Vibrators owe two things to Sex and the City: Mainstream normalization and, unfortunately, the proliferation of some scary sounding myths. In a now-infamous 1998 episode the HBO hit, high-strung Charlotte confides to deep-thinking Carrie, “I think I broke my vagina…with the rabbit [vibrator]. I’m scared if I keep using it, I’ll never be able to enjoy sex with a man again.”
Well Char, it’s myth-busting time, and nearly 15 years later, it bears repeating: No matter how often you use it, you don’t need to stress about becoming wholly dependent on a sex toy to bring yourself over the finish line, and no toy time or vigorous solo session is going to desensitize your bits—at least not for long.
The masturbation myth
The myth is a frightening: Over-reliance on vibrators or other toys will reduce your sensitivity to that point that you’ll build up a tolerance. Soon, you’ll be burning through a series of ever more powerful vibrators, desperately chasing your next big O. In this scenario, you can’t get anything accomplished manually, let alone with a partner. Even just financially, that’s horrifying—vibrators ain’t cheap. Intimately and romantically, that’s also horrifying. Fortunately, it’s not actually a life-altering threat.
“This concern is extremely common,” said Matt Lachman, a certified sex therapist and owner of Cleveland Sex Therapy. People with vaginas who use vibrators do express concern about losing sensitivity, going numb, or even becoming “addicted” to their devices, he noted, but he’s seen those fears becoming less of a problem over the past decade or so, as open discussion of sexuality has become more mainstream.
Jenni Skyler, PhD and resident sex therapist at Adam and Eve, agreed, telling Lifehacker, “I don’t know how widespread it is anymore, with the internet debunking that myth.” Still, there are still a lot of people out there googling “dead vagina,” so let’s get into it. The discussion, I mean.
Alexandra Fine, CEO and co-founder of Dame, feels for worriers out there—and wants to help educate them. She said, “A big question we always get at Dame is, ‘Am I going to get addicted to my vibrator?’ From a scientific perspective, the answer is no – it doesn’t meet the criteria of what an addiction is. If many people are asking the same question, though, it’s important that we answer it correctly.”
Can you use a vibrator too much?
There is a small kernel of truth to the myth that too much vibration or stimulation can zap your privates into a state of numbness—but if it does happen, it’s only temporary.
“Basically the truth of it is, yes, your nerve endings can be desensitized with overstimulation in the moment,” Skyler said. “So if you use a very powerful stimulation—a very powerful vibrator for instance— then your nerve endings are like, ‘Whoa, overload.’ That can certainly happen, but they recalibrate a few minutes later.” The myth that your nerve endings will be ground into oblivion—gone forever—is just that.
Lachman agreed that some numbness can be expected with overuse, especially if you’re using a high setting on your toy or going at it constantly, but compared the numbness to the temporary sensation of having a body part fall asleep. “It’ll come back 10 minutes or whatever,” he assured us.
There is a caveat worth noting, Lachman added: If you are exclusively masturbating with a vibe, your body may get used to that and come to expect release only from that method, “so when you have partnered sex or when you masturbate without a vibrator, it may be slightly difficult to achieve that orgasm.”
This temporary loss of sensitivity can affect people with penises, too, especially if they’re gripping really hard with their hand was self-pleasuring. (Please, don’t forget lube.)
How to recover sensitivity
Besides using lube to lessen the friction, you have a few options to avoid a temporary numbness or bounce back from it. Use a lower setting on your vibrator, for one, “instead of just putting that shit on a 10 and going to town,” advised Lachman.
Skyler recommends bullet vibrators, which are generally smaller and only feature one speed setting. If you experience numbness while you’re being intimate with a partner, she advises taking breaks as needed. (We’re sure you can think of other activities to keep you busy while you wait for your nerve endings to simmer down.)
Switch things up whenever you can, too. Fine explained, “If we’re always masturbating in the same way with the same products, we’ll start creating a strong pathway to pleasure that could become limiting. The concept of ‘fetish’ is a good example of this because if you really need a feather to have an orgasm, without that feather you may not experience pleasure. If we get so specific that we can only experience pleasure in one way, it can be problematic, so it’s important to have different vibrators and connect with our bodies to find pleasure in different ways.”
Katerina Lin, head of luxury sexual lifestyle brand JimmyJane, suggested that the easiest way to avoid the problem is to listen to your body. “Start with slow play, with yourself. Really understand yourself,” she said. Figure out how you respond to, and experiment with different pressures and paces. If you get too used to certain products or models, there are plenty of options out there. (JimmyJane, she notes, aims to create toys that simulate human touch more closely than ones made of other materials, so maybe that will change things up a bit).
Lachman also stressed the importance of being open with your partner. Explain that in your private time, you use a toy, so you might not come as easily during sex with them. An honest discussion beforehand can prevent them from feeling bad in the moment (even though, as we know, sex should be about pleasure, not the pursuit of an orgasm). And hey, maybe they’ll even be down to bring the device into bed so you can both enjoy it.