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As unbelievable as it may seem now, physicians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries often massaged the genitals of female patients to bring them to orgasm. Today they would be litigated out of their licenses, but at the time, this was a widely accepted practice for the treatment of "hysteria," nervous tension, and miscellaneous gynecological complaints. However, it was tedious for the doctors, who apparently had little or no sexual interest in their clients. The vibrator was invented as a labor-saving mechanical device that allowed doctors to quickly and efficiently bring patients to climax without tiring out their fingers.
Through the early part of the 20th century, vibrators were used by physicians to stimulate women's genitals, and were also used to stimulate men, either genitally or through rectal attachments. The practice lost favor with physicians, but vibrating devices continued to be sold to the public for their personal use, sexual or otherwise. In her history of vibrators, The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction, Rachel Maines refers to the sexual use of vibrators as being "camouflaged" by their purported health and therapeutic applications. Eventually the camouflage began to wear thin, and for a while vibrators became taboo. In time and with more relaxed attitudes toward sexuality prevailing, vibrators have come into their own as instruments of pure pleasure for both women and men.
The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction by Rachel P. Maines "Sex Toy History" by Michael Castleman "The Technology of Orgasm and the Vibrator" by Natalie Angier