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

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  827 ratings  ·  96 reviews
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 devic ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published March 1st 2001 by Johns Hopkins University Press (first published 1998)
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Average rating 3.96  · 
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Start your review of The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction
Well now! I don't know why I started to read this particular book. Maybe I thought it would give insight into the "why" of the female orgasm, but recent readings of other publications have given me to understand that scientists still don't have the "why", since female orgasm is not required for conception. The writer, a feminist, would probably attribute some lurid motive to my reading the book, so let's just write it down to morbid curiosity.

I was surprised to learn that doctors regularly profi
Aug 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: the sexually curious
I wish I could give this book a star for each aspect of it that delighted me. Unfortunately, this site caps me out at five stars, much less the 10 or so stars that this book deserves.

This book is exhaustively researched, in a way most other books dealing with the broad subject matter of human sexuality are not. Better, it is superbly organized -- starting out with a clear idea of what topics it is going to cover, and managing to tackle that subject matter in only a scanty 124 pages (with at leas
I like how well-researched this book is. Two hundred years of medical attitudes towards women's body and sexuality are smartly explained so even the lay person like me could understand. ...more
Jul 01, 2013 rated it liked it
Content-wise this book deserves a 5. But the writing style drastically brings it down. Published in 1999, it reads like an unedited 1980s history textbook. It jumps around and at times has very confusing sentences/paragraphs. The chapters don't seem to build on each other, and rather end up repeating themes/facts that were already covered or implied.

The content itself you're not going to find anywhere else, and the bare boring facts often are fascinating in and of themselves, no matter how drol
Oct 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: feminism, nonfiction
I'm not going to lie, sex is a topic that greatly interests me.

This was an incredibly fascinating book about female orgasms. I liked it a lot. I'm so glad someone wrote a book about this topic.
Jul 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book is awesome. I'm reading it for thesis work but recommend it to you even if you are not an unabashed and wholescale nerd. My only gripe-- having nothing to do with the content or the author-- is that this book is pigeon-holed on the back cover as "women's studies," which suggests to me that culture and history most relevant to women are still considered outside the "androcentric" mainstream and relegated to the scholarly periphery. ...more
Justin Cormack
Jun 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
One of those alas so rare tweeter-woofer crossover moments of academic writing (must get another copy of In Search of Respect actually).

Rachel Maines, by accident starting looking at the adverts in the old magazines and catalogues and accidentally discovered the early history of the electric motor, when motors and appliances were still not integrated due to costs, and the vibrator was born. That in turn leads into a fascinating story of medical history - the story of hysteria, a condition that h
Oct 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Marit!
An absolutely fascinating book. Combined with other books I've read recently on the state of obstetrics and childbirth in the United States, Maines' book really sheds some light on how attitudes towards women's bodies become attitudes towards women as a group, and how those are then institutionalized, as in medicine. ...more
Dec 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The content of this book (and therefore this review) are NSFW (not safe for work). So, if you're at work, or worse, if you're a co-worker of mine, don't click the "view spoiler" link. :-)

(view spoiler)
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Put in simple terms, The Technology of Orgasm is a history of the vibrator. More specifically, it shows how the vibrator was developed to fulfill a medical need: the treatment of "hysterical" women.

Nowadays hysteria is seen as a historical dump-category of any kind of deviant behaviour in women that was not appreciated by Western society. Women were either too frigid or nymphomaniacs, they were too nervous and anxious or too forward. Maines's book is an important entry in the history of sexualit
Sep 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
I really like the idea of the microhistory genre, where someone grasps that there is a history of *everything* and seeks to tell that tale. I know its been a trend for a few years, but since this book was published in 1999 and Maines's research goes way back to the 80s, I consider her an early adopter, if not a pioneer. I liked her description of poring through ads in 100 year old periodicals, because I do the same thing.

The book is a history of hysteria, which no one quite knew what that was, v
The author variously refers to vibrators as "socially camouflaged technologies," "electromechanical medical instrument" (this one several times,) and ,finallyvibrators.
Bringing orgasms to women was the "job that nobody wanted" ... at least until it became lucrative. Until then, women were supposed to get married and then rely on penetration only to do the deed. Especially since masturbation was highly discouraged and at times deemed completely immoral.
She says that she fell into this subject as
Vlad Golovach
I got this book to read the history of vibrator (I'm a great fan of history of techne). But this book is so much more! Basically it's about surprisingly effective efforts of both medicos and lay persons to ignore just one relatively simple (and very easy to prove) fact - that women are not necessarily happy with just a penetration. All to keep the useless notion that dick makes a man. Even more alarming (for women of goode olde times) and funny (for me, male from a present) is the long and convi ...more
Oct 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: project_apoc
WERE YOU AWARE: That hysteria means "womb disease?" That
"Susan B Anthony is said to have regarded male behavior at sports events as evidence that men were too emotional to be allowed to vote?" Or perhaps that "What is really remarkable about Western history in this context is that the medical norm of penetration to male orgasm as the ultimate sexual thrill for both men and women has survived an indefinite number of individual and collective observations suggesting that for most women this patter
Dec 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: medicine
The Technology of Orgasm a great book by Rachel P. Maines . Surprisingly, I’ve had this on my shelf for a very long time. An acquaintance asked me about the subject, and I suggested this book and another one.

The research behind this book is huge with facts gathered together over many years and I have recommended whenever curious questions get asked about this. Obviously, it is focused for the female body in terms that anybody can understand. It’s not written for sexual scientists.

Those who
Apr 24, 2007 rated it really liked it
Who knew Galen invented the vibrator? There's a lot of nifty material in here on how vibrators were initially advertised, too. Really a great book, if you can get over the initial hump. ...more
Cate Meredith
Jun 18, 2012 rated it it was ok
About halfway through I forgot why I wanted to read it. By the end I was just glad it was over.
Lynn Vannucci
Nov 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Read this book! You will be outraged, amused, and much smarter after you do. Then see the brilliant movie PASSION AND POWER made from this book.
Sep 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 25, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009, non-fiction, sex
The origins of this feminist work lie in the author's discovery of turn-of-the-century advertisements of vibrators as therapeutic appliances, designed to save doctors time and labor. What?!

Reclaiming the original definition of hysteria from Freudian reinterpretation, Maines shows that in the Western medical tradition, manually massaging female genitalia to orgasm was an accepted practice for treating 'womb disease.' This was accepted as a legitimate condition and treatment, the author argues, be
Marto Mugss
Aug 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
It came as a surprise to me 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.Maines, an independent scholar in the history of technology, presents a plain-sailing account of the mechanism from its beginning through the 1920s, when it came into ignominy as a medical instrument. Going beyond a summary of therapeutic advances, however, she wryly chronicles the attitude toward women's sex ...more
Jen McGovern
Sep 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
So fascinating! Solidly researched. Feels repetitive and dry at times but very worth it.
John Carter McKnight
Aug 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: academic
A Great Big Idea, but a toothpick-thin book. In 122 pages, Maines covers two thousand years of the history of the medicalization of women's bodies and sexuality, the hundred year history of the vibrator, and dips into contemporary studies of sexuality - while still managing to be a bit redundant.

The book's historical scope begins with extensive classical sources, read in the original Greek and Latin, but oddly comes to a stop in the 1970s, with virtually no discussion of the vibrator as a moder
Satrina T
Once more I'm happy of the times I get to live. I know we, as a society, still have a long -loooong- way to go but thankfully things have improved.

Favorite part: Chapter 5 Revising the Androcentric Model. From this chapter I loved the part where it is explained according to a text from 1965 by Alexander Lowen that basically "most men" considered a burden bringing woman to orgasm by clitoral stimulation and also felt that it imposed "a restraint upon his natural desire for closeness and intimacy.
Oct 17, 2007 rated it it was ok
I actually didn't even finish this before I had to return it to the library. The subject matter (that doctors used to masturbate women as part of treatment for what was essentially a made-up ailment) is of course fascinating, yet the writing, being part of the Johns Hopkins series in the History of Technology, I suppose, was so, ahem, dry. I was also distracted by the pencil comments of some previous reader, whom I imagined to be a naive undergrad learning for the first time women's place in sex ...more
Jason Williams
Apr 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: european-history
The people of Lysol ought to be ashamed of themselves. As should Clark University, which fired Maines for this book. It's ironic, since Clark University was an early pioneer in American psychology (before the behaviorists hijacked psych and turned it into an industry) and was the only American college Freud ever set foot on (see Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis). Books like Technology of Orgasm are proof that there is so much more to history than wars and elections and "great men." Indeed, the ve ...more
Feb 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Helen by: Mark
Shelves: favorites
There is not a person on earth, male/female/other, young/old/other, who wouldn't benefit from reading this book. While the author, at times, belabors some points or uses too many like examples, the information she's given is unique and it is absolutely worth slogging through the occasional slow part to walk away from this small tome with that much empowering knowledge. My friend Mark wrote an amazing review which compelled me to go get this book immediately, and if you would like a more thorough ...more
Mar 23, 2011 rated it liked it
This book is PACKED with politics and fascinating tidbits about the long history of the vibrator. I think it is less accessible than some of the other books in the genre, mostly because it reads very much like a thesis or dissertation, but it is impeccably referenced and does have some humor thrown in. The excuses that the medical establishment came up with for what was essentially orgasm as catch-all therapy are very amusing and horrifying all at the same time. Thankfully technology can finally ...more
Aug 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: feminist
The writing is pretty dense and academic, but this book is pretty much everything you could possibly want to know about the history of "female hysteria," female orgasm, and the rather "interesting" origin of the vibrator. It's full of so much historical research, insights from 19th century physicians and philosophers, images of different vibrator machines and even old advertisements. Once you get through the jargon and overly-academic sentences, you really learn a lot. With that said, this is pr ...more
Jennifer Kincheloe
Dec 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: progressive-era
This is a scholarly work about the medical practice of treating hysterical women with vulvular massage - something doctors routinely did in the Western world from the time of the Greeks up through the 1920's. It focuses on the early 20th Century, and addresses the telling question, "why didn't anyone notice that this was sexual?"

Interesting and helpful for researching for my book, "The Secret Life of Anna Blanc," an homage to old Los Angeles inspired by Alice Stebin Wells, an LAPD police matron,
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124 likes · 43 comments
“The rifts in this ancient wall continue to be patched with exhortations to women to avoid challenging the norm even if it means faking orgasm and sacrificing honesty in their intimate relationships with men. In the past we have been willing to pay this price; whether we should continue to do so is question for individuals; not historians, to decide.” 0 likes
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