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Can Vibrators Cause Sensation Problems or Orgasm Difficulties?

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Updated November 20, 2008

Question: Can Vibrators Cause Sensation Problems or Orgasm Difficulties?

I was posed with an interesting question, and thought I'd take this one to a pro. Does long term use of a vibrator (by a woman) for sexual stimulation cause any sensitivity problems or orgasmic difficulties?

Answer:

This is a very common question that is related to that other common vibrator question: can I become addicted to vibrators?

It’s not surprising people ask this question. Most of us are raised with the message that sexual pleasure, if allowed at all, comes with a heavy price. Whether it’s an unwanted pregnancy, a sexually transmitted infection, or simply the fact that the teens who have sex are always the first to be killed in horror movies, we’re told over and over again not to trust anything that seems too good. Researchers are not immune to these biases:

  • Helen Singer Kaplan, a key figure in the development of contemporary sex therapy, argued that vibrator use could lead to women being unable to orgasm from non-vibratory stimulation, without any evidence.
  • More recently a group of researchers in Michigan cast a clumsy net over sex toy use, drug use, and non-monogamy, and suggested that sex toy use is linked to risky sexual practices.

The short answer to your question is that currently there is no research that suggests there are negative consequences in terms of sensitivity or orgasmic difficulties for women who use vibrators. But there has been almost no research in this area at all. Here’s what we know.

A 1996 study, which is one of the only studies of women who use vibrators published in a peer reviewed academic journal, surveyed women vibrator users about their behaviors and patterns. They found that of the women who regularly used a vibrator for masturbation, half were also masturbating in other ways, without the vibrator. While a majority of women did report that their orgasms felt stronger with a vibrator, less than 10% of the women who said so reported that they could only have an orgasm with a vibrator.

While there haven’t been any studies that have actually looked at the impact on the genitals from regular vibrator use (in fact it wasn’t until 2000 that researchers even started to explore what could be considered normative genital sensation for women) there is plenty of research on the impact of vibration on nerves and muscle function. Mostly these studies are done in the area of occupational safety, and look at what the impact is of holding a tool that vibrates for long or short periods of time. One study which had people hold a vibrating object for 30 minutes (which is as long as you are supposed to use most standard vibrators) found no long term sensation impairment, and no significant problems in motor control following the exposure.

That said, it is expected that if you’re using a powerful vibrator you will experience some reduction in sensation immediately following. But this isn’t permanent, and I should point out that the same is true for any form of intense stimulation. In terms of sensation, there is no evidence that vibrators cause any permanent change in physical sensitivity or sensation. It’s also not uncommon for some people to get used to vibrators and then feel as if they need them to have an orgasm. But this is rarely the case.

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References:

  1. Davis, C.M., Blank, J., Lin, H. “Characteristics of Vibrator Use Among Women.” The Journal of Sex Research Vol. 33. Issue 4 (1996): 313-20.
  2. Malchaire, J., Rodriguez Diaz, L.S., Piette, A., et. al. “Neurological and Functional Effects of Short-term Exposure to Hand-Arm Vibration.” International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health Vol. 71. Issue 4 (May 1998): 270-276.
  3. Vardi, Y., Gruenwald, I., Sprecher, E., et. al. “Normative Values for Female Genital Sensation.” Urology Vol. 56. Issue 6 (December 2000): 1035-1040.
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