Fascinating Research On Women's Use of Vibrators

This post also appeared on the Good Vibrations Magazine.

A few months ago, I wrote about some research that had been published about women’s vibrator use. Last week, I attended a conference held by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors & Therapists and I got my hands on the research paper. It’s an amazing read and there’s much more to this study than I had realized.

The first thing worth noting is that (as was reported last year), vibrator use among women is much more common than many people realize:

46.3% have ever used a vibrator for masturbation
37.3% have ever used a vibe during intercourse
40.9% have ever used a vibrator during sexual play with a partner

Overall, 52.5% of women had ever used a vibe (there’s a lot of overlap among the groups above). Vibrator use correlated with being more likely to have had a gynecologic exam within the last year and to have performed a genital self-exam in the last month. It also correlated with higher sexual desire, arousal, vaginal lubrication, and orgasm. Of course, we need to be careful to remember that correlation is not causation. Women who have higher desire might be more likely to explore vibes and using vibes might result in higher desire. Clearly, we need more research.

It’s also worth noting that despite the myths that vibrator use can cause problems, relatively few women reported ever experiencing pain (3%), numbness (16.5%) or irritation (9.9%) and of those who did, almost all of them said that these effects lasted less than an hour. Unfortunately, the study didn’t explore whether the irritation or inflammation might be related to the materials that toys are made from or whether they were used with a lubricant, both of which are likely possibilities.

I was somewhat surprised to discover how many women aren’t cleaning their toys. Of the women who had ever used vibes,

60% cleaned them before and after use
21.6 cleaned them after use only
4.6% cleaned them before but not after use
13.8% never cleaned their vibes

Now, before you get too squicked (too late!), it’s worth noting that 36% of the respondents used their vibes for clitoral stimulation only (and a whopping 83.8% had ever used them that way). I’d like to know how many of the “never cleaned” group used their toys for clit stimulation only. My guess is that some women figure that they don’t need to bother since they’re not using them inside the vagina. I’d also want to see what correlations there are between cleaning choices and vulvar/vaginal irritation.

Note: at Good Vibrations, we recommend cleaning your toys every time. Some materials are trickier to clean than others, so check out this page for detailed info. Another easy option is to put a condom on your toy, especially if it’s made from a porous material, although only 7.4% of the survey respondents had done so.

I’m really glad to see this sort of research. Of course, that’s partly because I geek out about sex. But it’s also because sex educators need information like this so we can develop our strategies for how we do our work. It’s also really great to be able to tell people that, yes, vibrator use much more common than most people realize.

I’d also like to give a big shout out to Debby Herbenick, PhD and the rest of her team for conducting such excellent research!

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