It’s not something that most people talk about, but behind closed doors about half of American adults use vibrators -- plug-in or battery-operated sex toys often called "body massagers" that enhance sexual arousal and satisfaction. Used correctly, a vibrator creates pleasurable sensations that help the user reach heights of excitement and even orgasm... and the benefits don’t stop there. Research shows that using a vibrator can help both partners feel more comfortable and open about their sexuality, which in turn can help make a sexual relationship better. And in national surveys, Indiana University researchers found that both men and women who used vibrators alone or with their partners enjoyed better sex lives and took better care of their sexual health.
For expert insight into this phenomenon and practical advice for vibrator novices, I spoke with Judy Kuriansky, PhD, a clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist who teaches courses about intimacy at Columbia University Teachers College in New York City. She is author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tantric Sex. She assured me that vibrators are a great asset to sexual health and that even those who are embarrassed -- or worried about getting addicted to a machine -- can get over those fears and get started. We began by discussing the Indiana study and then got down to the how-to of vibrator use.
Electrify Your Sex Life
Indiana investigators reported results from a nationally representative study of 2,056 women and 1,047 men (age 18 to 60), showing that both sexes reaped rewards from vibrators. Slightly more than half of the women (53%) reported having tried a vibrator at some point in their lives, and nearly one in four had used one in the previous month. Researchers reported that the female respondents who used vibrators...
- Experienced greater sexual desire and arousal, better natural lubrication and enhanced ease of orgasm during sex overall, compared with those who said they had not ever used a vibrator.
- Were more likely to have had a gynecological exam in the past year and to have performed gynecological self-examination in the preceding month.
Somewhat less than half (45%) of the men surveyed reported having used vibrators (one in 10 in the past month). These male users...
- Rated themselves higher on measures of sexual function, such as the ability to achieve and sustain an erection, and reported greater satisfaction with intercourse than nonusers.
- Were more likely to report participation in sexual health-promoting behaviors, such as examining their testicles for signs of cancer.
The study links vibrator use to positive sexual function but does not posit cause and effect. Dr. Kuriansky (who was not associated with the study) told me "it’s a circle -- using vibrators (like any other sex toy) can make you more sexually open, and people who are generally more open and comfortable with their sexuality are more likely to use vibrators."
Findings were published in the July 2009 issue of Journal of Sexual Medicine. While one might question the results, given that the research was funded by Church & Dwight, the company that manufactures Trojan-brand products, including vibrators, Dr. Kuriansky agreed with the findings, telling me that she has seen the same benefits in her patients who use them. She added that their popularity doesn’t surprise her , and she hopes that the results encourage other couples to take advantage of such aides -- she says doing so can lead to greater intimacy.
How to Get Started
Buying a vibrator is as simple as walking into a drugstore or shopping online. Dr. Kuriansky outlined several different types...
- Body massagers. At Walmart or other such stores, you can purchase a variety of body massage devices, some just $20 or so. Novices might find this to be the most comfortable beginning, because these are not obvious sexual devices... and, of course, they can indeed be used on other parts of the body. They’re usually sold as stress relievers or for back/neck pain, but you can also use the massager on your upper thighs, belly and genital area to increase energy and blood flow and elicit a sexual response. Note: Be careful when applying a body massager directly to your genitals, because the pressure could cause pain or irritation.
- Basic vibrators. A personal massage device may be pleasurable enough, but if you like it, you may want to go to the next level. At discreet, upscale sex-accessory boutiques, such as Eve’s Garden (located in New York City or online at www.evesgarden.com), there are plenty of vibrators, including those with an explicit phallic shape. These also may be purchased at the big, mainstream Web site, Drugstore.com. One kind, called the Hitachi Magic Wand, is about $40. The site also sells small pocket-sized (or "travel") vibrators that can be unobtrusively tucked in your bag (under $20). Click on the "sexual well-being" tab to see the "vibrator buying guide."
- Deluxe models with accessories. Adventurous souls may find it worthwhile to visit a sex shop, where a wide variety of sex toys are available. These can be found in most major cities and usually carry many types of vibrators of all sizes, shapes and colors -- even ones that can be inserted and have appendages (such as "rabbit ears") to stimulate several areas at once. These can cost $100 or more. Dr. Kuriansky notes that while some vibrators are meant for insertion, others should not be used this way -- check the directions.
Don't worry about your technique -- just experiment to find what works best for you, Dr. Kuriansky advises. To determine the right spot and degree of pressure, first try applying the vibrator in the vicinity of the genitals rather than directly to them, and adjust the intensity of the vibration.
No Substitute for Human Touch
Dr. Kuriansky strongly recommends vibrators, especially for women who want to learn how to be more responsive, less hesitant and more comfortable with their bodies and their sexual responses. She cautions, however, that these are no substitute for human touch (your own or your partner’s) and says that in her view, a mechanical device is best viewed as "a pleasant supplement to, and not a replacement for, personal contact."