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Unbalanced Drive Shaft

Article #203 • Written by Jason Bellows

Vibrator ad
Vibrator ad

They’re really just a simple casing with an unbalanced drive shaft and a motor, but for such an unassuming device, the vibrator has some tremendous taboos associated with it. Most of these prejudices hinge on packaging and purpose-- the vibrator in a pager is the same basic device as its stimulating and lurid cousin, but suffers no stigma. But perhaps our society has its taboos misplaced-- after all, the pager uses its mechanical oscillations for the questionable purpose of distracting drivers on high-speed motorways, whereas the “vibrator” was originally designed for a noble medical purpose: the treatment of hysteria.

Hysteria is a term that was first coined by Hippocrates and described a medical condition peculiar to women; he considered it to be a symptom of irregular blood-movement from the uterus to the brain. The idea lasted through most of history, and in 1653 appears the first text that shows that the doctors of the era were using clitoral stimulation as a remedy for the nebulous ailment. Because of the limited technology of the time, this therapy had to be conducted by hand ... er, uh ... manually ... A-HEM! ... you get the point ... anyway, this could be quite tiring for the doctors and midwives. The goal of treatment was for the patient to reach “paroxysm” which could take up to an hour to attain, but once reached would/should/could relieve hysterical symptoms for a while.

Paroxysm: noun 1) a fit, attack, or sudden increase or recurrence of symptoms (as of a disease) : CONVULSION e.g. a paroxysm of coughing 2) a sudden violent emotion or action : OUTBURST e.g. a paroxysm of rage.

Hey, I didn’t know either.

When a treatment takes an hour of manual stimulation, of course doctors are going to try to find a gadget or device to make things easier. The 1800s ushered in an era of experimentation, with physicians using contraptions made from rocking chairs and swings and such to spare them the physical effort. But these met with limited success until the last third of the century. In 1870 a wind-up device with an unbalanced drive shaft came available, however, it had the tendency to “run down” before the treatment was complete, and lead to frenetic winding. A couple years after that a steam powered version was patented, but came with a warning that the procedure should still be observed by a medical practitioner lest “over-stimulation” occur. (Where are all these quotation marks coming from?) And only a few short years after that an electro-mechanical model became available. By the turn of that century medical articles and textbooks on “vibratory massage technique” praised the machines for treating all sorts of problems in either sex, and saving physicians untold time and labor! With the help of these unbalanced drive shafts one could “get there” in ten minutes rather than the possible hour. They proved to be a great time saver, but the downside of these contraptions was that they were room-sized, bulky apparatuses not meant to venture from a doctor’s office and watchful eye. Usually the motor stood the size of a modern industrial mixer and was affixed with an array of menacing wires and belts, and were bolted to the floor next to a bench–a cushioned bench if you were lucky.

Finally, in 1905, the first portable model was made available. For a brief time the medical industry maintained a shaky monopoly on the gadgets, but inevitably they lost control. Soon enough these devices were being sold to the public at large! Usually they appeared in housekeeping, sewing, and ladies' journals with innocuous pictures of an old woman mechanically massaging her temples with a statement akin to: “all the pleasures of youth will throb within you.” Heck, in 1918 Sears & Roebuck got in on the action; they took a fairly common household motor that affixed to attachments that helped churn, mix, buff, and fan, and included a vibrating attachment too.

In the 1920s the medical profession realized that they weren’t really helping hysteria with their treatments, and divorced themselves from the vibrator to seek a more meaningful relationship with prescription drugs... and with that a medical treatment that had been around almost 300 years dipped into obscurity. It wouldn’t be until the 1960s that once-medical implement would reemerge, this time marketed as a sex-aid.

It’s hard to imagine the hot-pink, plastic gizmos that stare at me from the pages of discount catalogs hail such a noble history as a tool of medicine that assuaged so many cases of hysteria through the centuries. Maybe it’s just another example of our fast-food society taking a good thing and smutting it up for fun.

Article written by Jason Bellows, published on 14 July 2006. Jason is a contributing editor for DamnInteresting.com.

Article design by Alan Bellows. Edited by Alan Bellows.
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30 Comments
scottmcl
Posted 14 July 2006 at 10:13 pm

Lol, alot of back and body "massagers" are just vibrators wth a different name. Otherwise sears and walmart can't sell them.

Btw. I am not talking about

http://www.sears.ca/gp/product/B000FK48HG/ [edited]
http://www.sears.ca/gp/product/B000GIQJRO/ [edited]
http://www.walmart.com/catalog/product.do?product_id=4100503


joshuats
Posted 14 July 2006 at 10:16 pm

It's hard to believe that Doctors had been 'manualy' treating women this way for over 300 years! Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.


ballaerina
Posted 14 July 2006 at 10:22 pm

It's about time ya'll did an article related to sex. Woo hoo.


mercuryswitch
Posted 14 July 2006 at 11:29 pm

scottmcl - You broke the website, I'm telling!


Drakvil
Posted 15 July 2006 at 12:00 am

This would be about the time someone spoke up and volunteered to handle the treatment for 1/10th the price of having a doctor do it,
thus relieving the doctor himself of the onerous task and freeing him to diagnose other patients. Just one of the many services we provide,
with a personal touch.

Where'd the word wrap in my browser go? This page for some reason extends past the edges of my screen.


Crispy
Posted 15 July 2006 at 12:56 am

I don't know why the doctors felt the need to abandon the treatment... it certainly makes me feel better!!!

Drakvil - scottmcl posted some reallllly long links that are longer than the normal width of the page, forcing it outwards and thus causing it to scroll... bad boy. :-) And bad Sears, for having ridiculous long URLs. Seriously, websites that have URLs longer than 100 characters are annoying. I wish they wouldn't do it; lots of big corporations' website suffer from this ailment, and it's really not hard at all to fix! Seriously, WTF were they thinking? Grrrrr!

Gee, now that's got me all worked up. Time for a paroxysm.


another viewpoint
Posted 15 July 2006 at 05:20 am

"Most of these prejudices hinge on packaging and purpose– the vibrator in a pager is the same basic device as its stimulating and lurid cousin,
but suffers no stigma."

...reminds me of a scene in the Norton/Stiller movie Keeping the Faith where Jenna Elfmann straps a cell phone to her thigh and sets it on
vibrate mode. Stiller calls her several times to give her a buzz. Naturally, she's interrupted during the buzz session.

...and nowadays, using the same technology...the doctor could prescribe two calls per hour and contact him in the morning.


Marius
Posted 15 July 2006 at 05:36 am

Wow, that's really bizarre. I would imagine that lots of women had frequent 'relapses' requiring many treatments. I was in a popular mall gift store that sells such items the other day and I was wondering just how someone figured out that a vibrating machine could cause a paroxysm, and now I know.


joe_schmoe
Posted 15 July 2006 at 06:09 am

You could shorten the first sears link down to: http://www.sears.ca/gp/product/B000FK48HG/

Second would be: http://www.sears.ca/gp/product/B000GIQJRO/


space-monkey
Posted 15 July 2006 at 10:20 am

I've heard about this before, its all to do with the belief that women didn't, weren't supposed to enjoy sex or have an orgasm. So all these husbands would please themselves and leave their wives wanting. Man, if my wife had to go to some other man to get off, I'd be pissed


Drakvil
Posted 15 July 2006 at 10:51 am

I'll apologize beforehand for the unavoidable pun: Sorry guys, I know it's there but it couldn't be helped.

Jason: Bravo for the stimulating article - not only is it Damn Interesting, it's also a topic that most other sites would either avoid or attach lengthy video to for a fee. The historical aspects give this story life.


Marisa Brook
Posted 15 July 2006 at 03:12 pm

* laughs * That was great. Don't know how I missed this one before!


Byrden
Posted 15 July 2006 at 10:38 pm

Here's an interesting note on Western society's attitude towards this device: go here,

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/7.01/vibrators_pr.html

search for 'euphemisms' and read the following paragraph.


Kayaker
Posted 16 July 2006 at 12:35 pm

For those interested in satisfying your curiosity on this topic this paperback edition is still available.

In 2001 Johns Hopkins University Press published a paperback edition of "The Technology of Orgasm:
"Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction" by Rachel P. Maines. 208 pages and 26 illustrations, ISBN 0-8018-6646-4, $17.95


cornerpocket
Posted 16 July 2006 at 07:59 pm

What an interesting history lesson. I wonder that Freud didn't comment or investigate the implications for his theories about hysteria having unconscious and primal foundation. Surely someone along the way had at least speculated that paroxysm was a sexual response? Like maybe a woman doctor or a nurse??


schuylercat
Posted 17 July 2006 at 06:04 am

Jason: That was a fun, very well done story - nicely presented and damned interesting stuff, even though it opens a can of historical worms for me.

My ex-wife was a self-labeled connoisseur of “unbalanced drive shafts,” lamenting frequently and loudly that her spouse (um ,uh, yeah…me) was “able to complete the job, but not like THAT thing!” She must have owned about 25 of the damned things – big fat pistol-shaped ones, some very scary-looking weenie shaped ones, shower attachments, little fingertip ones, and her personal favorite, the “Swedish” type that strapped to the back of the hand and was actually wonderfully useful for sore shoulders and such. That was my favorite, too. It was quiet and didn’t keep me up: vibrators are sometimes loud enough to wake the neighbors.

Years and many hours of therapy (takes a while to recover from the knowledge that one cannot “do ‘it’ like THAT thing, you see…) later I live in a home where the hideous little (maybe sometimes not-so-little) buzzing bastards are nowhere in evidence: thus far, I have not been pushed out by THAT thing. Sounds like I married the right woman.

TMI, I know, I know.

For my part I was aware of the history, but never took the time to research it. At my age and with my background, “hysteria” in the women I have been involved with is also called “peri-menopause.” It presents itself as a need to eschew all things sexual in nature, all the while sprouting wiry black hairs from places previously hairless, like ears and knees. Approach my ex-girlfriend with a buzzing, bouncing plastic weenie-looking thing and she’s liable to come after you with a pitchfork.

I shall now start googling “paroxysm” and “hysteria…”


Drakvil
Posted 17 July 2006 at 08:20 am

I have to wonder if this is the origin of the term "playing doctor". It certainly casts that phrase in a whole new light...


misplacedmodifier
Posted 17 July 2006 at 11:33 am

Good topic, but I enjoy this site more when the writing is less personal and more professional. I think you could lose the puns and tongue in cheek remarks, and the article would be the better for it. This overly-familiar tone takes away from an otherwise fascinating historic subject.


HarleyHetz
Posted 17 July 2006 at 11:51 am

misplacedmodifier said: "Good topic, but I enjoy this site more when the writing is less personal and more professional. I think you could lose the puns and tongue in cheek remarks, and the article would be the better for it. This overly-familiar tone takes away from an otherwise fascinating historic subject."

I disagree, I find the personal touch makes the article all the more real, Kudos for a job well done!


noway
Posted 17 July 2006 at 02:02 pm

misplacedmodifier said: "Good topic, but I enjoy this site more when the writing is less personal and more professional. I think you could lose the puns and tongue in cheek remarks, and the article would be the better for it. This overly-familiar tone takes away from an otherwise fascinating historic subject."

You could have just said, "Please make the article boring as hell to read.."


Drakvil
Posted 17 July 2006 at 02:23 pm

misplacedmodifier said: "Good topic, but I enjoy this site more when the writing is less personal and more professional. I think you could lose the puns and tongue in cheek remarks, and the article would be the better for it. This overly-familiar tone takes away from an otherwise fascinating historic subject."

Sorry to hear you feel that way... I thought the requirement for articles here is that the topic be Damn Interesting, not that they read like they were quoted from a textbook. Perspective is an important part of the reporting. I think most everyone here feels that way about it.


Bobt250
Posted 19 July 2006 at 07:36 am

The mere fact that women throughout history were deamed as having a problem with hysteria that needed treatment of any kind confirms my experience with women. They really ARE crazy.


needles
Posted 19 July 2006 at 01:05 pm

misplacedmodifier said: "Good topic, but I enjoy this site more when the writing is less personal and more professional. I think you could lose the puns and tongue in cheek remarks, and the article would be the better for it. This overly-familiar tone takes away from an otherwise fascinating historic subject."

What makes Damn Interesting MORE interesting is that the articles sound like they're coming from a real person.

Why would doctors WANT to stop that, er, method of treatment with a mechanical one. Actually I can answer that one. They probably had to "treat" someone like this: http://www.dwellunderground.com/random/ugly_lady.jpg


white_matter
Posted 26 July 2006 at 08:43 pm

Awesome. A steam powered, room size Dildo. Awesome.


callcenterrefugee
Posted 28 July 2006 at 02:36 am

Damn interesting, also had a strange vision of a steam powered ps2 controller lol

also (takin from sears)

ustomer Reviews
Write an online review and share your thoughts.
**Under 13? Use our kid's review form ** no.... just no


Spike
Posted 28 July 2006 at 07:04 pm

Bobt250 said: "The mere fact that women throughout history were deamed as having a problem with hysteria that needed treatment of any kind confirms my experience with women. They really ARE crazy."

It's not that they were truly hysterical, they were just anxious to go to the doctor for "treatment" since they probably weren't getting it at home. Who would have thought vibrators had such an interesting history? Oops, mabye I'm hysterical and need a treatment.....


Spike
Posted 28 July 2006 at 07:06 pm

misplacedmodifier said: "Good topic, but I enjoy this site more when the writing is less personal and more professional. I think you could lose the puns and tongue in cheek remarks, and the article would be the better for it. This overly-familiar tone takes away from an otherwise fascinating historic subject."

Lighten up. Go have some pie.


tarteauxpommes
Posted 21 June 2007 at 02:39 pm

Pie!! Yum.


Gerry Matlack
Posted 27 September 2007 at 11:53 pm

The more mainstream sites have started to pick up on the topic (with interesting pictures).
http://www.slate.com/id/2174905/


cathyjo72464
Posted 05 January 2009 at 06:29 am

Yesterday, January 4, 2009, a family friend of ours gave me one of these vibrators! It was found while cleaning out an old barn...in the original satin lined box, all parts in tact and in working condition! It cracked us all up! It even has the original book and guarantee with it and the Hamilton Beach name. Interested in purchasing such a relic? It's for sale!


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