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June 13, 2012 15:12      

permalink   Hysteria and Sex 

A new movie just came out and it's causing quite a buzz. HYSTERIA features some frustrated Victorian women.

Anytime you see "women" and "hysteria" in the same sentence, it has to be about sex. And when I talk about sex, I tend to be explicit, so consider yourself warned.

Back in the 1880s a London physician, Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville, invented the electric vibrator. Who knew? In Victorian England, it was okay for men to have orgasms, but women? Not so much.


In the 19th Century, scientists and doctors believed a woman's "affliction of the nervous system" stemmed from a disorder of the uterus, which they called "hysteria." So when people began to see upper-class women emerging from Dr. Granville's office flushed with excitement and joy, they started wondering what was going on in there.

Feeling frustrated? See Dr. Granville!


It seems that the good doctor was testing a new kind of treatment, applying his hand with a steady constant pressure to the women's, shall we say, afflicted regions. And those women loved it! That's the good news. The bad news: Dr. Granville wound up with severe hand cramps. Pretty soon he was unable to perform his, uh, duties.


Man, were his patients frustrated. But one day Doc Granville happened to visit his rich friend, Edmund St. John Smythe. Smythe was an inventor and his latest gadget was an electric feather duster. Now, I know what you're thinking, but calm down. Stop laughing.


When Dr. Granville tried out his friend's electric feather duster, he had a stroke of inspiration. If he made a few adjustments, he could use it to treat his female patients! No more hysteria and no more hand cramps for Dr. Granville. Needless to say, his new gadget, the electric vibrator, was an overnight sensation.

But what's a movie without romance? So in Hysteria, the good doctor fall for the daughter of one of his colleagues. Charlotte is a radical feminist, a suffragette before the votes-for-women movement began, a woman who believes in "free love." And Charlotte's no fool.

She knows exactly what's getting her father's [and Dr. Granville's] patients off. See the smile on her face? Do they live happily ever after? I haven't seen the movie, so don't know. But I'm a detective so I did my due diligence. What I discovered was an eye-opener.


Hysteria and orgasms

For over 2,500 years the medical profession has been helping well-off women who suffered from "hysteria" by regularly inducing in them an "hysterical paroxysm." You and I call it an orgasm.

[See History of the Vibrator]

The electric vibrator was invented right after the electric sewing machine, fan, teakettle and toaster.

Guess which appliance the women preferred?

In the late 19th century, "treatments” with vibrators were one of the most popular services offered at luxury resorts in Europe and America.

The Sears-Roebuck catalog offered two models of portable vibrators in 1922, described as "Such Delightful Companions.

Another advertisement promised "All the pleasures of youth ... will throb within you."  

Vibrators and Orgasms


But let's get back to HYSTERIA, the movie. Bat Sheva Marcus wrote her doctoral dissertation on women and vibrator use, and she thinks the movie raises important issues. Marcus works at the Medical Center for Female Sexuality in New York. She says that although the vibrator was invented more than 100 years ago, few women use them. According to Marcus, our society has "a skewed view that an orgasm produced by a vibrator is not as good as an orgasm produced from intercourse." She hopes the movie will send a message that orgasms are important.

In other words, vibrators aren't something to laugh about. Women should use and enjoy, rinse and repeat.

Women who use birth control are sluts?

Unlike the Victorian era, discussions about women's sexuality are no longer taboo, but women still face an uphill battle. [See my Sex and Politics rant] Consider the debate in Congress over health care coverage for women. Many people don't want birth control for women to be covered in the health plan. Sex for procreation? Fine, but women having sex for fun?? Forget about it! These prudes don't want women enjoying sex!

Rush Limbaugh [I call him Limburger] thinks women who use birth control are sluts.  Here's what he said about birth control activist Sandra Fluke. "What does it say about a college coed ... who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says she wants to be paid to have sex? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute." He went on to say: "If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch." 


President Obama called Sandra to express his support. In her appearance on "Today," Sandra said Rush's comments were "an attempt to silence me, to silence all of us from speaking about the health care we need." At Rt: Sandra testifies before Congress.



You may not know this, but June 7, 2012 was the 47th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision to make birth control legal in the United States. An 1879 Connecticut statute prohibited the use of birth control and anyone who helped a woman use birth control could be prosecuted and punished. In 1961, Estelle Griswold and Dr. C. Lee Buxton were arrested and fined for doing so.

Griswold was the executive director of Planned Parenthood of Connecticut, and Buxton was chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale's School of Medicine. They challenged the 1879 statute. In 1965, the Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision [Griswold v. Connecticut], reversed the law, effectively affirming the right to "doctor-patient privacy" and paving the way for the court's 1973 ruling on abortion: Roe v. Wade.


So here's my take. Instead of punishing women for having sex, we should be celebrating the law that allows women who want and need birth control to have it. Don't get me wrong. I love kids. I was thrilled when my daughter was born. But women in the United States should be able to enjoy sex without worrying about getting pregnant. Men don't have to worry about it. Why should women?  


I'll probably get some blowback on this one, so have at it. The comment form is right there.  NOPD homicide detective Frank Renzi signing off.

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[ Posted by Laura Elvebak, June 14, 2012 14:03 ]
     Thank you for this article, Susan! Women should have been educated a long time ago, but this is a good reminder (not that I need one) :) I don't know why the Repubnant Partt is so afraid of women that they want to send us back a hundred years, guess they're afraid our intelligence will make them look bad.

Great article!

[ Posted by admin, June 14, 2012 14:44 ]
     Thanks for the comment Laura! I totally agree with you. Certain people in the political sphere want us barefoot and pregnant and back in the kitchen!


[ Posted by Sandra Nachlinger, June 14, 2012 15:29 ]
     A great post! I loved learning about the history of the vibrator, and I'm definitely going to look for this movie. It has got to be hilarious!
I doubt if many people take Rush Linbaugh and others with similar attitudes seriously--at least I hope not!

[ Posted by admin, June 14, 2012 15:49 ]
     Thanks for the comment, Sandra! Yes, the vibrator has quite a history. I'd like to think that not many people take Rush L seriously, but unfortunately, many of his devoted followers do!


[ Posted by Myrna, June 15, 2012 7:43 ]
     Good one. I find it a scream that one of my aunts married a Granville. Wonder if they were related. Yeah Doc G.!

[ Posted by Jerry, June 16, 2012 13:46 ]
     RE: In the 19th Century, scientists and doctors believed a woman's "affliction of the nervous system" stemmed from a disorder of the uterus, which they called "hysteria."
Actually, that diagnosis goes back to Greek "Medicine" some 2000 years earlier. Hysteria means "wandering uterus", which the Greek physicians thought was a living parasite within the host woman. Nice perspective for 2,000 years of western medicine, huh?
Possibly explains Rush L. though.

[ Posted by admin, June 16, 2012 15:24 ]
     Thanks for the comment, Jerry. And also for the update on "hysteria." Wandering uterus. What a concept. Not sure it explains Rush L. Unless he was the "wandering parasite." Now there's a thought!

[ Posted by Haley Verrin, June 18, 2012 9:49 ]
     It's a sad shame that the majority in this country have trouble even discussing sex and procreation. This includes many women, who support what that cretin, Limbaugh, said.

Insurance pays for men to have Viagra, but not BC pills, since the Viagra is in line with their procreation prejudices.

They can't get their tiny brains around the fact that if people aren't ready to have kids, for financial or emotional reasons, then it's the KIDS who suffer! That's what linear thinking gets you. It's also why (emancipated) women should be running the country and making policy ...

I'm not saying that a woman is a monster for not having kids for any reason; it may be that she's married to an abusive creep. Or the family could not adequately support a child, etc.

And, even if the reason IS because she hates kids, isn't that an even more compelling reason to help her to avoid pregnancy?

[ Posted by admin, June 18, 2012 13:05 ]
     Thanks for the comment, Haley. Right on about the discriminatory insurance that pays for Viagra but won't pay for birth control for women.

And as you quite rightly point out, there can be many legitimate and compelling reasons why a woman does not wish to have a child.

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