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Science under the Romance

by Dr. Barb DePree

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know that I’m a fan of vibrators. From talking to my patients, I’m well aware that not everyone is as comfortable with the idea—and the reality—of them as I am.

We’ve been talking with the MiddlesexMD medical advisory board about the adoption of vibrators. Dr. Michael Krychman, one of the members, sent me this history of the vibrator:

Steam-powered vibrating devices were patented in the late 1860s and 1870s by George Taylor. The first electromechanical vibrator was designed in 1880 by British physician Joseph Mortimer Granville, who intended it to be used for massage of male skeletal muscles.
Doctors originally used vibrators or self stimulators as a cure-all for female ailments: female hysteria, pelvic pain, nervous tension and a wide variety of gynecological complaints. In the 1920s, vibrators became associated with pornography and illicit sexuality. Only recently have sexual accessories and vibrators been favorably viewed as adjunctive medical accessories to help restore or enhance sexual response.

Well, I’m glad I don’t have to recommend a steam-powered device to my patients! But Michael’s response makes me think further about our attitudes about what’s “natural,” “sexual,” and “medical.”

One of the objections to vibrator use I hear is that they’re artificial—and this from users of microwaves, hair dryers, and Botox. That contradiction makes me think there’s something more going on. I think women of my generation like sex to be “romantic”—and so do I! But I’m guessing that my medical training has made it easier for me to acknowledge that underneath the romance is a real physical body, and the body encompasses a whole lot of science.

Michael confirms that “For some women, a vibrator might make the difference between adequate stimulation and the ability to achieve an orgasm—or not. About two thirds of the female population are not able to reach an orgasm with penetration alone.”

As a physician working with women who want to maintain their sexuality (and you know it’s good for you!), bypassing the vibrator would be like refusing to use a pacemaker or an artificial valve. The fact that a vibrator is erotic and fun? Well, that’s just a bonus.


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