The Study That Set the World Abuzz

Question: Did researching the vibrator pose professional obstacles for you?

\r\n

Rachel Maines: I expected it to derail my career, and it did. I have never been like a tenured faculty member anywhere, I've been a professor, now I'm a visiting scientist and I love it, but because, when I first started working on it, it was so controversial, that nobody wanted to touch it. I couldn't even get an article published on it, except for this little magazine associated with the Bakken Library and Museum of Electricity and Life, which is out in Minneapolis, and even they later began to think better of it, but it was too late by then, of course, once you're published, you're published.

\r\n

But then after working on the thing for like, well, I guess it was more than 20 years, it came out in 1999, which turned out to be the perfect year for it, although I didn't know that, I couldn't have, but, you know, that's when I finished it and it came out and people just went bonkers over it. They even did a “Law & Order Special Victims Unit” thing with a little vignette from my book. I was like, it's not what a historian expects. But it's been quite a trip and now there's been a movie and a play, which is running right now at the Lyceum and I'm told, Scout's honor, a puppet musical.

\r\n

Question: What did you hope the impact of the study would be?

\r\n

Rachel Maines: You're going to laugh at me, because what I thought was going to happen was that my colleagues would talk about it a lot and it would be reviewed in the scholarly journals and that's all I expected. I thought maybe a few people might use it as a textbook, but actually it's used as a textbook in about 150 colleges and universities around the world. It's been translated now, I think it's now in three languages, and people just loved my hypothesis, and that's all it is really, is an hypothesis, that women were treated with massage for this disease, hysteria, which has supposedly existed since the time of Hippocrates, 450 B.C., and that the vibrator was invented to treat this disease. Well, people just thought this was such a cool idea that people believe it, that it's like a fact. And I'm like, "It's a hypothesis! It's a hypothesis!" But it doesn't matter, you know? People like it so much they don't want to hear any doubts about it. Eventually somebody will sit down and say, "Now, maybe there's another way to interpret this data," but in the meantime, I'm really kind of enjoying all the attention. As you can imagine.

Recorded on December 14, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen

When Rachel Maines first published a history of the vibrator ("The Technology of Orgasm"), she "expected it to derail [her] career, and it did." But even she wasn’t prepared for its impact outside academia.

Live on Monday: Does the US need one billion people?

What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.

Ultracold gas exhibits bizarre quantum behavior

New experiments find weird quantum activity in supercold gas.

Credit: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • Experiments on an ultracold gas show strange quantum behavior.
  • The observations point to applications in quantum computing.
  • The find may also advance chaos theory and explain the butterfly effect.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Learn innovation with 3-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn

    Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.

    Big Think LIVE

    Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.

    Keep reading Show less

    3 cognitive biases perpetuating racism at work — and how to overcome them

    Researchers say that moral self-licensing occurs "because good deeds make people feel secure in their moral self-regard."

    Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash
    Personal Growth

    Books about race and anti-racism have dominated bestseller lists in the past few months, bringing to prominence authors including Ibram Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Robin DiAngelo.

    Keep reading Show less

    Should you grow a beard? Here's how women perceive bearded men

    Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"

    Photo Credit: Frank Marino / Unsplash
    Sex & Relationships
    • A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
    • Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
    • Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
    Keep reading Show less

    Only 35 percent of Americans know the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease

    Yet 80 percent of respondents want to reduce their risk of dementia.

    Photo: Lightspring / Shutterstock
    Mind & Brain
    • A new MDVIP/Ipsos survey found that only 35 percent of Americans know the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
    • Eighty percent of respondents said they want to reduce their risks.
    • An estimated 7.1 million Americans over the age of 65 will suffer from Alzheimer's by 2025.
    Keep reading Show less
    Quantcast