Are Vibrators Addictive or Numbing? Our Sex Therapist Has Your Answer

We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous.

Now, on to this week’s question:

Q: So, I really like my vibrator. It's easier for me to come with one than by using my hand — plus it's more intense. I can come other ways, I just prefer my vibrator. (So sue me.) Here's what I'm worried about though — could I be conditioning myself to only come that way? Like, is it going to become more difficult for me to orgasm during intercourse or solo sessions without one the more I use it? In other words, could I become addicted to my vibrator? 

A: First, let me just say: As a sex therapist, I am a pretty big fan of anything that can bring more orgasms into the world. Vibrators can be purchased easily and cheaply, and can reliably produce orgasm for the vast majority of women.

Vibrators are so reliable, in fact, that I often prescribe vibrator usage to my sex therapy clients. I have an online course for women who want to learn how to orgasm, and it includes a vibrator as part of the package p. Most women will be able to have their first orgasm thanks to the steadfast buzzing of their new toy.    

That said, as vibrators have become more socially acceptable, people have started wondering about potential negative side effects of relying on them. Some of my clients have voiced concerns about vibrators desensitizing the clitoris, getting in the way of human intimacy, or creating unrealistic sexual expectations. And of course, many of us wonder, "are they addictive?"

The first public case of suspected vibrator dependency came courtesy of that infamous Sex in the City episode where Samantha introduces Charlotte to the Rabbit. While the episode helped the Rabbit become one of the best-selling sex toys of all time, the depiction of Charlotte being unable to drag herself away from her vibrator caused many to wonder if purchasing a Rabbit was really such a great idea after all.

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Not problematic or dated at all, but still...

Can Vibrators Be Addicting?

Yes and no. One of the problems with vibrators is that they can make orgasm too easy. Remember, vibrators were initially created to ease the aching hands of all those 19th century doctors masturbating their female clients’ "hysteria" away. A vibrator can deliver an orgasm much quicker than manual stimulation, and often times, the orgasm from a vibrator is way more powerful. There’s a huge payoff for very minimal effort. That imbalance can support lazy masturbation habits. Why bother exploring and experimenting when you know you can reach orgasm in mere seconds?

If you use your vibrator to reach orgasm the vast majority of the time, your clitoris can start to become acclimated to that one particular type and intensity of stimulation. Unfortunately, there haven’t been any conclusive studies that have shown whether or not an actual physiological dependence can develop (le sigh), but many women report that frequent vibrator usage makes it harder to reach orgasm in other ways (like through manual masturbation or oral sex). 

Additionally, if all you've ever known is vibrational stimulation, you’re going to have a tough time teaching a partner how to get you off with his or her fingers, because you won't know how to do it yourself.

Again, I'm a huge fan of vibrators myself, so by no means swear them off altogether. However, there are a few things you can do to ensure you continue to expand your orgasmic horizons. 

A Few Vibrator Guidelines 

First, if you've never had an orgasm before, I recommend giving a vibrator a try immediately. If you are able to have your first orgasm using the vibrator, then put it away for a while. Shift your focus to experimenting with other ways of masturbating, so you can discover what non-electronic forms of stimulation work for you.

If you’ve been using a vibrator for a while and are wondering whether or not to take a break, the best thing to do is take an honest look at your orgasmic habits. Do you have a hard time orgasming without your vibrator? Do you find yourself needing to turn the power up to higher and higher settings? Do you ever experience vaginal numbness? Have your vibrator-induced orgasms become less satisfying? These are all good signs that it may be time to cut back for a while.

Another consideration are your goals for your sex life. If you use a vibrator every single time you masturbate, you’re probably going to start to rely on it to reach orgasm. Are you cool with that? Are you comfortable incorporating your vibrator into partnered sex? Do you consider your habits healthy? If you answered yes to all of these questions, then by all means, keep firing up that Hitachi.

Hitachi Magic Wand Massager, $60, Amazon

You can also try using your vibrator differently: Hold it lightly against your clitoris. Move it around to other areas of your vulva. Cover your vibrator with a sheet, or use over your underwear to minimize the intensity. Use it on the lowest possible setting. Try teasing yourself with your vibrator, instead of going straight for an orgasm. 

You can also take periodic breaks from vibrator usage. Many women I work with have reported experiencing greater clitoral sensitivity after a short vibration hiatus.

So Am I Not Supposed To Use My Vibrator Now?

No, I'm not saying that at all. Perhaps some of the best and simplest advice I can give is to practice moderation. Aim to use your vibrator about half of the time you masturbate. If you just want a quick orgasm to help lull you to sleep, reach for your vibrator. If you've got half an hour of private time to spare, why not try circling your clitoris with your finger? 

What's important here is that you get to know your body and the ways you like to be touched — with or without a vibrator. 

Take the time to learn more about your your body and figure out what you do and don’t like. Experiment with different strokes and techniques. Get comfortable teaching your partners what works for you. And if you are interested in being able to experience a greater variety of orgasms in a wider array of situations, try using your vibrator only when you need a quick fix.

Still, at the end of the day, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever actually get addicted to your vibrator. You may love or rely on your vibrator, but addiction is a whole other ballgame. Use your trusty Rabbit or your little silver bullet to your heart’s content — just try to make some space for other methods of self-pleasure.

You'll thank me later.

If you want to learn more about orgasm, check out Finishing School, my online course for women who want to learn how to orgasm.

Image: Bustle Stock Illustration 

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