Tech in the News: (Almost) Everything You Know About the Invention of the Vibrator Is Wrong

Hallie Lieberman

Posted January 23, 2020

External Article: The New York Times

Hallie Lieberman, visiting lecturer in the School of History and Sociology, wrote the piece "(Almost) Everything You Know About the Invention of the Vibrator Is Wrong," for The New York Times on Jan. 23, 2020.

Lieberman's piece explores the problematic and typically incorrect perceptions of the reasons for invention and early uses of the vibrator, which have been referenced many times in pop culture and have become a common misconception. 

Excerpt:

Ms. Maines is right about one thing: the electric vibrator was invented by a physician, the British doctor Joseph Mortimer Granville. But when Dr. Granville invented the vibrator in the early 1880s, it was not meant to be used on women or to cure hysteria. In fact, he argued specifically that it shouldn’t be used on hysterical women; rather, Dr. Granville invented the vibrator as a medical device for men, to be used on a variety of body parts, mainly to treat pain, spinal disease and deafness. The only sexual uses he suggested were vibrating men’s perineums to treat impotence. Illustrations in Dr. Granville’s book on the invention of the electric vibrator show him using it only on men.

The true story is that the use of vibrators became widespread only when they were marketed to the general public, both men and women, as domestic and medical appliances in the early 1900s. Ads featuring men and women, babies and older people, promised vibrators could do everything from eliminating wrinkles to curing tuberculosis. When doctors did use vibrators on women, they assiduously avoided touching their clitorises. “The greatest objection to vibration thus applied is that in overly sensitive patients it is liable to cause sexual excitement,” the gynecologist James Craven Wood wrote in 1917. If, however, he continued, “the vibratode is kept well back from the clitoris, there is but little danger of causing such excitement.”

Read the full article here.