A conversation about the history of sex medicine
February 6th, 2012
Omaha, NE – This weekâ€™s Science CafÃ© explores the intersection of art and science. Itâ€™s a conversation with Nebraskaâ€™s only licensed sexologist, and the director of a new play about intimacy, lonelinessâ€¦ and sex medicine.
â€œSo we have the real deal here right on our set,â€ said Amy Lane, as she walked through the set of In the Next Room, the latest production at the Blue Barn Theater.
Lane pointed out a rickety-looking, cold metal folding table set up on the stage, which she explained is an authentic surgeonâ€™s operating table from the 1800s. â€œItâ€™s something right out of Frankenstein,â€ she said. â€œItâ€™s just bizarre and frightening kind of looking.â€
Laneâ€™s latest play, which opens Feb. 16, is written by playwright Sarah Ruhl. A 2010 Pulitzer finalist, the play follows the story of Dr. Givings and his wife. On the surgeonâ€™s table, Dr. Givings treats women for a condition that was believed to be at epidemic levels at the time: hysteria.
â€œItâ€™s both fascinating, ridiculous and frustrating all at the same time,â€ Lane said. â€œThis condition hysteria, the first recorded records of it are back, way back in ancient Egypt. And it was on the books as a diagnosable condition until the 1940s.â€
Lane explained the idea of â€œhysteriaâ€ originated from an ancient Greek notion that the womb would fill up with liquid and wander around the body.
â€œSo the practice of vulvula massage â€¦ was to coax juices downward so the womb would come back into place.â€
In the play, that vulvula massage is conducted by the doctor, with a machine he has invented: a 19th century vibrator that stands five feet high and looks â€“ according to one character in the story – like a piece of farming equipment.
â€œItâ€™s 100% research sound,â€ said Lindsey Novak, a licensed sex therapist and board-certified sexologist, who will join Lane at the Science CafÃ© discussion this week.
Lane said doctors used to see woman as having a â€œnegative sexualityâ€ and would use these vibrators to remedy a host of symptoms.
â€œSo if women depicted any kind of a symptom from restlessness to insomnia, mood swings, too sexual, not sexual enough, they deemed her hysterical,â€ Novak said. â€œAnd if she was not married, the treatment was to get married. If she was married, she was supposed to have sex. And if she was single, a doctor would actually bring her to a pelvic massage, which basically was bringing her to orgasm.â€
At the Science CafÃ©, which is hosted by the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Novak and Lane will talk about the history of sexuality and sex medicine â€“ and take a few questions. Novak said while the medical, and social, understanding of sex has certainly evolved, the conversation is still stifled.
â€œI think it is still vastly uncomfortable for those who donâ€™t talk about it all the time,â€ Novak said. â€œAnd I think the Science CafÃ© will help.â€ Novak said sheâ€™ll be discussing the history of sex and sex medicine from an artistic and scientific standpoint. â€œSo even how some of Mozartâ€™s music looked at it, or how Michelangeloâ€™s art looked at it, and how religion looks at it, how science looks at it. And I think when we look at it using those constructs, it might hopefully be easier for people to start talking about, as an actual act, as a dysfunction, so we can bring some of the discomfort out of the language.â€
The Science CafÃ© is set for 7pm, Tuesday, Feb. 7 at the Slowdown in north downtown Omaha. In the Next Room opens at the Blue Barn Theatre in Omaha’s Old Market Feb. 16.
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