Oh Joy Sex Toy: A Comic About the History of Vibrators
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Here is a text transcription of the comic to make it more accessible for people using screen readers. Transcription by Morgan Kelly.
Erika begins this comic with an announcement, “Dearest Perverts! My excellent friend and talented cartoonist Emi Gennis is filling in for me today!” Emi waves and says, “Why, hello! We love our vibrators, but where did they come from? My name is Emi, and I’m here today to tell you all about…” Then in large decorative script, “The History of Vibrators.”
Emi continues, “As far back as ancient Greece, Western physicians had been diagnosing women with hysteria. Definitions changed depending on time period and location, but almost always included ‘symptoms’ now considered to be normal emotional and sexual behaviors. It was once thought that this condition was caused by the woman’s uterus wandering around the body, causing disease.”
“Massaging hysterical patients to a ‘paroxysm’ (read: orgasm) was common practice until the 1920s. This treatment was usually reserved for the upper- and middle-class women in Europe and America who could afford it. Contrary to what you might think, doctors didn’t seem to enjoy this, and were eager to pass the task off to an apprentice or midwife. At the time, clitoral stimulation was not considered to be a part of intercourse – since there was no penetration, nobody considered this practice to be sexual!”
“In 1660, surgeon Nathanial Highmore complained of the difficulty it took to learn the skill of giving patients these ‘paroxysms’.” An illustration of Nathanial Highmore says, “It is not unlike that game of boys in which they try to run their stomachs which one hand and pat their heads with the other!”
Emi continues, “Hysterical patients, however, were quite lucrative for physicians as they returned again and again for treatment. Wouldn’t you? Inducing paroxysms for a living was hard work, so some innovative doctors started looking for ways to expedite the process. In 1750s France, doctors started using a ‘pelvic douche,’ which propelled water into patients’ nether-regions.”
“Then, in 1869, American physician George Taylor patented a steam-powered, coal-fired vibrator, which he called ‘The Manipulator’.” Emi is sitting on The Manipulator, there are captions and labels, “Table for patient to lay on. Hole cut out with vibrating ball inside. Powered with a coal engine hidden behind a wall.”
Emi continues, “Both the douching systems as well as Taylor’s invention were expensive and cumbersome, so they didn’t really catch on. But then, in the early 1880s, a British doctor named Joseph Mortimer Granville invented the first electro-mechanical vibrator. The accompanying diagram depicts the “40 pound wet-cell battery” and the “Exposed wires – yikes!”
Emi says, “By the 1900s, a number of vibrators were available to physicians, ranging from low-priced, foot-powered models to the high-end ‘Chattanooga’. This thing cost $200 plus freight shipping – a fortune in 1904!”
“As electricity became rapidly popular, the electrification of home appliances began. The vibrator was the fifth appliance to be electrified, preceded only by the sewing machine, fan, tea kettle, and toaster (perhaps reflecting consumer priorities). Soon, advertisements for vibrators appeared in women’s magazines, often touting them as a beauty treatment.” Emi provides illustrated examples of these early vibrators: Dr. Macaura’s Pulsocon Blood Circulator (1880s), Detwiller Pneumatic Vibrator (1906), Try New Life (1920s), Vibro-Life (1908), Dr. Johansen’s Auto Vibrator (1907), Polar Cub Electric Vibrator (1928).
Emi continues, “Ads often featured beautiful women applying the vibrator to their faces. Most savvy consumers, however, knew exactly what they were for. The appearance of vibrators in the early stag films of the 1920s made their real purpose pretty hard to deny. By the 1930s most magazines had dropped their ads for these devices. However, vibrators continued to be manufactured by several companies, many of which also produced other home appliances.” Emi includes three illustrations of these vibrators: Rolex 3-Minute Massuer (1930s), Oster Scientific Massage Modality (circle 1950), Miracle Ball Grip Massager (1950s).
Emi continues, “The sexual revolution of the 1960s ushered in a new era of vibrators, some of which were openly marketed as sex toys. Many of those vibrators look a lot like those we still use today.” Below is an illustration of the Original Hitachi Magic Wand (circa 1970).
Emi concludes this comic by smiling and standing with a group of people holding different types of vibrators. She says, “And that’s how we ended up with these nifty little devices! So next time you use your favorite toy, remember its journey from the doctor’s office to thousands of bedside drawers all over the world!”
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