Oct 03 , 2021
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Vibrators, But Were Too Afraid to Ask
The vibrator has come a long way since its early days.
It once weighed 40 pounds, took two people to operate and looked like a torture device.
Not only are they far prettier and lighter now, they're also more accepted. Over 50% of Australian women are already using vibrators solo, according to a 2009 survey that found 84% are using them for clitoral stimulation (unsurprisingly). And a Trojan-funded survey found that 72% of Australian were open to using a vibrator during sex.
Despite all that, women seem to masturbate far less than men, and vibrators still carry a stigma, or at least squeamishness, that leave plenty of women with questions they're too sheepish to ask aloud.
"Are men threatened by vibrators?"
According to a 2011 study by Indiana University, 70% of men say they're not intimidated by vibrators, however, there are still men who, as Cavanah told Mic, might fear that they could possibly be replaced by a plastic toy. But there's nothing quite like the feeling of human contact — or the oxytocin, otherwise known as the "love hormone," that's prompted by it. Vibrators can step in for orgasms, but they can't replace intimacy.
"Are vibrators just for women?"
Short answer: No. A 2009 Indiana University study found that almost half of men have tried a vibrator at least once. Whether the man is gay or straight, using a male-specific vibrator or a gender neutral toy against the scrotum, shaft and or the head of the penis can up the satisfaction of a guy's sexual experience, either alone or with a partner.
"What's the different between a vibrator and a dildo?"
Simply put, dildos are insertable toys meant specifically for penetration. They can be strapped on and inserted by a partner, male or female (hello, Broad City ladies) or inserted during masturbation. Although some vibrate, their chief purpose is to penetrate, which some women find pleasurable (particularly those who enjoy that so-called G-spot). Vibrators, on the other hand, aren't limited to one body part. Speaking of which...
"Are vibrators for vaginal use only?"
Nope: "There are vibrators designed for clitoral stimulation, anal stimulation and for vaginal and clitoral stimulation at the same time," Cavanah said. "We have vibrating nipple clamps, cock rings and masturbation sleeves for men with vibrators inside." And they feel good pretty much everywhere.
"Is it bad if you can only get off with a vibrator?"
"Some women never come without one, and some women come a lot harder, faster or more often with their favorite toy," Cavanah said. As many as 75% of women can't orgasm without clitoral stimulation, not to mention other forms of touch, so a vibrator can help during P-in-V sex. There's absolutely no shame — or weirdness — about not being able to get off without vibrator.
Curious about a thrusting pulsator? Check out the Stronic by Fun Factory.
"What if a penis can never do what a vibrator does?"
Well, it can't. A pulsator, which not only vibrates but mimics the in-and-out movement of a penis during sex, is somewhat more similar in comparison. But ultimately, no vibrator can do what a penis does because a penis is attached to a man, and as mentioned above, human contact comes with all its own pleasurable benefits that no toy can recreate.
"Are there any side effects from using a vibrator?"
Although Indiana's study found that some women experienced numbness (16%), irritation (10%) and even swelling (8%) with vibrator use, 71.5% of women had no negative side effects. A positive side effect of vibrator use? Women who used vibrators were "significantly more likely" to have gone to the gynecologist in the past year and were more likely to give themselves genital self-exams.
"Will using a vibrator too often prevent me from coming during sex?"
While vibrators may make for stronger orgasms and the ability to achieve them easier and faster, they will not prevent a woman from climaxing during sex. As Debby Herbenick, author of Sex Made Easy and Great in Bed, told Gizmodo, "Rest assured that there is nothing about vibrator use per se that will deny a person the ability to have orgasms any other way."
"Should everyone try a vibrator?"
If they're curious, definitely. "You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain," says Cavanah. Plus there really is a vibrator out there for everyone. There's the Crescendo by MysteryVibe, which can changed into various shapes to fit every vagina out there, a vibrator that takes selfies and for long-distance partners, there's We-Vibe 4 Plus, which can be controlled via an app (!).
"How do I even go about buying a vibrator?"
That's where the fun starts.
How to Use a Vibrator If You Don’t Know Where to Start
For a safe and pleasurable time
Let’s be real: You probably didn’t learn how to use a vibrator in sex ed growing up. Luckily for you, it’s not exactly rocket science and the learning curve is a pleasurable one. Plus, there’s no one right way to use a vibrator; it’s one of those things you can pick up as you go and personalize based on what you like.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t tips and tricks you might want to know about making your experience as safe and enjoyable as possible. There are! Whether you’re looking to masturbate or to use one with a partner, vibrators can be anything from an occasional fun accessory to a vital part of your sex life. Here’s everything you need to know about reaping the benefits (and vibrations).
Familiarize yourself with the different types of vibrators
How to use a vibrator depends on what type of vibrator it is, so that’s a good place to start. The world of vibrators is a vast and diverse one—so much so that a lot of vibrator beginners get overwhelmed when it comes to choosing their first one. Maybe you’re reading this to learn more about a vibrator you already own or maybe you’re still deciding which one to buy. Either way, here are the main categories of vibrators for people with vaginas you have to choose from.
This is any vibrator designed specifically to, you guessed it, stimulate you externally. People typically use them on their clitoris, but any erogenous zones are fair game as long as they’re on the outside of your body.
Just like there are a lot of different types of vibrators in general, there are also a variety of external vibrators available. Some are larger wands, like the well-known Magic Wand Plus or the Le Wand. Bullet vibrators are a popular external option because they’re small, discreet, and sometimes considered less intimidating. If you want to start there, try a Rechargeable Bullet Vibrator. Finger vibrators like can give you more control and feel closer to hand-to-skin contact.
There are also some unique external toys that fall slightly outside the vibrator category but that you might come across in your search anyway. Toys like the Satisfyer Pro 2, and We-Vibe Melt, use suction and pulsing vibration to mimic oral sex.
These are vibrators you can insert either vaginally or anally. It’s worth noting that a lot of internal vibrators can also be used externally but external vibrators usually can’t double as internal toys. So if you want something with a little more flexibility, an internal vibrator gives you options.
Internal vibrators typically vary by size and shape. Some are curved or have bulbous ends for G-spot stimulation. There are many different types of vibrating anal toys, too, including plugs, dildos, beads, and prostate massagers. All anal toys, however, have flared bases or rings to keep them from getting stuck inside you. Safety first!
You might also know them as rabbit vibrators. Designed to stimulate both internally and externally at the same time, some consider rabbit vibrators the best of both worlds. They’re essentially insertable vibrators with an external arm meant to hit your clitoris while it’s inside you.
Whether rabbit vibrators are enjoyable for you can depend a lot on how well a specific product suits your personal anatomy. You might find that in order to line it up externally, it doesn’t hit quite where you want internally or vice versa. Luckily, many newer rabbit vibrators are adjustable and flexible to fit a range of bodies, like the We-Vibe Nova 2 (HappySecrets) or Lelo Soraya 2 (HappySecrets). But if you’re nervous, pro tip: There’s nothing a rabbit vibrator can’t do that you can’t also achieve with separate internal and external vibrators, other than free up a hand.
Learn about the material of your vibrator
What material your vibrator is made out of impacts a lot of things, like how it physically feels, what kind of lube you can use with it, and how best to clean it. Ideally, you should take the material into consideration when choosing your toy in the first place, but it’s okay if you skipped that step. You can still learn about the material (and double check that it’s safe).
Silicone vibrators are among the most common out there and for good reason, sexologist and sex educator Goody Howard, M.S.W., M.P.H., tells us. On top of feeling nice to the touch, silicone is nonporous, making it safe and easy to clean. Porous toys, on the other hand, can suck up and retain bacteria even if you clean them, SELF previously reported. That doesn’t mean you can’t use porous toys—but if you want the option to easily sterilize your toy, stick to nonporous. Another popular and more affordable nonporous option is acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic, a hard kind of plastic. Other nonporous sex toy materials like metal and glass are less common in vibrators than they are in dildos, but they are out there.
An important rule: No matter what, the general consensus among experts is that your toy should be phthalate-free, says Howard. Phthalates are a group of chemical plasticizers typically used to make plastics softer, so you usually spot them in jelly-like toys. Phthalates have come under fire for their potential to affect human health, (the scientific jury is still out, but in the name of “better safe than sorry,” you can easily find sex toys that are phthalate-free. In fact, some types of phthalates are banned in children’s toys.
Read the instructions
People skip this step all the time but shouldn’t! Chances are, your vibrator will come with a little booklet, including instructions for use and other important safety and maintenance information. In the very least, reading the instructions will give you a rundown of the controls. Believe me, you want to know before you play with it how to turn your vibrator on and off, as well as how to change between the various vibration patterns, if that’s something your toy has.
Don’t forget foreplay—even if you’re going solo
You might know from experience that even when you’re masturbating, you have to be in the mood, especially if you’re hoping to have an orgasm or two. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to loosen up and get some natural lubrication going.
Howard recommends setting the right atmosphere. “I'm very big on both the sensual and the sexual,” she says. “Light candles, make up your bed with nice sheets, put on some music. Really stimulate all your senses.”
Even if you’re not in the mood to whip out all the stops every time you want to use your vibrator, a little foreplay can go a long way. “Explore your body using the vibrator,” recommends Howard. “Try using it on the inner labia and outer labia and around the vaginal opening without actually inserting it—the whole area.”
Use lube, even if it’s just external
First things first, there is nothing wrong with needing lube. Lots of things can cause vaginal dryness and even if you don’t have an issue with vaginal dryness, lube can still improve your sexual experience. “Needing lube is not a commentary on your sexual ability,” says Howard. Plus, sex toys in particular might make you feel a little dryer. “Vibrators have moving parts and motors, which tend to warm up. That can evaporate your natural moisture.”
You might think of lube as only necessary for penetration, but even if you’re only using a vibe on your clitoris, lube can be a good idea. The skin of your clit is very sensitive and dry stimulation—like rumbly, lubeless vibrations—might irritate it.
When it comes to lube, you have three main options: water-based, silicone-based, and oil-based. The biggest thing to keep in mind when pairing lube with toys is whether your lube is compatible with your toy, says Howard. With silicone toys, you want to avoid silicone-based lube, since that will erode the material. And if you’re using condoms on the toy (more on that later), stay away from oil-based lubes, since that can wear down the condoms and make them less effective. When in doubt, water-based lube is a solid choice.
HappySecrets supply a huge range of suitable personal lubricants.
Take pointers from how you typically masturbate
The point of a sex toy might be to experience something completely different than what you can do on your own, and that’s cool too. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed when it comes to technique and you already know other forms of masturbation you enjoy, it can be helpful to start there. “Think about how you masturbate without a toy,” says Howard. What kind of stimulation do you like? Internal or external, gentle or firm, fast or slow...you get the idea. “From there, you can kind of gauge what you’re going to enjoy from a sex toy.”
By the way, this is also a good trick for picking a sex toy in the first place, says Howard. “You can basically reverse-engineer previous pleasure to figure out what kind of toys you should be looking for,” she says.
Ease into penetration, especially anal
If you’re going to be using your vibrator for penetration, don’t be afraid to take it slow, especially if you’re not used to it. On top of using plenty of lube and taking time for foreplay, you can insert your fingers first to get used to penetration before using the vibrator. This goes doubly for anal, which requires you to “work up to it” a little more. For more information on how to prepare for anal sex, with a toy or otherwise, check out this article.
Start on the lowest setting and work your way up
A lot of vibrators have multiple settings, allowing you to turn up and down the intensity of vibrations. And while it might be tempting to crank your toy all the way up, you’ll probably have a more enjoyable experience if you bump up the intensity gradually.
“The highest setting might be too intense for you,” says Howard. “Or it might be fine as long as you work your way up to it. Either way, it’s better to start low and build on your pleasure instead of jumping from zero to five out the gate.”
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, no, you won’t damage your nerve endings, no matter how intense of vibrations you use. That said, it’s possible to temporarily overstimulate yourself, which might mean you lose some feeling short-term. But don’t worry about any lasting damage.
Put a barrier between you and the vibrator if needed
Speaking of strong vibrations, some people are more sensitive than others and might find even the lowest setting too overwhelming. In that case, Howard recommends a simple trick to dull the sensation. “I have clients who actually wear underwear when they masturbate and use the vibrator on top of them because the vibration is too strong,” she says. A towel works, too. Just watch out that you don’t irritate your clitoris through too much dry friction like we talked about above.
Know when to use a condom on your toy
As SELF previously reported, sex toys can pass along sexually transmitted infections (STIs) when used with other people, too, so safer sex practices can apply here. If you’re going to be using a sex toy outside of a sexually monogamous partnership, use a condom over your toy. Also, if you’re looking for more tips about how to use a vibrator with a partner, check out this post.
Even if you’re masturbating, condoms are helpful under a variety of circumstances. If you have a difficult-to-clean porous toy, condoms are an easy way to keep things nice and clean every time you use it.
Condoms are also useful if you want to use a toy for both vaginal and anal play (which you can do as long as the toy is anal safe). To avoid moving bacteria from your anus to your vagina or urethra (and risking vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis or urinary tract infections, as SELF previously reported), use a new condom every time you’re switching holes.
Always clean and store it properly
It should seem obvious, but a lot of people forgo proper sex toy care, especially if they’re only using it for masturbation. But it doesn’t matter if you’re the only one using the toy—if it’s going on or in your body, it should be clean. “Not cleaning your sex toy because you’re the only one using it is like eating with the same fork for a month and not washing it,” says Howard. “Sure, it’s only your spit on it, but would you do that? No.”
How to best clean and store your vibrator depends on what kind of vibrator it is, but luckily, this post has everything you need to know about cleaning and storing your toys.
Do what feels good
At the end of the day, as long as you’re heeding best safety practices and communicating with anyone who might be using the toy with you, using a vibrator is just about finding what feels good and...doing that. Have fun!