginal dilators, these devices were supposed to cure hemorrhoids, constipation, vaginitis, cervicitis and other illnesses localized to the genitals and the anus. Hamilton Beach,
for example, offered a special rectal applicator for an additional cost of $1.50, and recommended its use in the treatment of Impotence, Piles--Hemorrhoids and Rectal Diseases.
The two most prominent scholars of vibrator history,
Rachel Maines and Hallie Lieberman, argue that vibrators were always secretly sexual, but I disagree. Vibrators were popular medical devices. One of many medical uses of the vibrator was to cure diseases of sexual dysfunction. And this use was a selling
point, not a secret, during an era of anti-masturbatory rhetoric.
Masturbation was thought to cause diseases like impotence in men and hysteria in women. Masturbatory illness was a pretty standard idea in the early 20th century.
One of its surviving formulations is the idea that masturbating will make you go blind.
There's no way to really know how people were using vibrators. But the evidence suggests that they signified medical treatment, not sinful
masturbation, regardless of the use. Even if users were doing physical actions that people today think of as masturbation, they didn't understand themselves to be masturbating, and therefore they weren't masturbating.
For most of
the 20th century, vibrators remained innocuous quackery. Good Housekeeping even bestowed its seal of approval on some models in the 1950s . When the sexual revolution hit America in the 1960s, vibrators were largely forgotten, outdated appliances.
In the 1970s radical feminists transformed the vibrator from a relic of bygone domesticity to a tool of female sexual liberation. At Betty Dodson's bodysex workshops , electric vibrations changed feelings of guilt about masturbation
to feelings of celebration so that masturbation became an act of self-love . She and her sisters embraced vibrators as a political technology that could convert frigid anorgasmic housewives into powerful sexual beings capable both of having multiple
orgasms and destroying the patriarchy. This masturbatory revolt erased the vibrator's fading reputation as a cure for masturbatory illness and replaced it with a specific, powerful, public and lasting linkage between the vibrator and female masturbatory
One of South Korea's top football clubs apologised for using properly clothed sex dolls to fill empty seats at a weekend game.
FC Seoul insisted the mannequins, used to replace banned crowds, had no connection to sex toys. But some of the
artificial spectators wore T-shirts with the logo of SoloS, a sex toy seller. Other mannequins, which wore facemasks and were separated according to social distancing guidelines, held placards advertising the company and some of its models.
Seoul said in a statement:
We are sincerely sorry for causing deep concern to fans. We have confirmed from the very beginning that they had no connection to sex toys.
Thai olice have launched an investigation after a video which showed a woman playing with a sex toy in public was shared 7 million times on social media.
Deputy police spokesman Pol Col Krissana Pattanacharoen said police are aware of the clip and
warned that those involved face up to 5 years in jail and a fine of up to 100,000 baht (£2500) or both for creating and distributing pornographic or indecent material online in accordance to Section 14 of the Computer Crime Act.
Pol Col Krissana
also warned that anyone who shares the clip online could also be breaking the law.
In fact the video is part of a worldwide internet craze often identified by the tag #VibratingPanties. The video in question is on Pornhub with the title Thai
Cute Girl Remote Control Vibrator. Note that the video is not explicit, nor has nudity, nor is it proved that the toy is in use.
Ritex, Germany's largest domestic producer of condoms, saw sales nearly double in March. The company says its sales of condoms last month doubled compared with the same period a year ago, to 12.7 million.
The same trend is happening in other
countries. Ann Summers, the British lingerie chain, said sex toy sales in the last week of March were up 27% over 2019. Its best-selling item was the Whisper Rabbit, which is marketed as its quietest vibrator. Customers are placing increasing importance
on noise while they have a full household, the company said in a statement.
Dr. Axel-Jürg Potempa, a German sexual health specialist, predicts a coronavirus-related baby boom by Christmas.
However for all the surge in orders, there is a
downside in that COVID-19 has interrupted supply chains. Karex, which makes 1 in 5 condoms globally, had to shut down its three factories in Malaysia for 10 days last month as authorities imposed strict restrictions on large gatherings to slow the spread
of the coronavirus. The company was eventually able to win an exemption from the lockdown rule, arguing that it was a producer of essential medical goods, and restarted its plants March 27. But the plants are still only running at 50% capacity.
The coronavirus outbreak has forced countries into lockdown, and maybe sharing the time with a guaranteed virus free partner has its attractions. But just at the same time sex doll sellers are facing a shortage as most are are shipped in from Chinese
factories that themselves have been affected by lockdowns.
Jade Stanley, who owns a sex doll business called Sex Doll Official, revealed that there has been a major slowdown due to the ongoing Coronavirus situation in China. They've gone home, been
quarantined and been unable to return to factories.
The pandemic has also led to a worldwide increase in sales of sex toys. With the prospect of long periods at home either alone or with your partner, people are exploring new ways to make the best of
the time available.
Lingerie retailer Honey Birdette says it was forced to censor an advert in Australia that would get the green light to be shown in the United States and Britain.
Eloise Monaghan, the founder of the company which started in Brisbane, stripped off for
the photoshoot herself along with her wife Natalie. The two women and a number of other male and female models feature with their chests bared in the photoshoot campaign dubbed fluid.
The models are body-painted in rainbow colours in a nod to the
famous Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras which is being held on February 29.
Monaghan said she could show the ad in her New York and London stores but constant complaints to the advertising watchdog in Australia forced her to censor the poster in her
own country. Monaghan said Australia used to be free-thinking but has recently become stricter which she says is frightening.
The Australian moralist group Collective Shout whinged:
Collective Shout has
campaigned against Honey Birdette's pornified representations of women for close to a decade. Honey Birdette has been found in breach of Ad Standards rulings 31 times since January 2018. Caitlin Roper of Collective Shout said:
from promoting equality, this is an act of rainbow washing for profit. The company claims diversity while featuring flawless bodies and large-breasted women.
The ad has received an outpouring of criticism on Honey Birdette's
Instagram and Facebook page, including for profiting off of Pride and as a blatant attempt to cover up an orgy with a rainbow filter.
Collective Shout has supported a petition launched by Melbourne father of three Kenneth Thor
directed at CEOs of shopping centres which host Honey Birdette's porn-inspired portrayals which has attracted almost 77,000 signatures. Honey Birdette has a counter petition which we have been told by a source close to the company comprises a large
percentage of fake names added by staff.
The owner of a Russian sex shop chain has warned about disruptions to the sex toy market caused by Chinese flu.
Maximilian Lapin, founder of the 60 strong chain of Pink Rabbit shops, told website Gazeta that sex shops nationwide are facing a shortage
because the country's Far Eastern border with China has been closed. A high percentage of the world's sex toys are produced there.
According to Lapin, supplies have so far stood firm as his company doesn't import many products directly from China.
Most are from America, Europe, and Russia, he explained. However, the businessman added that many American and European companies produce their goods in China -- and this could lead to a scarcity of naughty merchandise.