In the Victorian era, hysteria was a catch-all diagnosis for women in distress. The symptoms were vague (discontentment, weakness, outbursts of emotion, nerves) and the history sexist (Plato blamed the wanderings of an “unfruitful” uterus).
The treatment for hysteria? “Hysterical paroxysm,” also known as orgasm. Physicians would massage their patients’ genitals either manually or with a vibrator, a task they found tedious but surprisingly uncontroversial. More contentious was the practice of putting “hysterical” women on bed rest or demanding that they not work or socialize, a treatment that often worsened anxiety or depression.
According to a 2002 editorial in the journal Spinal Cord, the diagnosis of hysteria gradually petered out throughout the 20th century. By 1980, hysteria disappeared from the DSM in favor of newer diagnoses like conversion and dissociative disorders.
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