Hysterical Paroxysms

Las Vegas

9 May 2019

The micro-robotic vibrator Osé by new tech company Lora DiCarlo was recently selected as an “Innovation Awards Honoree” in the robotics and drone category by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) in the US. With this honour came a coveted space at the annual Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

A month later, however, the accolade and invitation were revoked, with CTA insisting that the product didn’t fit any of CES’s product categories. In addition, it quoted a clause about disqualifying material deemed “immoral, obscene, indecent”.

Many commentators pointed out CES’s double standards – the fair has previously allowed exhibitors showing both female sex robots and VR porn – and there is still little clarity as to what happened. A closer look suggests that events may have come down to a single and rather central aspect of the vibrator: the term “orgasm”.

The vibrator was developed in the mid-19th century as a labour-saving device. It was largely used to automate the manual work of the physician in the treatment of the all-encompassing female ailment labelled “hysteria”. Technology brought about the “desired outcome” (orgasm) faster than before, but the terminology around this act was cloaked in medical jargon, such as “hysterical paroxysm”.

As the fashion for labelling women hysterics faded in the early 1900s, vibrators moved from the doctor’s office to the recreational pages of mail-order catalogues. However, they were never sold as sexual aids. Even when reduced in size to become battery-powered phallic wands in the 1960s, vibrators were not mentioned by name. Instead, “personal massage” became the catch-all description.

In stark contrast, Lora DiCarlo puts the orgasm – and more importantly the female orgasm – at the forefront of its description of the Osé vibrator. “Blended orgasms are the holy grail of orgasms,” reads its website copy, leaving you in no doubt as to the device’s purpose. Even in 2019, this is a stunningly frank statement. Many contemporary vibrator brands still opt for euphemisms such as “personal pleasure” instead.