Where do vibrators come from, anyway?
Did you know the first electric vibrator was developed almost a decade before electric toasters, fans, and sewing machines? The 1899 edition of the Merck medical reference book included pelvic and genital massage as a treatment for hysteria. Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville, an English physician, patented the electromechanical vibrator to ease the tired hands and fingers of doctors. Not kidding. If a woman were “hysterical,” it wouldn’t have been uncommon for her doctor to give her an orgasm to soothe her nerves. Calm down, ladies!
The setting sounds sketchy, but you can imagine the concept would have had a certain appeal and vibrators eventually found their way into our homes where they can support healthy sexual pleasure. Most people enjoy the sensation, but not everyone who tries a vibrator will like it.
If you’re curious but not convinced, let’s start by tackling some common myths. Ready for more?
MYTH #1: YOU CAN BECOME ADDICTED TO A VIBRATOR
In a world where we hear people say they’re “addicted” to their favorite lip balm, chicken sandwiches, and Instagram accounts (aw, shucks!) it’s not surprising to hear this old idea, but there’s no research to support it. You might come to prefer the consistency and pressure of the vibration, but a vibrator cannot become an addiction that would create physical symptoms if you stop using it.
It’s more likely you’re worried you may come to depend on a vibrator to feel satisfied, and I get that. I love the way my teeth feel when I brush with an electric toothbrush, but give me just a minute longer with an old-fashioned toothbrush and these pearly whites are just as clean. (Did you wrinkle your nose at that one? Toothbrushes and vibrators? Buckle up, because my next analogy jumps to the kitchen!)
If you tend to use a vibrator and worry your body isn’t responding to lighter touch like you want it to, give your vibrator a vacation. Try new moves to stimulate the clitoris including squeezing, flicking, and other techniques. We do get into habits and routines, but it isn’t anything a little variety won’t restore.
MYTH #2: IF MY PARTNER USES A TOY, I’M NOT GOOD ENOUGH
We tend to absorb this myth without even realizing it – most often from scripted moments in Hollywood and pornography. No matter how we grew up, we all arrived in relationship with inherited cultural ideas of what sex “should” look like. Almost every “should” we haven’t outgrown points to a set of inherited norms we probably haven’t really unpacked – and they don’t actually serve us very well.
If you’re hesitant to bring a toy into the bedroom because you or your partner think sex “should” work a certain way, this could be an excellent nudge for you to have some important conversations. See how it feels for each of you to leave your “should” and “shouldn’t” outside the bedroom and pick up the vibrator. You are not in competition with a toy, and if it isn’t something you like you will have discovered it for yourself instead of giving into another “should.”
MYTH #3: IF OUR SEX IS GOOD ENOUGH, WE DON’T NEED A TOY
It’s the holiday season, which might mean your kitchen is busier than usual as you whip up your favorite treats. Imagine your partner walking into the kitchen this evening to find you using an electric mixer. “You know I love those cookies,” they tell you, unplugging the mixer, “but you’re such a great cook – just use this wooden spoon!”
Not much for baking? I’ve got more! Do you realize if your navigation skills were better, you wouldn’t need Google Maps? And put those matches down! Real campfires get started with flint and stone. Are you really going to drive to the grocery store? You know you have legs and a whole closet full of shoes, right?
Ok I’m pushing it, but here’s the point. You can bake without a mixer, make your way across town on foot, without an app, and eventually start a fire without a match. But why would you?
Over 75% of vulva owners need consistent and persistent clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasm. A vibrator can deliver both, but think about what it can’t deliver: Connection. Conversation. Cuddling in the afterglow. Using a toy only supports the kind of connection you are hoping to achieve. It doesn’t replace it.
Moving beyond myths
Unpacking these common myths that keep people bringing a toy or tool into their sex life can open the door to experiencing the missing levels of satisfaction and connection. For some, a toy can be a tool to help avoid painful penetration (Ohnut is so helpful!), overcome vaginal dryness (did you see the lube conversation this week?), create more stimulation (maybe a finger vibe to start?), or even provide something to help with the number of ejaculations required after a vasectomy (hello, Tenga Eggs!). Each of these tools can be a wonderful toy to increase pleasure and playfulness.
For more on these products, check out my educational video.
New to toys? Let me be your guide.
Bigger isn’t always better. There isn’t a right or wrong place to start exploring, but if you’re new to toys you may feel more comfortable with something small like a bullet or finger vibrator. A finger vibrator makes it easy to explore the body in a hands-free way. Most bullet vibrators can recharge using a standard USB cable and a lot of them let you change settings to make sure you’re getting the pressure you’re looking for.
Why would a vibrator come with socks? I can’t help but interrupt myself here to geek out about sex research. A few years ago, researchers discovered that 80% of couples reached orgasm if wearing socks. The sock-free group? Just 50%. It turns out socks help dilate the blood vessels in your feet and improve blood flow. It’s the little things! (They even make cute starter kits that include socks!)
Toys don’t have to be phallic. I use realistic models to teach sexual anatomy, but you can find toys and vibrators that look a lot less, um, organic. Some modern toys are even quite stylish – tomorrow's video includes a review for a great leaf-shaped vibrator, and others are shaped like ovals, eggs, or rain drops.
Vibration isn't for vulvas only. Another fun intro toy can be a c-ring (short for cock ring). These are worn on a penis and can bring pleasure for a partner on top if it's a vibrating c-ring, flip it around and feel the vibration underneath your shaft, or simply hold it and use it as a traditional vibrator anywhere on the body. C-rings can also help with erectile issues by keeping blood flow in the penis.
Look beyond the genitals. If you’re looking to bring some novelty and arousal in other ways, look for things like nipple creams or vibrating lip glosses. These might not seem like “toys” they absolutely can bring in the fun and playful factor.
Consider your context. You know how much I love Emily Nagoski’s book, “Come As You Are,” where she explains how important context is. Playful sex might call for a vibrator that’s a bit bigger, and on another day you might decide the mood leads you to a small, quiet design. We use different pans to prepare different meals and different toys for different experiences.
A FEW OTHER THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN CHOOSING A TOY
- Look for products that support your sexual health. If they have a strong scent of plastic, they may introduce chemicals into your body. (You won’t find the toys I recommend on Amazon or other discount stores.)
- Plan for flexibility. Your body and relationship isn’t always the same, so choose toys that let you vary the intensity. There’s something magical about being able to control the details of your experience.
- Clean your toy after each use. Most toys can be washed with soap and water. No need for a specialty wash.
- Avoid silicone lube with silicone-based toys. Go with water or oil-based lube. Water will be the easiest to clean.
- If your vibrator has removable batteries, store them separate from the toy.
If you’re looking for even more guidance on toys, check out Bad Vibes where they provide research and guidance on body-friendly lubes and toys.