Sex Question Friday: Can A Woman Become Sexually Dependent On Her Vibrator?

Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from a reader who wanted to know whether women who use vibrators regularly during masturbation can become “dependent” upon sex toys to reach orgasm:

“Do you know of any research or have an opinion about routinely using a vibrator during masturbation? I'm worried that I'll become too dependent on my vibrator and I'm seeing that I'm having a harder time orgasming during sex with my husband. Is there any guidance or suggestions about breaking up the routine of vibrator use during masturbation? Lately I use a vibrator every time. I have a very hard time climaxing without some sort of external stimulation during masturbation. If not a vibrator, I usually have to read an erotic story or watch a sexy video.  Should I try some days with just reading an erotic story and no vibrator? Does it even matter?”

Thanks for this great question! Let me start by saying that vibrator use is extremely common among women (but many men use them too). For example, in a recent nationally representative survey of over 3,000 U.S. women, more than half (52.5%) reported that they had used vibrators before [1]. Why are so many women using motorized sex toys? Because vibrators appear to increase sexual enjoyment. In fact, survey studies of women have found that vibrator use is linked to reports of more intense orgasms, as well as multiple orgasms [2].

To address your concern about whether vibrator dependency can occur and is harmful to women’s sexual health, I can’t say I’ve seen much research supporting this idea. In fact, the studies I have seen suggest that, if anything, vibrator use is linked to enhanced sexual functioning and fewer general problems with sexual desire, arousal, lubrication, and orgasm [1]. Not only that, but most female vibrator users report being satisfied not just with the orgasms they have during masturbation, but also with the orgasms they have during partnered sex [2]. So, on average, it doesn’t seem to be the case that vibrator use is harmful to women’s health or that it makes partnered sex less enjoyable.

Of course, we’re dealing with general trends here and individual experiences can certainly vary. In your letter, you seemed to suggest that as you've begun to use vibrators more, your ability to reach an orgasm during sex with your husband has decreased. Based on what you’ve said, we can’t entirely rule out the possibility that your masturbation habits could potentially be affecting your orgasms during sex--but it’s important to keep in mind that there could be other factors at play here (e.g., Has anything changed in your relationship lately? Are you having more stress or conflict? Also, are you purposefully hiding your vibrator use from your partner and, if so, how do you feel about this?). As a result, it would be hard to say what exactly might be causing the issue with your orgasms during partnered sex.

In light of this, I think it’s premature to say that you should retire your sex toys. Of course, you could certainly try cutting back on your vibrator use to see what effect it has (e.g., do you find that you have more or better orgasms with your partner during weeks where you don’t use a vibrator during masturbation?). However, an alternative option you might consider would be increasing your vibrator use, specifically by incorporating vibrators into partnered sex. Vibrators don't just have to be reserved for masturbation! Many women report using vibrators during sex or foreplay to enhance pleasure. For instance, in that national U.S. survey mentioned above, 37.3% of women reported having used a vibrator during sex before, and 40.9% reported having used a vibrator during foreplay [1]. There is another study worth mentioning here, which found that women in relationships reported being more sexually satisfied to the extent that their partner knew about and liked their vibrator use [3]. So, adding vibrators to sex and/or communicating openly with your partner about your vibrator usage could potentially have benefits.

If you plan to introduce a vibrator into your lovemaking, you might consider experimenting with a couple’s vibrator such as We-Vibe—that way, you’ll get the extra stimulation you desire, but your partner can enjoy some good vibrations too!

For previous editions of Sex Question Friday, click here. To send in a question for a future edition, click here.

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[1] Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Sanders, S., Dodge, B., Ghassemi, A., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2009). Prevalence and characteristics of vibrator use by women in the United States: Results from a nationally representative study. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6, 1857-1866.

[2] Davis, C. M., Blank, J., Lin, H. Y., & Bonillas, C. (1996). Characteristics of vibrator use among women. Journal of Sex Research, 33, 313-320.

[3] Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Sanders, S. A., Dodge, B., Ghassemi, A., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2010). Women's vibrator use in sexual partnerships: Results from a nationally representative survey in the United States. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 36, 49-65.

Image Source: iStockphoto.com

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