Are you hysterical?

When were you last really hysterical?

We take this of course to mean we were either emotionally overwrought, or more likely, ridiculously out of control with laughter!

For most of the last 2500 years however, hysteria” was understood to be a serious medical condition affecting many women. Mainly rich women it seems.

The 2011 romantic comedy “The History of Hysteria,” reminds us about this colourful bit of medical history. The term was used to describe almost any feminine condition or behavior that seemed weak or confusing (to men at least). And the formal, serious and determined “medical” treatment was (naturally) for the doctor to patiently stimulate his patient “until they experienced “hysterical paroxysm” (orgasm).  The healing touch indeed!

In this award winning movie, the serious doctor  protests, “It has nothing to do with pleasure!; it has to do with helping these suffering women find relief! Plato described this “disease” at some  length, as did the second century physician Galen. If the Hippocratic Oath (5th Century B.C.) was for the doctor to “do no harm,”  then I suppose these earnest physicians over the centuries could argue that while the procedure was often back-breaking and onerous, and though their patients often swooned and almost fainted, their pain in the paroxysms seems bearable, and some sort of relief did in fact seem to take place. No harm done.

Film reviewer Melissa Silverstein writes that “This was really one of the most heartfelt, feminist and funny films I saw at the (Toronto Film) festival.”

A bit of context…

A physician in 1859 claimed that a quarter of all women suffered from hysteria. One physician cataloged 75 pages of possible symptoms of hysteria and called the list incomplete; any ailment could fit the diagnosis. Physicians thought that the stresses associated with modern life caused civilized women to be both more susceptible to nervous disorders and to develop faulty reproductive tracts. In America, such disorders in women reaffirmed that the United States was on par with Europe; one American physician expressed pleasure that the country was ”catching up” to Europe in the prevalence of hysteria.

Rachel P. Maines has observed that such cases were quite profitable for physicians, since the patients were at no risk of death, but needed constant treatment. The only problem was that physicians did not enjoy the tedious task of vaginal massage (generally referred to as ‘pelvic massage’): The technique was difficult for a physician to master and could take hours to achieve “hysterical paroxysm.” Referral to midwives, which had been common practice, meant a loss of business for the physician. The Chaise Longue and Fainting couch became popular home furniture to make women more comfortable during home treatment. Fainting rooms were also used for more privacy during home treatment.

A solution was the invention of massage devices, which shortened treatment from hours to minutes, removing the need for midwives and increasing a physician’s treatment capacity. Already at the beginning of the 19th century, hydrotherapy devices were available at Bath, and by the mid-19th century, they were popular at many high-profile bathing resorts across Europe and in America. By 1870, a clockwork-driven vibrator was available for physicians. In 1873, the first electromechanical vibrator was used at an asylum in France for the treatment of hysteria.  – From Wikipedia Link to “Female Hysteria.”

Well. There you have it. Voila, the vibrator!

Technology inching forward. And now… 45-55% of women report that they have one of these helpful little medical devices in a drawer, or under a bed, somewhere at home. (See our post “Dial M for…”)

So… did the invention of the electric motor, the very non-personal vibrator, but then the personal vibrator… aid in helping to end a bit of medical and sociological pathologizing of female sexuality?

It is interesting, that for many ailments, a matter-of-fact and successfully robust orgasm was thought to set things straight!  Good for what ails you?

Also, the life expectancy for women around the year 1900 was just 40 years of age. By the year 2000, it was a touch over 80 years of age. The fact of the matter is, we do have a bit more time on our hands…

Hey! This is pretty personal stuff! But… if you had the game, you could get into some of this risque discussion with the one you love!

A personal vibrator...

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