Hysteria is an ironic word nowadays. From the Greek ὑστέρα, or "hystera," meaning "uterus," for about two thousand years the word described a syndrome peculiar to women. Hysteria was a very loosely defined condition, and had a laundry list of symptoms inculding insomnia, nervousness and excitability, fluid retention, muscle spasms and such general items as "a tendency to cause trouble."
The treatment for hysteria amounted, essentially, to masturbation. Doctors would digitally (or, later, with an elelctric vibrator or water massage) massage a patient's vulva and clitoris until she experienced what was called at the time a "hysterical paroxysm" or what we rather less poetically call an orgasm. Strangely, nobody seemed to want to admit that the real problem that manifested with what was called hysteria was nothing more than being undersexed and repressed until the early to mid twentieth century.
The reason I call the word ironic has to do with the fact that just about everybody nowadays seems hysterical – but not the women. People are hysterical about women, and about sex. Think about it; the most recent manifestation is of course Congressman Akin's mind-warpingly idiotic gaffe, but before then it was the contraception provisions in the ACA, or it was the tittering in the media about the Kardashians' latest antics, or the rash of bizarre and restrictive laws proposed in state legislatures, or any number of a long and tiresome list of incidences where the American media and much of its population have gone into an absolute frenzy with something reproductive at the base of the issue.
Akin's comments, the urge to restrict contraception (common to several religions and many businesses, not to mention several state governments), blue laws regarding sex toys and sodomy, the bizarre insistence on abstinence-only sex education in American schools – these are all symptoms of a more modern hysteria, one that seems to affect people whether or not they have a hystera. We seem to be, at the same time, fascinated and petrified by sex, and especially by sex as it relates to women.
I don't think I need to enumerate the ways in which sex is a raw deal for women in the US, and indeed in most of the world. A promiscuous man is forgiven, even exalted while a promiscuous woman is shamed. As many as a quarter of all women in the US are raped or assaulted over the course of their lives, and most of these women never report it – because they shouldn't have been wearing that short skirt, or it was their fault for getting drunk, or because getting raped is by itself, somehow, something shameful to many. Nobody raises a fuss about condoms, but hormonal birth control and emergency contraceptives were, for some time, one of the most controversial items on the Federal legislative agenda.
The cause of this weird mass hysteria is easy to see. All the Abrahamic religions, in their traditional forms, view sex as a necessary evil, and lust as a cardinal vice. Almost separate from that tradition is the Western legacy of the Victorian Age, when people put skirts on the legs of pianos and attempted to devise raiment for their goldfishes. The instinct for sex is a basic human impulse, something that's programmed into us evolutionarily in the strongest possible terms. There's no reason that it shouldn't provoke strong emotions and be something treated with great respect. However, addressing the need to give it its due consideration by simply attempting to repress the instinct, or bind it up into a severely restricted role when it can and will be much more complicated, messy, and beautiful in real society will only result in this kind of bizarre dissonance.
Sex is natural. It's healthy, too (I was surprised to learn this – a mark of the stunted education I alluded to, and may yet expand on): regular orgasms for men are known to lead to better prostate health, and in both sexes to lower stress (go figure) and improved heart health. Sex is something, like it or not, that people have an incontrovrtible urge to partake of. Most importantly, sex is intensely personal. Society in general, let alone the state, has no business restricting what happens within the realm of the private and consentual, and I think we would do very well to remember that. Especially we men, when we talk to and about women.