This weekend will see the London release of the film Hysteria – a romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator in Victorian England.

Based on a true story, it tells the story of how Mortimer Granville (played by Hugh Dancy), a young doctor in 19th century London employed to perform “pelvic massages” to well-heeled ladies diagnosed with “hysteria”, eventually invented the first electro-mechanical vibrator.

"Hysteria" was so termed after the Latin hystericus, meaning "of the womb" and was apparently characterised by "weeping, nymphomania, frigidity, melancholia and anxiety", afflictions believed to stem from a "disorder of the uterus".


Maggie Gyllenhaal and Hugh Dancy in Hysteria

Following the event of Dr Granville's labour-saving device, which promised to alleviate such unbecoming behaviours, mechanical vibrators became available for sale through such respectable publications such as Needlecraft and Modern Priscilla.

While the film explores the era's coy, repressed attitudes towards sex and masturbation, it's no secret the Victorians had a decidedly kinky side.


In Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism, Dr Deborah Lutz reveals the seedier side of 19th century London – namely anonymous sex, flagellation brothels and lots and lots of porn.

Dr Lutz told The Sun: “There was a moral code. You wouldn’t talk about sex in public, and novelists like Thomas Hardy had to take a lot of sex out of his novels to get them published.

“But the idea that Victorians were prudes, I think, is largely false.”

While the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 pushed much pornography underground, it did not stop the flood - with some 50 per cent of it to do with flagellation.

Indeed, the practice became so prolific in Victorian England it became known as Le Vice Anglais (the English Vice) and brothels began to offer flagellation services where customers could pay to undertake a flogging.

Theresa Berkely, a 19th century dominatrix and brothel madam, gained a reputation for delivering flagellation so expertly a special apparatus, named the Berkley Horse, was created to assist her customers in the pursuit of sexual gratification.

victorian courting couple

Prudish? Just wait til I unveil the blanket hornpipe...

Which brings us nicely to the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue and it's numerous euphemisms for sex. (Thanks Mental Floss for flagging this up)

The tale of St George and the Dragon told of a dragon rearing up from a lake to tower over the saint, but “playing at St George” casts the woman as the dragon in the bedroom, scandalously putting her on top.

Or “melting moments” – those intimate snippets of time shared “by a fat man and woman in amorous congress”.

We’ll leave interpretations of “blanket hornpipe” up to you.

The Health Benefits Of An Orgasm

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  • Keeps Your Blood Flowing

    According to Dr. Jennifer Berman, co-founder of the Female Sexual Medicine Center at UCLA, orgasms increase your circulation, keeping the blood flowing to your genital area. This in turn keeps your tissue healthy!

  • It's A Form Of Cardio

    Although it can't be considered an alternative to daily exercise, having an orgasm is a cardiovascular activity. "Your heart rate increases, blood pressure increases [and your] respiratory rate increases," says Berman. And because it's akin to running in many physiological respects, your body also releases endorphins. Sounds like a pretty fun way to work your heart out.

  • Lifts Your Mood

    Feeling down in the dumps? An orgasm might be just what you need to pick yourself up. In addition to endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin are also released during orgasm. All three of these hormones have what Berman terms "mood-enhancing effects." In fact, dopamine is the same hormone that's released when individuals use drugs such as cocaine -- or eat something really delicious.

  • Helps You Sleep

    A little pleasure may go a long way towards a good night's rest. A recent survey of 1,800 women found that over 30 percent of them used sexual release as a natural sedative.

  • Keeps Your Brain Healthy

    Having an orgasm not only works out your heart, but also your head. Barry Komisaruk, Ph.D. <a href="" target="_hplink">told <em>Cosmopolitan</em></a> that orgasms actually nourish the brain with oxygen. "Functional MRI images show that women's brains utilize much more oxygen during orgasm than usual," Komisaruk says.

  • It's A Natural Painkiller

    One thing that Victorian practitioners may have been onto is that orgasms can work to soothe certain aches and pains -- namely migraines and menstrual cramps. (So now you know what to do next time you have a headache if you don't feel like popping an Excedrin.) According to Berman, the contractions that make up an orgasm can actually work to evacuate blood clots during your period, providing some temporary relief.

  • It Relieves Stress

    Most of our lives are so hectic that it's hard to even imagine being relaxed. However, it turns out that <em>sexual</em> release can double as <em>stress</em> relief. Not only do the hormones help with this task, Berman says that being sexual also gives our minds a break: "When we're stressed out and overextending ourselves, [we're] not being in the moment. Being sexual requires us to focus on one thing only."

  • Gives You A Healthy Glow

    There actually might be something to the idea that we "glow" after sex. The hormone DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), which shows <a href="" target="_hplink">increased levels during sexual excitement</a>, can actually make your skin healthier.

  • Aids Your Emotional Health

    Last but not least, when you know what it takes to make yourself orgasm, you may increase your emotional confidence and intelligence. "When you understand how your body works and ... [that it] is capable of pleasure on its own, regardless of your partner status, you make much better decisions in relationships," says Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., a sexologist and certified sexuality educator. "You don't look to someone else to legitimize that you're a sexual being."

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  • Maggie Gyllenhaal as Charlotte Dalrymple and Hugh Dancy as Mortimer Granville

  • Rupert Everett as Edmund St. John-Smythe and Hugh Dancy as Mortimer Granville

  • Hugh Dancy as Mortimer Granville and Felicity Jones as Emily Dalrymple

  • Felicity Jones as Emily Dalrymple, Jonathan Pryce as Dr. Robert Dalrymple and Hugh Dancy as Mortimer Granville

  • Sheridan Smith as Molly and Hugh Dancy as Mortimer Granville

  • Hugh Dancy as Mortimer Granville and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Charlotte Dalrymple

  • Rupert Everett as Edmund St. John-Smythe, Hugh Dancy as Mortimer Granville and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Charlotte Dalrymple

  • Maggie Gyllenhaal as Charlotte Dalrymple

  • Maggie Gyllenhaal as Charlotte Dalrymple

  • Hugh Dancy as Mortimer Granville

  • Felicity Jones as Emily Dalrymple

  • Jonathan Pryce as Dr. Robert Dalrymple

  • Hugh Dancy as Mortimer Granville and Rupert Everett as Edmund St. John-Smythe

  • Rupert Everett as Edmund St. John-Smythe

  • Sheridan Smith as Molly

  • Tanya Wexler (director) and Sean Bobbitt (director of photography) on set