A Visit from Rachel Maines, Patron Saint of the Vintage Vibrator!

While sexologists have long known that vibrators existed in the latter part of the 19th century, and that some people knew they could be used for erotic stimulation (you only have to look at old-fashioned porn to realize that), it took scholar Rachel Maines to dig deeply enough in research materials that the vibrator’s in-depth history could be revealed: used by medical doctors to treat hysteria and then happily adopted as a household object by folks who bought more of them than electric toasters, they were, as Rachel terms it, a very popular “socially camouflaged technology.”

Our beautiful Antique Vibrator Museum would not exist in its present inspiring and informational form without Rachel — so we were beyond thrilled to finally welcome her for a visit! And I have to tell you, it was a singular thrill to show off our two most unique items to her –- she’s seen pretty much everything, vibrator-wise, except the pneumatic Detwiller and the absolutely-one-of-a-kind vibe we call the Hippie Homemade, and she got a kick out of both.

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We were able to catch Rachel on her recent trip to the West Coast -– she was helping launch a show at the Museum of Vancouver (BC) called Sex Talk in the City, featuring not only vibes but also many other artifacts that trace the history of sexuality. I picked her up from the airport and we had just enough time for a quick stop at her hotel before it was time to meet her old friends and new, gathered at the Antique Vibrator Museum at Good Vibrations on Polk Street. Joining us were Good Vibrations founder Joani Blank and Rachel’s documentarians Wendy Slick and Emiko Omori — they turned her fabulous book The Technology of Orgasm into an equally fabulous movie, Passion and Power. We even had a brief Gina Ogden sighting! She couldn’t stay — she was stopping over in SF on her way to teach a seminar in Mexico — but it was a heavy-hitting group of vibrator grandes dames, to say the least.

Rachel is as engaging a speaker as you’d ever want to hear, and she regaled us with stories from the long history of her research on vibrators, as well as commenting on the small but significant controversy her book engendered. (I put it this way because most academic readers seemed to think it was an amazing accomplishment — we certainly feel that way about it around here — but her most significant critic actually brings expertise in the history of health care to the table, and Rachel respects her critique.) I, of course, was happy to toss in my fun facts about vibrators appearing in porn — and when everyone’s questions had been answered, a vintage vibrator geek’s perfect night came to an end around a dinner table. Rachel, come back and see us again soon!

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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