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Here's the history of vibrators, from the doctor's office to the bedroom


Here's the history of vibrators, from the doctor's office to the bedroom

WATCH | When doctors first invented the vibrator in the 1860s, they didn’t exactly intend for it to get dolled up and end up in adult stores in 2017. 

But they'll be glad to know the way it's used has not changed at all. 


Vibrators were considered medical tools back in the late 19th century, invented to treat the female "hysteria". 

More than 2,000 years ago, the Greek physician Galen had coined the term "hysteria" from the Greek word hysterika, which means uterus. He believed the uterus moved around the body and caused various female ailments, which were temporarily cured by vulval clitoral massage to "the point of hysterical paroxysms of relief" - aka orgasm. 


So until the Victorian era, doctors who specialized in "hysteria" had to give manual treatments, which was labor-intensive. It was also a lucrative business, according to Carol Queen, a staff sexologist at Good Vibrations. 

Good Vibrations Antique Vibrator Museum in San Francisco chronicles the strange history of vibrators with more than 100 pieces from the late 19th century to the 1970s. The collection ranges from a rare compressed-air vibrator and a makeshift vibrator from a hippie commune in the '60s to powerful mattress vibrators found in some motels in the 1950s. 

The collection of these eclectic items grew over time - when the museum first opened in 1977, it only had six antique vibrators that belonged to the founder, Joani Blank.

"We get vibrators donated by customers, people who find out about the museum, and every once in awhile we still see one on eBay that we have to have," said Queen.  

The museum opened alongside the first Good Vibrations store that sold vibrators and other adult merchandise. According to Queen, Blank had been working with sex therapists around the area and wanted to establish a place for women to get more comfortable with their sexuality. She continued her mission in sexual education and advocating for "sex-positive feminism" until she passed away in June 2016.  

Vibrators increasingly became available to people in their homes in the 1900s, although they were expensive and not exactly advertised as sexual items. 

But that took a sharp turn in the 1920s, when vibrators started making an appearance in porn movies at the time.  


"Which meant great-uncle Fred and great-aunt Nellie had even more fun out on the homestead because all of a sudden, we were entering the 1920s - a decade when information about sexuality began to come out of the shadows."

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By the 1950s, almost all ads in magazines for vibrators had faded away - although you could still buy them anywhere in the U.S., in drugstores and department stores. They were sometimes sold as "beauty aids" or "health aids". 

Now, Queen says, the vibrators have caught up with the technology as well. They're now made of nicer material, wireless, plus you can program them to have different kind of vibration, wave variability, speed and patterns. 

"There'll be some more technologies by 2020, I'm sure," Queen said. "This is a technological area that used to be pretty taboo, but more tech companies and entrepreneurs are getting in on it." 

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