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The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction [Hardcover]

Ms. Rachel P. Maines
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 18 1998 0801859417 978-0801859410

From the time of Hippocrates until the 1920s, massaging female patients to orgasm was a staple of medical practice among Western physicians in the treatment of "hysteria," an ailment once considered both common and chronic in women. Doctors loathed this time-consuming procedure and for centuries relied on midwives. Later, they substituted the efficiency of mechanical devices, including the electric vibrator, invented in the 1880s. In The Technology of Orgasm, Rachel Maines offers readers a stimulating, surprising, and often humorous account of hysteria and its treatment throughout the ages, focusing on the development, use, and fall into disrepute of the vibrator as a legitimate medical device.

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From Amazon

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

From Publishers Weekly

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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
In 1653 Pieter van Foreest, called Alemarianus Petrus Forestus, published a medical compendium titled Observationem et Carationem Medicinalium ac Chirurgicarum opera Omnia, with chapter on the diseases of women. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars hysteric paroxysm Aug. 1 2002
for centuries, troubled -- or troubling -- women were diagnosed with "hysteria." the classic treatment for this vague malady was inducement of the "hysteric paroxysm" -- known to us contemporary types as the orgasm. according to rachel maines's wryly hilarious history, the first mechanical vibrators were labor-saving devices for doctors tired of inducing orgasm in their patients manually. who knew? this book is clearly her dissertation & primarily intended for academics, but i found it mind-blowing & frequently quite amusing. i frequently recommend it to friends & colleagues looking for a quick, smart, engaging read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant! Sept. 25 2002
By A Customer
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 evolution of society's perceptions of women's sexuality. It's a must-read for a woman who's confident in her sexuality, or would like to become more so.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Not too bad May 31 2002
Firstly let me say I enjoyed and recommend this book, yet
have taken issue with some of the opinions expressed as if
they are fact.
Well I guess that is the way people write, but take for example, on page 5 of this book the author writes: "The
androcentric definition of sex as an activity recognizes
three essential steps: preparation for penetration
("foreplay"), penetration, and male orgasism."
That is not an androcentric definition of sex,
that is the procreational definition of sex. I do wish
historians could lay off the conspiracy theory, as
there is too much of it running like a theoretical flaw
throughout this book. In an age where effective
contraception is routine, many men and women blithely and
conveniently forgetting the historical roots of intercourse.
It is like people in the city do occasionally naively forget where bottled milk comes from.
The passage continues
"Sexual activity that does not involve at least the last two
has not been popularly or medically (and for that matter
legally) regarded as "the real thing."
There is the rub. Of course it is not regarded as the real
thing, as without it there is no chance of procreation. Surprise
surprise, sex is actually in reality about procreation in
the final analysis. Otherwise it becomes a mere example of
persistent human sensual trivia in the grand scheme of
things, and is moving away from actual sex into merely 'having orgasisms' --- which is a different thing.
But instead the survival of human race actually depends on
the 'real thing' and that is for better or worse the reality of it.
Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars Getting There At Last Aug. 31 2001
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, passionate place for both sexes (including men who have previously have had unresponsive partners).
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By Alek0
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 displays extreme ignorance on human, especially female, body). However, I didn't like author's attitude that a woman cannot have an orgasm without clitoral stimulation. This may, unfortunately, be true for some women, but my own experience tells me that this is not entirely true, and that there are many ways to achieve orgasms, and none of them should be considered inferior to other ways.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Social history buffs MUST read Nov. 9 2000
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 ever gets it anymore?" The plague of wealthy Victorian women simply disappeared without a trace in the 1920s. Why? Finally -- here's your answer.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A frustrating and yet hilarious read March 28 2000
By A Customer
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 progresses through more of the book. The book is not about conception--it's about female orgasm, which is not directly related to conception (and can be easily achieved with no penetration at all). The androcentric bias the author mentions pertains, for example, to the writers of sex manuals in past decades who counseled men not to bother bringing their partners to orgasm, and counseled women not to demand orgasm, because concentrating on "her pleasure" (as the condom boxes say) can be distracting for the male partner. THAT advice is androcentric, and a major point of this book.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I got off (so to speak) on this book.
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 more
Published on March 23 2000 by Stephen B.
5.0 out of 5 stars How female bodies really work, and its just fine!
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 more
Published on Dec 16 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars It's a pity this book got the author sacked :(
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 more
Published on Aug. 16 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Vibrations: The Doctor Is In.
* *
The dustjacket of Rachel P. Maines's new book, THE TECHNOLOGY OF ORGASM: "HYSTERIA", THE VIBRATOR & SEXUAL SATISFACTION, reads as follows:
-*-*- From... Read more
Published on June 2 1999 by
5.0 out of 5 stars Meticulous scholarship, truly hysterical findings.
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 12 1999
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and fun read
I liked this book because it tells about all the weird superstitions and ideas people used to have about women's sexuality and the lengths to which women had to go to have an... Read more
Published on March 3 1999
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