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Cory Silverberg

Vibrator Use Among Gay and Bi Identified Men

By June 21, 2010

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Science doesn't exist in a social or cultural vacuum. The things we study, the things we can say we "know" scientifically, are never accidental, or, as some would argue, the result of a "natural" process of discovery. So while anecdotal, cultural, and even economic evidence suggests that vibrators are gaining in popularity and use, the intentional scientific study of sex toys and vibrators has been slow to follow.

Michael Reece may be the scientist who has sustained the longest (and arguably most productive) interest in sex toys. Along with Debby Herbenick and colleagues at Indiana University's Center for Sexual Health Promotion, Reece has managed to find the funding and time to conduct basic research on sex toy use that has long been needed. Last year they published the first data on vibrator use from a nationally representative sample of adults. Like most sex research, that data reported on heterosexual adults, and it got a lot of media attention. This time they're looking at men who identify as gay and bisexual. I don't suppose Reuters or the New York Times is going to be as interested this time around (science isn't the only thing influenced by politics and culture).

This study had a much larger pool of participants, but it wasn't representative. Instead they received responses from over 25,000 people through "one of the largest internet sites for men seeking social or sexual interactions with other men". They asked the men all sorts of questions about themselves and about their vibrator use. While we always need to treat survey research like this with a grain of salt, and the parsing out of populations based on characteristics like sexual orientation contributes to a kind of compartmentalization that doesn't actually help us as individuals I'm once again very pleased to have researchers like these asking basic questions in careful ways. They present a lot of data (and there's more on the way apparently) but here are some of the highlights:

How Many, How Often
About half of participants said they had used a vibrator at some point in their life, with the likelihood of having used a vibrator increasing with age. This number is just a little bigger than the number of men in the nationally representative study that reported using vibrators (49.8% vs. 44.8%). About 50% of those who used vibrators had used them in the past month. It would be interesting to know more detail about regularity of use in the context of an individuals entire sexual life. Do people who masturbate or have partnered sex more frequently also use vibrators more frequently? Is there any relationship between how often I use a vibrator alone and how often I use one with a partner?

An interesting note for vibrator makers looking to change the industry; while 49.8% of men said they have used a vibrator, only 27% said they had purchased one.

...and How?
Thankfully the researchers did something else in this paper few have done before them; they asked the radical question, how do you use your vibrator. Of course with over 25,000 participants they weren't able to ask open ended questions, which leaves us with quantitative answers that often feel like peering through a mud splattered rear view window and trying to make out the landscape disappearing behind you. Nonetheless, they asked, and so we know a bit more than we did before about when these men use vibrators, with whom, and how.

Just under half of the men used vibrators during masturbation with just over a third using vibrators during "sexual play or foreplay" and just under a third reporting using vibrators during intercourse. Of all men responding, only 8% reported using vibrator with female partners during foreplay or intercourse. While the overall number of men who used vibrators with women was low, that's because most of the respondents were only having sex with men. In fact, comparatively, bisexual identified men who were in relationships with women reported using vibrators more frequently than men who were in relationships with other men. Whether this is a function of the fact that vibrators are marketed disproportionately to women or something else, remains to be explored.

Getting down to the nitty gritty of vibrator use, the researchers asked men how they used vibrators specifically, offering five options. From most common to least, here's what men reported:

  • 87% said they used a vibrator for anal penetration
  • 73% said they held or rubbed the vibrator against their anus
  • 62% held or rubbed the vibrator against the testicles
  • 59% held or rubbed a vibrator against their penis
  • 25% held or rubbed against other body parts

The survey distinguished between committed sexual relationships and casual sex. There wasn't a significant difference in vibrator use from one kind of relationship to the other, but overall people tended to use vibrators more in relationships than in casual sexual encounters.

What Has Your Vibrator Done for You Lately?
Men were asked what they thought using a vibrator offered them sexually. Specifically they were asked about sexual arousal, pleasure, and orgasm by indicating their level of agreement with statements like: "makes me feel more sexually aroused" "makes my orgasm better" "makes it easier to keep an erection". The majority of people agreed that vibrators increased arousal, pleasure, and orgasm. When you look at the data it's interesting to note that while almost half of men agreed with many of these statements, far fewer (closer to 10%) strongly agreed with any of them.

I note this because, particularly online, when you read people who enjoy sex toys you often read stories of blissful satisfaction, where the toy seems to be satisfying every need, solving big problems. This isn't my experience in speaking with tens of thousands of people about using sex toys, and it's interesting to see this reflected in the responses of participants who overwhelmingly had positive things to say about using vibrators, but tended not to strongly agree with statements about vibrator benefits.

Keep It Clean
Some research suggests that injury or harm from sex toy usage may be on the rise. One certain culprit is improper vibrator hygiene. In their earlier research, 53% of men reported cleaning their vibrators before and after each use and 20% reported never cleaning their sex toys. Unfortunate as those numbers are, this time the researchers parsed the data further, looking at vibrator cleaning habits during masturbation and partnered sex. When using a vibrator for masturbation, 54% of men cleaned the vibrator prior to using it and 83% cleaned it after using it. But when using a vibrator with a partner only 27% reported cleaning their vibrator before use, and only 40% reported cleaning the vibrator afterward. I can only HOPE that participants misunderstood the question and what they meant is that they didn't clean it immediately after, but waited until, say, the next morning. Fingers crossed. Either way, until the number of people cleaning their vibrators after using them is everyone, and the number who don't is zero, there's public service work to be done.

Read more - Reece M, Rosenberger JG, Schick V, Herbenick D, Dodge B, and Novak DS. Characteristics of vibrator use by gay and bisexually identified men in the United States. Journal of Sexual Medicine, Early View published online June 17, 2010 .

Related -Ramon Johnson, About.com's Guide to Gay Life

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Comments
June 21, 2010 at 5:21 pm
(1) Joe says:

Great article. I use a vibrator when my partner is not around and love it.

June 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm
(2) searah says:

I am so excited about this study. As a retailer we often suggest vibrators for guys, but are often met with skepticism. I am glad to see we aren’t crazy. I think all folks, regardless of gender, can have some extra fun with vibrating sex toys. The part about hygiene though scares me. Wash your toys people!!!

June 23, 2010 at 2:52 pm
(3) Cory says:

Agreed Searah! And for the record, it’s those folks who aren’t washing their toys who are the ones in most need of good sex shops like yours. If I had a nickel for every customer who scoffed when I wanted to give them “instructions” on the vibrator they were about to buy, but then said “oh, thanks, I had no idea” once I did, I’d be able to buy a lot of sex toy cleaner (not that I would, I think that stuff is a scam).

June 23, 2010 at 7:06 pm
(4) Bruce says:

I too have resorted to the use of vibrators and toys during masturbation, and with a partner. I’ve also had a finger inserted in my anus which results in explosive, very intense orgasms that make you scream with pleasure. There is nothing inherently wrong with bringing yourself to climax with the aid of sex toys. Sometimes, “Rosy Palm” just doesn’t quite cut it…

June 27, 2010 at 12:49 pm
(5) Patti says:

I am so glad that this article was published! Thank you Cory! I agree with what you guys are saying for the most part here, but I have to totally disagree with toy cleaner being a scam. I work as a Pure Romance consultant so I work closely with Debby Herbenick and colleagues at Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion. The purpose of the toy cleaner that we sell is to keep both partners safe. The product is called “Come Clean”. It is anti-bacterial and anti-microbial. It should be used before and after use of the toys. This helps keep the toys in good shape and also keeps bacteria from entering the body. Soap and water can break down your toys. When you pay all sorts of money for toys why wouldn’t you want to protect your investment? If you want more information, visit my website or email me. Nice chattin’ with ya!

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