More than half of all women use a vibrator, but like the female orgasm itself, a lot of mystery surrounds these buzzy sex toys. Are vibrators only good for masturbation, or can they also make coupled sex more satisfying? Who invented the Rabbit vibe, and why is it shaped like a cute little animal? And is it true that relying on a vibrator too often can make your vagina permanently numb?
We took these and other pressing questions to the experts and compiled this list of the 11 most important and fascinating vibrator facts every woman needs to know.
The first vibrator was invented to treat depression and anxiety
Physician George Taylor gets credit for the invention; his original circa-1869 device was designed to relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety in women, then known collectively as the medical condition "hysteria," sexologist Carol Queen, PhD, curator of the Good Vibrations Antique Vibrator Museum, tells Health.
“Hysteria was treated by vulval or clitoral massage and later vibration, which would bring women ‘to the point of hysterical paroxysms of relief,'" she says. By the turn of the century, vibrators were made available to consumers. In the early 1900s, you could even find them in the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog.
The OG modern vibrator was a back massager
In 1968, the Hitachi Magic Wand, marketed as a "personal massager," hit store shelves. That same year, New York-based artist Betty Dobson used the wand in a sexually explicit exhibition. In 1975, she brought the device to workshops where she taught women how to masturbate. The Hitachi folks wasn’t thrilled about that, so now it’s sold without any company branding.
The Rabbit vibe got its cute shape because of a legal issue
The sex toy Sex and the City made famous was invented by Vibratex in 1984. The Japan-based company opted for the rabbit shape to get around a rule prohibiting manufacturers from making vibrators. It was first sold stateside in 1993 at Babeland in Seattle.
Unlike penises, vibrators offer reliable orgasms
More than half of the female population uses a vibrator—but why? “They’re reliable and they never tire, as long as you have a charging cord or fresh batteries,” sexologist Megan Stubbs tells Health. The other thing is, only 18% of women orgasm from penetration alone, research shows. A vibrator offers the clitoral stimulation that's necessary for most women to climax.
Vibrators "act as power tools for intense orgasms," Jenni Skyler, PhD, certified sex therapist, sexologist, and licensed marriage and family therapist for sex toy site AdamEve.com, tells Health. "Especially for busy, tired, stressed, or lower-libido women, a vibrator kicks arousal into gear way faster than most any other means.”
Married women are twice as likely to use a vibrator
It’s not just single ladies treating themselves to battery-powered Os. A survey by Adam & Eve found that 50% of married women use vibrators. Meanwhile, just 29% of single women do, according to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Those numbers may sound surprising, but remember: “The ranks of unmarried women include those who haven't had sex at all,” says Queen. So vibrators may not even be on the radar of less experienced women. Otherwise, “married women may use a vibrator to shrink the ‘orgasm gap’: the fact that during partner sex, men tend to climax more often than women do,” says Queen.
Vibrators aren’t just for masturbation
According to that same Journal of Sexual Medicine study: 80% of women and 91% of men who had used a vibrator at some point copped to enjoying it with a partner. “Vibrators are a fun addition to erotic play,” says Queen. “They can be a creative ‘let's switch it up’ rut-buster, or they can help women come when partner sex doesn't.” And FYI, vibration feels good to men, too.
Yep, your vibrator can make your vagina feel numb
Vibrator-induced numbness, however, is pretty rare—and it's not permanent. Just 11% of women reported experiencing “occasional numbness” from vibrator use, according to the Journal of Sexual Medicine data, but only 3% felt it frequently.
If you experience it, try adjusting the settings or changing the angle or position of your vibrator and see if that gets rid of the pins and needles. Or just take a break and let your body reset, Sherry Ross, ob-gyn and author of She-Ology, previous told Health.
Using a vibrator is linked to better sexual health
There's really no danger in "overusing" a vibrator, and in fact women who regularly enjoy time with a buzzy device are way more likely to have had an ob-gyn checkup during the past year and to have self-examined their lady parts during the previous month, the study data found. Regular gynecological exams and self-checks are important aspects of maintaining optimum sexual health.
It is possible to test a vibrator in public
Let's say you're shopping for a new vibrator in a store and you come across one you think you like. How are you going to know if it offers the right kind of stimulation for your pleasure? Here's a workaround that won't get you arrested. “The best way to test a vibrator in public is to touch it to the tip of your nose,” suggests Stubbs. “The high concentration of nerve endings will give you a good idea of how it will feel on your sensitive areas.”
What your vibrator is made of matters
When you’re shopping for a vibe, opt for silicone over any other material. “It’s easy to clean and not a permeable material,” advises Queen. Permeable or porous materials (like jelly vibes) can collect dirt and bacteria, “which can then be transferred to the vagina and create an imbalance or even an infection,” warns Skyler.
Whatever material yours is made from, make sure you clean it regularly to cut down on the potential for infection. After each use, “use soap and water or anti-bacterial sprays,” recommends Skyler. And here's something amazing: a silicone vibrator can even go in the dishwasher.
It’s really hard to recycle a vibrator
Is your vibe broken or past its prime? No matter what it’s made of, just trash it. While most vibrator materials are recyclable, says Queen, “most municipalities in North America will not recycle vibrators because they are considered a biohazard,” explains Skyler. “And for most sex stores, it tends to cost more to recycle old toys than just dump it and make a new one.” Kudos for wanting to be sustainable, but you’re better off channeling those eco-friendly aspirations into another area of your life.
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