Polite conversation aside, Dr Muiris Houston takes a look at the colourful history of the vibrator
While I admit to not being a fan of art galleries, I really do love a good museum. to my mind, a visit to a museum, particularly in a new city, is the quickest way to get a sense of a country’s culture, heritage and values.
While on a recent visit to Ottawa, Canada, I had the opportunity to visit its Museum of Civilization.
Tracing the nation's heritage from its first inhabitants to its current multicultural melting pot, I truly was brought on a fascinating journey through Canada's past.
In addition to artefacts and geographical information usually associated with these types of exhibitions, video installations incorporating oral and narrative histories help put the pieces of the jigsaw together to give a picture of the fascinating if not brutal life of early Canadians.
It does seem to be true though, that no matter where you travel and whatever your area of interest, there is a museum to cater for your needs.
Take for example, vibrators.
Who would have thought that in the hallowed halls of the London Science Museum you would find a section dedicated to early vibrators?
But this is exactly where you will find on display more than 40 vibrators from the late 1800s and early 1900s.
And if you thought the issue of vibrators might have a limited appeal, then you might be surprised to hear that these early sex aids have been the inspiration for a number of recent creative endeavours.
Earlier this year, the use by Victorian doctors of sex aids to treat their female patients was the subject of the Broadway play, In The Next Room by Darah Ruhl.
And Hysteria, a film based on the story of Dr Joseph Mortimer Granville, who it is said to have invented the first electro-mechanical vibrator in 1880, is currently in production.
The diagnosis and treatment of female hysteria is well documented from the time of Hippocrates.
In the 1600s, women with symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, fluid retention and irritability, thought at the time to be caused by a wayward womb, were routinely diagnosed as suffering from hysteria, and a pelvic massage performed by a midwife was often the prescription of choice.
It was not until the late 1800s that medicine took a hands-off approach, excuse the pun, to treating these conditions.
Mechanical vibrators and sex aids were initially invented as medical devices to be used by doctors to rid females of their neurosis.
Under the socially acceptable guise of a medical treatment, they quickly became available to ladies of a certain disposition for self-use.
It’s interesting to note that at a time when very few domestic electrically powered appliances were being mass produced, the electrically powered vibrator could be brought in a many stores.
According to Vanessa Thorpe, writing in The Observer, vibrators were even available before electrical vacuum cleaners and irons.
While you may have been brought up to believe that sex and vibrators are not topics suitable for discussion in polite company, you may have been misinformed.
Well before Cosmo got around to tackling the subject matter in the 1970s, Good Housekeeping in 1909 was enlightened enough to run a feature discussing the pros and cons of various vibrators available at the time.
One enterprising manufacturer of the time even produced a home motor to which a vibrator could be attached.
This model was a multitasking appliance, for when not being used to power the vibrator it could be used to run a sewing machine, a mixer or even drive a churn.
No doubt this version was advertised as an ideal Christmas present for the modern woman who had everything!