An advertisement in Good Health Publishing magazine for a “centrifugal vibrator” and a vibrating chair in 1909

SYRACUSE, NY – Ladies, we’ve come a long way, pun intended.

The current Syracuse Stage play “In the next room” was inspired by a history book by Dr. Rachel P. Maines, Visiting Scientist at Cornell University.

His book, “Orgasm Technology,” was used as a textbook at 200 colleges and universities across the country, and has been adapted into two films. The fictional version “Hysteria” (2011) stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and the documentary “Passion and Power: The Technology of Orgasm” premiered in 2007.

Maines’ book examines the medical condition “hysteria” and various methods of treatment prescribed by physicians over the centuries. Hysteria was a catch-all misdiagnosis attributed to the normal functioning of female sexuality.

The long list of hysteria “symptoms” included insomnia, nervousness, nagging, sexual fantasies, and vaginal lubrication.

The treatment? Enter: The modern vibrator (ish).

Good vibes

Maines first encountered the subject of early female sexuality as a lover of needlework. Browsing through women’s sewing magazines from 1900 to 1910, she found advertisements for vibrators, which hit the markets (for those who could afford them) in 1899.

Maines thought, “It’s too soon … or we had our priorities,” since the contemporaries of the vibrator were the electric iron and the vacuum cleaner.

In his research, Maines discovered steam vibrators in the 19th century (“They were clumsy”) and wind-up vibrators (“You should stop them and rewind them”).

“It lends itself to the term ‘cash cow’,” Maines said. “In demand-pull innovation, people think, ‘If only I could blah-blah-blah …’ Turns out there is a very high demand for orgasm.”

Maines will speak at 1 pm today before the 2 pm performance of “In the Next Room”. His talk will unpack hysteria and its treatment through the ages, focusing on the development, use and discredit of the vibrator as a legitimate medical device.

Other methods of treating hysteria included hydrotherapy and manual massage.

“Female sexuality is not like male sexuality, but women my age have learned that only penetration can bring you to orgasm,” Maines said. “80% of us do not and cannot reach orgasm this way.”

“The excitator” by Tripier, 1883.

Frankly, it was easier for doctors to tell women that 20% of them were normal and 80% were abnormal, Maines said.

“It should have been the other way around.”

At first, Maines’ research into female sexuality, hysteria, and vibrator technology was considered controversial, until his book won awards and broad academic approval. It is now published in five different languages.

“If you can’t have a bunch of undergraduates talking about my book, you shouldn’t be teaching,” Maines said. “If you can make them laugh, you can make them learn.”

Lecture by Dr Rachel Maines at Syracuse Stadium

Or:

Sutton Pavilion of the Syracuse Stage, 820 East Genesee St.

When:

Wednesday February 4 at 1 p.m. before the morning of 2 p.m.

Tickets:

The conference is free. Purchase tickets for the shows on Wednesday, February 4 (2 p.m. or 7:30 p.m.) by calling 315-443-3275.

Contact Katrina Tulloch anytime: Email | Twitter | Google+





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