When it comes to vulva-owners and sexual satisfaction, ya know we’re gonna be talking about clitoral stimulation. For plenty of folks, using vibrators to stimulate their or their partner’s clit is a guaranteed way to bring on a great orgasm or three. But, as with many topics in the sexual realm, misinformation abounds, and there is plenty of not-always-correct info out there about how vibrating tools can adversely affect the clitoris. You may even hear that extensive vibration exposure can somehow damage your clitoral or vaginal tissue, or that vibrator use may cause your nerve endings down there to somehow ‘numb out’.
We’re here to dispel some myths and get granular in terms of what can actually cause a desensitized clitoris, vulva, or vagina, and what can’t. Spoiler: it’s not, we repeat, NOT using your favorite vibrating sex toy!
If you’ve ever been worried about vibrator use leading to potential desensitization of your most sensitive parts, or even if you could be setting yourself up for nerve damage, read on.
Can vibrators desensitize your clitoris or damage nerves?
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the idea that vibrators and nerve damage are a thing is based on fear, not fact.
Making yourself come with different types of vibrators, even repeatedly, will not put you at risk of nerve damage. Strong vibration levels won’t damage your blood vessels, as long as you limit your play time to less than four hours, according to research. The most that’s going to happen to a very few vibrator users is some temporary genital numbness — kind of like when you sit on a hard bench for a while. You can’t feel your ass for a few minutes, but then the blood flow starts up again, and hey! There’s your tush.
Now, in terms of sexual response, there is an effect when it comes to repeated use of your vibrator, especially at its higher vibration levels. Kind of like building up a tolerance to a substance, your lady parts can get used to repetitive vibration, which can make it harder to come to orgasm in other ways.
The solution? Mix things up. When you’ve only got a few minutes to get the job done, feel free to reach for your trusty vibrator - maybe even the best g-spot vibrator! When you’re rocking a lazy Sunday in bed, try your fingers or other sex toys, and take your time. Pleasure yourself all over, and enjoy the sexual stimulation that comes with a little lube and lots of time to play.
Can you use a vibrator too much or for too long?
One myth you might hear rumbling around the internet is that using a vibrator can cause a syndrome called “dead vagina.” This is supposedly a condition where vibrator users have a massive drop in vaginal sensitivity after using vibrators too much, too hard, or for too long. The idea is that if you overuse your vibrator, you’ll build up a tolerance to both outside touch (on your clitoris) as well as internal touch inside your vaginal canal (i.e. vaginal intercourse), ultimately making you incapable of coming to climax in any other way.
Sounds pretty terrifying, right? Nobody wants to mess with their ability to have orgasm after orgasm in all kinds of different ways. We all want to preserve our God-given right to come! And the theory does have a certain amount of logic: If you solely get busy in one single way, your body will get used to it. We’ve covered that already. But the rest of it is nonsense. Dead vagina syndrome is not a thing. However, if you are concerned about some intimate numbness that you may be experiencing, please speak to your health care professional.
Look, the truth is that in today’s crazed and hyperconnected world, anybody can make anything up and post it online, and some posers can even pretend to be knowledgeable medical experts. Don’t believe them. Both your clit and vagina are safe in your hands … and with your vibrator.
Will using a vibrator cause any long- or short-term damage?
While vibrating power tools like jackhammers can be dangerous in that they can lead their users to negative outcomes like vibration white finger (VWF), numbness, loss of sensation, and other vibration injuries, vibrating toys aren’t power tools. People who use jackhammers or other vibrating tools can develop conditions like hand-arm vibration syndrome (aka HAVS), the symptoms of which can include permanent numbness of the fingers, periods of white finger, or muscle weakness. Experts believe this is due to a reduced presence of nitric oxide.
However, vibrators - even the best long distance vibrators - are simply not powerful enough, nor will you be using them long enough to make this viable. Nobody’s going to town with their vibrator for an entire, eight-hour workday, unlike, say, some construction workers, who literally jackhammer for 4+ hours at a time. Vibrators simply don’t create the same intensity of vibration as, say, a jack-hammer, and without herculean effort, using one for eight hours per day every business day seems unlikely. Shoutout to folks with high sex drives, but really, if you can go for an entire workday, tell us how.
Regardless of the vibration intensity of whatever device you’re using to sit on a cloud, vibrator usage isn’t usually long enough to actually cause a problem.
How did these rumours of vibrator desensitization start?
The fight against women’s pleasure has been an ever-present effort. It was only in 1998 that the Alabama legislature, for example, passed the Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act, which criminalized the sale of sex toys. Smh. Fortunately, that law has been endlessly challenged and prompted national controversy — as well it should.
And the term “dead vagina” has been in the cultural zeitgeist since as early as 2010. It’s just another sad, lonely attempt at making women feel small, threatened, or controlled.
Does using a vibrator make it harder to orgasm during sex?
No. Now, that said, one thing to keep in mind is that you’re probably going to reach orgasm faster when you use a vibrator, compared to manual masturbation or sex with a partner. Regardless of how long you’ve been using a vibrator, you’ll find that its effects are, ahem, quite effective.
But even if you’re not using a vibrator, sexperts agree that any masturbation habit that you do over and over again can make you less responsive to other kinds of touch. In other words, if you constantly get yourself off in one certain, specific way (like lying on your stomach), it’ll be harder for you to get yourself there in another way.
Sex therapist Vanessa Marin explains that this is like the experiment with Pavlov's dogs: When two things happen at the same time (i.e. a bell ringing and a dog getting fed, or you using your vibrator and coming orgasm), then one thing tends to trigger the other one more so than other things would.
Some vulva-owners who think that using a vibrator made it harder to orgasm may have actually had a harder time coming to orgasm even before a vibrator was involved. While, yes, it’s a bit more “work” to get yourself there with just your hands, it’s totally doable. And you may be conflating the issue; it may be that you’ve gotten so used to using a vibrator to come to orgasm that your body is super-prepped to do so — like Pavlov’s dogs, it feels the vibrator and knows that it’s time to come!
Again, the simple fix is to keep things playful, and keep trying new or different ways of playing with yourself (and your partner). As long as you keep switching things up, you’ll be fine. If you’re interested in it being just as easy to come with a vibrator as without, Marin suggests using your vibrator about half the time you’re getting busy.
Still can’t orgasm during partnered sex?
If you’re a woman who can get herself off solo but who can’t come during vaginal intercourse, you’re so not alone. First and foremost, know that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. It’s totally normal to be able to get to the big O by yourself, but not when you’re with a partner.
The fact is, sexuality is both glorious and mysterious — it’s not always going to be clear what the deal is, and everyone has different things that turn them on. Plus, research shows that only about 25% of women can orgasm through intercourse; the vast majority of vulva-owners do not come through penetrative sex.
If you are interested in coming during intercourse, many sexperts suggest exploring your relationship with your partner (do you trust them?) as well as your own relationship with letting go. Are you comfortable feeling totally and completely expressed? It may be less about your physical ability and more about your emotional capacity to let go, which is something you can lean into and have fun with.
The best sex happens when you’re really in your body, not your head, so anything you can do to stay present will also help. Remember that sex is supposed to be fun.
What’s vibration therapy?
Glad you asked. It turns out that vibrators aren’t just fun — they can be a form of sexual medicine.
While you probably think about women/vulva-owners when you think about vibrators, there are actually plenty of vibrators for men, too. There are even FDA-approved medical devices like Ferticare and Viberect, which medical doctors can prescribe to help with ejaculatory dysfunction in men who’ve suffered a spinal cord injury.
How does this work? Well, it turns out that research shows that the right vibes delivered at the right time (and at a specific amplitude) provoke ejaculation in a lot of men with limited spinal reflexes. Potential positive side effects? Orgasm! Plus general pleasure, and a temporary reduction in spasticity. Research on orgasm in women with spinal cord injuries also validates the use of vibrators as an aid to overcome sexual dysfunction (i.e. the inability to orgasm).
Why else should I use a vibrator?
So many reasons, but here’s another good one: orgasms can ease the pain. Yep, you get all kinds of pain relief along with a good wank, including relief from pelvic pain. Or in the words of sexuality and relationship expert Dr. Logan Levkoff, “There has been real evidence that the endorphin release from orgasm can alleviate migraines and help people to manage chronic pain in general. This is because endorphins block pain while enhancing the parts of our brain responsible for pleasure.”
In other words, sexual health isn’t separate from general health — it’s inextricably linked. Solo sexual activity is awesome, as is partnered activity. Orgasms, either way, prompt your body to release oxytocin (aka the bonding hormone). Oxytocin, in addition to making you feel warm and fuzzy, also has pain-killing effects according to researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
So what are you waiting for? Get busy, get relaxed, get it on.