A Vibrator Researcher Checks out the Vibrator Movie, Hysteria

Being something of a “vibrator researcher” (see here, here, here, and here for starters), it’s perhaps not surprising that I wanted to see Hysteria – the new so-called “vibrator movie” – as soon as I could. Fortunately, it was playing nearby at the IU Cinema (a beautiful venue for watching films).

The verdict? I enjoyed Hysteria. I went for escapist fun and it delivered. Yes, the progression of the love interests was predictable. Yes, the feminist messages were more than a little canned. But as a light-hearted, fun look at female sexuality, pleasure, orgasms, and the history of the vibrator (some key aspects of which remain contested; see also this post by one of my favorite sex educators, Cory Silverberg), it was a lovely film.

Were there problems with the movie? Of course.

Take, for example, the tremendous “success rate” of the women having orgasms in the movie due to the hand-delivered or even vibrator-delivered “vulvar massage”. If only most all women (who wanted an orgasm) had orgasms every single time! And then to blame their partners for their lack of orgasm/”hysteria”, as the movie suggests at times, misses the mark as well. While it perhaps makes for tongue-in-cheek moments of humor, in all likelihood, men of the era found themselves in pretty love-starved and sex-started situations, too, not necessarily marrying who they wanted to marry, or having sex with the person (or gender of person) they wanted to, and likely remaining in the dark about their own bodies and their partners’ bodies, including pleasure, orgasm, and sexual technique. These were pre-Kinsey days and information about sexuality was lacking in many ways.

What I particularly liked, however, was simply that I was in a packed movie theatre watching a movie about vibrators. It was fun to see students and community members I recognize in the audience and a delight to hear everyone giggle at certain points (particularly the final cheeky scenes). The scene with the goggles was silly but cute (you’ll see….). And given how few women are ever shown having orgasms in movies, it was refreshing to see/hear orgasm after orgasm after orgasm – and to see some variety in the length of time it took women to experience orgasm as well as their facial expressions during orgasm.

Will some people want to endlessly unpack Hysteria in a thousand different ways? Yes. But I’m not one of them. For me, the movie was fun entertainment and I hope provoked some conversations among friends, lovers, family members, and co-workers about female sexualities…. and yes, vibrators too.

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.