What is Vibrators? Oxford language explanation for this is: a device used for massage or sexual stimulation.

Early development

The electric vibrator was invented in the late 19th century as a medical instrument for pain relief and the treatment of various ailments; one account gives its first use at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris in 1878, with Romain Vigouroux cited as the inventor. English physician and inventor Joseph Mortimer Granville, who also developed an early model, asserted his own priority in the invention and has been described as the ‘father of the modern electromechanical vibrator’. Mortimer Granville’s 1883 book Nerve-vibration and excitation as agents in the treatment of functional disorder and organic disease describes the intended use of his vibrator for purposes including pain relief and the treatment of neuralgia, neurasthenia, morbid irritability, indigestion and constipation. These early vibrators became popular among the medical profession and were used for treating a wide variety of ailments in women and men including hysteria, arthritis, constipation, amenorrhea, inflammations, and tumors; some wounded World War I soldiers received vibrotherapy as treatment at English and French hospitals in Serbia.

1913 advertisement

Vibrators began to be marketed for home use in magazines from around 1900 together with other electrical household goods, for their supposed health and beauty benefits. An early example was the ‘Vibratile,’ an advert which appeared in McClure’s magazine in March 1899, offered as a cure for ‘Neuralgia, Headache, Wrinkles’. These advertisements disappeared in the 1920s, possibly because of their appearance in pornography, and because growing understanding of female sexual function made it no longer tenable for mainstream society to avoid the sexual connotations of the devices.

Conjectured early use for female sexual stimulation

Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog, 1918

Historian of technology Rachel Maines, in her book The Technology of Orgasm, has argued that the development of the vibrator in the late 19th century was in large part due to the requirements of doctors for an easier way to perform genital massage on women, often to ‘hysterical paroxysm’ (orgasm), which was historically a treatment for the once common medical diagnosis of female hysteria. Maines writes that this treatment had been recommended since classical antiquity in Europe, including in the Hippocratic corpus and by Galen, and continued to be used into the medieval and modern periods, but was not seen as sexual by physicians due to the absence of penetration, and was viewed by them as a difficult and tedious task. Maines writes that the first use of the vibrator at the Salpêtrière was on hysterical women, but notes that Joseph Mortimer Granville denied that he had, or ever would have, used his invention for this purpose; additionally, Maines states that the true use of these medical vibrators, and the vibrators marketed for home use in the early 20th century, was not openly stated, but proceeded under ‘social camouflage’.One example of suggestive advertising given is a 1908 advert in National Home Journal for the Bebout hand-powered mechanical vibrator, containing the text “Gentle, soothing, invigorating and refreshing. Invented by a woman who knows a woman’s needs.”

Other historians disagree with Maines about the historical prevalence of genital massage as a treatment for female hysteria, and over the extent to which early vibrating massagers were used for this purpose. The idea that stimulation to orgasm was a standard treatment for female hysteria in ancient and medieval Europe has been disputed on the grounds of being a distortion of the sources, and cases of this treatment in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and of the use of early vibrators to perform it, have been described as a practice that, if it occurred at all, would have been confined to an extremely limited group. Maines has said her widely reported theory should be treated as a hypothesis rather than a fact. In 2018, Hallie Lieberman and Eric Schatzberg published a peer-reviewed article that found “no evidence” to support Maines’s claims in the book’s citations. They called the wide acceptance of Maines’s work “a fundamental failure of academic quality control”. In 2020, Lieberman continued to press her case in the New York Times.

1960s onwards

The vibrator re-emerged during 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”. 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.

As of 2013, rechargeable vibrators were beginning to be manufactured to reduce the environmental impact of battery-operated vibrators.

In 2017 Lynn Comella, associate professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies, noted that “sex toy packaging… has been replaced by softer and more sanitised imagery… it’s now possible to buy a vibrator at many neighbourhood Walgreens”. The UK pharmacy Boots followed the US pharmacy’s lead and since 2019 have been selling sex toys both online and in some stores.

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. A 2010 study in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that 43.8% of heterosexual males in the United States had used vibrators. 94% of these men had done so as part of foreplay with their partner, and 82% had done so as part of sexual intercourse. Among non-heterosexual men, 49.8% have used vibrators.