Victorian Sensibilites: Dildo’s and Dildon’ts

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This post is really a follow on from the earlier http://viceandvirtue.posterous.com/the-victorians-and-the-blow-up-doll-femme-de  which seems to have intrigued a number of people. In it I mentioned that sex aids have existed since the dawn of time, with countless museums and archives displaying and debating the role of a fake phallus in religious and ceremonial activities, as well as for personal use. Having previously talked about aids for male use, it is only fair that we have a look at the female answer to the Femme Du Voyage. And so, I give you, The Female Syringe.

Doesn’t that sound unattractive?!

This advert, which has come from the same source as the Femme Du Voyage, is shown here in a shortened form. Spread out over two pages, it contains directions for use and for care, as well as remarks from satisfied customers. Priced at £5-20, and out of the range of most people, my timeline estimation places it in the 1860-1880 period.

But let’s return to that name ‘The Female Syringe’. When I read it first I immediately dismissed it as just another example of the Victorians need to medicalise any aspect of female sexuality. The fact that the advert is almost three times as long as those for male use, becoming – in places – almost pornographic, as well as and the terminology used, just made me mad. I think a number of you will have heard the term ‘Female Hysteric’ before. The Victorian’s monopolised this idea that almost any aliment that could be suffered by a women was due to her womb. From irritability, to nervousness, sleeplessness and anxiety, ‘hysteria’ became the focus for the medical establishment whenever it dealt with a woman.

And the cure? Pelvic massage or manipulation. In 1880, the first electrified vibrator was created by an English doctor, Joseph Granville – the story of which is about to be immortalised by Rupert Everett and Hugh Dancy in the aptly titled (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFy6cfPmjd4 ) ‘Hysteria’ – which proved to be a highly successful device, occurring almost simultaneously as the rise in female diagnosis’s for the disease began to move towards it’s peak in the 1890s.

But the idea that women need to orgasm to maintain their health and mental well-being is an old one. We might like to think it was just another sad symptom of the patriarchal social dynamic of the Victorians, but they cannot be blamed for this one alone. Women’s role as the reproductive core of humanity, which many think was idolised in the pre-classical world, became man’s biggest reason for subjugating her. As early as the Greeks, the womb’s effect on female mental health was seen as the single most important factor when diagnosing women. The Romans took the view that married women just needed a good roll in the hay, and those not contracted to a man were advised to seek pelvic massage at the hands of a midwife. This idea remained influential throughout Europe right up to the 17th century, and is a feature of ancient medical advice in both the Eastern and Western schools of thought. So we can’t really blame the Victorian’s, they just took an old idea and industrialised it, mass produced it, and marketed it. As they did with almost everything.

What is important to note about this period, in terms of the history of sexuality, is that it began to open up the debate on female desires, which in turn lead to female voices being heard for the first time. The message from this period, hidden underneath male confusion and early female silence, is the first move towards an acknowledgement that woman had sexual desire, even though it hidden behind the belief that the repression of their sexual desire could make them hysterical.

*Original advert has been reproduced to apply with the archives Terms and Conditions

3 thoughts on “Victorian Sensibilites: Dildo’s and Dildon’ts

  1. Does anyone else read this and wonder if women’s rights got a voice about the same time men became interested in women’s sexuality? Quite the co-incedence.

  2. I have read several regency era books ( Googlebooks) by men advocating the use of electricity to cure female hysteria . Each man named himself as being an expert in this practice.
    Some practitioners just used their hands to “massage” the genitals. I think “pelvic” massage is an euphemism.

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