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The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction (Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology) Hardcover – December 18, 1998

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Product Details

  • Series: Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology (Book 24)
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press (December 18, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801859417
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801859410
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #598,078 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

For centuries, women diagnosed with "hysteria"--a "disease paradigm," in Rachel P. Maines's felicitous phrase, thought to result from a lack of sexual intercourse or gratification--were treated by massaging their genitals in order to induce "paroxysm." Male physicians, however, considered the practice drudgery, and sought various ways of avoiding the task, often foisting it off on midwives or, starting in the late 19th century, employing mechanical devices. Eventually, these devices became available for purchase and home use; one such "portable vibrator" is advertised in the 1918 Sears, Roebuck catalog as an "aid that every woman appreciates." The Technology of Orgasm is an impeccably researched history that combines a discussion of hysteria in the Western medical tradition with a detailed examination (including several illustrations) of the devices used to "treat" the "condition." (Maines is somewhat dismissive of the contemporary, phallus-shaped models, which she describes as "underpowered battery-operated toys," insisting that "it is the AC-powered vibrator with at least one working surface at a right angle to the handle that is best designed for application to the clitoral area.") Don't expect any cheap thrills, though; the titillation Maines offers is strictly intellectual. --Ron Hogan

From Publishers Weekly

It will surprise most readers to learn that the vibrator was invented in the late 1880s as a time-saving device for physicians, who had been treating women's "hysteria" for years with clitoral massage. Denying the sexual nature of the treatments, doctors instead saw the technique as a burdensome chore and welcomed electric devices that would shorten patients' visits. Maines, an independent scholar in the history of technology, presents a straightforward account of the mechanism from its beginning through the 1920s, when it came into disrepute as a medical instrument. Going far beyond a mere summary of therapeutic advances, however, she wryly chronicles the attitude toward women's sexuality in the medical and psychological professions and shows, with searing insight, how some ancient biases are still prevalent in our society. Maines's writing is lively and entertaining, and her research is exhaustive, drawing on texts from Hippocrates to the present day. Proving her point about how women's sexuality is still perceived as an unapproachable subject in some quarters, Maines describes her travails in vibrator historiography, including the loss of her teaching position at Clarkson University. A pioneering and important book, this window into social and technological history also provides a marvelously clear view of contemporary ideas about women's sexuality.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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See all 33 customer reviews
A true classic, and a wild read.
This is a well researched academic look at the history of hysteria and its' treatment.
M. Perloe
It's very interesting, well written, well researched, and fun to read.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

94 of 97 people found the following review helpful By on January 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
"The Technology of Orgasm" is one of the funniest books I've read in a long time. Maines' ostensible purpose is an examination of the history of vibrators and other mechanical means to induce female orgasms. This subject is covered in depth and apparent thoroughness, but her real focus is "androcentric" definitions of female sexuality and their cultural and technological repercussions.
In witty and humorous language, demonstrating that Maines has mastered post-modernism and even found a use for it, she lampoons men's refusal to recognize that for most women, insertion of a male penis into the vagina followed by a male orgasm is not necessarily a complete sexual experience. In droll tones, Maines discusses the long-held male claim, supported by what was called science, that if a woman did not achieve an orgasm from sexual penetration by a male, she was not "normal," although some 80% or more of women were thus "abnormal." And never mind that 80% of a population cannot, by definition, be abnormal.
Maines is a good historian, and she recounts the historical medicalization of female orgasm, terming its inducement "the job nobody wanted." For hundreds of years, physicians or midwives were paid to stimulate manually the clitoris of women suffering from "hysteria" and thereby to bring about a therapeutic paroxism. Since this was a time-consuming task, doctors turned to hydrotherapy and then to electric powered vibrators to shorten the time necessary to induce such relief on each patient. HMOs would be proud.
This is a book on a serious topic in western cultural history that could have been androphobic or, worse, terribly dull. Instead,it charms and educates with wit and erudition. I hated to see it end.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Jernigan on August 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
for centuries, troubled -- or troubling -- women were diagnosed with "hysteria." the classic treatment for this vague malady was inducement of the "hysteric paroxysm" -- known to us contemporary types as the orgasm. according to rachel maines's wryly hilarious history, the first mechanical vibrators were labor-saving devices for doctors tired of inducing orgasm in their patients manually. who knew? this book is clearly her dissertation & primarily intended for academics, but i found it mind-blowing & frequently quite amusing. i frequently recommend it to friends & colleagues looking for a quick, smart, engaging read.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Daphine on May 22, 2014
Format: Paperback
I had no idea that the vibrator came out of such a history! In this exhaustively researched, superbly organized, and succinct volume, you too can learn about how this tool came to be, and so much more.

For centuries, the treatment for hysteria by physicians subscribed to the idea that "she just needs to get laid..." which isn't entirely wrong, but they went about prescribing a totally androcentric solution. It sheds light on how the attitudes towards women's bodies became attitudes towards women as a group, and how those are then institutionalized in medicine.

This book is really good, and sure to be enjoyed by fellow feminists, sex nerds, and historians. If your interest is particularly in the history of medicine, you have to go read Sander Gilman. I have noticed that several of his books are getting reprinted, which means you can continue exploration with Sexuality: An Illustrated History.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Joan Jacobson on November 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Anyone who reads social histories, biographies of Victorian women or historical fiction must eventually ask this question, "What the heck is neurasthenia and how come nobody ever gets it anymore?" The plague of wealthy Victorian women simply disappeared without a trace in the 1920s. Why? Finally -- here's your answer.
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52 of 63 people found the following review helpful By on June 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
* *
The dustjacket of Rachel P. Maines's new book, THE TECHNOLOGY OF ORGASM: "HYSTERIA", THE VIBRATOR & SEXUAL SATISFACTION, reads as follows:
-*-*- From the time of Hippocrates until the 1920s, massaging "hysterical" female patients to orgasm was a staple of medical practice among Western physicians. Hysteria...was thought to be the consequence of sexual deprivation. Doctors performed the "routine chore" of relieving hysterical patients' symptoms with manual genital massage until the woman reached orgasm, or as it was known under clinical conditions, the "hysterical paroxysm". The vibrator first emerged as an electromechanical medical instrument in direct response to demand from physicians who, far from enjoying the implementation of pelvic massage, sought every opportunity to substitute the services of midwives and, later, the efficiency of mechanical devices... Invented in the late 1880s by a British physician, the vibrator was popular with turn-of-the-century doctors as a quick, efficient cure for hysteria which neither fatigued the therapist nor demanded skills which were difficult to acquire... Hysterical women presented a large and lucratve clientele for doctors, and vibrators reduced, from about one hour to ten minutes, the time required for a physician to produce results, significantly increasing the number of patients he could treat in the course of a single workday. These women were ideal patients in that they never recovered nor died from their condition but continued to require regular medical "treatment".
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