Welcome to the Antique Vibrator Museum, San Francisco’s Sex Toy Attraction

Juliet Bennett Rylah

San Francisco’s Good Vibrations Antique Vibrator Museum is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of vintage sex toys, with items dating back to the 1800s and going all the way up to the 1970s.
Good Vibrations itself is a sex toy company that specializes in high-quality pleasure aids, while its cheeky museum tells the storied history of the vibrator. In fact, the museum sits inside the company’s Polk Street store. While guests may enter the museum snickering, they’ll quickly realize that vibrators haven’t always been a gal’s best bedside friend. Allegedly, vibrators began as a tool to treat “hysteria,” a bogus condition that physicians used to diagnose women with hundreds of years ago. The belief was that a woman who suffered from hysteria was deprived of sexual release, manifesting in a variety of physical and mental symptoms. Author Rachel Maines wrote in her book The Technology of Orgasm that physicians in the 1800s began treating hysteria by sexually stimulating their patients to climax, and that vibrators were invented to make this “treatment” easier.
By the 1920s, practitioners had abandoned the physical treatments for psychological ones, and by the 1950s, the American Psychiatric Association dropped the term “female hysteria” altogether. Vibrators eventually became a household product, as opposed to a clinical device, occasionally marketed as beauty devices, massagers, or panaceas for women’s health concerns.
In the 1970s, sex therapist Joani Blank founded the very first Good Vibrations store in San Fransisco, inside of which was her collection of ancient sex toys, the earliest iteration of this curious museum. The collection grew over time, ultimately becoming what it is today.
Guests will learn all of this and more at the museum, curated by sexologist Dr. Carol Queen. Items in the collection include the Stim-U-Lax Junior, a massager sold by Sears in the 1960s, and several very odd, and frankly intimidating, contraptions from the very early 1900s. The museum also contains old advertisements for these tools, with bits of copy such as “Almost like a miracle is the miraculous healing force of massage when rightly applied.” Another ad boasts that such a device can alleviate all suffering. “Cures disease,” it claims.
Those in the market for more modern toys can peruse the Good Vibrations shop before or after visiting the museum. A free, docent-led tour of the Antique Vibrator Museum is available every third Sunday of the month at 3 p.m. Interested parties are asked to RSVP at least 72 hours beforehand by calling +1-415-345-0400. Otherwise, the museum is open daily from 12:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m., and until 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays. Visitors should call ahead to ensure the museum space is not being used for a private event.

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