Technology of Orgasm

Johns Hopkins Univeristy Press, 1999

bookcover Technologia orgazmu

Published in Polish, Technologia orgazmu: Histeria wibrator i zaspokojenie seksualne kobiet (Warsaw: Aletheia, 2011).


Published in Japanese, by Ronso (Tokyo), 2011, ヴァイブレーターの文化史―セクシュアリティ・西洋医学・理学療法 [単行本]

La tecnologia del orgasmo

Published in Spanish as La tecnología del orgasmo. La «histeria», los vibradores y la satisfacción sexual de las mujeres from Milrazones (Barcelona, Spain), 2010.

Technologies de l'orgasme Technologies de l'orgasme

Published in French as Technologies de l'Orgasme: Le Vibromasseur, l'"Hystérie" et la Satisfaction Sexuelle des Femmes (Paris: Payot & Rivages 2009).

bookcover of Libri Masilio

Published in Italian as Tecnologia dell’Orgasmo: Isteria, Vibratori e Soddisfazione Sessuale delle Donna (Venice: Marsilio, 2001)

bookcover of Debate Feminista

Published in part in Mexican Spanish in Debate Feminista (Mexico City: 2001). >

The Book

Technology of Orgasm

bookcover Payot & RivagesDocumentary film version: “Passion and Power: The Technology of Orgasm,” by Wabi Sabi Productions (Wendy Slick and Emiko Omori), premiered July 28, 2007 at Lincoln Center, New York City,
For information on screenings or to order the DVD, visit Wabi-Sabi Films’ website.

Harvey, Dennis, “Power & Passion: the Technology of Orgasm,” Variety, 5 February 2008.

Anderson, Jeffrey M. "Passion & Power: The Technology of Orgasm." Combustible Celluloid (February 22, 2008).

BigThink interview, April 2012.

Bussel, Rachel Kramer, “Sex Toys and the Technology of Orgasm,” AlterNet, 4 October 2007,

Cheung, Byron, “History of Elusive Female Orgasm,” Washington Square News, 3 April 2008

“Cornell Cinema Abuzz Tonight with Screening of Vibrator Documentary,” Ithaca Journal, 8 April 2008.

Gerhard, Susan, “Monday: Platform II Emiko Omori and Wendy Slick’s ‘Passion and Power,’ SF360 18 February 2008,

Hamamoto, Ben. "Omori documents the vibrator's 'Power and Passion'," Nichi Bei Times Weekly (2007).

Hartzell, Adam, review of “Passion and Power: the Technology of Orgasm,” in Hell on Frisco Bay, 18 February 2008 (

Kim, Hugh. “Passion and Power,” 크리에이티브스터프 for 얼리어댑터:바이브레이터의 역사를 다룬 영화 ... (Summer 2007, in Korean)

Newitz, Annalee, “New Documentary on the History of Vibrator Technology,” Gizmodo 20 August 2007,

Liberatore, Paul, “’The Vibrator Movie’ Creates the Most Buzz,” Marin Independent Journal, 3 October 2007,

Maines, Rachel, “Now Playing: When Your Book Becomes a Film,” OAH Newsletter (Organization of American Historians), September 2007.

Radio interview for Newstalk Ireland, March 2008.

Saulnier, Beth, “There’s the Rub: Scholar’s Book on Vibrator History Hits the Big Screen,” Cornell Alumni Magazine, January/February 2008.

Taormino, Tristan, “Pussy at Play: New Film Documents the History of Vibrators,” Village Voice 28 August 2007.

"La tecnologia dell'orgasmo: dal libro al documentario," Femminismo a Sud (March 22, 2008, in Italian).

Upson, Sandra. “Tracing the Technology of Pleasure,” Radio interview with Sandra Upson for IEEE Spectrum, (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) August 2007: Print edition December 2007.

Whitford, Sara, “New Vibrator Documentary has People Buzzing,” The Naughty American, November 2007,

Yollin, Patricia, “The making of a feel-good film: 2 Bay Area women trace the (shocking) history of vibrators,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 22, 2007.

… and another country heard from.

Play: “In the Next Room,” by Sarah Ruhl, Pulitzer prize finalist.

In the Next RoomIn the Next Room,” by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Les Waters, inspired by Technology of Orgasm, premiered at Berkeley Repertory Theater January 2009, opened at Lincoln Center’s Lyceum Theater, New York City, October-November 2009. Nominated for three Tony awards.

From the Berkeley Repertory Theater website:

“The first step the props crew took towards producing the vibrator you’re about to see onstage was research. Props Manager Ashley Dawn and Scenic Designer Annie Smart began corresponding last summer—swapping ideas and images via e-mail. Their launching pad was The Technology of Orgasm by Rachel P. Maines, the book that Sarah Ruhl cites as a source of inspiration for the play itself. Ashley contacted the author for advice on finding additional imagery of antique vibrators, and Rachel suggested Ashley contact the U.S. Park Service. The agency maintains a substantial collection of antiques, including some obscure medical devices. As Rachel quipped in an e-mail to Ashley, “Can you imagine? ‘Hi, I’m a curator for the federal government and I’m looking for a five-foot-tall vibrator.’ Giggle.”

Play Review:

A Quaint Treatment for Women Wronged,” by Charles Isherwood, New York Times, February 18, 2009

“Breathtakingly inventive…has the potential to be a modern masterpiece…Directed by Les Waters in a manner that quietly and vividly serves the writing, the play is at its best when it disregards the dramatic rules altogether. There’s an acute playfulness at work, an unabashed enjoyment in letting characters test out new possibilities for themselves as they gain insight into the mind-body phenomenon of human sexuality and the oppressive forces that shape its expression.”—Los Angeles Times

“A fascinating, funny and evocative play…The disconnect between sensory experience and mental perception forms the tantalizing heart of Ruhl’s latest…Ruhl develops the story with the enticing blend of irreverent humor and skewed realism…It’s beautiful. Like most of the play, the end vibrates with sexually charged comedy and affectionate striving.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“A titillating comedy of manners, marriage and masturbation that more than lives up to its buzz…From orgasms and breast-feeding to lesbianism, Ruhl disentangles the web of taboos that laced up Victorian ladies as tightly as their whalebone corsets. Annie Smart’s set captures the prissiness and confinement of the parlor where women’s bodies were hidden under so many layers of taffeta and fear, they needed a strange new gizmo to discover themselves…Talk about good vibrations.”—San Jose Mercury News

“You’ll get a charge out of Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Vibrator Play…Crackling dialogue and an engaging story that moves audience both to laughter and tears, and a fresh and delightful look at the dark ages of human sexuality…Les Waters has directed the show masterfully, creating some wild moments of physical humor and an energy to the unfolding story that refuses to let things lag. And the cast is simply phenomenal.”—Bay Area News Group

“This serenely funny new work by the author of Eurydice and The Clean House sparkles with wit and invention in Les Waters’ pitch-perfect production.”—Variety

“A sexual farce that cleverly concerns the romance, loneliness, intimacy, race relations and electricity of six people…The cast of seven excellent actors has a great sense for comedy…It’s brilliantly directed by Les Waters and has wonderful lighting, sound and costumes, and a remarkable set. In the world of theatre, this is truly an enjoyable change of pace.”—KGO-AM

“The magical closing minutes of Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)—a wonderful excursus on modern love and sex toys in disguise—made even me a little misty-eyed. It’s like watching the perfectly executed dismount of an Olympian gymnast: all the tricks of stagecraft are employed, but with such judiciousness and precision that they appear to be some sort of divine intervention. Take your sweetheart, or find one in the lobby during intermission. You’ll want a hand to hold.”—Flavorpill

Rock musical: “Oh, My!” by Maggie Surovell,, 2009.

Hollywood movie: “Hysteria,” directed by Tanya Wexler, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, premiered 15 September 2011, Toronto.

Television serial episode: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit “Hysteria,” Season 1, Episode 4, aired Oct 11, 1999


For centuries, women diagnosed with "hysteria"--a "disease paradigm," in Rachel P. Maines's felicitous phrase, thought to result from a lack of sexual intercourse or gratification--were treated by massaging their genitals in order to induce "paroxysm." Male physicians, however, considered the practice drudgery, and sought various ways of avoiding the task, often foisting it off on midwives or, starting in the late 19th century, employing mechanical devices. Eventually, these devices became available for purchase and home use; one such "portable vibrator" is advertised in the 1918 Sears, Roebuck catalog as an "aid that every woman appreciates." The Technology of Orgasm is an impeccably researched history that combines a discussion of hysteria in the Western medical tradition with a detailed examination (including several illustrations) of the devices used to "treat" the "condition." (Maines is somewhat dismissive of the contemporary, phallus-shaped models, which she describes as "underpowered battery-operated toys," insisting that "it is the AC-powered vibrator with at least one working surface at a right angle to the handle that is best designed for application to the clitoral area.") Don't expect any cheap thrills, though; the titillation Maines offers is strictly intellectual. -- Ron Hogan

More reviews and commentary:

Adams, Cecil. "Ye olde Victorian vibrators," Washington City Paper (December 5, 2007).

Adams, Phillip. "Good vibrations: a social history of the vibrator," Australian Broadcasting Corporation (September 19, 2001).

Allingham, Winnie. "The unusual history of the vibrator," Sex Files at Discovery, Episode 3: Orgasm, no. Season 1 (2006).

Angier, Natalie. "In the History of Gynecology, a Surprising Chapter," New York Times, Science page, (February 23, 1999). Reprinted in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (March 29, 1999).

Angrimani, Danilo. "A história do vibrador," Diário do Grande ABC [Brazil], Dia-a-Dia (March 7, 1999): 4-5 (in Portuguese).

Beck, Mariana. "Review [untitled]," Libido 10, no. 4 (Winter 1998-1999): 55-56.

Birch, Hayley. "Voice of the vibrator: unsung heroes," Null Hypothesis (2007).

Blank, Joani. "Review: Just What the Doctor Ordered," The Journal of Sex Research 36, no. 3 (1999): 307-09.

Blythe, Will. "Let us now praise famous vibrators?" Mirabella (January 1999): 32.

Bookman, T. "Rachel Maines, revisited," IEEE Technology and Society Magazine 19, no. 1 (2000): 46-48.

Børja, Maria. "Steinharde gleder," Dagbladet Magasinet (February 18 2006, in Norwegian).

Boxer, Sarah. "Batteries not included," New York Times (March 21, 1999).

Bright, Susie. "Buzz of the century," Playboy 46, no. 8 (August 1999): 50-51.

Bronstein, Scott. "Woman who shook things up at Clarkson publishes book," Watertown Daily Times (January 25, 1999), p.23.

Cayleff, Susan. "Review [untitled]," American Historical Review 106, no. 2 (2001): 544-45.

Cheung, Byron. "History of elusive female orgasm," Washington Square News (April 3, 2008).

"Christine C."'Dr. John Butler's Electro-Massage Machine:' a history of manufacturing female pleasure," Our Bodies Our Blog (July 23, 2007).

Coppola, Paola. "Dottore, mi prescriva un orgasmo," L'Espresso (August 22, 2001) (in Italian).

Cornog, Martha. "Review [untitled]," Library Journal (February 1999): 111.

Coulmont, Baptiste. "Technique et solitude," Labyrinthe 17 (Hiver 2004): 123-26 (in French).

Coyle, Karen. "Forbidden technology," Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR) Newsletter 18, no. 1 (2000), also available at Neural IT.

Creel, Brady. "Historian speaks on sexuality," Battalion 106, no. 17 (September 21, 1999): 1.

Croissant, J. L. "Review [untitled]," Choice 37, no. 3 (November 1999): 579.

"Doctor's orders," Salon (February 25,1999).

Dolch, Robin. "Conversations: Rachel Maines, good vibrations," Icon Magazine (February 1999): 30.

DSG. "New book on the vibrator's history brings fame to rejected instructor," Women in Higher Education (May 1999): 21.

Easton, Tom. "The reference library," Analog Science Fiction (October, 1999).

Editorial staff. "The Technology of orgasm: book review," Whole Earth (Winter 2000).

Ephross, Paul. "Review [untitled]," Journal of Sex Education and Therapy 24, no. 3 (1999): 197.

Flam, Faye. "Carnal knowledge: Dr. Feelgood through history: from medical device to sex toy," Seattle Times (April 5, 2006).

Heiman, Julia R. "Review [untitled]," New England Journal of Medicine 342, no. 25 (2000): 1925-26.

Hitt, Jack. "The second sexual revolution," New York Times (February 20, 2000).

Holt, Jim. "What do women want? Hint: batteries required," New York Observer (February 28, 1999).

Horowitz, Rosemary. "Review [untitled]," National Women's Studies Association Journal 12, no. 3 (Fall 2000): 201-03.

Ives, Laurel. "Movers and shakers," Guardian [UK], January 28 1999, section G-2, 6-7.

Joseph, Jenifer. "Sexual buzzzz killer: states banning vibrators and other marital aids," (February 1999).

Keesling, Barbara. "Beyond orgasmatron," Psychology Today (November 1999).

Kenney, Shawna. "A trip to Doctor Feelgood," WHAP 14 (1999): 28.

Kessler, Rachel. "Good medicine: the vibrator's strange history," The Stranger [Seattle] (March 18-24, 1999).

King, Nina. "Book World fall preview: the hot, the cool and the fashionable," Washington Post (September 6, 1998): 1 and 8.

Kling, Cynthia. "Love machines: the secret history of a mass-market appliance." Wired 7.01 (January 1999). Reprinted as “Objects of Desire,” Independent [London], August 15, 1999.

Koch, Rachel. "For their own good: androcentrism, the Technology of Orgasm, & how the more things change, the more they stay the same," LiP Magazine (March 20, 2001).

Kushner, David. "Joystick nation: e-commerce stimulates the vibrator market," Village Voice (March 24-30, 1999).

Landesman, Stephen G. "Ithaca author chronicles an arousing history," Ithaca Journal (April 2, 1999): 2A.

Lane, Lindsay. "Feel-good generations; Rachel Maines: Austin rebel, vibrator historian, all-around smart girl." Austin Chronicle (September 10, 1999).

Lasky, Shlomit. La'Isha (July 14, 2008, in Hebrew).

Lawlor, Debbie. "Review [untitled]," International Journal of Epidemiology 30, no. 4 (2001): 904.

Marsh, Margaret. "Review [untitled]," Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 25, no. 3 (June 2000): 598-601.

Mazo, Ellen. "A scholar's adventure," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Section G (March 2, 1999): 1.

McKee, Bruce. "Bad vibrations: Rachel Maines shakes up academia," Ithaca Times 21, no. 48 (July 8,1999): 7-9.

Metamanda. "Why we should talk about sex in HCI," Metamanda (January 27, 2006).

Mica, Jim. "Excitement in the publishing world," Humor Digest (March 19, 1999).

Mithers, Carol Lynn. "Very good vibrations: electricity was the best revenge." Los Angeles Weekly (December 11-17, 1998).

Muller, Nathalie. "Review [untitled]." Cybersociology Magazine 5 (April 1, 1999).

Myers, Anna. "Review [untitled]." Journal of the American Medical Association 283, no. 2 (2000): 261.

Myers, Linda. "Rachel Maines' book on the history of the vibrator garners two awards," Cornell Chronicle (March 30, 2000).

Newitz, Annalee. "Great female orgasms in history," New York Press (December 2-8, 1998), p.68.

Nussbaum, Emily. "Mother's little helper," Lingua Franca (November 1998).

Ogden, Gina. "Review [untitled]," Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality 3 (October 12, 2000).

O'Keeffe, Regina. "Good vibrations," Us Magazine (May 1999): 48.

Piedmont-Marton, Elisabeth. "Just hysterical: inviting the juices downward from Plato to Freud," Texas Observer (April 28, 2000): 28-29.

Poetker, Karen. "Come again? in pursuit of orgasms by artificial means," Manitoban (October 10, 2001).

"Rachel P. Maines has her hands full," Chronicle of Higher Education, March 19 1999, p.A22.

"Rattle and hum," Sunday Times of South Africa (March 7, 1999).

Reisinger, Brian. "History of the vibrator," Spectator News (November 12, 2007).

"Review [untitled]." Publishers Weekly (November 9, 1998): 65-66.

Riordan, Teresa. "For pleasure: a history of the vibrator," Slate Magazine (July 10, 2005).

Schiebinger, Londa. "Review [untitled]," American Studies 42, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 151-62.

Scriba, Jürgen. "Niemals müde," Der Spiegel (January 1999): 144-45 (in German).

Sigel, Lisa. "Review: [untitled]," Journal of Social History 33, no. 3 (2000): 755-57.

Smith, Clay. "The scandal that could," Austin Chronicle (June 1999).

Taddonio, Liz. "Author to discuss the hardware that helps women orgasm," Ithacan online (2006).

Tanenbaum, Leora. "Review: Parlor Massages," The Women's Review of Books 16, no. 7 (1999): 11-12.

Tiefer, Leonore. "Review [untitled]," Women & Therapy 23, no. 4 (2001): 85-87.

Tsai, Michelle. "A sex toy a day keeps the doctor away? the medical uses of dildos and vibrators," Slate Magazine (October 4, 2007).

Varner, Gary. "Hysteria and the vibrator [interview]," Touchstone Radio (April 22-23, 2000).

Wallace, Elizabeth. "Buzz off," Out Magazine (December 1998): 148.

Watson, Anna. "When sex was a sickness," Natural Health Magazine (February/March 1999).

Wicoff, Kami. "England swings," Salon (March 4, 2004).

Winterson, Jeanette. "A touch of sexual hysteria," Times [London] (November 19, 1998).

Worden, Gretchen. "Review [untitled]," Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 56, no. 3 (2001): 293-95.

Wosk, Julie. "Review [untitled]," Technology and Culture 41, no. 3 (2000): 600-02.


Maines, Rachel. “A sew-sew sex life?Times [London] Higher Education Supplement, August 21, 1998.

Russell, Ron. "Merchants of passion," San Francisco Weekly (September 15, 2004).

Maines affidavit for American Civil Liberties Union challenge to the Alabama Anti-Obscenity Act of 1998, Williams v. Pryor, and the 11th Circuit’s opinion.

Burleson TX v. Webb, New York Times Magazine coverage.

Coverage of 5th U.S. Circuit Court ruling that struck down Texas law on 12 Feb 2008, and commentary on the Texas law.

This That and the Other Gift v. Cobb County GA, No.04-16419 (11th Circuit, February 15, 2006), Cary Wiggins. Georgia law struck down.

Misaligned Shafts,” by John Orentlicher, 1989.