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Good Vibrations' Antique Vibrator Collection Featured in Upcoming Hollywood Film "Hysteria"
Pioneering Sex Toy Retailers' Collection Reveals that Vibrators are Nothing New
San Francisco, CA -- (August 18th, 2011): That fancy new vibrator you’ve been eyeing is not so different from one that your grandmother, or great-grandmother, would have enjoyed. Contrary to popular belief, the electric vibrator is not a modern invention, and Good Vibrations, the legendary San Francisco-based company that takes pride in providing accurate information on sexuality and toys for grown-ups, shares an impressive collection of antique vibrators in its five retail stores in California and Massachusetts. The history of vibrators will get a popular culture boost with the anticipated release of “Hysteria”, a major Hollywood film starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Rupert Everett in a Victorian-era romantic comedy set around the creation of the vibrator. Several vibrators from the Good Vibrations Antique Vibrator Museum will be featured in the film, which premieres at the Toronto Film Festival September 15th.
Good Vibrations Antique Vibrator Museum
The electric vibrator had its inception in 1869 with the invention of a steam-powered massager, patented by an American doctor. This device was designed as a medical tool for treating "female disorders." Within 20 years a British doctor followed up with a more portable battery-operated model; by 1900, dozens of styles of electric vibrators, just like those in our exhibit, were available to the discriminating medical professional. Good Vibrations' founder, Joani Blank, collected antique vibrators for over 20 years. The largest collection of her treasures is now displayed at the Good Vibrations Polk Street store, with smaller collections in other San Francisco, Berkeley, and Brookline stores and images online. The vibes in that collection date from the late 1800s up through the 1970s.
Physicians employed vibrating devices in the treatment of "hysteria," which they viewed as the most common health complaint among women of the day. Hysteria was a medical term developed to describe a woman's display of mental or emotional distress, behavior then considered a disease in need of treatment. Though the existence of hysteria as a disease was debunked by the American Psychiatric Association in 1952, medical experts from the time of Hippocrates up to the 20th century believed that hysteria expressed the womb's revolt against sexual deprivation. Genital massage was a standard treatment for hysteria; its objective was to induce "hysterical paroxysm" (better known as orgasm) in the patient. Such treatment demanded both manual dexterity and a fair amount of time, so turn-of-the-century physicians were delighted with the efficiency, convenience and reliability of portable vibrators. In light of hysteria's historical legacy, we can see that classifying hysteria as a disease was a refusal to acknowledge female sexuality as a human trait on par with male sexual functioning, as well as a refusal to recognize orgasm as a normal function of female sexuality.
Health, Vigor and Beauty
The vibrator was later marketed as a home appliance in women's magazines and mail order catalogs. Ads proffering "health, vigor and beauty" promoted the vibrator as a health aid. By the 1920s, doctors had abandoned hands-on physical treatments for hysteria in favor of psychotherapeutic techniques. But vibrators continued to have an active commercial life in which they were marketed (much like snake oil) as cure-alls for ills ranging from headaches and asthma to "fading beauty" and even tuberculosis!
The ad copy for these vibrators was coy and ambiguous. "Be a glow getter," one package insert suggests. And who wouldn't be tempted to experience "that delicious, thrilling health-restoring sensation called vibration," when assured that "it makes you fairly tingle with the joy of living"? The vibrator's usefulness for masturbation was never acknowledged; however, as vibrators began appearing in stag films of the 1920s, it became difficult to ignore their sexual function. Probably as a result, advertisements for vibrators gradually disappeared from respectable publications.
A Superior Sex Toy
To this day, electric vibrators are marketed solely as massagers -- and battery vibes as novelties -- while manufacturers steadfastly ignore their sexual benefits. vibrators are now a big business; they are sold through drug stores, department stores and even the Sears catalog! The staff at Good Vibrations dream of the day when all vibrators are proudly promoted as the superior sex toys they are. After all, as a vintage advertisement claims, "almost like a miracle is the miraculous healing force of massage when rightly applied."
About Good Vibrations
Good Vibrations is the premier retailer trusted since 1977 to provide high quality products, education, and information that promotes sexual health, pleasure, and empowerment. We invented the concept of the clean, well-lighted vibrator store and we're proud to provide a safe and welcoming environment where customers can shop for sex toys, books, movies, and attend workshops.