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The Who, Where, and How of Vibrator Use Statistics

Research on Vibrator Use

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a collection of vibrators and dildos of different colours and shapes all standing.
Laurence Dutton/The Image Bank/Getty Images

The increasing visibility of vibrators in mainstream media, and in retail stores that don't specialize in sex toys is bringing some people to my door asking the question, how many people really use vibrators?

Until recently there hasn't been much reliable research on vibrator use. The people who collect most of the information about vibrator use tend to be, not surprisingly, the people who are trying to sell us more vibrators. These surveys are always tied to some form of marketing and methodologies are rarely described in detail.

In 2009 Michael Reece and Debra Herbenick, along with colleagues at Indiana University published to surveys of vibrator use which offered a much more reliable and detailed look into the hows and whys of vibrator use. Their findings are below. Beneath their findings I've included the numbers from earlier research some of which amounts to no more than marketing material but others represent serious study on vibrator use.

Overall Reece and Herbenick found that just under 50% of respondents reported using a vibrator at some point, with slightly more women (52%) than men (45%) reporting vibrator use.

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.

How Common Is Vibrator Use
Previous to 2009 most statistics suggested between 20-27% of people had used a vibrator at some point in their lives. Some examples of survey research include:

  • In Shere Hite’s famous survey (1976), only 1% of respondents said they had ever used a vibrator
  • In a 2006 Elle/MSNBC.com survey 40% of respondents said they had used a vibrator.
  • In a 1996 survey of Swedish women aged 18 to 74, 19% of respondents said they had used a sex toy by themselves, and 15% said they had used a sex toy with a partner. Younger repondents were more likely to have used a sex toy, with 30% of women 25 to 34 reporting having used a sex toy.


Age of First Vibrator Use
Two surveys that have asked this got very similar results:

  • 15 to 17% were under 20 years old when they first tried a vibrator
  • 50% were in their 20s
  • 22 to 27% were in their 30s
  • 8 to 10% were 40 and older

 

Vibrator Use by Gender
In the two surveys that compared vibrator use between men and women, women were more likely to use vibrators:

  • One study found that 33% of female respondents versus 20% of male respondents used vibrators
  • Another study found that the numbers were 24% for women and 21% for men.

 

What else about people who use vibrators?
Here are some random statistics from the surveys listed below:

  • Most studies found that vibrator users were overwhelmingly white.
  • Most studies found that vibrator users were predominantly in their thirties.
  • According to Xandria Collection’s Toys in the Sheets survey, the most common vibrator user was a white Christian married woman, in her thirties, who votes Republican.
  • According to the Durex global sex survey Australia has the highest vibrator use reported (46%) and India has the lowest (3%). The US is up there at 45%.
  • Women in relationships are more likely to use a vibrator than women who are single.

 

Sources:

Berman Center/Drugstore.com survey “The Health Benefits of Sexual Aids & Devices: A Comprehensive Study of their Relationship to Satisfaction and Quality of Life. Unpublished, 2004.

Castleman, M. & Lawrence Research Group. Toys in the Sheets. 1999.

Davis, Clive M.; Blank, Joani; Lin, Hung-Yu. “Characteristics of Vibrator Use Among Women.” The Journal of Sex Research Vol. 33, No. 4 (1996).

Elle/MSNBC.com reader sex survey, 2006. Accessed on MSNBC.com, September 12, 2006.

Fugl-Meyer, K.S., Öberg, K., Lundberg,P.O., et al. "On Orgasm, Sexual Techniques, and Erotic Perceptions in 18- to 74-Year-Old Swedish Women" Journal of Sexual Medicine Volume 3, No. 1, (2006):56-68.

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.

Hite, S. The Hite Report New York: Macmillan, 1976.

Levin, R. J., & Levin, A. Sexual Pleasure: The Surprising Preferences of 100,000 Women. Redbook Magazine, September, 1975.

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.

Wolfe, L. The Cosmo Report. New York: Arbor House, 1981.

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