This Is What's Inside Your Vibrator

Photographed by Martin Mendizabal.
If you’re like most women, you’ve probably spent some time getting up close and personal with a vibrator. You may even owe some of your best sexual experiences to a little vibrating friend. But have you ever wondered what’s inside that wonderful little gadget? What exactly makes a vibrator tick (or throb, buzz, or hum)?

I reached out to Janet Lieberman, cofounder of innovative sex toy company Dame Products, to find out what goes into the making of a woman’s best friend. An experienced engineer whose résumé includes stints at MakerBot, Quirky, and MindsInSync, Lieberman teamed up with sex educator Alexandra Fine to establish Dame in 2014. The duo released their first product — Eva, a hands-free wearable vibrator — to great acclaim.
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Lieberman gave me a tour of the inner workings of the vibrator, explaining all the different factors that contribute to your favorite vibration sensation.
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Photographed by Martin Mendizabal.
Motor

The most important part of any vibrator is obviously the vibration (it’s kind of the whole point, right?). To get that, you need a motor. But there’s a key difference between a sex toy motor and one you might find in, say, a toy car. In a standard motor, engineers want to have as little wobble as possible — if that toy car's motor is off-balance, the toy won’t run smoothly or even in a straight line. But in a vibrator motor, the wobble is key: it’s that kick from an off-balance motor that puts pleasure in your pleasure product.

To get that little extra something, vibrator designers attach a weight to the motor, creating an imbalance that makes the motor wobble as it spins. The speed of the motor, weight size, and weight position all combine to determine the kind of vibration your sex toy provides.

“You can have a really high-powered, buzzy vibrator, a low-powered buzzy vibrator, a high-powered rumbly vibrator, or a low-powered rumbly vibrator, all based on the motor you pick,” Lieberman says.

While the off-balance motor is the standard, some vibrators operate a little differently: Lieberman notes that the JimmyJane Hello Touch uses flat pancake motors, which are much more compact and provide vastly weaker vibration; the now defunct RevelBody experimented with sonic motors; and the X2 Orgasmatron is powered by gyration, instead of vibration

[Disclosure: I previously provided consulting services to Orgasmatronics, the makers of the Orgasmatron.].
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Photographed by Martin Mendizabal.
Power Source

As any experienced sex toy user knows, the best vibrator is worthless if it doesn’t have a charge — which is why the power source is an essential part of any vibrator. Some, including classics like the Magic Wand or Eroscillator, get their juice by plugging into a wall socket. But since portability is sexy, most modern toys are either powered by replaceable dry-cell batteries or rechargeable lithium ion ones.

For Eva, Lieberman opted for a rechargeable battery, deeming it the best combination of space efficiency and power. If you’re using Eva on the high setting, that battery will give you about an hour of power, the perfect amount of time for a hard-core pleasure session. According to Lieberman, if a heavy user can’t drain a vibrator’s battery in a single session of self love, that probably means the designers should have picked a smaller battery for the product.
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Photographed by Martin Mendizabal.
PCB
Does your vibrator have multiple speeds and fancy patterns? Chances are good that there’s a printed circuit board (PCB) inside. Though not all vibrators have one — simple vibrators with just a few speeds and no special functions don’t need elaborate circuitry — a PCB allows vibe makers to offer the user a more seamless experience as they operate their toy.

In the case of Eva, a PCB allows its single button to perform multiple functions, including turning the vibrator on, cycling through different speeds, and —when the user’s had their fun — turning it off with a single extended press. Without the PCB, it’d be impossible to get all those functions out of a single button and the user experience would feel a lot clunkier.
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Photographed by Martin Mendizabal.
Controls

What use would your vibrator be if you couldn’t turn it on and off or cycle through different speeds? Once again, there are a number of ways to give a user control over their orgasmic experience, ranging from the remarkably simple to the rather complex. The simplest vibrators just have an on/off switch, while the most complex have controls attached to their very own PCB.

Lieberman notes that the classic Rabbit Habit (the vibrator made famous by Sex and the City) has a pretty innovative set of controls. Instead of a button or a switch, the Rabbit Habit is controlled by little dials. As the user adjusts them, they change the length of coiled wires within the toy. Those wires change the resistance of the circuits, allowing Rabbit Habit fans to get a number of different power levels without a PCB in the product.
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Photographed by Martin Mendizabal.
Housing

How do all these parts stay together? That’s where the housing comes in. A hard piece of plastic (or sometimes metal), the housing functions as the skeleton that gives the vibrator its structure. But it does more than just keep everything in place: The structure of the housing can have an effect on the way the motor’s vibration gets channeled to you.


If the motor is placed far away from the part of the vibe that’s touching your body, that’ll create a different sensation than a toy that places the motor right up in your business. Likewise, a motor that’s tightly held within its housing will create a different kind of vibration than one that’s loosely held and more free to rattle around.
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Photographed by Martin Mendizabal.
Skin

The final component of a vibrator? A skin that separates its innards from yours. Depending on your preference, a vibrator’s skin might be made of a hard plastic (like ABS or TPR) or a soft rubber (like silicone, cyberskin, jelly rubber, or elastomer). Though there are obvious benefits to some materials — non-porous materials, such as silicone, are easy to clean and sterilize, toxic jelly rubbers have been largely phased out in favor of safer materials — the “best” skin is really a matter of individual preference and what sort of sensation you’re looking for.
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