Step AWAY From The Vibrator...Maybe

Illustrated By Anna Sudit.
"I was totally going to masturbate last night but my Hitachi wasn’t charged, so I just went to sleep instead.”

When this comes out of my mouth during a conversation with my friend A., she expresses some alarm. “Ooh, that’s not good,” she murmurs. She's not talking about my tech issues, but how quickly I abandoned my plans to masturbate. While her evening went differently, it inspires a similar sentiment. “I am pretty sure my vibrator messed up my sex life at some point,” she admits. "Last night, I used it and was thinking, This is great, I can’t remember the last time a human did as good a job.”

For better or worse, human appendages, whether our own or our partners', just aren’t capable of delivering 2,700 to 6,300 vibrations a minute. (I find that last setting of my Hitachi Magic Wand a little too intense; 5,400 vibrations per minute is my sweet spot.) I’ve welcomed the Wand into my sex life like a second partner. I rarely use anything else when I’m on my own anymore, and that includes my hands. And I’ve always scoffed at warnings that vibrators “desensitize" your lady bits and create dependence: They feel great, whether used solo or with a partner, and they make orgasms easier — what’s the problem? Surely a vibrator can’t actually reduce the functioning of the clit’s 8,000 sensory nerve endings, right?

But I've noticed recently that if a charged toy isn’t at hand, I’m not bothering to masturbate at all — which makes me wonder whether I should, in fact, be worried about overuse.

I was totally going to masturbate last night but my Hitachi wasn’t charged, so I just went to sleep.

My friend A. shares my concerns: “For me it's hard, because once I got used to a vibrator, nothing was as good," she says. "When I was dating my ex-boyfriend, he would try and I would be like, ‘No, fuck it, just get the vibrator.’”

“I know someone who could never orgasm with a guy, so she would always use a vibrator,” another friend interjects. “She and her partner would have sex and then after he was done, she would just pop it out and rub, like, five out. I was like, ‘You need to learn how to do it without a vibrator’ and she was like, ‘I just can’t!’”

When it comes to orgasm, it’s tricky if not impossible to locate the line between “just can’t” and “just haven’t figured out how yet.” Only about 1 out of every 4 women consistently orgasms through intercourse, regardless of the duration of the sex or the size of the penis (if there is one involved) or whether the couple had a candlelit dinner first. Most women need clitoral stimulation, and using a vibrator is a tried-and-true way of introducing it. If you have only ever come with battery-powered backup, you’re still getting off, and that’s divine.

But I’m suspicious that my recent toy use comes at the expense of getting to know my body better, since merely applying vibration doesn’t take much exploration or finesse.
Illustrated By Anna Sudit.
I turn to my favorite sex therapist, Vanessa Marin, for some clarity. "The amazing thing about vibrators is that they're able to provide an intensity of stimulation that you just can't reach with a hand or a tongue,” she tells me. "But at the same time, your body can get accustomed to that level of intensity." Any desensitization, though, is only temporary: "You’re not going to cause any lasting damage, nor are you going to get 'addicted.’” I was right, then, in my belief that when properly used, toys don’t cause physiological changes — but there are other reasons to reassess their role.

"I'm a huge fan of vibrators, but I do think they can induce a certain type of masturbatory laziness,” Marin continues. "Let’s get real — vibrators are easy! For most women, all you have to do is turn it on, put it in place, and chill until you have your orgasm. Of course it's way more appealing than having to keep your hand in a constant state of motion for 10 to 30 minutes. Forearm cramps, anyone?”

She has a point re: arm strength. But lazy isn’t a word I’d want to be applied to my sex life. I’m at peace with the reality that the sensations provided by body parts are less intense than those a battery can afford. My challenge, though, is to remember that all-natural stimulation is wonderful, too, and helps me feel more intimately connected with both myself and my partner. By defaulting to vibrator-induced clitoral stimulation every time, I risk overlooking the full spectrum of sexual experience.

I'm a huge fan of vibrators, but they can induce a certain masturbatory laziness.

Vanessa Marin
Which is where a little vibrator break might be helpful. "If you love your vibrator, are happy with your orgasms, and don't feel any negative impacts on your partnered sex life, keep firing that puppy up,” Marin tells me. "But if you feel like you're getting lazy, if you're having a hard time reaching orgasm, or if you want to orgasm in other ways, you can try going on a vibrator fast for two to four weeks. Or try using your vibrator less — only about half of the time you masturbate.”

The operative point here: No one knows whether you’d benefit from a vibrator fast but you. I have a vibe-loving friend who rejoices in the “instant gratification” her toy gives her and who doesn't feel it has held her back from any sexual experiences she’d like to have. (“The one caveat is a Sybian — if I had one, I could see myself becoming very antisocial,” she jokes.) For me, though, it’s time for a temporary breakup with my favorite toy. It won’t be forever, Hitachi; I just need to figure out who I am without you — and encourage myself and my partner to spend a little more time on that endeavor together. It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later. Wait for me. I’ll be back.
The Bed Post is a series that explores what holds us back from sex and love with whom we want, when we want, where we want, and how we want — because we all deserve sex and love lives that are not only free of evils, but full of what is good. Follow me on Twitter at @hlmacmillen or email me at hayley.macmillen@refinery29 — I’d love to hear from you. Find all of The Bed Post right here.

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