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What to Read: The Technology of Orgasm by Rachel P. Maines

Looking for a quick, smart, engaging read? Allow me to recommend The Technology of Orgasm by Rachel Maines. Here's the gist: For centuries, troubled—or troubling—women were diagnosed with "hysteria." The classic treatment for this amorphous malady was inducement of the "hysteric paroxysm"—known to us contemporary types as the orgasm. Yes, that's right: The orgasm. Thus, the first mechanical vibrators were labor-saving devices for physicians tired of inducing said paroxysm in their patients manually. Yes, that's right: Doctors used to provide hand-jobs to their female patients as a kind of physical therapy. Seriously: I am totally not making this up. Check out this excerpt from Chapter One:

When the vibrator emerged as an electromechanical medical instrument at the end of the nineteenth century, it evolved from previous massage technologies in response to demand from physicians for more rapid and efficient physical therapies, particularly for hysteria. Massage to orgasm of female patients was a staple of medical practice among some (but certainly not all) Western physicians from the time of Hippocrates until the 1920s, and mechanizing this task significantly increased the number of patients a doctor could treat in a working day. Doctors were a male elite with control of their working lives and instrumentation, and efficiency gains in the medical production of orgasm for payment could increase income. Physicians had both the means and the motivation to mechanize.

The Technology of Orgasm is mind-blowing and wryly hilarious, but don't take my word for it: While digging through some old files, I unearthed this highly entertaining review my friend and colleague Ruth wrote a few years ago. If your curiosity is sufficiently piqued—and, my God, why wouldn't it be?—you may want to visit the Good Vibrations Antique Vibrator Museum.

January 13, 2004 | Permalink

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