Wednesday, November 19, 2014

More than you probably needed to know about speculums

Here's a novel topic:  the somewhat controversial history of the development of the speculum, as used for pelvic examinations in women. 

While part of the story is merely unpleasant (its inventor using black slaves for experimental surgery), this part, about the then cultural anxiety of the effect inserting anything, um, down there, is amusing for its oddness from the modern perspective:
Prostitutes were often hired as model patients for doctors to practice on. “There’s this really interesting line between torture device, disciplinary device, sexual device,” says Terri Kapsalis, a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the author of the book Public Privates: Performing Gynecology from Both Ends of the Speculum. Police officers would even leverage pelvic exams as threats against sex workers when they were arrested. Some doctors worried that using the speculum even on proper women might somehow make them sex-crazed.

In 1850, the Royal Medicine and Chirurgical Society of London held a standing-room-only meeting in which the community heard arguments for and against the speculum. These doctors worried that women would mistake the exam for a sexual experience. The British physician Robert Brudenell Carter reinforced this fear in his 1853 book, On the Pathology and Treatment of Hysteria, writing that he had “seen young unmarried women, of the middle class of society, reduced by constant use of the speculum to the mental and moral condition of prostitutes; seeking to give themselves the same indulgence by the practice of solitary vice; and asking every medical practitioner ... to institute an examination of the sexual organs.”

1 comment:

Not Trampis said...


you are speculumating!