As seen in Playboy (USA), May 18, 2018.
On May 20, the Magic Wand vibrator, formerly known as the Hitachi Magic Wand, turns 50 years old, marking a milestone in the history of the sexual revolution. The Magic Wand’s popularity has only increased since its 1968 inception, and unlike an orgasm, its rising action doesn’t end.
Even though the Magic Wand is often called the Cadillac of Vibrators, it was never intended to become a staple in people’s bedroom activities—let alone serving as one of the most reliable and popular tools for female masturbation. In fact, the Hitachi Magic Wand’s fame for getting women off almost led to the vibrator’s termination altogether five years ago, and the fact that it has continued to top bestsellers’ lists at the U.S.’s most popular sex toy shops shows that its endurance matches that of the many women who popularized the gadget around 50 years ago.
You might never find a product that is both as lucrative, yet so unacknowledged by its manufacturer as the Hitachi Magic Wand is. The Japanese multinational company, Hitachi, trademarked the product in the spring of 1968 as a handheld neck and back massager, which resembled the other electric massagers of its time like Oster’s handheld massagers. If you try to get in touch with a representative from the manufacturer—still located in Japan—you will only be rerouted to its North American distributor, Vibratex. In June of 2000, Vibratex became the North American Import Agent and Registered FDA Agent for the Hitachi Magic Wand, then in 2013 Vibratex helped re-brand the product after Hitachi had announced that they’d planned to cease production of the massager. Eddie Romero, the director of operations for Vibratex—the sex toy manufacturer and distributor that first created the infamous Rabbit vibrator—explains that Vibratex convinced Hitachi to save the beloved massager, with the two companies’ past relationship helping Hitachi to trust that Vibratex would continue the former’s missions and values.
“We had a meeting with them and explained that it would be really devastating to the adult industry…to lose their product, and we kind of brainstormed with them how we could keep the product moving forward,” Romero says to Playboy. The result of that brainstorm was the continuation of the product, but with the name Hitachi completely dropped from all of its packaging.
Even the Magic Wand’s website—which now markets both the Magic Wand Original and the Magic Wand Rechargeable that’s now favored over the earlier massager—completely omits the name Hitachi.
Not only is the name omitted from the Magic Wand’s site, but so is information about the Wand’s sexual purposes. Romero explains that this is intentional, saying, “The verbage there implicates the intimate pleasure without being overtly sexual.” Romero states that one of the main reasons Hitachi allowed Vibratex to continue the Magic Wand’s production is that both are Japanese companies and share cultural values. “Sex is somewhat very private [in Japanese culture], and obviously the use of toys is somewhat taboo. It’s why some of our Vibratex pieces have things that make it non-phallic. They include the rabbits… We’ve had koi fish on some of our toys.”
The Magic Wand has a great story…one that the original maker, Hitachi, didn’t set out to write.
So many brands would kill for the consumer loyalty that Hitachi boasts, but the Japanese tech company still doesn’t wish to attach its name to the product. Besides Hitachi, however, the name most commonly associated with the Magic Wand is Dr. Betty Dodson. Dodson became a prominent sex educator in the 1970s, teaching women how to achieve an orgasm through masturbation with her Bodysex workshops in New York City. Dodson wrote the book—literally—on female masturbation, and for almost 50 years, she has shown women how to pleasure themselves using none other than the Magic Wand, which Dodson still calls “the Hitachi.” While speaking to Playboy, Dodson explains that the Magic Wand originally became her vibrator of choice due to its practicality.
“I decided it was made best,” Dodson says. Instead of trying other vibrators, Dodson says, “When you find something that’s good and it’s solid and it’s worked and it’s always consistent, you kind of stay with it. I guess that’s why people buy the same car every season or whatever. It’s a good machine. It’s clean, it’s solid, it works.”
Because Dodson’s workshops—which she still holds—became popular at the climax of the sexual revolution, she not only introduced droves of women to the Magic Wand, but she also introduced it to people who would later become instrumental to what some call the vibrator revolution. University of Nevada associate professor Dr. Lynn Comella explains how Dodson indirectly led to the opening of Eve’s Garden, one of the U.S.’s first female-run sex shops. In an interview over the phone, Comella reveals that Eve’s Garden’s founder, Dell Williams, first learned of the Magic Wand through Dodson. Williams—who passed away in 2015—went to a Macy’s to purchase a Magic Wand following her lesson with Dodson, only to endure an unpleasant experience. Comella says, “The male clerk apparently grilled Williams, like ‘oh, okay what are you really gonna use this for?’ And she just felt really put on the spot. She was really embarrassed, [but] she got the Hitachi and then that was like her ah-ha moment. She just felt, why aren’t women selling vibrators to other women?” Williams went on to open up Eve’s Garden, first as a mail-order catalog in order to improve women’s experiences with purchasing vibrators.
A similar scenario to Williams’s mishap in Macy’s later played out in Sex and the City. In it, Samantha Jones (played by Kim Cattrall) goes to a Sharper Image to replace her vibrator, which looks exactly like the Magic Wand. Samantha walks up to the salesman and says, “I’d like to return this vibrator.” The man tells Samantha, “Sharper Image doesn’t sell vibrators. It’s a neck massager.” The *Sex and the City *scene not only illustrates the Magic Wand’s cultural impact, but it actually reveals a great deal about the sex toy industry as a whole. Millions of sex toys made for women exist, but starting from the turn of the 20th century, they’ve masqueraded as neck massagers, like Hitachi’s Magic Wand. Even when sex toys for women became more mainstream, it was often difficult to find high-quality vibrators.
Sex educator, author and historian Dr. Carol Queen explains, “The adult industry began to print on the package ‘for novelty use only’ to put a barrier essentially between the fact that there were no underwriter’s laboratories that tested and confirmed the quality of those products.” Machines like the Hitachi Magic Wand, however, boasted a high-quality design that could last decades. “It wasn’t unusual to have people walk into Good Vibrations back when I started working there [in 1990] who would say ‘I’ve had my Magic Wand for five years or 10 years,’” Queen says.
In many ways, the Magic Wand caters to a culture that shames women’s sexuality—even though its secret use for masturbation is far from classified information.
The Magic Wand reached its high esteem because it is made with the quality that only a large tech company like Hitachi could achieve. Romero explained via email, “I am unable to disclose the full operating mechanics of the Magic Wand, [which is] the reason why the Magic Wand has been around for 50 years now and has been imitated but yet to be duplicated.” If you ask anyone in the sex toy industry, they would likely agree with Romero’s claims that the Magic Wand remains one-of-a-kind, even if some vibrators appear similar to it.
Sex educator and author Elle Chase testifies to that fact, saying to Playboy that “Every sex educator I know has a Magic Wand in their kit for when they teach.” The Magic Wand is arguably the best sex toy in the market, but it also boasts additional features that allow it to pleasure so many. As Chase explains, the Wand’s long handle improves its accessibility for people with a range of abilities and flexibility. “I’m a bigger girl, and I like that it has the reach for people who are bigger and for people who might be disabled in other ways.”
Not only that, but the Wand can offer helpful stimulation for men’s masturbation. Sex educator and author Dr. Charlie Glickman says he often suggests that men use the Magic Wand with an additional G-spot attachment if they want to stimulate their prostates. “It’s really hard to reach your own prostrate by hand…With the G-spot attachment [the Magic Wand] is pretty much ideal for that,” Glickman tells Playboy over the phone.
The Magic Wand’s handle might allow some people to use the vibrator more, but the product’s guise as a neck massager also allows for the sex toy to remain both inconspicuous and accessible. For people who don’t feel comfortable purchasing a toy from a sex shop, the Magic Wand is an attractive option for those who prefer a Target or Walmart. In many ways, the Magic Wand caters to a culture that shames women’s sexuality—even though its secret use for masturbation is far from classified information.
“The Magic Wand has a great story…that the original maker, Hitachi, didn’t set out to write,” Comella says. She adds, “This product over time accrued this narrative that had to do with sexual liberation and taking control of your pleasure.” The Magic Wand is really the perfect symbol for the feminist movement. Just as women re-approriated Mitch McConnell’s gripe that “Nevertheless she persisted” to laud women for their tireless fight for equality, an innocent neck massager was re-appropriated to become one of women’s greatest sources of pleasure. Nevertheless, the Magic Wand has persisted. It will likely remain to do so for many years to come, as long as women want to come, that is.
Written by Angelica Florio. Photographed by Molly Cranna.
View the original Playboy article and review here.