NSFW Sunday: A Lesbosexy History Lesson

Hello, and welcome to NSFW Sunday! This week: important historical facts. And vibrators! Let’s start with a mini-gallery of vintage lesbians*, shall we?

 

The very first (known) Euro-porn was created in 1527 by Guilio Romano, Puetro Aretino, and Marcantonio, and was a set of 16 explicitly erotic drawings, which were promptly censored. However, during the Renaissance, people got away (sort of) with sexually explicit art because of the broader imagined acceptance of erotic images in the classical world. Which Renaissance people were all over.

via suicidegirls

Speaking of the 1500s, and let’s face it who isn’t, Sappho’s texts began circulating in the 1540s. One of her poems (fragment 110) is this:

ANDROMEDA!
She’s fired your fancy?
That clod of a woman
who hasn’t even the knack
of pulling her skirts up
over her ankles

Sappho: ever the sentimentalist (spoiler: in fragment 109 in my edition, Andromeda acts like a trollop). Fragment 49, however, is this:

AT LAST
You have come
and you did well to come
I pined for you.
And now you have put a torch to my heart
a flare of love—
O bless you and bless you and bless you:
you are back…
we were parted

Time travelling forward, the did you know that the vibrator was originally a cure for hysteria? Which is when young (and usually unmarried) women suffered from basically any symptom that could be linked to sexual dissatisfaction and which would therefore require a physician (or midwife) “treating” the patient by hand, by hydrotherapy (the nineteenth century equivalent of a medically applied shower head), and by vibrator. According to Slate’s slide show history of the vibrator,

“By 1917, there were more vibrators than toasters in American homes. Dozens of patents were issued for new designs between 1900 and 1940. Manufactured long before the era of engineered obsolescence, these machines were built to last. Many vibrators of this vintage still survive; at least a dozen are usually for sale on eBay at any given moment.”

Speaking of hysteria, the film Hysteria, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last week. This is the trailer:

In the Next Room, a Pulitzer- and Tony-nominated play similarly inspired by hysteria and vibrators and set in Victorian-era New York, has also recently premiered in Toronto. According to the Globe and Mail,

“Ruhl, 37, came up with the play’s premise after reading Cornell University professor Rachel Maines’s book The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria,” the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction.

It was in that popular history that she learned the sex toy’s little-known past life as a medical device – which is, coincidentally, fodder for the upcoming film Hysteria starring Maggie Gyllenhaal. “I had no idea that doctors used vibrators to treat women with ‘hysteria’,” says Ruhl. “Nor did I know that before the advent of the vibrator they used the manual treatment – which was completely shocking to me!”

In The Next Room imagines the home office of just one such physician in the 1880s. Doctor Givings conducts experimental therapy with his new electrical-massage machine, while his neglected wife Catherine listens curiously to the cries of his patients one room over.

“I’ve always been interested in what lies underneath the veneer of the 19th-century novel, what’s underneath the manners or what’s in the proverbial next room,” says Ruhl, who was the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2006. “You don’t hear much about prostitutes or bathrooms or vibrators.”

via queerbrownxx.tumblr.com

*A disproportionate part of this gallery comes from Vintage Lesbian, Lingerie Lesbian, and Vintage Affectionate Women. Also many of the photos are not actually vintage but are styled that way, or just have corsets I liked in them, because no one wants to see an out-of-focus gallery of entirely clothed people.

Disclaimer: All of the photographs on NSFW Sundays are taken from various tumblrs and do not belong to us. All are linked and credited to the best of our abilities in hopes of attracting more traffic to the tumblrs and photographers who have blessed us with this imagery. The inclusion of a photograph here should not be interpreted as an assertion of the model’s gender identity or sexual orientation. If there is a photo included here that belongs to you and you want it removed, please email our tech director at cee [at] autostraddle dot com and it will be removed promptly, no questions asked.

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25 Comments

  1. We are reading “in the next room” for acting class. and Trustus theatre in Columbia SC in putting it on this season! sarah ruhl is one of my all time favorite playwrights!

  2. I thought the answer to this would be somewhere but I couldn’t find it – what is the Autostraddle recommended/definitive edition of Sappho? Amazon wants me to buy Willis Barnstone’s translation but I don’t want to get the “wrong” one, if there is a “right” one.

    And of course this gallery/post is spectacular as usual.

      • Yes, agreed. Go out and buy “If Not, Winter” right now.

        Though! My favorite version of the “jealousy” fragment was translated by Diane Raynor in 1991:

        To me it seems
        that man has the fortune of gods,
        whoever sits beside you, and close,
        who listens to you sweetly speaking
        and laughing temptingly;
        my heart flutters in my breast,
        whenever I look quickly, for a moment —
        I say nothing, my tongue broken,
        a delicate fire runs under my skin,
        my eyes see nothing, my ears roar,
        cold sweat rushes down me,
        trembling seizes me,
        I am greener than grass,
        to myself I seem
        needing but little to die.

        But all must be endured, since . . .

  3. Half way through the vintage photos, i wondered if these women are now the old ladies who high five me on the street for kissing girls and smacking asses.

    or maybe they’re the old ladies who smack my ass.

  4. I want to get a scan of the picture of my (probably gay) great-grandmother standing on top of Pike’s Peak when she was in her 20s. (And in THE 20s. And in PANTS!) The picture was taken while she traveled around the US with her “best friend.” Mm hm.

    There are two things people say when they see the photo. The first is “Damn, do you look like her, Dina!” The second is “GAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY”

  5. Pingback: Vintage Smut Collector’s Link Round Up – Silent Porn Star

  6. I have a large collection of vintage photos of women kissing, cuddling, holding hands and cross-dressing that I collected a few years back from eBay. I have them framed and adorning my kitchen, but I really need to scan them and post them sometime…

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