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  • Susan Elaine Jones

Wandering wombs and vibrating cures

Once, women’s problems were often ascribed to a ‘wandering womb’. The organ would go walkabout in the abdominal cavity, and as it bumped into various other organs like the liver and spleen, may cause sluggishness, weakness, even vertigo and of course, hysteria. The physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia believed the womb “an animal within an animal,” an organ that “moved of itself hither and thither in the flanks.”

I’d like to blame this purely on the ancient Greeks. (I love the description that Hippocrates, who either invented or popularised the wandering womb theory because “I need to create a problem that my penis will solve”). And these are the dudes who gave us theories including testicles being the source of the male voice, and the eye being able to see because it produced “streams of light or fire” (which presumably just didn’t work in dark rooms for some reason)

Vibration is life - poster for cure of hysterical paroxysm with gentle massage

However, many sources will describe this theory as lasting until the middle ages, where using pleasant aromas was thought to tempt the womb back into position (as presumably there just wasn’t enough available penises to do a god job). But fortunately for some women, the belief did persist into Victorian times, where wafting nice smells up the lady developed into using massage and vibrations to draw the womb back down.

Doc Constantine is just one of many vibrating cures, which the lovely Liz of dinosaurs are fun blog has collected together).

It cannot be stressed enough that this was not for sexual relief. Nice women didn’t have such desires, and certainly they had no mechanism of relief like the hallowed man. But it relieved “tensions” in some nebulous way which wise women probably wouldn’t frankly explain to any starched coat, moustachioed doctor.

Medicine may have moved on, but women know when they’re onto a good thing. And all this leads me on to my reading material this week. Having explored death in photography, way before it was becoming cool (must insert link to my dissertation here), but a great reason that her work is still being revisited, the marvellous free spirit that is Sue Fox has written The Visceral Tear; The Art of Cuntography.

Cover of book Visceral Tear by Sue Fox

Using the most taboo words in the English language (which shockingly I don’t feel I can repeat on the internet – think of the children!) she uses it to frankly and disarmingly discuss her relationship with her body and her sex drive. She bluntly explores fantasies and fears, pains and ecstasies, in the coarsest and most direct language, which helps cut through the social niceties and straight to the blunt realities of the body and its animal needs.

Though her fantasies are filled with men fulfilling her needs, she knows (like the rest of us) that a mechanical vibrating device is the most practical, reliable solution. (For clarity, even though she does write about rabbits a lot, it isn't this Sue Fox. This book talks about a totally different type of rabbit.)

So thank you, misogynist Greeks, for helping indirectly to produce a miracle of modern convenience.

Womankind thanks you.

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