Fucking Hysterical: A Timeline of Vintage Vibrators
Not far from San Francisco’s favorite trans bar in the heart of the historically gay-friendly Polk district you’ll find the Antique Vibrator Museum, a vivid exhibit of vibrators dating from the early 20th century through the 1970s.
The museum opened last year inside a sex-toy store called Good Vibrations, where therapist and educator Joani Blank had been displaying a few old vibrators since she opened the shop in 1977. Gradually, customers started to donate their own, then eBay came along, and 36 years later, her small collection has evolved into the Antique Vibrator Museum—home to more than 120 vintage vibrators, along with packaging materials, manuals, print ads, and other vibrator-related ephemera. It’s the biggest collection of orgasm-inspiring devices open to the public today.
“It’s one thing to know about vibrators as sex toys, and quite another to see how many types there were throughout the century,” she says. “It’s also a great example of design and industrial changes in one particular household implement.”
The vibrator itself has a long and storied history rooted in female hysteria, a so-called physical illness that disappeared from medical textbooks in 1952. For centuries, though, hysteria was a legitimate and common diagnosis for women who just needed to get laid, or, at the very least, treat themselves to a few mind-blowing orgasms. But since most women in the old-timey days didn’t even know they could have orgasms, they needed someone—or something—to help. Thanks in part to the Antique Vibrator Museum, here’s a timeline chronicling the evolution of vibrators in history.
200 AD: The Genital Massage
Physician and philosopher Galen of Pergamon prescribed “genital massage” to treat hysteria, which comes from the Latin for “womb.” He wrote that the disorder, as it was known then, was caused by a wandering womb or something. “It certainly was thought of as primarily a women’s disease,” says Dr. Queen. “Some commentators talked about it in nearly sexual terms — it affected virgins and widows more than married women, for instance.”
1650-1660: Coming Along
By 1653, Petrus Forestus started fingering his patients with essential oils so they could achieve a “paroxysm,” which British surgeon Nathaniel Highmore soon figured out was really just a fancy word for orgasm. To treat symptoms of hysteria, doctors would massage the vulva and clitoris until the woman had a “hysterical paroxysm of relief.” But according to Dr. Queen, “Very few doctors said in so many words that they were instigating orgasms through these treatments.”
When we shot this, I could not believe what was happening. This was probably the most mind-blowing moment for me. I mean, it’s Vanessa Hudgens, the girl from High School Musical! Of course, the ATL Twins were very helpful in demonstrating the proper way to snort drugs off of naked women. The girl with the “drugs” on her (crushed B12, in case you’re wondering) was an extra who was stiff as a board and blushing from ear to ear the entire time.
I’ve known Harmony Korine for many years; we’ve been friends through thick and thin, good times and bad. I feel like every element of Spring Breakers was him creating an environment where people felt really open and safe—perhaps so they were comfortable going crazy (in a fun way). The fact that he brought this cast together—James Franco, Gucci Mane, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and his wife, Rachel—was a sign that this movie was going to be very special. And I think casting the ATL Twins was him recognizing that they were a physical manifestation of what the film is about. They were so clear about their desires: drinking, double-penetrating women, and doing drugs. It was all out in the open with them, just like the movie. I’m happy to share with the world some of my favorite behind-the-scenes photos, along with a few captions that will provide some context for what the hell was happening on this crazy set.
Harmony tells us some stories from behind the scenes of Spring Breakers, with personal production photographs by Annabel Mehran and never-before-seen footage from the set by producers Chris and Roberta Hanley.
Anything that is commonly understood as the province of teenage girls or their proxies—any girl, really, with hair that has something to do and patented Dreamskin—is understood to be something dumb. A “selfie” is understood to be dumb, and it really is, but it’s also the ordering feature of the internet, or rather, of the individual internets we create and re-create daily in our own images. A selfie is a photograph taken by a person of themselves for use as an avatar, maybe, or more often for the kind of portraiture that seems gray and naked but is really a conceptually sophisticated, self-adjudicated pose and articulation; selfies are more exposing and exposed than whatever random angle another photographer might find on their or the eventual viewer’s behalf. (If that even happens anymore; if it’s even possible to have a photo taken without its subject demanding to see and approve it.)
“Selfie” is a conscious, natural pejorative; an anxious cutening of what is, essentially, a humiliation of Instagrammed self-regard. Contained in any selfie is an embrace of this type of embarrassment, or rather, an incorporation of it, where it is folded into an emboldened, satisfied who-gives-a-shitness (notably, this is also seen in the anarchic mien of barfing, smiling socialites who leave their heels stuck in sewer grates as velvety memento mori; they do good selfies). As the internet pervades even the littlest pockets of personal experience, so too has the idea that ever more specific, ever more aesthetically controlled visions of an individual—of a teenage girl with That Hair or otherwise—are virtually expected, almost required, and sort of appealing, despite the thing where everyone in a selfie is doing a Photo Booth face of smug, though adopted, insouciance, or wide-mouthed sex, or a grainy iPhone simulacrum of something approaching captured shame.
The new episode of VICE Today is up on our YouTube page. It starts with Nas talking about the time he almost got in a fight with Wesley Snipes (the 90s ruled!). It also features Thomas talking about his favorite YouTube clips and me talking about Drake, something that YouTube commenters don’t seem to be too into (“SERIOUSLY… WHO GIVES A FUCK ABOUT DRAKE”).