How to use a vibrator is one of the questions I get most often—and most bashfully—in my work as a sex therapist. I began my career as a psychotherapist, becoming a sex therapist and certified relationship expert when I realized that so many of my clients came to me with issues around sex, intimacy, and navigating the ups and downs of their romantic relationships. Sex often was the linchpin, the place in their individual lives and relationship dynamics that was too taboo to navigate.
How to Masturbate with a Vibrator
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How I Became the Expert
But something was missing. To help my clients understand desire, I needed to understand it myself. Really understand it and how it works in the body—and in the brain. So at age 50, I went back to get a Ph.D. in neuroscience and (as if I didn’t already stick out enough in a class full of 20- and 30-somethings) chose the most scandalous research area in the cohort: mapping female orgasm in the brain.
Since this pursuit involves asking women to come into the research lab and orgasm, live, inside an fMRI machine, it’s no wonder I quickly became known as “the sex lady.”
In my 30 years working as a therapist, and now as a neuroscientist for a decade, I’ve learned a lot about pleasure. For women so often focused on taking care of others, experiencing pleasure, both in and out of the bedroom, is not a luxury—I believe it is an absolute necessity to our health and well-being. Sexual pleasure is a potent way to (forgive the pun) lubricate our relationships and our lives.
So let’s get to it: Vibrators—how to pick ’em and how to use ’em.
Why It’s So Important to Orgasm
Using a vibrator has been shown to enhance overall sexual functioning, jacking up desire, ramping up arousal, creating more juicy lubrication, and delivering more orgasms—all things I believe are vitally important both as a woman and as a neuroscientist.
It all comes down to pleasure pathways in the brain. My lab was the first to systematically study these pathways to demonstrate how the female genitals connect to the places in the brain that register sensations.
The way our nervous systems work, the more frequently we pleasurably stimulate the genitals, the more robust the sensory connection will become between them and the pleasure regions of the brain. The stronger those connections become, the more likely we will experience ease and pleasure in our sexuality.
Experiencing pleasure is an absolute necessity to our health and well-being
The amazing thing is, we can actually create and strengthen these pathways—you can literally train yourself to have better, stronger orgasms. How amazing is that?!
For women, a successful and rewarding masturbation practice may be even more important than for men, especially when it comes to strengthening the wiring between the genitals and reward centers of the brain.
Unlike men, who seem to avidly discover their own pathways to pleasure through genital self-stimulation, women often have a more difficult time giving themselves permission to figure out exactly what lights up the pleasure pathways in their brain.
Consider this doctor’s orders.
While you certainly don’t need to use a vibrator to make those pleasure pathways light up like the Fourth of July, it’s a great place to start.
Choose the Right Vibrator
There is no shortage of sex toys out there that will make you think you’re having an out-of-body experience. The range and scope of vibrators are enough to make a gal dizzy.
The first question you should ask yourself: Are you going to use the device externally (on your clitoris), internally (for penetrating your vagina), or both simultaneously? If you aren’t sure, you might start with a vibrator designed for external stimulation for your first vibe.
As far as selecting a specific vibrator, all commercially available vibrators technically have enough oomph to get the job done. I suggest starting with a simple vibrator without bells and whistles and go from there.
In my practice I find that less is more; a simple device with variable speeds is good enough. A client favorite is the Hitachi Magic Wand, which was empirically tested as having a high vibratory acceleration and has two speeds.
You’ll also notice a range in battery operated versus rechargeable devices. In general battery devices are quieter and more discreet, travel well, and may be a better choice for the shy first-time user. The plug-in varieties are noisier but more powerful—and never run out of juice when you need it.
A visit, either virtual or IRL, to a sex toy shop like Babeland might be a great way to get the pleasure party started.
Experiment with Different Settings
Think of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Individual differences loom large in how much stimulation is too much, not enough, or just right.
It comes down to differences in our physiology.
When individuals are tested for the capacity to detect vibration on the skin, they vary. Generally, women over 40 might require higher vibration than younger women.
Consider purchasing a vibrator with variable speeds and intensities so you can dial it up or down. You can also experiment with using the vibrator directly on skin or through a layer of clothing, like underwear.
No matter how often you use your vibrator, or on what setting, you aren’t going to permanently desensitize your genitals. That is a myth. What is more likely to happen is that you will find it easier over time to experience sexual pleasure.
Experiment with Different Parts of your Body
The key to good sex, even with yourself, is savoring sensations rather than chasing the orgasm.
Start slow. Set the scene. Make sure you will have privacy. Use the vibrator to stimulate various parts of the body and tune into the sensations.
The famous sexologists, Masters and Johnson, developed a simple yet powerful exercise for couples called sensate focus to help them get out of their heads and into satisfying sexual experience by mutually exploring all body regions, not just genitals. Basically, it’s a set of instructions for one hell of a date night.
You don’t need to have a partner to do this kind of pleasurable exploring. I encourage clients to take a vibrator and to go literally from head to toe, applying vibration, or sensual touch.
Start with the scalp and work your way down, exploring under your arms, your upper and inner thighs, your lower belly, all the way down to the souls of your feet. Our “primary erogenous” zones—the genitals, lips, nipples—have tons of nerve endings which make them super sensitive, but we forget that our beautiful bodies come equipped with many other parts capable of giving us erotic delights.
When you find out what works for you, you can create your own body “pleasure map,” which can be shared with a partner to expand your erotic territory, exploring all areas of the body. Be adventurous—you never know where your own erogenous map may lie.
Don’t forget that the brain is the most powerful sex organ of all.
Here’s a great example from my lab: I published a study showing that using your mind to think about pleasurable genital stimulation (i.e., imagining being stimulated by a dildo) can powerfully activate pleasure places in the brain. Translation: When using a vibrator, focus on the sensations you are experiencing and ground them in your mind by staying present.
How to Use a Vibrator with a Partner
If the idea of introducing your partner to your vibrator seems awkward, you’re certainly not alone. But take heart! Studies show that couples who communicate openly about their sex lives are generally happier than those who don’t.
Another recent study showed that women who use vibrators reported not only enhanced self-esteem but greater relationship satisfaction—provided that their partners were on board.
A great way to do that is to include them in the selection of the vibrator and find a toy that’s fun for you both—there are vibrators specially designed for use with couples that can be worn during sex, or you can use your current vibrator to jump-start desire during foreplay, or apply your vibe to your clitoris during partnered sex.
The bottom line is that our willingness to take risks beyond our comfort zones to explore pleasure is key to creating ongoing sexual potential with our partners.
If you and your partner need a safe place to talk through these issues, don’t feel ashamed. Good sex matters. Let’s explore how we can help.