1877: French physician spies self-pleasuring seamstresses

Thésée Pouillet was a French physician who researched female sexuality during the mid-19th century. In his 1877 book De l’onanisme chez la Femme (‘The Onanism of Women’), Pouillet describes his visit to a Paris workhouse, where he observed two seamstresses using mechanical vibrations to self-pleasure. He spotted the first from the frantic speed of her pedalling and the excessive noise from her sewing machine:

“I looked at the person who was working it, a brunette of 18 or 20. While she was occupied with the trousers she was making on the machine, her face became animated, her mouth opened slightly, her nostrils dilated, her feet moved the pedals with constantly increasing rapidity. Soon I saw a convulsive look in her eyes… a suffocated cry, followed by a long sigh…”

Pouillet later witnessed a similar ritual, performed by a different worker. A female supervisor told him that such incidents weren’t uncommon in the workhouse, particularly among the younger workers, who sat on the edge of their seats to “facilitate the friction of their labia”.

Source: Thésée Pouillet, De l’onanisme chez la Femme, 1877. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.