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For centuries, women diagnosed with "hysteria"--a "disease paradigm," in Rachel P. Maines's felicitous phrase, thought to result from a lack of sexual intercourse or gratification--were treated by massaging their genitals in order to induce "paroxysm." Male physicians, however, considered the practice drudgery, and sought various ways of avoiding the task, often foisting it off on midwives or, starting in the late 19th century, employing mechanical devices. Eventually, these devices became available for purchase and home use; one such "portable vibrator" is advertised in the 1918 Sears, Roebuck catalog as an "aid that every woman appreciates." The Technology of Orgasm is an impeccably researched history that combines a discussion of hysteria in the Western medical tradition with a detailed examination (including several illustrations) of the devices used to "treat" the "condition." (Maines is somewhat dismissive of the contemporary, phallus-shaped models, which she describes as "underpowered battery-operated toys," insisting that "it is the AC-powered vibrator with at least one working surface at a right angle to the handle that is best designed for application to the clitoral area.") Don't expect any cheap thrills, though; the titillation Maines offers is strictly intellectual. --Ron Hogan
It will surprise most readers to learn that the vibrator was invented in the late 1880s as a time-saving device for physicians, who had been treating women's "hysteria" for years with clitoral massage. Denying the sexual nature of the treatments, doctors instead saw the technique as a burdensome chore and welcomed electric devices that would shorten patients' visits. Maines, an independent scholar in the history of technology, presents a straightforward account of the mechanism from its beginning through the 1920s, when it came into disrepute as a medical instrument. Going far beyond a mere summary of therapeutic advances, however, she wryly chronicles the attitude toward women's sexuality in the medical and psychological professions and shows, with searing insight, how some ancient biases are still prevalent in our society. Maines's writing is lively and entertaining, and her research is exhaustive, drawing on texts from Hippocrates to the present day. Proving her point about how women's sexuality is still perceived as an unapproachable subject in some quarters, Maines describes her travails in vibrator historiography, including the loss of her teaching position at Clarkson University. A pioneering and important book, this window into social and technological history also provides a marvelously clear view of contemporary ideas about women's sexuality.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
This book is utterly fascinating! Written by a woman who's really done her homework on the subject, The Technology of Orgasm proves to be a captivating historical account of the... Read morePublished on Sept. 24 2002
If everyone over the age of 12 read this book, along with "Are we Having Fun Yet: The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Sex," the world would be an eminently more exciting,... Read morePublished on Aug. 31 2001
This is extremely interesting read, often quite hillarious and hard to beleive (or maybe not - not the first and not the last time that medical profession overlooks the obvious and... Read morePublished on June 18 2001 by Alek0
Anyone who reads social histories, biographies of Victorian women or historical fiction must eventually ask this question, "What the heck is neurasthenia and how come nobody... Read morePublished on Nov. 8 2000 by Joan Jacobson
This book is indeed a hoot. The idea that early 20th century medical doctors could not tell that they were stimulating their patients to orgasm is astonishing, until the reader... Read morePublished on March 28 2000
In this enjoyable book, only one major qualm. The consistent reference to 'androcentric' paradigm of sexuality - as where sex consists of penetration to male orgasm. Read morePublished on March 23 2000 by Stephen B.
There was an irony and sadness to the truth that in the face of immense male denial of women's actual sexual physical workings in intimate relationships and in male psychological... Read morePublished on Dec 16 1999
For her pains (the book took 20 years to research and write), according to Wired magazine, the author was apparently promptly sacked from the faculty of Clarkson U on... Read morePublished on Aug. 16 1999
Who knew that the history of vibrators was so clinically delicious? If you're looking for an offbeat take on human sexuality, this is your book.Published on April 11 1999