When Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville, the father of the vibrator, invented the bliss gizmo in 1883, he wasn't out to please women. He just wanted to save time for doctors, who gave manual genital massage to cure the disease of hysteria with its antidote, "paroxysm." As Rachel Maines explains in her American Historical Association Prize-winning book Technology of Orgasm, "Doctors inherited the task of producing orgasm in women because it was a job nobody else wanted."
Now, sisters are doing it for themselves, alone and with close friends, sometimes right under your clueless nose in places that might surprise you. And American technology has manfully (or womanfully) risen to the occasion with gizmos that put even the most elaborate, coal-fired steam vibrators of the early Granville era to shame. In 1904, the so-called "Cadillac of vibrators," the 4-foot 1904 Chattanooga, cost $3,784 in today's dollars, restricting its market to medical clinics. About the most you can spend at Toys in Babeland (707 E. Pike St., 206-328-2914), the Seattle/Manhattan sex-toys store of choice for local strippers (and others), is $150 for the Cherry Top, whose remarkable miniaturization would make Dr. Granville's jaw drop.
"The trend is, everything is just getting smaller and easier to incorporate into your sex life," says Claire Cavanah, one of the mothers of Toys in Babeland. "Guys don't want a giant vibrator dildo in bed with them, but they don't mind a little Fukuoku"—say, the $50 Fukuoku (FOO-koo-OH-koo) "Five Finger Fantasy" Glove, with a vibrator in each fingertip. "Vibrators aren't just for women," notes Cavanah. "It's also kinda James Bond-y."
There is such a thing as being too James Bond-y, and for some, the $55 Impulse Rod qualifies. It's got an impressive five-level meter whose buttons are numbered like the Victory rockets that rained on London from Peenemunde: Set it at V.I, V.II, V.III, V.IV, and V.V and you may achieve takeoff velocity. But since the "off" button only works when it's set at the lowest setting, pushing it in the upper modes has no result. "Some people have had trouble turning it off," confesses one Toys in Babeland expert. "It's very hard to turn off," confirms Cavanah. "It's an eager little toy!"
No such problem occurs with the $22 Vibra Pen, which, in the proud tradition of the 1906 Sears vibrator that doubled as an eggbeater and butter churn, really is a functioning, rather fancy-looking pen that you twist to make the nib pop out. But if you click the end where an eraser would be, it becomes a vibrator, and it clicks itself off the instant you remove it from whatever surface you apply it to. "It's also good for pen fetishists," says Cavanah. "Did you see Secretary? There's a pen thing in it."
Twenty-first century enthusiasts weave sex toys into the fabric of their lives—literally, in the case of the $82 Tiger Panties with remote control. They contain a strategically placed vibrator, and the remote works from 10 feet away, according to the directions, but in practice even farther. "The only problem with this one is if you're out dancing or something, if there's somebody else in the club with that on, you'll be buzzing them, too." And if James Bond is parked outside, it activates the adaptive camouflage on his Aston Martin.
"Wearable vibes—as they get smaller, they get easier to use anywhere," says Cavanah, "whatever—a boring meeting or a traffic jam." Or, perhaps, a marriage that combines the disadvantages of each. Sure, Mister Big Shot, you were man enough to slip a ring on her (or his) finger—but are you man enough to slip the $25 Diamond Ring Vibe on yourself? "It's nothing that could hurt," coos Cavanah in a soothing tone, "just a little stretch ring that fits over the penis, with a vibe on top. It's god's little joke that there's no nub on top of the penis, and the clitoris is not inside, where the penis wants to go. So this is god's gift."
And it could be yours. Buy one and maybe you'll experience, as the vibrator ad in the 1906 Woman's Home Companion magazine put it, "a thrilling and invigorating effect so that all the penetrating pleasures of youth will throb in you again."