Vibrator (sex toy)

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Two vibrators in a novelty store

A vibrator is a sex toy for the body and skin, to stimulate the nerves for a relaxing and pleasurable feeling. Some vibrators are designed to stimulate erogenous zones for erotic stimulation.


1913 advertisement

For centuries, doctors had been treating women for a wide variety of illnesses by performing what is now recognized as masturbation. The "pelvic massage" was especially common in the treatment of female hysteria in Great Britain during the Victorian Era, as the point of such manipulation was to cause "hysterical paroxysm" (orgasm) in the patient.[1] However, not only did they regard the "vulvar stimulation" required as having nothing to do with sex, but reportedly found it time-consuming and hard work.[2]

One of the first vibrators was called the 'Tremoussoir' invented in France during 1734.[3] The first steam-powered vibrator was called the "Manipulator", which was invented by American physician George Taylor, M.D. in 1869.[4] This machine was a rather awkward device, but was still heralded as some relief for the doctors who found themselves suffering from fatigued wrists and hands.[5] Around 1880, Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville patented an electromechanical vibrator. The historical fiction film Hysteria features a reworked history of the vibrator focusing on Dr. Granville's invention.[6]

Between 1835 and 1920, Gustav Zander also designed a device that was often used to attain an orgasm, although it was primarily designed as an aid against eating disorders. It is still on display in the Museum Boerhaave in Leiden.[7][8]

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.[9] The home versions soon became extremely popular, with advertisements in periodicals such as Needlecraft, Woman's Home Companion, Modern Priscilla, and the Sears, Roebuck catalog. These disappeared in the 1920s, apparently because their appearance in pornography made it no longer tenable for mainstream society to avoid the sexual connotations of the devices.

The vibrator re-emerged due to the sexual revolution of the 1960s. On June 30, 1966, Jon H. Tavel applied for a patent for the "Cordless Electric Vibrator for Use on the Human Body", ushering in the modern personal vibrator. The patent application referenced an earlier patent dating back to 1938, for a flashlight with a shape that left little doubt as to a possible alternate use. The cordless vibrator was patented on March 28, 1968, and was soon followed by such improvements as multi-speed and one-piece construction, which made it cheaper to manufacture and easier to clean.

Since the 1980s, vibrators and sex toys have become increasingly visible in mainstream public culture, especially after a landmark August 1998 episode of the HBO show Sex and the City, in which the character Charlotte becomes addicted to a rabbit vibrator. Appearing in a regular segment on the popular US television series The Oprah Winfrey Show in March 2009,[10] Dr. Laura Berman recommended that mothers teach their 15- or 16-year-old daughters the concept of pleasure by getting them a clitoral vibrator. Today, CVS, Walgreens, Kroger, Safeway, Target and Walmart are among major national US chain retailers that include vibrators on store shelves.[11]

Research published in a 2009 issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine demonstrates that about 53% of women in the United States ages 18 to 60 have used a vibrator.[12]

Vibrators and orgasm[edit]

Vibrator for Couples: Love Ring

Vibrators may be recommended by sex therapists to women who have difficulty reaching orgasm through masturbation and/or intercourse.[13]

Couples may also choose to use a vibrator to enhance the pleasure of one or both partners. There is a device available that functions as a small vibrator specifically meant for couples to use during intercourse.[14]

Types of erotic vibrators[edit]

Silicone-covered vibrator
Hitachi Magic Wand
Techno Rabbit Vibrator
G-Spot Vibrator
Designer vibrators
A 'pocket rocket' type vibrator

Some vibrators are marketed as "body massagers"—although they still may be used, like the ones sold as adult sex toys, for autoeroticism. Some vibrators run on batteries while others have a power cord that plugs into a wall socket. There is also a vibrator that uses the flow of air from a vacuum cleaner to stimulate the clitoris. Modern versions of old musical vibrators synchronize the vibrations to music from a music player or a cell phone. Some luxury brand vibrators are also completely covered in medical grade silicone with no exposed control panels or seams. Although proper cleaning is required for any sex toy, having fewer places for bacteria to grow reduces the chance of infection.

There is a wide range of vibrators but most of them fall into several broad categories:

Vibrators for disabled people[edit]

Disabled people can find that vibrators are an essential part of their sex life for two reasons: First, it might be the only way to get sexual satisfaction due to impaired arm and hand function.[19] Second, for some disabled men, the use of a vibrator is their only way to provide a semen sample for in-vitro fertilization.[19]

Legal and ethical issues[edit]

The possession and sale of vibrators is illegal in some jurisdictions, including India, although they are sold online.[20]

Until recently, many American Southern and some Great Plains states banned the sale of vibrators completely, either directly or through laws regulating "obscene devices".[21] On Valentine's Day, 2007, a federal appeals court upheld Alabama's law prohibiting the sale of sex toys.[22] The law, the Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1998, was also upheld by the Alabama Supreme Court on September 11, 2009.[23]

In February 2008, a US federal appeals court overturned a Texas statute banning the sales of vibrators and other sexual toys, deeming such a statute as violating the right to privacy guaranteed by the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.[24] The appeals court cited Lawrence v. Texas, where the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 struck down bans on consensual sex between gay couples, as unconstitutionally aiming at "enforcing a public moral code by restricting private intimate conduct". Similar statutes have been struck down in Colorado, and Kansas. As of 2009, Alabama is the only state where a law prohibiting the sale of sex toys remains on the books, though Alabama residents are permitted to buy sex toys with a doctor's note.[23][25]

An American bioethicist and medical historian, Jacob M. Appel has argued that sex toys are actually a "social good" and that the devices, which he refers to as "marital substitutes", play "an important role in the emotional lives of millions of Americans".[23] Appel has written:

I cannot say whether more Alabama women own vibrators than own Bibles. If I were guessing, I would suspect that a majority derive more use out of the vibrators. Certainly more pleasure. Nor does there appear to be any remotely rational basis for keeping sex toys out of the hands of married adults, or single adults, or even children. Now that we are relatively confident that masturbation does not make little girls go blind, or cause palms to sprout hair, exposure to sex toys shouldn't harm them. On the list of items that I might not want children to be exposed to in stores—guns, matches, poisons, junk food—sex toys are way down the list.[23]

References and further reading[edit]

  1. ^ Marlow Stern (April 27, 2012). "'Hysteria' and the Long, Strange History of the Vibrator". The Daily Beast. 
  2. ^ Rachel P. Maines (1999). The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction. Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore. ISBN 978-0-8018-6646-3. 
  3. ^ "The History of the Vibrator - USWebPros Articles". Retrieved 2013-08-01. 
  4. ^ steam-powered vibrator Archived 24 January 2011 at WebCite
  5. ^ "Female Hysteria," Victorian Era Doctors, and the Vibrator Her Private Pleasures. Archived 24 January 2011 at WebCite
  6. ^ "Joseph Mortimer Granville". Retrieved 2013-08-01. 
  7. ^ "Device from Gustav Zander to attain orgasm, second from the". Retrieved 2013-10-05. 
  8. ^ National Geographic Magazine, April 2012
  9. ^ Maines
  10. ^ "Teens and Vibrators - Dr. Laura Berman". 2009-03-26. Retrieved 2013-08-01. 
  11. ^ [1][dead link]
  12. ^ Debby Herbenick, Michael Reece, Stephanie Sanders, Brian Dodge, Annahita Ghassemi, J. Dennis Fortenberry, Prevalence and Characteristics of Vibrator Use by Women in the United States: Results from a Nationally Representative Study. The Journal of Sexual Medicine 6(7):1857–1866.
  13. ^ "Female Orgasm". Archived from the original on 2011-01-24. Retrieved 2010-11-24. 
  14. ^ "Can't Have an Orgasm with Intercourse". Archived from the original on 2011-01-24. Retrieved 2010-11-24. 
  15. ^ Trout, Christopher (28 August 2014). "The 46-year-old sex toy Hitachi won't talk about". Engadget. Archived from the original on 27 August 2014. Retrieved 30 August 2014. 
  16. ^ Stuart, Laura Anne (19 April 2013). "The Rebirth of the Magic Wand". Express Milwaukee. Archived from the original on 23 April 2013. Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  17. ^ "The Mr Big vibrator". Marie Claire. 2008-05-13. Archived from the original on 2011-01-24. Retrieved 2010-05-15. 
  18. ^ Jane Fae Ozimek (November 23, 2011). "Erotica 2011 stands firm against rise of the sex machines". The Register. 
  19. ^ a b Archived 24 January 2011 at WebCite
  20. ^ Sethi, Atul (2008-11-26). "Palika a haven for adult toys". Times of India (Times Group). Archived from the original on 2011-01-24. Retrieved 2008-10-06. 
  21. ^ "Lingere Store Accused of Violating State Obscenity Laws". Archived from the original on 2011-01-24. Retrieved 2007-09-28. 
  22. ^ Rawls, Phillip. Court leaves Ala. sex toy ban intact, USA Today, Oct 1, 2007 Archived 24 January 2011 at WebCite
  23. ^ a b c d Appel, Jacob Alabama's Bad Vibrations, Sept 25, 2009 Archived 24 January 2011 at WebCite
  24. ^ "Appeals court overturns Texas ban on sex toys". Archived from the original on 2011-01-24. Retrieved 2008-02-14. 
  25. ^ Caulfield, Philip (2011-02-09). "'Extreme Couponing' gone too far? Expert offers tips on how to save big without obsessing". Daily News (New York). 

External links[edit]

Media related to Vibrator (sex toy) at Wikimedia Commons