Sex Toys for Men, Women and Couples

Dr. Gardos discusses the New York Times Vibrator Study

Perspective: Vibrators Go Mainstream

Dr. Gardos discusses the recently published vibrator studies covered in The New York Times.

The New York Times just published an article entitled "The Adult Store Goes Mainstream" in the Sunday Fashion & Style section (June 28, 2009). The article highlights results from two recent studies of vibrator use in the United States. The main finding is that vibrators are not just becoming mainstream (as MyPleasure has been saying for nearly 10 years), but that they now are mainstream with more than 53% of women, and nearly half of all men reporting having used a sex toy.

 

Having reviewed the original studies, I would like to share my perspective with you. While I have always been dubious about the previous, ridiculously low estimates of sex toy use (2% according to the University of Chicago survey, which – it should be noted – asked questions with spouses and children present), there is no doubt that there has been a large increase in acceptance and availability of sex toys in recent years. The Internet, drug stores (vibrating condom rings are stocked and easy to find), in-home sex toy parties… not to mention Oprah, have all made sex toys part of the public discourse. MyPleasure.com has played an active role in this awareness and acceptance, as highlighted in the article.

 

The New York Times article will no doubt bring these important study finding to light, and will direct much-needed public attention to the use and benefits of sex toys. However, there’s so much more. The two studies are cutting-edge in many ways. Here, I'd like to highlight what I found most interesting in the study regarding women's use. Next week, I'll move onto my insights regarding the study of men.

 

The Highlights

The Relationship Factor: The first thing that struck me was that married women were twice as likely to have used a vibrator. It is unclear if this number was adjusted by age, but given that younger women were more likely to have used vibrators and less likely to be married, if anything, this would have made the difference even more pronounced.  In fact, if you combine “in a relationship,” “cohabitating,” and “married” it is even more dramatic, with these women being three times more likely to have used a vibrator. This is quite different from a common perception that sex toys are for lonely people who can’t "get the real thing.” This insight is in keeping with buying trends at MyPleasure. Indeed, our most common buyer is a married woman with children.

 

Ethnicity: Perhaps not surprisingly, sex toys are a bit of a “white thing.” Blacks and Hispanics were less likely to use vibrators, as were those women who go to religious services regularly.

 

Education: Numerous studies have correlated higher education with greater sexual experimentation (though less actual sex), and the same was true here, with those women who had less than a high school education reporting the least use.

 

Sexual Orientation: In keeping with established patterns, bisexual women led the way with the most sex toy use of any group. This is in line with two recent studies – one in the United States, one in Australia – reporting that bisexual women, on average, have had more female partners than the average heterosexual man, and more male partners than the average heterosexual woman.

 

How Vibrators Are Used
One thing that I was happy to see is that women have gotten the message (though many men may still need to hear it) that vibrators often work best externally. Just because a vibrator is shaped like a penis, doesn't mean it needs to be inserted. Indeed, 83% of women used vibrators on their clitoris, with 64% sometimes putting them inside their vagina. The reality is that the inner walls of the vagina respond better to firmer pressure so a curved dildo often works better than a vibrator.

 

One notion that still needs to be reinforced is that vibrators are a great way to enhance lovemaking, and that they’re not just for masturbation.  About half of the women surveyed have only used vibrators by themselves, with only 37% ever trying them during intercourse and 40.9% during any form of sex play. My guess is that women are embarrassed or afraid to introduce toys with their lovers. Or, perhaps, they don't realize the wide range of toys designed specifically for that purpose.

 

Cause & Effect?
Beyond simply defining the demographics of “who uses toys,” this study also examined the effects. Most significantly, respondents' physical and emotional health were completely unrelated to vibrator use. This really doesn't surprise me. There is nothing fundamentally different about people who use vibrators – they are just as happy or unhappy, healthy or unhealthy as everyone else. Using (or not using) vibrators doesn't make you a better (or worse) person. What they might do, according to this study, is improve desire, arousal, lubrication, and orgasm.

 

On that note, while I am the first to champion sex toys, and have frequently recommended them to patients, I think we do need to look at these results carefully. As my former college statistics professor always reminded me: correlation does not equal causation. While this study showed a strong connection between many very positive health and sexual measures, it is equally possible that, for example, women who report higher levels of arousal and desire might use sex toys more often because of their greater sex drive, not the other way around. These results certainly show that individuals who use toys are not abnormal and that sex toys don’t have an unhealthy impact. That said, no one should feel pressured or forced into using a toy.

 

Do What’s Right for You
It is really all about permission and self-acceptance. If you have thought about using sex toys, but were concerned that perhaps that was weird or might have a negative effect, you can rest assured. The most commonly reported side effect was numbness, but it rarely lasted very long (less than 5 minutes). This is one of the reasons that MyPleasure sells many toys with pulsation rather than steady vibration patterns.

 

The information gathered in these studies is groundbreaking. And the journalistic coverage by The New York Times means that the study results have been brought to light and into the public domain. I hope that this means more people will talk about what's sexually interesting and exciting to them, without fear, shame or embarrassment.

 

As promised, I'll discuss the results of the study looking at male vibrator use. In the meantime, join MyPleasure's mailing list and get a free guide on how to introduce sex toys into your relationship.

 

 

 

Reece, M., Herbenick, D., Sanders, S.A., et. al. "Prevalence and Characteristics of Vibrator Use by Men in the United States" Journal of Sexual Medicine Early View, Date: May 2009.

 

Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Sanders, S.A., et. al. "Prevalence and Characteristics of Vibrator Use by Women in the United States: Results from a Nationally Representative Study" Journal of Sexual Medicine Early View, Date: June 2009.

 

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