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The History of the Vibrator

Using a vibrator as an aid against eating disorders and ‘female hysteria’ seems ludicrous now, but for centuries doctors treated women for a wide variety of illnesses by performing what is now recognised as masturbation.

The vibrator was actually invented by respectable Victorian doctors, who grew tired of bringing female patients to orgasm using their fingers. The invention was regarded as a reputable medical instrument but soon became popular among Victorian and Edwardian women who purchased the devices, without a prescription, for personal sexual stimulation.

In 1902, the American company Hamilton Beach patented the first electric vibrator available for consumer retail sale as opposed to medical usage, making the vibrator the fifth domestic appliance to be electrified, after the sewing machine, fan, tea kettle, and toaster, and about a decade before the vacuum cleaner and electric iron.

Up until the 1920s vibrators were widely advertised in women’s magazines but disappeared when their appearance in pornography caused a shift in public perception from a device used for health purposes to something shameful associated with sexual pleasure. The sexual revolution of the 1960s allowed the vibrator to re-emerge and saw several improvements such as cordless and multi-speed.

Since the 1980s, vibrators and sex toys have become increasingly visible in mainstream public culture, especially with the help of TV programmes such as Sex and the City and The Oprah Winfrey Show. The devices themselves have seen a massive improvement due to technological and manufacturing advancements producing cheaper options and products made of substances that feel more like skin.