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What Are Vibrators?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 27, 2021

Vibrators are sex toys that are used on the body to create sexual stimulation. Modern vibrators, also known as massagers, use electronic power to create vibrations or pulses. Vibrators come in many shapes and sizes.

Vibrators are used by placing the device on sensitive erogenous zones, which are places on your body that increase sexual pleasure. They can be used externally on the penis, vulva, clitoris and anus, or can be used internally in the anus or vagina. Continued stimulation can create feelings of sexual pleasure, and may eventually lead to orgasm.

Vibrators can be used alone or with a partner. Vibrator use is popular among both men and women of all sexual orientations. Over 43.8% of heterosexual males and 49.8% of homosexual men in the United States reported vibrator use, either alone or with partners. Another study found that 52.5% of women ages 18-60 in the United States have used a vibrator before.

Why People Like Them

Vibrators can increase feelings of sexual pleasure and make orgasms easier to achieve. Scientists are not entirely sure why vibrators feel good, but vibrators can help both men and women orgasm more quickly. As Debby Hebernick, the director of India University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion, told Mic, different people may prefer different intensity levels of vibration, and some people may be more sensitive to vibration than others. There are many different types of vibrators, so some may be better suited for certain people than others.

Some surveys show that almost half of women are unhappy with how often they are able to reach orgasm. Orgasms release the hormone oxytocin, which can create feelings of affection or social bonding, and may increase feelings of happiness.

While many people enjoy vibrators, they are especially popular amongst women who have trouble orgasming through masturbation or penetration from a partner. Many sexual health experts suggest women experiencing these issues use a vibrator to help them achieve orgasm more easily.

Vibrators may also be helpful for people who have low libido (“sex drive”), anorgasmia (a condition where a person cannot reach orgasm), motor or sensory disabilities, or conditions that prevent vaginal penetration.

Myths About Vibrators

One popular myth about vibrators is that overuse of vibrators can make sex without a vibrator less fulfilling. However, vibrators do not numb the genitals or make your genitals less sensitive to non-electronic stimulation.

In fact, one study found that only 11% of vibrator users reported genital numbness on occasion, and only 3% said that they experienced genital numbing frequently.

How to Use Vibrators Safely

Vibrators are safe to use. Research shows that side effects related to vibrator use are extremely rare. 

There are many different styles of vibrators. Some styles are meant for insertion, while others are not. Additionally, some may vibrate more strongly than others. Some vibrators plug into the wall while others are battery operated. You may want to do some research to pick a vibrator that will satisfy your needs, although many vibrators have a variety of possible uses and vibration strength settings.

Lube may also help make vibrator use more pleasurable. As Lauren Streicher, MD, explains in Women's Health Magazine, it is important to make sure that the lube is compatible with your toy. Usually, water-based lubes are best.

It is important to read the directions of the vibrator before using. Do not insert vibrators anally if the vibrator is not meant for anal insertion. 

Talking to Your Partner About Trying Vibrators

You can use vibrators alone or with a partner. You may find that these toys help to increase your physical excitement before intercourse, or may help you achieve orgasm. When talking with your partner, you may find it helpful to explain that using a vibrator may help you achieve certain sensations that are not possible without it.

It may be helpful to familiarize yourself with your vibrator before using it with a partner. Play around with the different settings, and figure out different spots on your body that may feel good.

Care and Cleaning

It is very important to always clean your vibrator, as bacteria left on the toy can cause infections like urinary tract infections. Cleaning is especially important when you have used your vibrator with a partner, or when it may have touched your anus. 

Hard plastic and silicone toys are easiest to clean with anti-bacterial soap and cool or warm water. Most vibrators can be lightly immersed in water, but read the instructions to find out if your silicone toy can be cleaned in the dishwasher.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Brown University: “What’s the best way to clean sex toys?”

Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism: “The orgasmic history of oxytocin: Love, lust and labor.”

Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy: “Vibrator Use Among Heterosexual Men Varies by Partnership Status: Results from a Nationally Representative Study in the United States.”

Journal of Sexual Medicine: “Characteristics of Vibrator Use by Gay and Bisexually Identified Men in the United States.”

Journal of Sexual Medicine: “Female Sexual Dysfunction- Medical and Psychological Treatments, Committee 14.”

Journal of Sexual Medicine: “Prevalence and Characteristics of Vibrator Use by Women in the United States: Results from a Nationally Representative Study.”

MedlinePlus: “Orgasmic dysfunction in women.”

Mic: “The Buzzworth Science Behind Why Your Vibrator Feels So Damn Good.”

Psychology Today: “Vibrators: Myths vs. Truth.”

Sexual and Relationship Therapy: “Genital vibration for sexual function and enhancement: best practice recommendations for choosing and safely using a vibrator.”

Women’s Health: “6 Things Every Woman Should Know About Using a Vibrator.”

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