Carol Queen’s Fabulous Antique Vibe Field Trip to Mendocino

timthumbThere are few lovelier drives in the US than Highway 128, the twisty wine country-and-redwood road that gets you from US 101 to the Pacific Coast Highway just sound of Mendocino. I drove it just this past weekend to visit the Mendocino Theatre Company as their guest speaker, commenting on vibrator history after a Sunday matinee of their current show, Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play. I first saw this show at Berkeley Rep when they premiered it in 2009, and a couple of years ago enjoyed a trip to the San Diego Rep as the discussant when it went up on the boards there. The wonderful thespians in Mendocino were terrific hosts, putting me up at a nice ocean-view Ft. Bragg motel, the Surf & Sand, and meeting me for a yummy dinner so I could meet the play’s director, Ann Woodhead. (Thanks, Felicia and Brendan, for  a lovely evening.)

Few towns are as picturesque as Mendocino,  perched cliffside on the Pacific coast and beautifully preserved. I had a front row seat at the theatre to enjoy the show, a comedic and yet moving story of a Victorian doctor (who specializes in treating hysteria with you-know-what) and his wife, who becomes so curious about what he’s doing with his mostly-female patients “in the next room” that it upends her self-image and their marriage, in ultimately a good (if possibly not very Victorian) way. The show riffs off Rachel Maines’ fabulous book The Technology of Orgasm and explores the way vibrators gave doctors techy opportunities to more efficiently treat hysteria—the doc in the play is practically an electricity evangelist, so devoutly does he believe in the curative powers of this new technology. Like Hysteria, the movie starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, the play also lets 21st-century audiences peek into the gender relations of a time when women (at least, women who were white, and not poor) were the practically-sexless “angels in the house”—and explores how alienating a state that was for them, and for their marriages.

Mendo2I brought a real antique vibrator to show, and spoke about the history of the era when a “paroxysm of relief” was a treatment for a common women’s ailment, and how it all changed. These medicalized devices really are the ancestors of our Magic Wands and Lelos and Jimmyjanes, though it is a little difficult to see that without the backstory. Come to the Antique Vibrator Museum to see the devices change with the history of the 20th century.

You’ve still got a minute to see this fun and fascinating show!

And my talk will be on the radio soon – look for it on Friday, 9/27, on KNYO-LP in Fort Bragg, 107.7fm, and on the web, Noyo Radio. Marco McClean, who recorded the talk and on whose show it will  air, tells me he starts at 9pm. My section is scheduled to start at 9:30. A day or two after the Friday show he puts a link to the recording of the show on his weblog, Tune in if you like – and thanks, Marco!


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

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