Yes, there are side effects to using a vibrator. But they're overwhelmingly positive.
During a 2009 study for Indiana University, Debra Herbenick of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion found that "women's vibrator use affirms what many doctors and therapists have known for decades - that vibrator use is common, it's linked to positive sexual function such as desire and ease of orgasm, and it's rarely associated with any side effects".
Despite this, you'll be quick to find lots of negative myths and claims surrounding vibrator use. Sources claiming that vibrator use is unhealthy or detrimental to sexual relationships with others should be checked for validity. You'll find that the majority of articles out there blatantly arguing against vibrators aren't founded on actual research, but personal opinions.
When asked about the negative myths about vibrator use, sex educator Alana Baum says that they have more to do with sexism and sexual stigma than the sex toys themselves.
Myths aside, it's completely valid to have some questions about any potential side effects of vibrator use before diving in.
Will using a vibrator desensitize my vagina over time?
You may have encountered the term "DVS" - Dead Vagina Syndrome - somewhere on the Internet; a non-medical term used to describe a loss of sensation of the vagina or clitoris due to vibrator use, making it progressively harder or impossible to reach orgasm.
Is there any legitimacy to DVS?
Sexologist Jill McDevitt, Ph.D. told Healthline: No. It's a fear-mongering term invented by people who don't have an understanding of female masturbation, orgasms, pleasure, or vaginal anatomy. In short, "it's stigma speaking, not science".
While vibrators aren't going to literally kill our vaginas anytime soon, gradual desensitization is an understandable and common concern, according to sex therapist, Vanessa Marin, who says it's one of the more frequent concerns she hears from her clients.
She makes the point that if you use your vibrator to reach orgasm the majority of the time, your clitoris could begin to get acclimated to that specific stimulation type and intensity. If it's all you've ever known, you might have a tough time showing a partner what feels good, since they can't emulate the sensation of vibration on their own.
Her recommendation is to be sure you mix things up, making a vibrator one of a number of ways you seek out sexual satisfaction. You can also use the vibrator itself in different ways, changing up the angle or vibration levels, diffusing intensity by using it over your underwear, or teasing yourself first with a vibrator, and then finishing off with your fingers. What's most important, Vanessa says, is that you "get to know your body and the ways you like to be touched - with or without a vibrator".
What about numbing?
The Indiana survey indicated that roughly 11% of vibrator users reported occasional numbness and 3% experienced it frequently, making it a fairly rare occurrence that could be a result of vibrator quality or use technique. In the majority of those cases, the numbness lasted a couple of hours, maximum.
There is reason to believe that ultra-powerful vibrators like the Magic Wand could create temporary numbness, mostly because of its intensely buzzy, surface vibration type. That said, many cases of numbness are likely to do with use technique: vibration settings turned up slightly too high or too much pressure applied. Tone things down and remind yourself that you ultimately want to feel pleasure, not drill an orgasm out of yourself.
Will it make me less interested in having sex with my partner?
We possess an infinite number of potential orgasms and no two will be exactly alike. Seeking out the orgasms you'll get from a vibrator will not prevent you from also being driven to seek out the ones you'll get with a partner during sex.
There's also so, so much more to sex that having an orgasm. Sex with another human comes with things that no vibrator alone can't deliver: increased intimacy, immune system-boosting chemical releases, and just....feeling good in a different way than using a vibrator does.
Masturbating regularly, whether you're currently sexually active or not, can help you get more familiar with your own bodily responses and sexual preferences - it's an opportunity for self-exploration that can translate into a better, more confident sex life overall.
In short: masturbating and having sex with a partner isn't a one-or-the-other situation. They're two important pillars of human sexuality that have almost nothing but positive influences on each other.
Could using a vibrator become painful?
Just like overworking a specific muscle at the gym, giving your clitoris an overload of concentrated action could eventually create discomfort. However, you're more likely to find that using a vibrator allows you to apply less direct pressure than using your fingers would, making it significantly less likely to create any rub burn-like sensations.
We also recommend using lube with a vibrator* not only because it will feel better overall (smooth and wet versus dry) but it will also minimize any tugging on your clitoris, being gentler on it for use over time.
*Don't forget to avoid silicone-based lubes with silicone toys!
If you plan to use a vibrator with a partner, it's crucial to communicate with them if they're using it too roughly. On that note, friendly reminder that anytime anything crosses a line into becoming painful, with or without a vibrator, on your own or with a partner, it's completely acceptable to pause and adjust or stop altogether.
If you do find that you're regularly experiencing pain when you use a vibrator, check in with your ObGyn to be on the safe side.
Could I get an STI / STD / yeast infection from using a vibrator?
Sexually Transmitted Infections & Diseases
Technically, yes, you could get an STI or STD from a vibrator - or rather, via a vibrator. Kenna Cook, sexual health educator told Bustle that there are two main risks you should watch out for: sharing a vibrator and using a vibrator on different parts of your body.
If you're using it on yourself and your partner or multiple partners, a vibrator could transmit an infection just like having sex with them could. Additionally, STIs could spread from one part of your body to another, such as your vagina and anus, if you're using a vibrator in those places in sequence.
You can prevent both of these cases by cleaning the vibrator regularly - between uses with different partners or different body parts - or using barrier methods like putting a condom over it or using it over a sheet or your underwear.
Again, the main potential risk here is if you share a vibrator with someone who already has a yeast infection or if you use the same vibrator between your anus and vagina in sequence. Both of these could lead to a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis (BV).
Either wash your vibrator between all use cases or put a condom on it (and have a couple handier when you want to switch it up).
Additionally, if you're using lube with your vibrator and are particularly prone to yeast infections, look for glycerin-free versions of water-based lube because glycerin can contribute to yeast overgrowth, causing infection.
If you find that you're frequently getting a yeast infection or BV and use porous sex toys and/or lube with glycerin, consider making the switch to only non-porous sex toys and glycerin-free lube to see if that clears up the problem. If problems persist, consult your ObGyn.
Now, for some positive side effects!
Aside from the main obvious benefit (having an orgasm), there are lots of reasons to get down with your vibrator, many of which have been backed by academic research.
Vibrators promote overall sexual health.
Vibrator use has been positively linked to several aspects of sexual function (desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, and overall experience), with recent vibrator users feeling more confident in their sexual abilities and function.
People who use vibrators are also significantly more likely to have reported sexual health-promoting behaviors like gynecological exams or genital self-examination (this includes men who use vibrators either for themselves or with a partner).
Sex therapist, Dr. Ian Kenner is an advocate for vibrator use as a means of countering health-related inhibitors to sex. “I often recommend vibrators to my patients who want to amplify their pleasure during partnered and non-partnered sex. Not only can vibrators be fun and novel, they are also therapeutic in the treatment of many common sex problems such as inhibited arousal and difficulty with orgasm."
Vibrators promote sexual satisfaction.
A study of over 3,000 Americans found that most people feel positively about women using vibrators, and this positive attitude is connected to higher levels of sexual satisfaction - particularly when a woman's partner knew she had been using vibrators and felt positive about it.
With a substantial increase in vibrator use amongst women in the past few years, there's a signal that more women than ever are prioritizing autonomy in their pursuit of pleasure. It's becoming unacceptable to let female orgasm be just a bonus to the male orgasm during sex and using vibrators increases the likelihood of orgasm, increased sexual desire, an easier time reaching overall sexual satisfaction.
Vibrator use (and masturbation, broadly) promotes important conversations.
"Previous research has shown that feeling like you can intimate with your partner - that you can share things with them about your sexual desires and interests - is very important to a couple's sexual life and a woman's sexual satisfaction," said Indian University researcher Debra.
The majority of people who have talked about masturbation with their partner have found it to be an encouraging discussion, and there's an increasing belief across all generations that society benefits from open discussion of sexual topics like masturbation.
While any potential negative side effects of using a vibrator happen to the few, the positive side effects of using one will happen to the many (the majority, really). If you use your vibrator responsibly and enthusiastically, you'll reap all the benefits, orgasm and beyond.