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A Healthy Buzz

Vibrators were developed to treat female hysteria. But these days they're improving the health, happiness and empowerment of women unafraid to go after The Big O.

| June 20th, 2012
EverettMaggie Gyllenhaal stars in "Hysteria"
Maggie Gyllenhaal

Before the Butterfly Kiss, the Xtreme Rabbit and Lelo’s $15,000, 24-karat gold vibrator, there was the “Manipulator,” a 19th century steam-powered tool developed, not for women, but for the male physicians whose hands and wrists had become fatigued from the pelvic massage therapy they were giving patients suffering from hysteria. 

That’s right: Vibrators were created to relieve men’s discomfort when they became pooped from too much lady-patient genital stimulation—a commonly practiced medical treatment back in the day. No, seriously.

The new film "Hysteria," starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Hugh Dancy, is set in the Victorian era and deals with this very issue. Dancy’s character, Dr. Granville, develops carpal tunnel from all the manual labor and thus creates a solution—the vibrator. 

MORE: Sexual Satisfaction—Where Do You Stand

The real-life Dr. Granville is credited with the patent of the first electro-mechanical vibrator in the early 1880s. Two decades later, the Victor Electric Company patented a “massaging implement…rendered so compact and light that the entire device may be held for application…and may therefore also be conveniently carried from place to place.” Hamilton Beach acquired the device for retail sale, and it joined the ranks of the tea kettle, fan, sewing machine and toaster as one of the first five electric domestic appliances (predating even the electric iron!).

The home version was pretty popular, natch, until it became overtly associated with pornography. That’s when advertisements for vibrators disappeared from mainstream publications and into the shadows—until the sexual revolution of the 1960s, that is. 

‘Hysteria’ is no longer a recognized illness of course, but masturbation is still a well-practiced tension-tamer. Today, over 90 percent of women report that they masturbate regularly (nice, ladies!), and there’s a huge industry devoted to the creation of ever more pleasurable devices to bring about the Big O. That’s a good thing, because half of Americans (both women and men) say they’ve used a vibrator. Studies show that more women achieve orgasm with the help of a vibrator. So go ahead, this may be the one shopping spree your significant other won’t complain about.

MORE: Sex Does A Body Good

The benefits of vibrators aren’t all fun and frills though. Masturbation can actually help improve your health as self-love increases the incidence of “friendly” bacteria in the vagina and allows for increased fluid movement, which flushes out the yucky stuff such as UTI-causing bacteria. 

Frequent orgasms—with a partner or without—can also improve cardiovascular health and lower your risk of type-2 diabetes. And if you suffer from insomnia, as over 60 percent of women do, masturbation is a natural sleep aid, helping relieve tension and releasing dopamine, a hormone that spikes in anticipation of a sexual climax. Post-orgasm, calming oxytocin and endorphins are released for a gentle afterglow and peaceful sleep. Um, awesome.

Need more reason to touch yourself? Science also shows that masturbation can improve a blue mood, relieve the pain of menstrual cramps, PMS symptoms, and improve your sex life by helping you recognize what your body responds to. 

And that rush of blood that accompanies your climax? That’s your beauty bonus that leaves you with flushed cheeks and an (ahem) healthy glow.

QUIZ: Are You Sexually Satisfied?

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