What is the true history of vibrators?


The history of vibrators is both fascinating and complex, with origins dating back thousands of years.

  1. Ancient Use: Dildos have been used since at least the Ice Age. The earliest known dildo, made out of siltstone, was discovered in a cave in Germany and is about 28,000 years old. Historical uses of these tools have been depicted in various cultures, including ancient Egypt and Japan 1.

  2. Steam Power Era: In the mid-19th century, vibrating devices began to emerge, powered by steam and hand cranks. These early vibrators were often cumbersome and used within medical contexts 2.

  3. Medical Treatment for 'Hysteria': A significant part of vibrator history is tied to the diagnosis of "female hysteria," a condition which was prevalent in the Victorian era. Doctors allegedly used vibrators to induce "hysterical paroxysm" (orgasm) as a treatment. This narrative, however, has been debated, with some historians arguing that these devices were not primarily used for such treatments 3 4 5.

    The History of Vibrators

    Explore the fascinating history of vibrators, from their ancient origins to their cultural significance throughout the centuries. Discover how dildos have been used by humans since the Ice Age and how our perceptions of them have evolved over time. Learn about the poet John Wilmet's humorous and rhyming ode to dildos in the 17th century.

    Maintenance Phase

  4. Misconceptions: One myth includes the supposed invention of the first vibrator by Cleopatra using agitated bees inside a hollow gourd. This story lacks historical evidence and likely originates from modern fabrications about ancient practices 5.

  5. Development and Commercial Availability: The first electric vibrator appeared in the 1870s and was primarily accessible to doctors due to its high cost. As technology advanced, vibrators became more compact and affordable. By the early 20th century, they were among the first household appliances to go electric, marketed as personal massagers to bypass societal taboos 1 2.

  6. Shift in Perception: The narrative around vibrators evolved significantly, especially with the release of various books and films in modern times, often highlighting and sensationalizing their use as medical tools. Notably, historian Rachel Maines' 2001 book "The Technology of Orgasm" popularized the idea of vibrators being used for medical treatments, though its accuracy is contested 3 6.

In conclusion, while vibrators have a long and varied history, much of the popular narrative around their use for treating female hysteria has been debated and possibly exaggerated. The evolution of these devices from ancient tools to modern sex toys reflects broader changes in societal attitudes toward sexuality and technology.