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Friday, November 18, 2011

The Vapors



 In the 17th century, people suffered from far more interesting conditions than they do now. Most of them were horrid and caused you to die in agony, but others were pretty harmless. Either way, they had fabulously florid names: the Bloody Flux; the Ague; Consumption, Dropsy, and that curious ancient affliction that struck women, The Vapors.

Today if someone has what used to be called The Vapors, we simply say they are horny. The restlessness, hot flushes, abdominal swelling and desire to cause trouble that distinguish horniness was something that married women could easily ask their husbands to help them assuage with sex.  This was not an option open to virgins, spinsters, widows and nuns.

Galen was correct when he attributed these symptoms to sexual deprivation in passionate women. The prescription for their hysteria (from the Greek for womb) was vaginal massage, or manipulation by a midwife, which could take hours and hours until a satisfying “paroxysm” was reached. One imagines an enterprising lass figuring out how to do that for herself. Or perhaps she preferred to spend quality time with the midwife.

Curiously, vibrators sold expressly for “women’s health” purposes came on the market at about the same time midwives were replaced by mostly male gynecologists.

History accounts for no male equivalent of The Vapors. It is worth noting, however, that football and wrestling are generally sports reserved for men.

The quaint term “The Vapors” is still in use, having found new expression in the American South, where it came to mean a dramatic excitement that demanded a woman take immediately to bed, or to relax on a chaise longue until the vapors passed. Hmm.

The band, The Vapors, continued the theme with their hit song, “Turning Japanese,” a vulgar term for the face one makes when reaching a “paroxysm.”

This recipe for pills against Vapors is as follows:

Asafetida
Galbanum Oil
Castor Oil

Each one dram, make them into Thirty Pills and take two of them when you are not well going to bed.

It is not entirely clear how these pills help.

A Booke of Usefull Receipts for Cookery, Etc.,  (MS. 1325) c.1675 - 1700


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