The Surprising History of the Female Orgasm
When it comes to the history of the female orgasm, there are a variety of interesting ups and downs.
Considering the surprising history of women’s sexuality throughout ancient and modern civilization, you’ll find a compendium of interesting discoveries and misconceptions about the female orgasm.
Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, warns of uterus neglect and advises husbands to massage the vulva with the fingers to prevent reproductive disorders.
The first vibrator, a water-powered saw, is invented.
In his influential text, Gynecology, Soranus advises men to tempt women with luscious foods and body massages to heighten their sexual desire, as well as stimulating orgasm and facilitating conception.
Medical scholar Aetius refers to the female orgasm as a “certain tremor” that is required for conception.
The Medieval Era
The female orgasm is referred to by physician Avicenna as “movements of the matrix.”
Nuns and widows are prescribed dildos by doctors to help ease the symptoms of hysteria.
In his popular book Lives of Fair & Gallant Ladies, Seigneur de Brantome describes two French court ladies who were caught by a prince making love with a prosthetic device that was “so neatly fastened on by little belts passing around the body that it looked like a natural member.” The prince then asked them to demonstrate.
Surgeon Ambrose Pare argues that women with strong sex drives and voluptuous lifestyles are less likely to suffer from menstrual disorders as their “humours” flow more freely.
The word “orgasm” is used for the first time in medical texts.
An advertisement for the “Vibratile” appears in McClure’s magazine promising a cure for neuralgia, headaches, and wrinkles.
French social observer and writer Ali Coffignon warns that the vibrations of the manual sewing machine could turn heterosexual women into lesbians.
Sex researcher Havelock Ellis discovers that 67 to 75% of women cannot have orgasms during sex.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s study on human sexuality finds that an increase in a women’s sexual fulfillment is in direct relation to her progress of equality in society.
Simone de Beauvoir publishes The Second Sex, a treatise critiquing patriarchal society and male-centered ideology.
Sex researcher Alfred Kinsey publishes Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, which reveals that lesbians have significantly more orgasms than heterosexual females.
Betty Friedan publishes The Feminine Mystique, which is widely credited as sparking the second wave of women’s liberation in the U.S.
The FDA approves the oral contraception pill.
John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Commission of the Status of Women publishes a report on gender equality.
Dell Williams opens Eve’s Garden, the first feminist women’s sex shop in New York.
Pro sex feminist Betty Dodson publishes Sex for One, which instructs women how to masturbate.
A sex survey finds that 78% of females masturbate regularly.
Sex researcher Beverly Whipple identifies the G-spot in women and publishes her theories in The G-spot and Other Recent Discoveries About Human Sexuality.
From the invention of the world’s first vibrator in 300 BC to the discovery of the G-spot in 1982, this timeline celebrates all the women of yesterday, today, and future generations — you’ve come a long way, and it’s only getting better from here.
Jesse Whitman is the founder and writer of the history and culture blog Dinner and Movie Night.