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 Duana with husband and sweetheart Vic Hariton

 (Photo by Gayle Kelly)

Wednesday
Apr112012

Vibrator Dependence: Can using a vibrator make it harder to orgasm with a real partner?

Dear Duana,

I’ve been single for a few months, and my vibrator and I have gotten rather close.  I’m starting to worry I won’t know how to respond to a flesh-and-blood guy.  Is there such a thing as vibrator dependence?  If so, how do I deal with it?

Erica

 

Dear Erica,

I’ll admit it, when I first read your letter, I thought:  How close?  Do you call out Oh My Vibrator! at crucial moments?  Is one of its designated speeds Who Needs A Man?  And most ominous of all:  Have you chipped a tooth?  

Seriously, let’s get a grip on the issue.  Scholarly investigations on Vibrator Dependence—the inability to climax without vibrator assistance—are exceedingly rare.  None of my sexuality resources includes the term; the one article I located online was shaky at best.  And the remaining pieces were about engineering, and not about engineering better vibrators.  Soooo not sexy. 

Perhaps this is a topic so taboo, science won’t touch it:  “Dear Dr. Getoff, we regret that your intended study, ‘The Eternal Buzz: Vibrators’ impact on partnered orgasm’ fails to meet our ethical standards…”  That sort of thing.  But I doubt it.  Not only is there mounting research on other touchy topics—likemasturbation—, but there’s science specific to vibrator use. 

 

Exhibit A: Yes!  Yes!  Oh My God, Yes!  Sex With Machinery Is Good For You.

You’re likely aware that vibrators were created in the 1860’s to help doctors treat female ‘hysterias’.  The medicos—smart enough to earn MD’s, yet largely ignorant that what they were causing was orgasm—were literally tired of taking 20-40 minutes to please m’ lady.  They and their patients were relieved when a machine enabled the docs to temporarily heal more patients at a fraction of the time, effort, and repetitive-motion injury. 

We’ve come a long way, baby.  Behold the EROS, the first and only non-pharmaceutical device intended to enhance clitoral blood flow for long-term relief of numerous female sexual disorders.  Place the little suctiony thing over your clitoris, follow the timing directions—60 seconds on, 60 off, 60 on, 60 off, three to four times per week—and according to author Mary Roach’s very personal trials, you’ll be so satisfied, the damned thing will convert you into a “masturbatory layabout.”  Experiments show the Eros causes women to get hornier, wetter, orgasmic-er, and just plain happier with their sex life.  Whether or not you’ve experienced sexual dysfunction or even radiation treatments for cervical cancer that can physically impair sexual function and feeling, EROS works. 

Despite smart women’s collective willingness to do whatever we can for science, the $375 price tag—about 8x the cost of the Cadillac of vibes—plus the EROS’ by-prescription-only availability in the USA may keep the EROS out of reach.  But if our curiosity must remain unsated, at least our libidos can still run wild, because an ordinary vibrator may well supply what the EROS does.  Although no lab has yet compared the two, vibrator-wielding survey respondents’ results seem eerily similar to experimental results via the EROS:  The near-53% of American women using vibrators report higher desire, arousal, lubrication, and orgasmicity than non-vibe-using women. 

 

Exhibit B: Can Sex With Machinery Can Teach You To Only Come With Machinery?  Maybe.  But that’s easily fixed. 

With results this positive, it’s no wonder few scientists are examining a possible bad side of Good Vibrations.  Yet letters like yours, plus dozens of Google hits about normal people experiencing or worried about Vibrator Dependence, plus some guys telling me their partner can only get off with a vibrator—get me wondering.  And when I couple those observations with facts of learning and sexuality, things get curiouser and curiouser.

Consider what we know per science: 

 —A major mode of learning is operant conditioning, where whenever we do a thing that gets rewarded—like plugging in, then getting off—we become more likely to do that particular thing again.  Repeated rewards strengthen the rewarded behavior:  The more we vibrate, the more we wanna vibrate. 

—Unlike men, women must generally learn to have an orgasm.  Most women learn most easily with masturbation, and research shows it’s easiest for women to learn to orgasm with a vibrator. 

—Women are highly variable from one to the next in terms of what gets us off.  We have better sex when we teach partners to replicate what we know works for us.  And champion banjo-pickers notwithstanding, few partners can create or sustain the stimulation of a vibrator. 

 

So based on all that, here’s what I think: If you rely *only* on orgasm by vibrator, you could indeed train your body to be responsive mainly, or maybe exclusively, to the vibrator. 

 

What’s The Fix?

Fortunately, even if you were Vibrator Dependent, there’s a simple solution:  Unplug until you’ve fully reconnected with yourself via hands-only masturbation—techniques a flesh-and-blood guy can replicate.  Then—after you’ve gotten back in touch with yourself acoustically— you can turn up the amp again and play electrically, taking acoustic breaks as needed or desired. 

And maybe include toys in some of your human interactions.  As sociologist Pepper Schwartz has so aptly put it, vibrators aren’t guys’ competition; “they’re your colleagues.” 

Whatever you do, don’t toss out your toys.  Variety is the spice of sex-life.  Orgasms are literally great for the heart and the head, not only the loins. And no study yet has discerned any but positive outcomes from Good Vibrations. 

 

Cheers,

Duana

 

Do you have a question for Duana?   Write to her at Duana@LoveScienceMedia.com.  You’ll get a response, and your real name is never used on-site. 

All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., and LoveScience Media, 2012.

 

 

Related LoveScience articles:

Masturbation: Its impact on a marriage (includes results from the LoveScience survey on masturbation): http://www.lovesciencemedia.com/love-science-media/masturbation-marriage.html

Questions and Answers about Masturbation and how it affects a long-term relationship’s sexuality: http://www.lovesciencemedia.com/love-science-media/qa-from-masturbation-marriage.html

 

The author wishes to thank the following scientists and sources:

Debra Herbenick, Michael Reece, and others, for research in 2009 showing vibrators’ popularity; about53% of women and 45% of men in the USA use one, alone and/or with a partner.   These surveys showed only positive outcomes associated with women’s use of vibrators, such as women having higher desire, arousal, lubrication, and orgasmicity if they used vibrators.  And the men’s use was also correlated with outcomes such as improved erectile function, satisfaction with intercourse, orgasmicity, and sexual desire.  

Robert Crooks & Karla Baur, whose 11th edition of the textbook Our Sexuality provided the only science-based advice or justification for occasionally masturbating without a vibrator so that a real-life partner could have a shot at replicating what gets a particular woman off.  They said advised that a woman can learn to orgasm from vibrator use, but after that….“it is helpful for her to return to manual stimulation….because it is easier for a partner to replicate a woman’s own touch than the stimulation of a vibrator.”  (From pp. 425-426, under the heading, ‘Becoming Orgasmic’.) 

Ricardo Munarriz and others, for research on the EROS Clitoral Therapy device that showed the EROS does indeed increase blood flow to the clitoris.  (Another study by other researchers showed enhanced blood flow to the vagina as well: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11480099.) Others’ research using the EROS on women with and without various sexual disorders finds that the EROS is helpful in enhancing sensation, lubrication, orgasmicity, and over-all sexual satisfaction: http://www.eros-therapy.com/index.cfm?option=view&newsitemid=1044&optionid=546.  It even works to enhance these qualities for women who may suffer a loss of sexual function following treatment for cervical cancer:http://radonc.ucsd.edu/news/Documents/CTD_FSD_CA_Survivors.pdf.

However, none of the studies assessed EROS’ efficacy versus manual masturbation and/or use of commercially available vibrators—which some of the scientists admit might do just as much good, sans EROS’ $375 price tag!

Mary Roach, author of Bonk: The curious coupling of science and sex.  Her chapter on vibrators, dildos, and the science behind the EROS Clitoral Therapy device (which she jokes will turn women into ‘masturbatory layabouts’) is not to be missed.  In fact, the entire book is screamingly funny and informative. 

Cindy Meston & David Buss, who expound on their research on Why Women Have Sex in a book by the same name.  In it, Meston points out that women –unlike men—*learn* how to have an orgasm.  And by the way, if you’re a human who just wants to know more about why humans (male and female, not women only) have sex—here’s a PDF of Meston & Buss’ free article:http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/HomePage/Group/MestonLAB/Publications/WhyHaveSex.pdf

Rachel P. Maines, who wrote a history of the vibrator.  The vibrator was invented in the 1860’s to relieve doctor’s tired hands (they were treating ‘hysteria’ by giving women hand-jobs).  If you’d like to take a virtual tour of the vibrator’s history, visit the Good Vibrations Antique Vibrator Museum, in person or online here: http://antiquevibratormuseum.com/index-1.html 

Joani Blank, founder of Good Vibrations, and author of Good Vibrations, The New Complete Guide To Vibrators 

The Guide To Getting It On, 6th Edition, wherein ‘vibrator holidays’ of one week a month are recommended for anyone finding non-vibe stimulation to no longer be enough during partnered sexuality.  They didn’t provide any scientific justification for the recommendation, but based on the science I reviewed on learning/operant conditioning and women’s sexuality, it makes sense.    

More important is The Guide’s discussion of phthalates, pliable plastics present in many vibrators and dildos (non-vibrating items for insertion); if you use vibes/dildos made of glass, 100% silicon, and/or very hard plastic, you should be able to avoid ingesting possibly hazardous chemicals in your nethers. 

 

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Reader Comments (7)

In this, I suppose I am the exception. I have never been a fan of personal appliances. Too...detached. Too...buzzy. Very off- putting to me, generally speaking.

April 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

To each her own, Leslie! Just because they help many doesn't mean vibes are appealing to all. Enjoy what does make you happy. Thanks for writing in.

April 11, 2012 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

And lest my comment be interpreted as being opposed to them in principle...I'm not. I'm definitely a, "whatever works for ya!" kind of gal!

April 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

Hmmm, just last night I had a "stimulating conversation" with a woman I'm fond of. And this morning in a note, she referred to me as her "favorite toy" . . . I think I may get called for an encore ;-)

April 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Does wattage or frequency of the vibration matter in the strength of the dependance? Don't answer that. I would expect that the type of successful outcomes determine the dependency rate. Oh the imagination goes wild. I totally agree with the statement about women who use such appliances learn much more about themselves and what makes them gush so to speak. 2 Cents.

April 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGC

Tom, you sound pleased with that outcome ;).

GC, I did look into whether any studies show a potential for permanent numbing/desensitization of the clitoral area, based either on frequency of use or intensity of vibration. All the sources I found said there was no such outcome--that if anything, all the studies show positive ongoing effects to masturbating with a vibrator. My own guess is that it's possible for women to over-stimulate, but that that wouldn't feel good--so they stop. Effectively, as soon as the reward scenario switches to punishment, folks unplug.

On the other hand, the data are pretty clear that women do learn more about themselves--and get hornier more often, too--when they masturbate, with or without toys and with or without a partner. So you're right!

April 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

From Anonymous: --My Penis Is Small—What Size Vibrator Will Come In Handy?--

I’m worried about my penis size and wonder if there’s a certain size vibrator or dildo to get as back-up?


Duana’s response: Use What Women Use When They’re Alone

Anon, did you find me by looking up Penis Size? That’s the most-read LoveScience column right now, and if you haven’t seen it yet, here it is: http://www.lovesciencemedia.com/love-science-media/when-size-matters-penis-size-and-womens-satisfaction.html.
And here’s the Q&A that goes with Penis Size: http://www.lovesciencemedia.com/love-science-media/qa-from-when-size-matters-penis-size-and-womens-satisfaction.html

In a nutshell, “the vast majority of women are satisfied with their partner’s penis size. In fact, 84% of USA women are “very satisfied” with their partner’s size (14% want larger and 2% want smaller)—and a third are satisfied even when they define their partner as “small”!”

Yet I keep getting letters from guys who think they can’t satisfy a partner because of small penile dimensions. To them, I say, read the articles linked, and then read this:

When women are alone, most don’t put *anything* into the vagina during masturbation. They get themselves off by stimulating the clitoris only. Bluntly put, women are doing what they like when they masturbate. And what they like is for their clitori to be lovingly stroked in very specific, individualized ways. Any and all peni (and hands, toys, tongues) can reach the clit.

But what about women who use insertion to get off? They mostly use their fingers--which don’t reach nearly as far in as the vast majority of peni. And those who use objects inside the vagina to reach climax? Typically use objects that are at or smaller than the size of the average male penis. The most popular vibrator sizes are 5-6 inches…and usually get applied externally a lot more than internally.

Upshot? Toys are fun; if you and your partner like ‘em, use ‘em. But toys aren’t replacements for a flesh-and-blood Man who comes with the ability to touch, to tease, to hug, to hold, to whisper, to adore, to *relate* with. Use normal-sized toys—and your lips, and tongue, and fingers, and ears, and brain, and yes, your penis—because they bring your partner pleasure, not because you are insufficient.

You are enough. Proceed with joy!

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.
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