Ask the Doctors: Can a Vibrator Numb the Clitoris?

Can your clitoris get desensitized due to too much vibrator use?
— Buzzlover

The Butterfly Kiss Vibrator

Let’s put it this way: If you press a buzzing vibrator against your clitoris for a period of time (your mileage may vary), it will make your clit feel numb in essentially the way your hand will go numb if you lean on it too long. That kind of pressure makes nerve endings fatigued, and numbness is the result. But just as the feeling returns to your hand after a bit, the blood rushes back into your clitoris after you stop squishing it with the vibrator; it’s a temporary state. (It’s also possible to use the vibrator more lightly so it doesn’t squish the clitoris in the first place. But some people get so into the sensation that they do use a lot of pressure.)

This is one of the two main reasons people can worry that vibrator users are causing their clits to become desensitized. The other reason has to do with the difference between orgasms you have with a vibrator and those you have (or try to have) with a partner.

Magic Wand Vibrator

The fact is, for many women, in particular (though I know men for whom

this is also true), using a vibrator is the surest and quickest route to orgasm, to the extent that women who are very orgasmic with a vibe are sometimes not at all (or certainly not reliably) orgasmic with a human partner. People then sometimes assume that the reason is the vibe “desensitizing” the woman to the charms of human erotic interaction.

There’s a big catch here, though, that’s rarely addressed. Lots of the women who don’t come with partners but do come with vibes didn’t stop responding orgasmically during partner sex once they got the vibrator — they were never reliably orgasmic to begin with! The vibrator didn’t change anything, except to make them more able to come when it was used.

Turbo Glider Vibrator

Here are the other elements to consider in this scenario. First, a vibe is often used alone, and the person holding it can put it in the perfect position, vary the pressure exactly as s/he likes, and pretty much completely control the experience. That’s essentially true of any variant of masturbation, in fact, not just masturbation with a vibrator. Partner sex, while often a lovely experience, involves a (hopefully wonderfully) distracting human being in the room with you, touching you in possibly unexpected ways. It can take a while for people who are orgasmic through any kind of masturbation to get in the groove with a person.

Also, with a partner, a woman is often engaging in penetrative sex. This is an awesome and pleasurable kind of sex to have, to be sure, if you’re into it and aroused enough to fully enjoy it. But statistically it results in way fewer orgasms than clitoral stimulation, especially masturbatory clitoral stimulation.

We-Vibe Couples Vibrator

And one more thing: a vibrator stimulates a particular kind of nerve in the clitoris that developed specifically to feel vibration and similar kinds of sensation. Humans are often very skilled — but they are neither as fast as a vibe, nor can last as long with some kinds of stimulation.

Add to that the likelihood that a women who’s gotten accustomed to vibration-induced orgasm may be able to come faster than she can with a partner, and she may not take the extra time during partner sex to get fully aroused and responsive — and that during any sort of masturbation, with or without toys, she’s actually trained herself into a particular kind of response that may require some unlearning when she gets with a human partner, and the end result is not that vibrators desensitize women’s sexual response, but that they create a particular kind of response that may differ from other kinds of stimulation.

Blue Venus Vibrator

Is it possible to engage in, and appreciate and orgasm from, both kinds? Absolutely!  And the more orgasmic sexual experiences a person has, the more s/he can learn to respond in both/all ways. The answer to this dilemma isn’t to stop one kind of sexual sensation, it’s to engage in more of the other kinds you want to respond to. Your body actually grows new nerve pathways when stimulated (or when you learn any new skill based in motion or position), so keep engaging in the kinds of partner sex that please you the most — the likelihood that, with time and sufficient arousal, an orgasmic-through-vibration woman will become able to transfer this ability to partner sex is really pretty good.

 


We’re dedicated to getting you the information you need about sex, pleasure and your health. If you have any questions, please email our staff experts, Dr. Carol Queen and Dr. Charlie Glickman, at education@goodvibes.com! For product-related questions, please email or call our customer service staff at customerservice@goodvibes.com.

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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1 Response

  1. ann says:

    I am a 67 year old widow who is now happily (for the past year) in a great loving relationship with regular sex.
    The sex is great, but it is disappointing to my partner (and to myself)
    that I am not able to orgasm, either through oral or
    penetrative sex (or even using a cockring)
    Actually Not strictly true, have had a couple of orgasms with oral sex.

    As I used to be orgasmic in my younger days, I really don’t know what to do to help this situation.
    We use great creams like Zestra and a couple of others, which
    really help, and I have just started using naturally
    compounded progesterone cream, as I think it might help.
    (I imagine my testosterone level is low, but do not want to use testosterone)
    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
    Ann _