Myth: Women Should Not Use Vibrators

This time’s myth is, if a woman masturbates using a vibrator, she won’t be able to have orgasms by other means, particularly intercourse. Now I’ve often been asked whether if a woman uses a vibrator for masturbation, won’t it “ruin” her for other kinds of stimulation? Won’t it make orgasm from other means, particularly intercourse, impossible? And I guess this idea was suggested years ago, a number of years ago, not based on any scientific research but on the clinical supposition that a woman, if she became used to the intense stimulation provided by a vibrator, it might make orgasm, orgasmic stimulation by more gentle means or more organic means too gentle to elicit full satisfaction. Perhaps this idea derived from anecdotal, clinical experience of some clinician, some individual clinician, or maybe from the writer’s unconscious fear of competition, before this common modern era when so many more of us are comfortable with sex toys in the bedroom, for both men and women’s pleasure, as well as couples. There are many more people out there today that derive pleasure and enhance their sexual relationships with these kinds of materials than did in the past. Wherever this idea came from, it continues to concern people and so I thought it might be helpful if we investigated what scientific evidence there might be that would support or refute this belief. Unfortunately, very little research has been done to investigate this question, but I’m going to tell you what we know.

One study that addressed this question directly – and as I said, there aren’t many – was primarily focused on the developmental history of masturbation in 100 college women. 74 percent of those interviewed reported that masturbating most often began as an accidental discovery. This finding is not new – it’s been reported in a number of studies over the past 30 years. And it’s very interesting – women seem to discover masturbation – because it’s not talked about among girls or women – whereas men are more likely to learn masturbation, or learn about masturbation, and even learn techniques of masturbation from their friends or their older relatives or perhaps through reading about it or hearing about it through literature or men’s magazines. And women are more likely to invent it for themselves.

But getting back to these 100 women. Masturbation to orgasm was not related in any way to orgasm during intercourse. And directly related to our myth this month, the notion of clitoral fixation, that is, being somehow fixated on your clitoris if that’s the way you reached orgasm to begin with, or that’s the way you reached orgasm through masturbation, it was not supported. There was no relationship between reliance on clitoral stimulation in both masturbation and intercourse. So it doesn’t seem to hold up. In addition, masturbation to orgasm was not related to the ability to attain orgasm during intercourse, although there are studies that show that women who masturbate seem to have a better experience with their sexuality, know their bodies better, and seem more likely to have more satisfying sexual relationships. So there is a positive relationship with masturbation and one’s general sexual satisfaction.

Another study evaluated 150 women who were anorgasmic – and what that means is that they’d never yet had an orgasm. Most women are capable of having orgasms, but sometimes they have to be taught how. But anyway, this was a study of 150 women who as yet had not had orgasms, and they had come to find out how to do that, and they had sought sex therapy because they were concerned about this. They were treated with a technique called directed masturbation, and there are a number of different techniques that help women to learn about masturbation, and sometimes in these techniques vibrators are used. The results of this clinical study were that 95% of the women were able to reach orgasm through masturbation once they were taught how. 85% were also able to come to orgasm with the direct stimulation of their sexual partners, once they learned how to come to orgasm themselves. And about 40% of these originally non-orgasmic women, once they had learned to experience orgasm via masturbation, were also able to come to orgasm during penile-vaginal intercourse. And this, of course, is very close to the figures found in studies of women in general, which is, depending on the study, between 30 and 70% of women cannot reach orgasm by intercourse alone, so 40% of those who can come within the realm of the studies that are done in the literature.

In yet another study of another 100 college women, researchers found that these women could clearly subjectively distinguish between orgasms that were clitoral and orgasms that were vaginal. However, these women, when asked whether they had a preference for one or the other, showed no clear, and reported no clear, preference between ones that they subjectively identified as clitoral, or vaginal. So they were both good. There was no difference between them.

Now another study had a very large group, over 15 states, of registered nurses. And they were questioned regarding the differences between, or actually perceived, among orgasms experienced via masturbation, or via petting, or sexual intercourse. 76 % of these nurses reported perceiving differences among the orgasms the experienced from these three activities. But, and perhaps you’ll be surprised to hear this, no differences were found in either physiological or psychological satisfaction. So, like the college students – these were older women, they were already registered nurses – they said there was no difference in terms of their satisfaction, psychologically or physiologically, between orgasms experienced through masturbation, petting, or sexual intercourse.

So I’d like to conclude with a couple of thoughts. First I’d like to quote from one of the most highly regarded current clinical textbooks, about vibrators. Here’s the quote: “Electric and battery-operated vibrators are very effective in enhancing female sexual desire, arousal, and orgasm.” And let me also say that men enjoy vibrators too – it’s not just a female thing! And they really enhance couple’s sex as well, used on both partners. I’m going back to the quote now. “The intense stimulation they provide can help overcome psychological inhibitions and medical causes of inhibited arousal.” Again – in both men and women. “They may be incorporated in therapeutic exercises, performed individually or with a partner.” And let me add now that they can add variety and fun and satisfaction and stimulation into a healthy sexual relationship. Getting back to the clinical textbook, that’s a pretty strong recommendation that I don’t think would be given in a clinical textbook unless there was pretty strong, at least at this point, agreement that there’s no harm being done with the use of vibrators. And I’d like just to add that if you’re going to start using a vibrator for the first time and you haven’t done it before, either individually or as a couple, please start gently. Find out what you and your partner like, and what feels good, and don’t hesitate to apply a lot of water-based or silicone-based lubricant.

My last point is that the point of sexuality is communication, pleasure, joy, fun, and if you’re into acting with a partner, let me restate communication. The rules about what you should or should not do with regards to sex toys, fantasies, games, or costumes, in my opinion, are useless unless they’re rules about not violating any boundaries of adult consensual sex, not doing anything at all that your partner doesn’t whole-heartedly and joyously agree to, otherwise, the sky’s the limit. And that’s our myth for this month.

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