The Technology of Orgasm: Hysteria, the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction.

Author:Ogden, Gina
Position::Book review
 
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The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction By Rachel P. Maines Johns Hopkins University Press. 1999 196 p. $22.00 ISBN 0-8018-5941-7

When did God make men? When she realized vibrators couldn't dance. Rachel Maines, author of The Technology of Orgasm, uses this quip to underscore the major differences she sees in how women and men experience sexual pleasure, and how peripheral male partners can be for some women. In short, she says, vibrators turn many women on, some for the first time. But when women use them, male partners can become jealous and cranky, especially male partners who already feel like so-so lovers. Indeed, the mere mention of vibrators seems to threaten some men even outside the bedroom. When Maines presents her research at universities and scholarly meetings, male colleagues often try to censor her talks.

Here lies a central theme of this impeccably researched and interestingly illustrated book of vibrator history: Who controls women's sexuality? Over the centuries, the males in dominance have exercised control over sexual expression in the Western world not only by brute force, but more insidiously by defining the norms of sexual expression. Consequently, every one of us who grows up in this culture is conditioned to think of "sex" first and foremost as intercourse--which current research shows works brilliantly for men, but more often than not leaves women wondering: "Isn't there supposed to be something more?"

Much sexual control has been precipitated and maintained throughout history by organized religion, which has paralyzed women with a flood of moral proscriptions. Nice girls don't touch themselves down there. Nice girls don't get hotly aroused. Nice girls aren't lesbians. Etc., etc., etc.. These kinds of thou-shalt-nots have narrowed women's sexual choices and helped keep many locked in passionless or abusive relationships. The institution of medicine has also attempted to control women's sexuality. It has done so by making it a disease; by diagnosing various female sexual "dysfunctions," and then setting about finding the "cures" that will make women dependent on physicians and more suitable partners for men. The various so-called dysfunctions change their labels with the times--yesterday's "frigidity" and "nymphomania" are today's "inhibited sexual desire" and "sexual addiction." Whatever the labels may be, they all pathologize women who deviate from the cultural norm.

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