“Passion and Power: The Technology of the Orgasm”
One Simple Invention
First Run Features has a release on DVD that goes where few films have dared to go. “Passion and Power”is a documentary about the history of vibrators and the female orgasm is America. It examines the history of the vibrator from the Victorian Age (when the vibrator was used to cure a woman’s “hysteria”) through the sexual revolution of the 1960’s up until and through today. Wendy Slick and Emiko Omori also look at myths about female orgasms, like how the squirting orgasm works for example, as well as look at the influence both the vibrator and the female orgasm have had of sexual politics and gender dynamics.
The vibrator is a relatively simple invention but it has had a lot to do with the female orgasm, we learn. Originally used for medical reasons to help the medical profession better understand the female orgasm which has been misunderstood. Socially, legally and religious, sexual satisfaction is supposed to be brought about by male penetration alone; there is no consideration for female orgasm and women remained unsatisfied after the sexual act, their dissatisfaction was labeled as “hysteria”. The symptoms were vague and were no more than a disease that was manufactured by doctors in order to pad their bank accounts and to create a procedure that would satisfy women. When in the 1920’s vibrators were seen in early porn films, doctors stopped the treatment and the vibrator went underground. In the 1970’s when feminism became a force and birth control became a norm and abortion became a word used in daily speech, the sexual revolution began and one woman, Betty Dodson, brought the vibrator back into the lives of women. She noticed that when she touched herself with a scalp massager, she experienced powerful orgasms. She then began a crusade to teach women how to have orgasms with a vibrator—both by themselves and with partners. It’s strange that to think if you look not too far into the future to now, we are starting to bring out VR Porn Movies online. How times have changed!
However in 2004 the female orgasm again came under attack when a former fifth grade teacher was arrested for selling vibrators to undercover cops in a small Texas town. Texas has a law prohibiting the sale of genital arousing devices yet male sexual enhancement drugs can be sold there. This makes Texas (and three other states) have a double standard and endangers sexual freedom.
The movie begins with the story of Joanne Webb, the churchgoing Texas housewife who was busted for selling vibrators but the majority of the film deals with the research of Rachel P. Maines whose 1999 book, “The Technology of Orgasm; Hysteria, the Vibrator and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction”. She shows how vibrators were used by doctors for bogus claims. There even was a time when vibrators were manufactured by Sears, Roebuck and General Electric.
The movie gives us interviews and archival photographs. But it is Betty Dodson who is the star of this film especially when she describes her own experiences and she says some pretty astounding things. There are some poignant moments in the film as women admit that were misled by views of women’s sexuality. The movie is quite a lighthearted view of a subject not usually discussed and it is in no way offensive as it could have been. It brings a secret and strange history to life and is an empowering look at female sexuality as a tasteful expose. In fact, Margaret Cho said, “I love this movie as much as I love my vibrator”.