Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

The vibrator. The holy grail for anyone with a vagina. The vibrator has become almost like a symbol of female empowerment as it is a sex toy whose sole purpose is just for female pleasure. It’s helped destigmatize female masturbation and orgasm and encouraged women to talk about their sexual desires. Vibrators have continued to grow in popularity and even rapidly change their size and shape. But vibrators haven’t always been the large wands or the popular delicate red rose.  They have been used for years, decades, and even centuries before us, and their origins are still unclear to this day.

The use of a vibrating object to reach orgasm can be traced all the way to the Egyptian queen  Cleopatra in 69-30 BC. Although there has been no evidence to support this story, it is believed that she had become fascinated with a buzzing beehive. After seeing all the buzzing bees, she asked an engineer to build her a small box or gourd. She then took buzzing bees and filled the gourd with them, using the vibration of the bees to masturbate. Thankfully, vibrators didn’t just stop at gourd-filled bees. The first battery-powered vibrator dates back to the 1880s. Dr. Granville was a British doctor who had created the first electric vibrator. He had used this device to help treat his male patients who were struggling with spinal pain, disease, and even deafness. He had also used them to help treat impotence in men. Although this is the factual and true story of how the vibrator was created, it wasn’t the one that everyone believed

The story that had grown in popularity was similar to the one above but with a little twist. Rachel Maines wrote a book back in the 90s called The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria, the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction. In this book, she claims that the vibrators were medical devices that actors used to treat women of hysteria by giving them an orgasm. Back then, hysteria was a medical diagnosis for women if they were experiencing symptoms such as anxiety, sexual desire, irritability, and loss of appetite and sex. Since that book, this version of the story became a pop culture myth so big that the movie, “Hysteria!” was made about the story. Despite its popularity, Maines’s book has been debunked for lack of research and evidence supporting her claim. 

It’s hard to pinpoint when the vibrator really took off and when it switched from being a medical device to a sex toy. This is probably because advertising a sex toy or even mailing one was illegal due to the Comstock Act. This act prohibited the advertisement and mailing of “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” materials, like pornography, or any article or thing “intended for the prevention of conception or procuring of abortion.” The Comstock Act technically exists today, but it hasn’t been enforced since the 1930s and has remained dormant since Roe V Wade. Despite a lack of advertising, vibrators are the most commonly used sex toys, and about 52% of women own one.

Vibrators have a confusing, underresearched, and complicated history that we still don’t understand. They continue to rise in popularity and also help change the conversation around female pleasure. Having a sex toy that is targeted at women (or those with female reproductive parts) and enjoyed by them only, helps women discover their bodies, understand what orgasm means to them, and can also be used during sex to help with clitoral stimulation. What started as a gourd filled with bees is now an empowering sex toy with a bright future ahead.

Julia Stacks

CU Boulder '25

Julia Stacks is the Director of Social Media and a contributing writer at the Her Campus Chapter at the University of Colorado at Boulder. As Director she oversees a team of content creators, creates content for various social media platforms and helps with partnerships. Outside of Her Campus, Julia is a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is majoring in Psychology with a minor in Sociology. Although she doesn't have any previous writing experience, she loves taking English classes and exploring her creative writing skills to strengthen her writing at Her Campus. Now, her writing focuses on topics she's passionate about such as mental health, current events and popular media. In her personal life, Julia can be found listened to true crime podcasts or watching true crime documentaries with her dog Shaye. She loves painting, reading romance books, spending time with friends and family, buying iced coffee and doing tarot readings. Julia hopes to use her writing to raise awareness about important issues which she hopes to do as a career as a victim's advocate.