What is Female Hysteria?

 

Female Patient: I feel unsettled Doctor. I have these aches…

 

Doctor replies in excitable, yet profound proclamation: It’s your Hysteria! 

 

Female Patient sighs–and depending on the era–with either fear, disappointment or excitement…

 

      Hysteria, or Female Hysteria, was a broad term used by medical professionals (up until 1980) to treat unexplainable symptoms in female patients. Men had some hysteria too, however, it was most commonly used to diagnose women. Science and medicine has tracked hysteria symptoms as far back as Ancient Egypt. Hysteria symptoms had an unusual, yet conveniently large range from physical symptoms such as eating disorders, to psychological symptoms such as emotional and dissociative disorders, and generalized anxieties. The recorded symptom from the 1800s, “tendencies to cause trouble” has stood out to be one of our favorite erroneous symptoms that we’ve taking pride in displaying at various occasion.

      As for the origin of the term hysteria, we thank the early Greek physicians for the name since it is derived from the Greek word for uterus which is hystera (ὑστέρα). The Greek’s first diagnosis of problematic female symptoms was attributed to a “wandering womb” or sometimes referred to as the “animal within the animal” that had to be trapped back into it’s native position in the body with specific oils, fragrance and spirit-trapping scents… Interestingly, that term lasted and inspired famed psychiatrist Sigmund Freud to adapt the “animal within the animal” concept into to his theory of the “mind within the mind” in his model of the human brain. 

 

An early history timeline:

1900BC

Writings of “Female Hysteria” symptoms described in the Egyptian Kahun Papyri.

500BC

Hysteria term is formed from Greek word hystera (meaning uterus) and they treat the “wandering womb” with fragrances and oils to lure the animal within the animal back to its natural place inside the body.

200AD 

Romans identify hysteria with sexual deprivation and begin to treat with pelvic massage.

1100AD

The addition of suppositories and more fragrances to “purge the womb”

1575AD

  • Marriage is a prescribed answer as Doctors enlist aid from husbands. 

  • Pelvic massage performed by midwives to those unmarried or with religious restrictions.

1600s

  • The term “Hysteria Paroxysm” or the “orgasm” is used to describe an effective cure for hysteria.

  • Hysteria is the most common disease besides that of fever and “no one woman is wholly free of it”

  • Doctors proclaim that achieving orgasm in female patients is no easy task…

 
 

Ah, hysteria on the rise!

      As symptoms seemed to increase and become even more broadly described, hysteria started to climax in the 1800s. Every women was considered to have been infected within some degree of hysteria. Random physical symptoms to mere thoughts of “sexual desires” or lack of, was a sign that the patient had a bought of the hysteria and must be treated. As treatment demand increased, oils and fragrances were no longer enough and manual massage required too much attention… But alas, the industrial revolution has arrived with an explosion of new treatment inventions! The high pressure water massage apparatus and “the manipulator” are now on the scene to aid and cure…

 

 

The High Pressure Water Massage

 

 

 

Early Vibrators

 

 

History of hysteria and treatments from 1800s to present:

1800s

  • Hysteria has reached epidemic status. 

  • To replace manual massage, the creation of the manipulator and other interesting apparatuses occurs with fervor 

  • Freud attributes hysteria to childhood trauma with his famous Anna O. and recommends the “talking cure”

1900s

  • Vibrators become big business as treating hysteria now applies to all women which provides an opportunistically large customer base.

  • Just behind the sewing machine, kettle, fan, and toaster–vibrators are the fifth home appliance to go electric!

  • Popular brand names of vibrators: Sears & Roebuck, Hamilton Beach, American Vibrator Company 

1920s

  • Porn Films increase public awareness and arouse attention that good vibrations are not just for medical treatments… 

  • Hysteria is now being treated on a more discreet level and disappearing as an “approved public” topic.

1950s

With the rise of use for pleasure, vibrators and sexual tools disappear from mass publications for more discreet marketing.

1952

The term hysteria is dropped as a medical condition by the American Psychological Association

1970

  • Female sexual health awareness is advocated bringing attention to the importance of sexual health in women

  • the taboo and stigma surrounding female sexual health is being addressed by feminist, albeit with resistance

  • The invention of the Hitachi Magic Wand

1980s

“Hysteria Neurosis” changed to “Conversion Disorder” by APA, thus, finally removing the term hysteria from medical and psychological definitions. (Conversion disorder is used to describe neurological symptoms that can’t be explained medically).

2000s

A break-through court ruling:

Sex toys are defined as tools for your health in an Alabama state court ruling that requires when purchasing sex tools in AL, a form must be filled out stating your use of sex tools specifically for health conditions. This ruling solidified the argument that sexual health IS an actual health concern in which sex tools are necessary; thus preventing the ban of selling sexual products in AL.

2018

Hysteria™ and Hysteria Wellness™ is created to convert an out-dated stigmatic term to now be regarded as a movement towards solutions to optimize female sexual health and whole female wellness.

 

 

 

Cultural Damage 

     As you can see–as long as our entire human history–there has been this commitment to put “erratic behavior” in women in a tidy little box labeled hysteria. Not to mention this “erratic behavior” may not have been all that erratic at all… True medical conditions that we are aware of today (like hormonal imbalances and true neurological disorders) were grouped with behaviors that were identified as “disturbing” because they went against current social standards. This grouping of actual serious behavioral conditions with conjectured independent or different, or “questioning authority” behaviors led to a traumatic conditioning of women. As an impact to the female psyche, this has had deep, subconscious-level, lasting impressions and there are complete doctorate theses and books aplenty that detail the implication of misdiagnosing women based on social and cultural expectations.  

     Even though the term hysteria has been dropped as use for a medical term, current cultures will still single out a women’s behavior based on her sexuality. Identifying women apart on how they are acting (i.e. hormonal, different, or provocative, or… the list can go on and on); or the attention brought to menses cycle behavior, continues to establish this inequality and misunderstanding of a woman’s behavior based on social restrictions in our system. 

      Throughout the eras in history, women’s sexuality was either a confused public and social condition or it had to be a discreet, and at times, a shameful one. In all of history, there were very rare and few instances where being a sexual woman–with all the behaviors that includes–was considered acceptable. 

 

A call for change

      We believe the future of sexual equality is hopeful. Sexuality is becoming less controversial as more humans feel free to discuss sexual health openly. The female hysteria of our history has had so many impacts that we are just now beginning to identify and correct with social changes and as new science and understanding develops. To aid and encourage this update and re-definition of female sexuality–as an open-minded and accepted quality–is the fundamental objective of why we created Hysteria and Hysteria Wellness. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources. 

If you type into Google: female hysteria, you’ll find pages upon pages to education and entertain, or you can start here:

Wikipedia: because we know you looked there first. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_hysteria

Glamour has a nice article: https://www.glamour.com/story/the-history-of-doctors-diagnosing-women-with-hysteria

Great Historical Timeline of hysteria, from MotherJones: https://www.motherjones.com/media/2012/06/hysteria-sex-toy-history-timeline/

Maines, Rachel P. (1998). The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria", the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6646-4. 

pdf to read:

https://monoskop.org/images/9/93/Maines_Rachel_P_The_Technology_of_Orgasm_Hysteria_the_Vibrator_and_Womens_Sexual_Satisfaction.pdf

The Classification of Hysteria and Related Disorders: Historical and Phenomenological Considerations. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4695775/