This article was first published on December 15, 2022. it was republished on May 14, 2023.
This story is part of our Naked Week coverage. Find more stories here.
During my time dating I’ve been told a lot of wild things.
But a guy explaining to me the reason why he couldn’t make me orgasm is because I use a vibrator - while still between my legs - probably takes the cake.
In the moment I couldn’t help but laugh it off.
I didn’t quite have the heart to tell him, “oh buddy, I don’t think that’s the problem”.
The myth that vibrators desensitise clitorises
There’s a running joke that vibrators are so good at pleasuring people with vulvas that some men think this is the reason they can’t make them orgasm during partnered sex.
Please note: The rest of this article uses the term ‘women’ because the interviewees and research included specifically referred to women. However we acknowledge that people with vulvas who do not identify with the term may also relate to this issue.
“Some of you ladies have fucked your entire vagina up being greedy,” stand-up comedian Katt Williams yelled at a crowd.
“Just because you have something that can hit your spot every time, bitch, does not mean you get to hit that motherfucker 136 times on target. Fucked your whole goddamn clitoris up.”
I’ve seen this gag repeated by comedians and other randoms on the internet so many times I’ve actually started to worry people think this is true.
“It’s not. It’s absolute rubbish,” sexual health specialist Dr Simon Snook says.
Sexual health specialist Dr Simon Snook says the value of masturbation isn’t valued enough. Photo: Supplied
“Nerves in your clitoris do not wear out in their ability to send that sensation to your brain, unless they are exposed to repeated chronic stimulation,” he says.
“And by that we're not talking about the use of vibrator while masturbating for a certain amount of time each day. We're talking about someone with an occupational exposure to vibration, eight hours a day, five days a week for many, many years.”
The time it takes to orgasm during partnered sex compared to using a vibrator might be longer, but there’s no clinical research that supports the claim that using a vibrator can permanently desensitise or damage your clitoris or impair your ability to orgasm in other ways.
A US study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found the majority of women who have used a vibrator have never had any side effects — which included genital numbness, pain, irritation, swelling or inflammation and tears or cuts.
Instead vibrator use was found to be “significantly related to increased desire, arousal, lubrication and orgasm”, and was also linked with decreased period pain.
So where has this vibrator myth come from?
Snook says there’s a long history of women being shamed for their self pleasure, whether this has come from religion, misogyny or something else.
“I think that background has opened people up to the suggestion that self pleasure could be harmful,” he says.
“I think some people may also feel threatened by self pleasure replacing the need for partnered sex but the two are equally compatible. It's not one or the other.”
University of Auckland sexuality and reproduction researcher Dr Jade Le Grice says this discourse is created to make women feel guilty about their pleasure.
“It's not just cheeky, or just fun. It's actually contributing to the context where women aren’t able to feel safe to explore their sexuality without shame. Where they are not encouraged to see their sexual pleasure as important. Where their sexual pleasure is seen as a risk to a man’s ego.”
Sexuality and reproduction researcher Dr Jade Le Grice says vibrators should be seen as another tool for pleasure, not a “rival”. Photo: Supplied.
Le Grice says this myth places the emphasis on the man as the one who needs to be “succeeding or winning”.
“There's a kind of competitive, individualistic element that reinforces a hierarchy of needs,” she says.
But sex isn’t a competition. So the question Le Grice has for the people who spread this false belief is, “why is a vibrator seen as a rival?”
“It should be seen as another tool to bring pleasure, just like how people have a repertoire of different moves.”
Some men are team vibrator
Curious to know what other men thought, I decided to ask a different guy I had been seeing what he thought about vibrators. I’ll never forget his response.
“My dick can’t vibrate, so there’s no point comparing them,” he laughed. “But if it helps someone cum, isn’t that a good thing?”
“Yup, exactly,” I replied. So simple.
We need every tool we have to close the orgasm gap
It’s no secret there’s an orgasm gap - the most glaring being the one between heterosexual men and women.
Researchers found 95% of heterosexual men usually or always orgasm during sex.
Only 65% of heterosexual women could say the same, making them the group having the least amount of orgasms, behind lesbian and bisexual women and all men.
Over the last 30 years Snook has worked in sexual health, he has noticed women are much more likely to restrain from masturbation than men because of societal shame or stigma.
As a result he says this “has contributed to their inability to understand themselves sexually”.
“And then they can jump into partnered sex thinking everything will work perfectly without any practice. But that’s like never kicking a ball and then expecting to be amazing at football the first time you play.”
“I don't think the value of masturbation in our overall sexual function is respected enough. Whether it’s for self pleasure or improving our ability to experience pleasure with other people,” he says.
So in a world where heterosexual women are getting the short end of the bargain when it comes to orgasming during sex, why are some men threatened by the thing that could help close that gap?
If you are worried about “winning”, wouldn’t you want more players on your team?
Top image: Woman holding pink vibrator. Source: Getty Images
Too many women aren’t reaching their potential for sexual pleasure. It's time to fix that.
“I remember the first time, she was like, oh this was bad.”
"Centring pleasure as a lifestyle is a powerful way to find balance.”