The 1 Good Thing From Female Hysteria Diagnosis: Vibrators

Female Hysteria – Ever Heard Of It?

Female hysteria is a physical illness dating back to ancient Egypt, and though it has no place in our understanding of female health and wellness today, it remained in the diagnostic manual used for psychologists until the 70s. Viewed as an illness caused by or contributing to sexual malfunction in women, female hysteria was considered by most to be a “woman’s disease” because women were believed to be weaker than men and more susceptible to illness in general.

Female hysteria was an especially popular diagnosis during the Victorian era-the diagnosis covered a range of symptoms including feelings of suffocation, coughing, dramatic fits, paralysis of limbs, fainting spells, loss of speech or hearing, persistent vomiting, or behaving in any way that is deemed socially inappropriate. Essentially, female hysteria was used to justify any undesirable behavior by women. This illness is the cause of the modern misconception that women are dramatic, emotional, or uncontrollable.

Blame It On Freud!

Historically, female hysteria has been attributed to a number of unproven causes. Women who didn’t abide by societal rules were said to be victims of demonic possession or witchcraft which then required exorcism or torture, often resulting in the woman’s death.

In fact, the infamous Salem Witch Trials were attributed to an outbreak of female hysteria in the area. In the Victorian Era, lack of fulfilling sexual life-which, according to actual medical doctors could only be achieved through intercourse with a man-contributed to the female hysteria.

According to famed German psychologist Sigmund Freud, infantile sexual experiences caused sufferers of female hysteria to repeat patterns of their earliest sexual relationships. Looking back, treatments for female hysteria have included exorcism, heterosexual sex, and hypnosis. But that’s not all-there was a time when treatment also including the doctor inducing orgasm in the female patient.

And So We Got The Vibrator

Apparently, we were told, that every woman has a rabbit vibrator in her draw so we had to get one!

So, in a way, one good thing came out of the whole mess: the vibrator. It was invented to give doctors’ hands a break when treating patients with female hysteria. Luckily we don’t need doctors anymore – just a vibrator and a site like [tweetthis]The origins of vibrators…find out in our blog post![/tweetthis]

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Still, the idea of female hysteria has been largely harmful to women. Aside from promoting the idea that women are uncontrollably emotional and need to be cured through sex, relying on the blanket diagnosis of female hysteria caused doctors to ignore advancements in medicine for women for years. Whilst there is no harm in indulging in these sensations on your own or with a loving partner, using such things to sweep actual medical issues under the rug was pretty terrible. What might have been attributed to brain injuries and treated appropriately, was blamed on female hysteria and treated through orgasm which, unsurprisingly, did nothing to heal the real issue. If only sites like sexfreehd and the many more available now existed back then, things may be a little different now.

The Mistreatment of Women

In 1900, for example, 14-year-old “Dora” sought treatment for female hysteria from Freud. She had been diagnosed medically with appendicitis, which explained both her stomach pains and a dragging right foot. But Freud blamed her stomach pains on a hysterical pregnancy and thought her dragging foot indicated her knowledge that she had taken a “wrong step.” Two months after Freud pronounced her cured, Dora died of sarcoma of the abdominal glands.

That is still not the worst of it. As a budding psychologist, Freud’s big break came when he published a paper that attributed symptoms of female hysteria to childhood sexual trauma, usually at the hand of a family member. However, the medical community, not wanting to think that the sexual abuse of children was so widespread in their society, rejected the theory. Rather than sacrifice his career, Freud published a new theory which stated that parents, innocently touching their infants, had accidentally awakened their sexuality. In this theory, the infants became the seducers, making up claims of abuse in response to repressed fantasies about their parents. In a sense, this decision of Freud is one of the first ways society learned to suspect rape victims in an official, medical capacity. Freud, theorizing that his patients had made up the abuse, made it acceptable to suspect anyone who has been raped or abused.

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Women’s Voice Remains Quiet

Female Hysteria promoted unfair stereotypes about women. It also took advantage of female patients who were forced to discuss embarrassing gynecological questions with their male doctors. Women, perceived as weak and prone to illness, were given the “easy” diagnosis of hysteria, the condition of womanhood when no situational cause could be found. Female hysteria is proof of an early foundation of lazy care of women by their male physicians who discounted their real symptoms. Even throughout the written history of hysteria, there is no Woman’s Voice despite the fact that the issue was believed to mainly affect women.


Katelyn Roth is the newest addition to our Contributors team. She is a student at the Pittsburgh State University and holds a double-major in Creative Writing and Psychology and is now pursuing a Masters in Poetry. She resides in Pittsburg with her boyfriend and their husky mix, Inara. Subscribe to our blog and get updates of Katelyn’s and other Contributors’ posts.

Have you been following our short-story series? Catch up on “The Unfortunate Life of An Interesting Woman,” by Alexis Ali and subscribe to get an update when Part VI posts tomorrow! Here’s an excerpt:

“Hello, Mr. Watson. I have brought you quite a few articles of all different types for you to look over,” she said as she walked towards his desk and set the folder down. He eyed the overstuffed folder and looked up at her curiously.

“Have you picked your Pseudonym?” he asked.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

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One thought on “The 1 Good Thing From Female Hysteria Diagnosis: Vibrators

  1. […] perspective on an age-old mental health diagnosis – Female Hysteria. Read her article here and share whether you have heard of this before. As well, did you know that we had Freud to thank […]

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