We can learn things from the 17th century

I was amused overall by this timeline of hysteria and sex toys, but I have to say that the 17th century entries were my favorite. So informative!

Nathaniel Highmore, an English surgeon who was one of the few doctors to publicly acknowledge that the end result of pelvic massage—the “hysterical paroxysm”—could also be described as an “orgasm,” noted that it was no easy task. He likened it to “that game of boys in which they try to rub their stomachs with one hand and pat their heads with the other.”

I’m going to have to play that game more. For practice. I’m confused though — I’m supposed to give her an orgasm by rubbing my stomach and patting my head, or hers? Or some other combination of the two motions? I suppose that trying all the permutations could be fun.

English physician Thomas Sydenham estimated that hysteria was the most common disease after fever, accounting for a sixth of all human maladies. Among women, he wrote, “there is rarely one who is wholly free from them.”

Oh, my. The poor dears. We must do whatever we can to save them!


  1. anuran says

    Funny how the Ancient and Medieval sources were pretty clear about the condition and treatment. Momma isn’t happy because Daddy isn’t ringing the bell and checking the oil. But when medical handjobs became a moneymaker it got so much more mysterious and complicated

  2. Amphiox says

    the “douche”—a spray of water directed at the pelvic area—as a treatment that, according to one writer in 1851, seemed to especially “commend itself to the ladies.” Another claimed, in 1909, that there was no better weapon in fighting hysteria and said its effects were “impossible to describe; experienced, it is never forgotten.”

    Behold rajkumar’s god!

  3. Randomfactor says

    Saw the movie last weekend; it’s been finally “generally” released. Which means a half-dozen theaters in the Los Angeles area.

    My review: decent and entertaining, but could’ve been much better (generally Greta Christina from this site was correct in her assessment.)

  4. Simon Hayward says

    Glad they finally released it here, it has been on my Netflix list for more than 6 months. The trailers looked like it would be amusing. Not sure it will make general release in Nashville!

  5. says

    The early powered vibrators are pretty scary.

    During the repressed Victorian era, hysteria reached its apex. It was joined by chlorosis or “green sickness” (which would probably be called anemia or anorexia today) and neurasthen[s]ia—a new disease believed to brought about by the stress of modern life—to make a triad of women’s ailments known as “hysteroneurasthenic disorders.”

    I’ve just started reading about the history of neurasthenia. It’s fascinating.

  6. joed says

    Well, as Zippy the Pinhead said 12 years ago ,
    “I miss th’ 19th Century.”

  7. davidnangle says

    Salty Current @ #10, “The early powered vibrators are pretty scary.”

    I’m picturing a steampunk pr0n now, with a jerry-rigged American 4-4-0 at one end, and a prim, petticoated damsel at the other… Teams of uniformed, handlebar mustachioed inspectors general watching in consternation…

  8. says

    For centuries, galloping on horseback, riding in carriages, or vigorous use of a rocking chair had been recommended to treat hysteria. In the Victorian era, these methods entered the home—with a variety of jolting chairs, electric rockers, and saddle machines to choose from.

    Gah! Those sound terrible!

  9. Old At Heart says

    @13: I think you mean awesome! Who wouldn’t want a mechanical bull ride? Isn’t that what an electric saddle machine is? The bar room would be, at least, 2x cooler. We’ve only got a dartboard right now.

    Tacky, I guess, but maybe if it were of a nice black lacquered leather instead of the plain tanned look, it could be a bit more… aesthetically pleasing.

    …I actually think more terrifying in that quotation was “vigorous use of a rocking chair” as a cure for being horny. I can just imagine some prim victorian lass in twelve dresses and petticoats and corsets piled on, with a giant hat, sitting intensely in an old rickety chair, rolling it back and forth fiercely with a determined and distant glare.

  10. doubtingt says

    davidnangle #12 apparently didn’t go to the right university. Check the Engineer’s Song at www3.telus.net/PenguinsRFC/Songs.htm for a detailed description of a steam-operated vibrator and its consequences

  11. davidmc says

    Alabama’s supreme court…..”a bona fide medical, scientific, educational, legislative, judicial or law enforcement purpose,”
    Law enforcement purposes? Not sure i would like to hear the phrase “Spread ’em”. Not without dinner first, at least. Still, i suppose its nicer than a taser

  12. Stacy says

    “Very useful and satisfactory for home service.” –from the 1918 ad for a portable vibrator.

  13. Happiestsadist says

    The movie was definitely fun, I saw it when it premiered at TIFF.

    I just feel for the ladies who have such pelvic issues that are actually exacerbated by arousal and orgasm. Not that, uh, that’s been my life for years now. Mostly, I’ve taken the stance that if I’m going to be in bed in pain more or less no matter what I do or don’t do, I might as well earn it, and enjoy being doubled over with some afterglow. At least the last surgery took care of the occasional truly alarming physical manifestations.

    A lot of the old-school vibrators look like steampunk Hitachi wands.

  14. Agent Silversmith, Feathered Patella Association says

    I guess now we know Rajkumar’s god is orgasms.

    Perhaps. I never liked what he disseminated.

  15. timmyson says

    Oh, I just figured it out! Like the boys, the doctor is rubbing the woman’s clitoris in circles with one hand, and penetrating her with the other, and needs to maintain a basically steady rate of both for her to get off.

  16. jayarrrr says

    I couldn’t say where she’s coming from,
    But I just met a lady named Dinah-Moe Humm

    She stroll on over, say look here, bum,
    I got a forty dollar bill say you can’t make me cum
    (y’jes can’t do it)

    She made a bet with her sister who’s a little dumb
    She could prove it any time all men was scum

    I don’t mind that she called me a bum,
    But I knew right away she was really gonna cum
    (so I got down to it)

    I whipped off her bloomers ‘n stiffened my thumb
    An applied rotation on her sugar plum

    I poked ‘n stroked till my wrist got numb
    But I still didn’t hear no Dinah-Moe Humm,
    Dinah-Moe Humm

    Never realized Frank wrote a song about a Victorian doctor…

  17. spamamander, hellmart survivor says

    Just glad I’m not the only one who’s thoughts turned to the Sybian.

    Playing Lineage 2 I named my wyvern Sybian, because you mounted it and rode it… was amusing to see who all got the reference.

  18. Aliasalpha says

    The law includes an exception for vibrators bought for “a bona fide medical, scientific, educational, legislative, judicial or law enforcement purpose,”

    Err law enforcement? What, do they have domme cops who won’t let you cum until you confess?

    If I ever go to america, I know where I plan to get arrested…

  19. DLC says

    Of course, after the Spanish Inquisition put you in the comfy chair and supply you with soft pillows, they then produce a couple vibrators and some KY jelly. Confess! :whirr:

  20. musicalatheist says

    I guess the douche was especially popular because it’s one specifically aimed at the clit. I’m glad the doctors weren’t completely focused on vaginal orgasms.

  21. eclectabotanics says

    I learned plenty from the Hite report – bath faucets, dildos, vibrators, plain old taco handshake. It was like a user’s manual for the lady bits.

  22. julietdefarge says

    I used to hear women described as “hysterical” fairly frequently, but the term seems to be dying out in popular usage. I don’t think this reflects any reduction in male chauvinism, just the result of an educational system that avoids big words.

  23. gravityisjustatheory says

    I wonder…

    Was this condition (and cure) just an excuse for sleazy doctors to grope their patients?

    Or a way to enable women who didn’t have a good sex-life at home to “legitimately” get some pleasure elsewhere?

    Or a genuine (but mistaken) attempt to diagnose and treat genuine problems?

    (Or: all of the above?)