1. Health
Send to a Friend via Email
Cory Silverberg

New Research on Vibrator Use

By June 1, 2009

Follow me on:

My usual response to people who ask me “who uses sex toys” is to say that over 20 years of selling sex toys there isn’t a kind of person I haven’t sold a toy to. While sex toys aren’t for everyone, they are something anyone might be interested in, and their popularity extends far beyond the lonely and sexually frustrated.

That was the answer I give because, until now, most of the “data” we have on who uses sex toys comes from marketing surveys conducted by manufacturers, sex toy retailers, or women's magazines looking to boost their circulation. In other words it’s data I trust about as far as I can throw a marketing executive across a room (which, if you’ve seen me in person you know, isn’t very far. even if the marketing executive is small).

But I digress. The good news is that the lovely and talented researchers Michael Reece and Debra Herbenick along with colleagues from Indiana University (and one self-interested researcher from Trojan) recently published two studies on vibrator use in the Journal of Sexual Medicine and they represent a quantum leap in research quality and methodology. The studies involved just over 2,000 women and 1,000 men, all U.S. adults, and were conducted online, using a nationally representative sample from the company Knowledge Networks.

The most surprising and significant finding in my mind is the number of people who use vibrators. 52% of women and 45% of men report having ever used a vibrator. This number is much higher than most of the other survey data we have, The two papers cover men and women separately, and in some cases don’t report on the same questions (it’s not clear if they asked different questions or just choose to report them differently). Here are some of the other findings:

When Do You Use Vibrators?
Women reported using vibrators most during masturbation (46%) and least during intercourse (37%). Men were most likely to use vibrators with a partner during “sex play or foreplay” (40%). Only 17% of men reported using a vibrator for masturbation. The paper on men reported on reasons for first using a vibrator, and the most common one men gave (67%) was “for fun”. 40% of men said they used one to help a partner with orgasms, and 7% said they used it to help themselves to have an orgasm.Vibrator Use and Sexual Function
The researchers compared vibrator users and non-vibrator users on several measures of sexual functioning (asking questions about things like erectile function, intercourse satisfaction, pain, orgasm, lubrication, and sexual desire). Overall men and women who used vibrators reported fewer problems with sexual function. And people who used vibrators more recently (the past month) responded to surveys in a way that indicated fewer problems with sexual function.

Vibrator Use and Other Healthy Behaviors
Both men and women who use vibrators were more likely to do things that indicate a comfort with their bodies and an interest in taking care of themselves. Women who had ever used a vibrator were more likely than those who had never used a vibrator to have had a gynecologic exam in the past year and performed a genital self-examine in the past month. Men who reported performing testicular self-exams within the past moth were more likely to have used a vibrator.

Sex Toy Cleaning
The good news is that the majority of men and women do clean their vibrators. The bad news is that some don’t (20% of men and 14% of women report never cleaning their toys). Of those who do clean, habits could still improve. 60% of women and 53% of men report cleaning their toy before and after use, with the rest either cleaning before or after. It’s not clear if they asked this, but what I’d be most interested in knowing is whether or not they cleaned the toy before first use, something that I think a lot of people overlook but it important considering the serious lack of hygiene in most sex toy factories.

Side Effects of Vibrator Use
The researchers only reported on women’s responses to questions about negative side effects of vibrator use. They asked women about genital numbness, pain, irritation, swelling (the bad kind) and tears or cuts. Here are the findings:

  • 71.5% of women never experienced any side effects.
  • 16% reported numbness
  • 3% reported pain
  • 10% reported irritation
  • 8% reported swelling
  • 1% reported tears or cuts
In all cases, those who reported negative side effects judged them to be relatively short lived and minor in severity.

What’s Next?
The researchers are careful to point out that their findings have several limitations and should be considered a good beginning of serious study on vibrator use, not the final word.

What I’d like to see next is more qualitative research on sex toy use. As the researchers acknowledge, quantitative survey data can only tell us so much about people’s motivations to try and then continue to use sex toys, and it doesn’t tell us much at all about the personal meaning of sex toy use for individuals or how they experience sex toy use in the larger context of their sex lives and sexual identities. Research on sex toy use shouldn’t be any different than research on how we use cell phones, electric razors, or microwaves. While it’s wise to have some critical concerns about research that is funded by an interested for-profit company, it’s exciting to see a company actually commit time and money to researching sex toys. It’s a lot more than we’ve had in the past fifty years of sex toy manufacturing.

Read more - The Who, What, and Where of Vibrator Use Research

Sources:

  1. Reece, M., Herbenick, D., Sanders, S.A., et. al. "Prevalence and Characteristics of Vibrator Use by Men in the United States" Journal of Sexual Medicine Early View, Date: May 2009. Accessed May 31, 2009.
  2. Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Sanders, S.A., et. al. "Prevalence and Characteristics of Vibrator Use by Women in the United States: Results from a Nationally Representative Study" Journal of Sexual Medicine Early View, Date: June 2009. Accessed June 1, 2009.

Comments
July 11, 2010 at 2:06 pm
(1) Debbie says:

I was surprised to see the number of men in this study that have used a sex toy – however disappointed that it’s with a partner.

In this day and age surely someone could come up with sex toy that would appeal to men. But then again, people’s perceptions of “men using a sex toy” would also have to change. I guess people still look at that as being some sort of perverted act. Ranting now…. :)

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.