Photo Credit

Flickr: Pat Kight
Advertisement

The vibrator is nothing new—the first model appeared in the mid-1800s!—but the use and public perception of the pulsating device has changed a whole lot since it first made its way onto the medical scene. Yep, you read that right: Vibrators were originally designed as a tool for doctor-administered “emotional relief” for women. And as it turns out, those historical early adopters might have been onto something: Vibrator use is closely tied to sexual health and may even influence people’s health outside the bedroom.

The vibrator has undergone dramatic new developments in the last 20 years, notably in its adoption by male consumers and growing cultural acceptance. Our attitudes toward (and uses for) the vibrator have changed, and today people of all sexes are benefiting.

WHAT'S THE DEAL?
Vibrators then
: The first mechanical vibrator made its American debut in 1869 as a steam-powered rotating sphere housed underneath a table with a well-placed hole. These implements were used by doctors, who, prior to the invention of the vibrator, would manually stimulate female patients’ clitorises in order to temporarily relieve the symptoms of “hysteria”—an outdated medical diagnosis attributed to high strung and so-called “irrational” women (crazy, we know).

The vibrator developed out of necessity: Doctors dreaded the task of stimulation, which could take an hour to complete, and so they pushed for the invention of a tool that would do the work for them. By 1883 the original version had developed into a less cumbersome handheld model aptly dubbed “Granville’s Hammer." The vibrator was commercialized by the turn of the century and could be ordered from the Sears, Roebuck & Company catalog.

RELATED: 8 Things He Wishes You Knew About Sex

Since that time, the vibrator has risen and fallen in cultural popularity, often along with the device’s representations in popular media. Once the vibrator debuted in pornographies in 1920, its household acceptance as a tool to treat hysterics fell out of favor and the device was labeled prurient, rather than respectable. Vibrators celebrated a renaissance during the sixties and seventies, as the taboo concerning women’s sexuality was challenged through popular culture, in books like Sex, and the Single Girl, and by writers like pioneering sex educator Betty Dodson. With the emergence of Hitachi's Magic Wand (dubbed the “Cadillac of vibrators”) in the early 1970s, positive perceptions of the vibrator increased. By the 1990s, talking openly about vibrator usage became more commonplace, thanks to Sex and the City, Oprah, and even the New York Times. These portrayals helped to generate open discussions about and acknowledgement of women’s vibrator use.

Vibrators now: Today U.S. cultural attitudes toward women’s vibrators use are, in general, overwhelmingly positive. A national survey found that both men and women hold highly positive views about women’s vibrator usage. Over 52 percent of women report having used vibrators, and vibrator use between partners is common in heterosexual, lesbian, and bisexual couples.

Attitudes towards men’s vibrator usage are expanding as well. Although there’s scant history about commercial male vibrators or their usage, vibrators had been used since the 1970’s as a medical tool to treat erectile dysfunction and as a rehabilitation tool for men with spinal cord injuries. In 1994, the Fleshlight debuted as the first commercially available (and much lauded) vibrator for men.

The ensuing popularity of the Fleshlight led the sex toy industry to focus on the potential of male consumers. Since then, sex toys targeting a male demographic have shown a substantial increase in sales. Adult toy stores such as Babeland now have separate sections for male consumers (Babeland has also reported that 35 percent of its customers are men). And these toys are being used: In one study, 45 percent of men reported using vibrators for solo or partnered sexual activities. In another, 49 percent of gay and bisexual men reported using vibrators, which follow dildos and non-vibrating cock rings as popular sex toys.

WHY IT MATTERS
From the growing cultural acceptance of women’s vibrator usage, along with increasing male interest in the sex toy, the device has played an important role in American sexuality. In fact, vibrators and sexual health often seem to go hand in hand. Women who report recent vibrator use with partners tend to score higher on the Female Sexual Function Index (a questionnaire that assesses sexual arousal, orgasm, satisfaction, and pain) than women who report no vibrator use and even women who only used vibrators for masturbation. Vibrator use can also boost sexual satisfaction and is associated with practicing healthy behaviors even outside the bedroom.

RELATED: The Pros and Cons of Dating a Younger Man

Men who use vibrators are more likely to report participation in sexual-health-promoting behaviors, such as testicular self-exams. They also tend to score higher on four out of the five categories in the International Index of Erectile Function (erectile function, intercourse satisfaction, orgasmic function, and sexual desire). Couples can take the plunge with an array of partner vibrators, which offer simultaneous stimulation, or choose a gender-specific vibrator for foreplay.

THE TAKEAWAY
Vibrators are increasingly found in bedrooms across America and offer the opportunity for solo and partnered sexual relief and healthy sexual expression. Despite their unusual history, vibrators now play an important role in the sexual lives of Americans. From steam-powered mechanisms to “magic wands” and “silver bullets,” vibrators developed alongside popular culture and reflect part of the weird, interesting history of American sexuality.

More from Greatist:
The Essential Holiday Gift Guide for Foodies
30 Superfood Recipes You've Never Tried Before
Everything You Need to Know About Popcorn But Were Afraid to Ask
 

35 shared this
35
Comments
comments powered by Disqus