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Prevalence and Characteristics of Vibrator Use by Women in the United States: Results from a Nationally Representative Study

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Although vibrators are commonly recommended by clinicians as adjunct to treatment for female sexual dysfunction, and for sexual enhancement, little is known about their prevalence or correlates of use. The aim of this study was to determine the lifetime and recent prevalence of women's vibrator use during masturbation and partnered sex, and the correlates of use related to sociodemographic variables, health behaviors, and sexual function. A nationally representative sample of 3,800 women aged 18-60 years were invited to participate in a cross-sectional Internet-based survey; 2,056 (54.1%) participated. The prevalence of vibrator use, the relationship between vibrator use and physical and psychological well-being (as assessed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] Healthy Days measure) and health-promoting behaviors, the relationship between vibrator use and women's scores on the Female Sexual Function Index, and an assessment of the frequency and severity of side effects potentially associated with vibrator use. The prevalence of women's vibrator use was found to be 52.5% (95% CI 50.3-54.7%). Vibrator users were significantly more likely to have had a gynecologic exam during the past year (P < 0.001) and to have performed genital self-examination during the previous month (P < 0.001). Vibrator use was significantly related to several aspects of sexual function (i.e., desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, pain, overall function) with recent vibrator users scoring higher on most sexual function domains, indicating more positive sexual function. Most women (71.5%) reported having never experienced genital symptoms associated with vibrator use. There were no significant associations between vibrator use and participants' scores on the CDC Healthy Days Measures. Vibrator use among women is common, associated with health-promoting behaviors and positive sexual function, and rarely associated with side effects. Clinicians may find these data useful in responding to patients' sexual issues and recommending vibrator use to improve sexual function. Further research on the relationships between vibrator use and sexual health is warranted.
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Prevalence and Characteristics of Vibrator Use by Women in the
United States: Results from a Nationally Representative Study
Debra Herbenick, PhD, MPH,* Michael Reece, PhD, MPH,* Stephanie Sanders, PhD,
Brian Dodge, PhD,* Annahita Ghassemi, PhD,and J. Dennis Fortenberry, MD, MS§
*Center for Sexual Health Promotion, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA; The Kinsey Institute for Research in
Sex, Gender, and Reproduction and the Department of Gender Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA;
Church & Dwight Co., Inc., Princeton, NJ, USA; §School of Medicine, Indiana University, Indianapolis, IN, USAjsm_1318 1857..1866
DOI: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01318.x
ABSTRACT
Introduction. Although vibrators are commonly recommended by clinicians as adjunct to treatment for female
sexual dysfunction, and for sexual enhancement, little is known about their prevalence or correlates of use.
Aim. The aim of this study was to determine the lifetime and recent prevalence of women’s vibrator use during
masturbation and partnered sex, and the correlates of use related to sociodemographic variables, health behaviors,
and sexual function.
Methods. A nationally representative sample of 3,800 women aged 18–60 years were invited to participate in a
cross-sectional Internet-based survey; 2,056 (54.1%) participated.
Main Outcome Measures. The prevalence of vibrator use, the relationship between vibrator use and physical and
psychological well-being (as assessed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] Healthy Days
measure) and health-promoting behaviors, the relationship between vibrator use and women’s scores on the Female
Sexual Function Index, and an assessment of the frequency and severity of side effects potentially associated with
vibrator use.
Results. The prevalence of women’s vibrator use was found to be 52.5% (95% CI 50.3–54.7%). Vibrator users were
significantly more likely to have had a gynecologic exam during the past year (P<0.001) and to have performed
genital self-examination during the previous month (P<0.001). Vibrator use was significantly related to several
aspects of sexual function (i.e., desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, pain, overall function) with recent vibrator users
scoring higher on most sexual function domains, indicating more positive sexual function. Most women (71.5%)
reported having never experienced genital symptoms associated with vibrator use. There were no significant
associations between vibrator use and participants’ scores on the CDC Healthy Days Measures.
Conclusions. Vibrator use among women is common, associated with health-promoting behaviors and positive
sexual function, and rarely associated with side effects. Clinicians may find these data useful in responding to patients’
sexual issues and recommending vibrator use to improve sexual function. Further research on the relationships
between vibrator use and sexual health is warranted. Herbenick D, Reece M, Sanders S, Dodge B, Ghassemi A,
and Fortenberry JD. Prevalence and characteristics of vibrator use by women in the United States: Results
from a nationally representative study. J Sex Med 2009;6:1857–1866.
Key Words. Vibrator; Female Sexual Function; Masturbation; Quality of Life; Orgasm; Sex Toy
Introduction
Vibrators are handheld electrical devices that
produce pulses of variable amplitude and fre-
quency, and enhance sexual arousal and latency to
orgasm in both women and men [1–4]. Vibrators
are widely marketed to women through the Inter-
net, women’s magazines, boutiques, in-home sex
toy parties, and mainstream retail channels such as
drugstores and merchandisers [5–8]. Clinically,
vibrators may be recommended as an adjunct to
treatment for female sexual dysfunction (e.g.,
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anorgasmia, female sexual arousal disorder, and
persistent sexual arousal syndrome), erectile dys-
function, and sexual problems experienced as a
result of cancer treatments [9–13].
The prevalence of vibrator use appears to have
markedly increased over the past 50 years;
however, estimates of use vary greatly—ranging
from 1% to 47% of women—because of differ-
ences in time frame, sampling, and data collection
methodologies. In addition, no studies have
addressed vibrator use and its correlates in a
nationally representative sample in the United
States, and none have addressed the frequency and
severity of side effects potentially associated with
vibrator use.
Kinsey et al. (in 1953) and Hite (in 1976)
described women’s vibrator use as rare—not
“appreciable” and less than 1%, respectively
[14,15]. However, a 1979 convenience sample of
286 lesbian-identified women found that 47%
indicated that they had ever used a vibrator [16].
Interview-based data from the 1992 National
Health and Social Life Survey indicated that only
2% of women aged 18–59 years had purchased a
vibrator or dildo in the previous 12 months, and
17% found the idea of using a dildo or vibrator to
be somewhat or very appealing [17]. More recently
in 2003, a clinic-based study found that 16.1% of
patients with vulvar dysesthesia had used a vibrator
in the previous month—a rate nearly identical to
that of controls (15.8%) [18]. In addition, an
unpublished 2004 report found that 44% of
American women had ever used a vibrator [19],
and a 2006 random-digit dial survey of young
adults (ages 18–39 years) in the Seattle area found
that 33.1% of women had used a sexual enrich-
ment aid (more broadly defined) at least once
during a typical 4-week period [20].
Laws in the United States that prohibit the sale
of such devices in some states have been severely
contested [21]. Efforts to remove or ease restric-
tions on the sale of vibrators and other sexual
enhancement products have often focused on
medical and therapeutic uses of vibrators. In fact,
the therapeutic history of the vibrator is com-
plicated with the origins of the electric vibrator
attributed to clinical treatment of hysteria [22].
Even with this history, a 1974 article indicated that
physicians warned of potential harms of vibrator
use “on both physical and psychological grounds,”
and noted that vibrators were likely used only by a
small number of “sexually dysfunctional females”
[23]. A book published in the same year by pio-
neering sex therapist Helen Singer Kaplan dis-
cussed the therapeutic use of vibrators for
anorgasmic women, but expressed concerns about
women becoming too dependent upon, “hooked”
on, or habituated to vibrator use [24]. Thus, both
perspectives reflected concerns with the possibility
that vibrator use would render women unable to
experience pleasure or possibly orgasm in response
to vaginal intercourse.
Vibrators may be used by women for internal or
external stimulation, and although some sexual
aids have approval by the Food and Drug Admi-
nistration, most are sold as novelty items [25].
Given the widespread availability and use of vibra-
tors, and the fact that their use is recommended by
clinicians through books and Web sites related to
sexual health and enhancement, as well as in office
visits, empirical data on the prevalence and corre-
lates of use are needed.
Aims
The objectives of this study were, in a nationally
representative sample of women aged 18–60 years
in the United States, to determine the lifetime and
recent prevalence of women’s vibrator use during
masturbation and partnered sex; to document the
characteristics of women who use vibrators; to
examine relationships between vibrator use and
physical and psychological well-being as well as
health-promoting behaviors; to examine the rela-
tionship between vibrator use and female sexual
function; and to assess the prevalence and severity
of side effects of vibrator use.
Methods
All study protocols were approved by the Institu-
tional Review Board at the author’s home institu-
tion. During April 2008, data were collected from
a nationally representative sample of 2,056 women
aged 18–60 years in the United States via an exist-
ing research panel of Knowledge Networks
(Menlo Park, CA, USA). Knowledge Networks
establishes research panels based on random digit
dialing methods resulting in a nonzero probability
selection of U.S. households with a telephone and
that are statistically adjusted monthly based on
updates from the U.S. Census Bureau. All data
were collected via the Internet; all participants in
the Knowledge Networks panel are provided with
access to the Internet and hardware if needed.
Research panels of Knowledge Networks have
been used in numerous health-related studies,
each of which has substantiated the validity of such
1858 Herbenick et al.
J Sex Med 2009;6:1857–1866
methods for obtaining nationally representative
sample of the U.S. population [26–30].
A total of 3,800 female panel members were
invited to participate in the study. These individu-
als received an e-mail indicating that this was a
study related to sexual health and sexual behavior.
Up to three e-mail reminders and one telephone
reminder were sent to panel members, and the
women received $5 as an incentive for participa-
tion. Of those invited to participate, 2,338 (61.5%)
responded to the recruitment message, with 2,056
of those (87.9%) consenting to participate and
completing the study instrument. This resulted
in a response rate of 54.1%. During analyses,
post-stratification data weights were used to
reduce variance and minimize bias caused by
non-sampling error. Distributions for age, race,
gender, Hispanic ethnicity, education, and U.S.
census region were used in the post-stratification
adjustment.
Main Outcome Measures
The participants completed a comprehensive
range of items related to sociodemographics,
health status, sexual behaviors and vibrator use,
sexual function, and side effects of vibrator use.
Sociodemographic measures included those
related to age, gender, ethnicity, geographic loca-
tion, marital and relationship status, household
income, having children at home, religiosity,
and political orientation. Health status measures
included those related to physical and mental
quality of life using the four-item Healthy Days
Core Module from the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention health-related quality of
life measure [31], a widely validated set of survey
measures used to assess a person’s sense of well-
being [32–37]. In addition, the women were asked
whether they had had a gynecologic exam in the
past year, performed breast self-examination
during the previous month, and performed genital
self-examination during the previous month.
Sexual behavior was assessed through a series of
questions about partnered sexual activities and
self-masturbation during the 4 weeks prior to
the study. The women were asked to describe the
extent to which they had used vibrators during the
past month, past year, and lifetime, and whether
they had used vibrators while masturbating alone,
during foreplay with a partner, and during sexual
intercourse with a partner. The women who had
used vibrators in their lifetime were asked to indi-
cate where they had used the vibrator (e.g., on the
clitoris or inside the vagina), whether they had
used condoms with vibrators, and patterns of
cleaning vibrators before and after use.
To assess sexual function, the women completed
the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) [38], a
19-item measure with established reliability and
validity that has been widely used to assess five
domains of sexual functioning (desire, arousal,
lubrication, pain, and orgasm), sexual satisfaction,
and to provide a total sexual function score
[39–45]. The FSFI has a high degree of internal
consistency and test–retest reliability, and has been
used to discriminate between women who meet
clinical criteria for sexual dysfunction and those
who do not [39,46].
The women who had ever used a vibrator also
reported the extent to which they had ever expe-
rienced, as a result of vibrator use, any of five
possible side effects including genital numbness,
pain, irritation, inflammation/swelling, and tears/
cuts. The women who indicated any side effect
were asked to describe its frequency (once, a few
times, every time), duration (5 minutes, <1 hour,
1 hour, >1 day, or <1 day; >1 day for tears/cuts),
and perceived severity (range 1–10; 10 being most
severe).
SPSS version 16.0 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL,
USA) was used for analyses. Descriptive statistics
were used to report sample characteristics and
vibrator side effects. Chi-square analyses and
analysis of variance (anova) were used to assess the
relationship between vibrator use and demo-
graphic variables, health items, and sexual func-
tion. The participants were placed into four
groups based on their patterns of vibrator use (past
month users, past year users, 1+year ago users, and
never users), and FSFI scores were compared
across these four groups using anova. As age has
been shown to be related to sexual function [47],
these analyses were conducted within each of the
following age groups: 18–22, 23–44, and 45–60.
This age stratification was used as analysis of cova-
riance is not appropriate when the potential cova-
riate (age) is significantly associated with both the
independent (vibrator use categories) and depen-
dent variables (sexual function) [48], as it was in
this sample. In constructing age groups, it was
found that these three groups worked best statis-
tically in that within each age category, women in
each vibrator use category were not statistically
different by age. Also, the authors felt that these
age groupings made sense conceptually in that the
youngest age group (18–22) was composed of
women who were relatively new to sexual experi-
Vibrator Use by Women in the United States 1859
J Sex Med 2009;6:1857–1866
ence, the middle age group (23–44) was of repro-
ductive age, and the oldest age group (45–60) was
likely peri- or postmenopausal. Thus, each group
would be likely to be similar in regard to the
dependent variables of sexual function scores, thus
elucidating differences related to the independent
variable (vibrator use). Tukey post hoc compari-
sons were used to examine differences between
vibrator use groups within age categories.
Results
Participants
Table 1 shows the unweighted sample sizes
for sociodemographic characteristics, as well as
the weighted population estimates for these
characteristics.
Characteristics of Vibrator Users
A total of 52.5% (95% CI 50.3–54.7%) indicated
that they had used a vibrator (“ever users”), and
47.5% (95% CI 45.3–49.7%) had never used a
vibrator (“never users”) (Table 1). The mean age of
the weighted sample was 39.9 years. Ever users
were approximately 1 year younger than never
users (P=0.09). Significant differences were noted
for marital status (P<0.001), with the groups
differing most on cohabitation. Significant dif-
ferences were also noted for sexual orientation
(P<0.001), with greater sexual diversity among
vibrator users. In addition, significant differences
were found in regard to race/ethnicity (P<0.001),
with proportionately more white non-Hispanics
as ever users. Significant differences were found
for education with more individuals with a high
school education or less in the never user group
(P<0.01). There were no significant differences
between groups in regard to those who lived in
households with children younger than 18. Those
who attended religious services more frequently
(at least once per month) were less likely to be
vibrator users (P<0.001).
Vibrator Use and Health
As shown in Table 2, there were no significant
group differences in participants’ responses to the
Healthy Days measures or their reports of per-
forming breast self-examination in the previous
Table 1 Participant characteristics (unweighted and weighted) by vibrator use history
Participant characteristics
Total sample Vibrator use history
P
Total (unweighted) Total (weighted) Never users Ever users
(n =2,056) (n =2,056) (n =959) (n =1,059)
Mean age (SD) 41.8 (11.7) 39.9 (12.02) 40.3 (12.7) 39.4 (11.4) 0.09
Marital status % (n) <0.001
Single 25.7 (519) 28.5 (586) 31.5 (302) 25.4 (269)
In a relationship 7.8 (157) 9.0 (184) 9.5 (91) 8.3 (88)
Cohabitating 10.7 (216) 12.4 (255) 9.5 (91) 15.4 (163)
Married 55.8 (1,124) 50.1 (1,030) 49.5 (475) 50.9 (539)
Sexual orientation % (n) <0.001
Heterosexual 94.6 (1,906) 94.1 (1,921) 97.0 (924) 91.3 (968)
Homosexual 1.4 (28) 1.8 (37) 1.2 (11) 2.5 (26)
Bisexual 3.4 (69) 3.4 (70) 1.5 (14) 5.2 (55)
Other 0.5 (11) 0.7 (15) 0.4 (4) 1.0 (11)
Race % (n) <0.001
White, non-Hispanic 75.5 (1,522) 66.3 (1,363) 61.9 (593) 70.6 (748)
Black, non-Hispanic 9.5 (192) 13.1 (268) 15.1 (145) 11.1 (118)
Other, non-Hispanic 3.4 (68) 5.8 (119) 8.0 (77) 3.6 (38)
Hispanic 7.8 (157) 13.7 (282) 13.9 (133) 13.4 (142)
Two or more races 3.9 (78) 1.2 (24) 1.0 (10) 1.3 (14)
Education % (n) <0.01
Less than high school 7.9 (160) 10.9 (223) 12.7 (122) 9.2 (98)
High school 29.3 (591) 28.1 (578) 30.0 (287) 26.4 (280)
Some college 30.6 (618) 31.4 (646) 28.1 (269) 34.7 (368)
Bachelor’s degree or higher 32.1 (648) 29.6 (608) 29.2 (280) 29.6 (314)
Children <18 in home % (n) 34.0 (685) 33.7 (693) 33.3 (319) 34.6 (367) 0.53
Religiosity % (n) <0.001
More than once per week 11.8 (206) 11.8 (210) 16.2 (137) 7.4 (67)
1–4 times per month 35.5 (620) 35.7 (636) 40.3 (340) 31.5 (285)
A few times per year 23.6 (413) 23.5 (417) 20.5 (173) 25.9 (234)
Once a year or less 17.7 (309) 17.1 (305) 14.3 (121) 20.1 (182)
Never 11.4 (200) 11.9 (211) 8.6 (73) 15.0 (136)
1860 Herbenick et al.
J Sex Med 2009;6:1857–1866
month. However, ever users were significantly
more likely to have had a gynecologic exam in the
previous year (P<0.001) and to have performed
genital self-examination in the previous month
(P<0.001).
How Vibrators Are Used
Table 3 shows that nearly half (46.3%) of women
had ever used a vibrator during masturbation
alone, and one-fifth (20.1%) had done so during
the previous month. More than a third of women
(37.3%) had used a vibrator during intercourse,
and 40.9% had used a vibrator during foreplay or
sex play with a partner.
The vast majority of vibrator users (83.8%,
n=888) had used a vibrator to stimulate their cli-
toris, and 64.0% (n =679) had used one inside
their vagina. A total of 41.0% (n =435) of ever
users had used a lubricant with a vibrator. Few
(7.4%, n =79) had put a condom over a vibrator
before using it. More than half (60.0%, n =636)
had ever cleaned a vibrator both before and after
use, one-fourth (21.6%, n =229) had cleaned it
only after using it, 4.6% (n =48) had cleaned a
vibrator before use but never after use. The
remaining ever users (13.8%, n =147) had never
cleaned a vibrator before or after use.
Vibrator Use and Sexual Function
Estimates of internal consistency (Cronbach’s a)
were calculated for each FSFI subscale, and the
total scale and indicated strong reliability in this
sample (0.85–0.98, see Table 4). FSFI scores were
compared across the four groups of vibrator use
(past month, past year, 1+year ago, never) within
age groups. There were significant differences in
each age group on the domains of desire, arousal,
lubrication, orgasm, and pain, generally indicating
significantly higher FSFI scores for recent (past
month) vibrator users compared to less recent
users or never users. For the FSFI total score,
vibrator use was significantly related to sexual
function only for women in the 23- to 44- and 45-
to 60-year-old age groups.
Side Effects of Vibrator Use
Of the ever users, 71.5% (95% CI, 68.8–74.2%)
reported that they had never experienced any of
the listed side effects from vibrator use. As shown
in Table 5, a total of 16.5% (95% CI, 14.3–18.7%)
had ever experienced genital numbness, with 0.5%
(95% CI, 0.1–0.9%) reporting that the numbness
lasted for a day or longer. Among those reporting
numbness, the median severity score was 4.0 (on a
10-point scale). A total of 3.0% (95% CI, 2.0–
4.0%) reported ever having experienced genital
pain resulting from vibrator use, with 0.6% (95%
CI, 0.1–1.1%) reporting pain lasting for a day or
longer. Among those reporting pain, the median
severity score was 3.0. A total of 9.9% (95% CI,
8.1–11.7%) of users reported having experienced
genital irritation from vibrator use, with 2.6%
Table 2 Health status and health-promoting behaviors (weighted) by vibrator use history
Participant characteristics Total
Vibrator use history
Never users Ever users P
Healthy days measure
% (95% CI) Generally good to excellent health (n =2,018) 89.9 (88.6–91.2) 89.6 (88.3–90.9) 90.3 (89.0–91.6) 0.59
Mean (SD) number of physically and/or mentally days in the
past month (n =2,033)
7.6 (9.5) 7.3 (9.8, 945) 7.8 (9.1, 1,051) 0.32
Mean (SD) number of days limited activity (n =2,056) 2.2 (5.3) 2.1 (5.3, 958) 2.3 (5.2, 1,060) 0.37
% (95% CI) who experience frequent mental distress (n =2,004) 13.8 (12.3–15.3) 13.3 (11.8–14.8) 14.3 (12.8–15.8) 0.49
Health-promoting behaviors
% (95% CI) Gynecologic exam in past year (n =2,048) 67.8 (65.8–69.8) 62.3 (60.2–64.4) 72.4 (70.5–74.3) <0.001
% (95% CI) Breast self-exam in past month (n =2,054) 60.3 (58.2–62.4) 59.1 (57.0–61.2) 61.2 (59.1–63.3) 0.33
% (95% CI) Genital self-exam in past month (n =2,042) 26.0 (24.1–27.9) 20.8 (19.0–22.6) 30.7 (28.7–32.7) <0.001
Table 3 Proportion of participants (weighted) who used vibrators in solo and partnered sexual activities
Used vibrator during...
History of use in this context When used in this context
Never used in
this context
Ever used in
this context Past month Past year
More than
1 year ago
Masturbation alone, % (95% CI), n =2,024 53.7 (51.5–55.9) 46.3 (44.1–48.5) 20.1 (18.4–21.8) 11.4 (10.0–12.8) 14.8 (13.3–16.3)
Intercourse, %, (95% CI), n =2,018 62.7 (60.6–64.8) 37.3 (35.2–39.4) 9.9 (8.6–11.2) 9.8 (8.5–11.1) 17.6 (15.9–19.3)
Sexual play/foreplay with a partner, %,
(95% CI), n =2,019
59.1 (57.0–61.2) 40.9 (38.8–43.0) 10.2 (8.9–11.5) 10.6 (9.3–11.9) 20.1 (18.4–21.8)
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J Sex Med 2009;6:1857–1866
(95% CI, 1.6–3.6%) reporting irritation lasting for
a day or longer. Among those reporting irritation,
the median severity score was 4.0. Inflammation/
Swelling was reported by 8.0% of users (95% CI,
6.4–9.6%) with 1.5% (95% CI, 0.8–2.0%) report-
ing inflammation/swelling for a day or longer. The
median severity score for inflammation/swelling
was 4.0. A total of 1.1% of users (95% CI, 0.5–
Table 4 Relationship (weighted) of sexual function and vibrator use history, stratified by age
Sexual function domains
n
Past month
mean (SD)
Past year
mean (SD)
>1 Year ago
mean (SD)
Never used
mean (SD) P
Desire (range 1.2–6; alpha* =0.88)
18–22 156 4.34 (0.9)a3.71 (0.7)a,b 4.37 (1.0)a,b 3.70 (1.4)b<0.05
23–44 1,140 4.02 (1.1)a3.80 (1.2)a3.27 (1.2)b3.19 (1.2)b<0.001
45–60 750 3.66 (1.3)a2.89 (1.1)b3.00 (1.2)b2.73 (1.3)b<0.001
Arousal (range 0–6; alpha =0.98)
18–22 155 4.57 (1.2)a3.33 (2.3)a,b 4.37 (2.0)a,b 2.84 (2.5)b<0.01
23–44 1,139 4.70 (1.1)a4.45 (1.6)a3.73 (2.0)b3.24 (2.2)c<0.001
45–60 743 4.26 (1.5)a2.56 (2.3)b,c 3.31 (2.2)b2.23 (2.2)c<0.001
Lubrication (range 0–6; alpha =0.98)
18–22 155 5.31 (1.1)a3.3 (2.3)a,b 4.63 (2.1)a,b 3.21 (2.8)b<0.001
23–44 1,129 5.16 (1.1)a4.90 (1.7)a4.26 (2.1)b3.77 (2.5)c<0.001
45–60 734 4.57 (1.5)a2.83 (2.5)b,c 3.58 (2.4)b2.63 (2.5)c<0.001
Orgasm (range 0–6; alpha =0.97)
18–22 155 4.20 (1.2)a2.80 (1.5)a,b 3.77 (1.1)a,b 2.95 (0.9)b<0.05
23–44 1,128 4.83 (1.2)a4.41 (1.3)a3.86 (1.3)b3.37 (1.4)c<0.001
45–60 746 4.73 (1.3)a2.69 (1.3)b3.61 (1.4)c2.58 (1.5)b<0.001
Satisfaction (range 0–6; alpha =0.85)
18–22 110 4.72 (1.4) 4.62 (1.0) 4.91 (1.2) 5.1 (1.1) 0.4
23–44 954 4.49 (1.3) 4.68 (1.3) 4.40 (1.5) 4.59 (1.4) 0.28
45–60 544 4.43 (1.5)a3.62 (1.6)b4.25 (1.5)a4.25 (1.6)a<0.02
Pain (range 0–6; alpha =0.96)
18–22 154 4.63 (2.3) 2.95 (2.6) 5.66 (0.6) 3.47 (2.5) <0.02
23–44 1,129 5.0 (1.7)a4.78 (1.8)a4.58 (2.0)a,b 4.13 (2.4)b<0.001
45–60 741 4.20 (2.1)a3.38 (2.7)a,b 3.45 (2.6)a,b 3.32 (2.7)b<0.02
Total Score (range 2–36; alpha =0.96)
18–22 109 28.00 (5.5) 23.61 (6.0) 27.71 (5.1) 26.07 (8.1) 0.39
23–44 925 28.47 (5.0)a27.57 (6.6)a25.43 (7.3)b25.06 (8.1)b<0.001
45–60 522 27.31 (5.9)a19.52 (9.9)b24.22 (8.9)a20.79 (10.1)b<0.001
*Cronbach’s alpha presented is calculated for each scale in the total sample.
Cells whose subscripts differ indicate significant differences, P<0.05.
Table 5 Women’s reported side effects to vibrator use (n =1,059)
Side effect frequency and duration Numbness Pain
Reported side effects
Irritation
Inflammation/
Swelling Tears or cuts
Frequency of side effect, % (95% CI)
Never 83.5 (81.3–85.7) 97.0 (96.0–98.0) 90.1 (88.3–91.9) 92 (90.4–93.6) 98.9 (98.3–99.5)
Once 2.1 (1.2–3.0) 0.3 (0–0.6) 1.5 (0.8–2.2) 1.9 (1.1–2.7) 0.3 (0–0.6)
A few times 11.0 (9.1–12.9) 1.8 (1.0–2.6) 7.5 (5.9–9.1) 4.9 (3.6–6.2) 0.8 (0.3–1.3)
Every time 3.4 (2.3–4.5) 0.9 (0.3–1.5) 0.9 (0.3–1.5) 1.2 (0.5–1.9) 0
Duration of side effect, % (95% CI)
Not applicable 83.5 (81.3–85.7) 97.0 (96.0–98.0) 90.1 (88.3–91.9) 92 (90.4–93.6) 98.9 (98.3–99.5)
<5 minutes 9.0 (7.3–10.7) 1.0 (0.4–1.6) 1.1 (0.5–1.7) 0.9 (0.3–1.5)
<1 hour 6.4 (4.9–7.9) 0.6 (0.1–1.1) 4.6 (3.3–5.9) 3.9 (2.7–5.1) *0.1 (0–0.3)
1 hour 0.6 (0.1–1.1) 0.8 (0.3–1.3) 1.6 (0.8–2.4) 1.7 (0.9–2.5) 0.9 (0.3–1.5)
>1 day 0.5 (0.1–0.9) 0.6 (0.1–1.1) 2.6 (1.6–3.6) 1.5 (0.8–2.2) 0.1 (0–0.3)
Severity rating (range 1–10)
Mean (sd) score 4.04 (2.1) 3.65 (1.5) 3.91 (2.1) 3.96 (2.2) 2.36 (2.0)
Median score 4 3 4 4 1
*<1 day.
>1 day.
About 1 week.
Note: Duration scale different for tears and cuts.
1862 Herbenick et al.
J Sex Med 2009;6:1857–1866
1.7%) reported experiencing tears or cuts in rela-
tion to vibrator use, with a median severity score of
1.0.
Discussion
Findings from this study are significant in that
they demonstrate, for the first time among a sci-
entific and nationally representative sample of
women in the United States, that vibrator use is: (i)
common among diverse groups of women; (ii)
associated with health-promoting behaviors; (iii)
associated with positive sexual function; and (iv)
rarely related to negative side effects. Far from
supporting historical cautions of physical or psy-
chological harm associated with vibrator use, the
data demonstrate that women who use vibrators
are as generally healthy, mentally and physically, as
women who do not use vibrators. That said, vibra-
tor users were significantly more likely to engage
in two specific health-promoting behaviors as
compared to nonusers: (i) having had a gyneco-
logic exam in the previous year; and (ii) having
looked closely at their genitals in the previous
month. However, vibrator use was not related to
having performed breast self-examination during
the previous month.
Routine self-care practices such as monthly
breast and genital self-examination were included
as markers of comfort or experience with touching
or looking at these body parts. Monthly genital
(vulvar) self-examination has been suggested as
an important early detection tool for vulvar skin
abnormalities, as well as vulvar cancer [49,50].
Although the relationships between vibrator use
and having had a gynecologic exam in the previous
year or performed a genital self-examination in the
previous month are significant, the direction of
these relationships is not known and it is possible
that, rather than being causal, a third variable not
measured in this study (such as erotophilia) influ-
ences both. It may be that women who are com-
fortable using vibrators are also women who are
comfortable looking at or touching their genitals
for health reasons, or having their genitals viewed
and touched as part of gynecologic exam. Alterna-
tively, it may be that novelty or sexual pleasure
motivates women to use a vibrator and that the
experience of using a vibrator helps women to feel
more comfortable with their genitals and gyneco-
logic exams.
Vibrators are used in various ways. In addition
to being used alone or with a partner, the women
varied in terms of where they used vibrators (e.g.,
inside the vagina or on the clitoris), whether they
used a lubricant (less than half did so), and their
vibrator cleaning behaviors. Few women applied a
condom to their vibrator. Data were not collected
about whether women shared sex toys with a
partner; however, given the possible risk of trans-
mitting infections through sharing toys, clinicians
and educators might discuss options for safe toy
use with their patients or clients including toy
cleaning, condom use, and not sharing toys. In this
study, the women were asked only if they had used
a vibrator “with a partner” during intercourse, or
during sexual play or foreplay with a partner. More
detailed study is warranted in regard to how vibra-
tors are used during partnered sex. It would be
important to know not only the extent to which
partners may share toys, but also the extent to
which vibrators are used on women’s own bodies,
their partner’s bodies, or on both bodies simulta-
neously during partnered sex.
Data related to vibrator use and sexual function
have significant practice implications for clinicians
who may have hesitated to recommend vibrator
use for the treatment of sexual problems in the
absence of data. Although this study cannot
address causation, the data indicate that the
women who have used vibrators—and particularly
those who have done so most recently—
experience more positive sexual function in terms
of desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, and pain.
Satisfaction (a more nuanced sexual function
domain that is perhaps more subject to the influ-
ence of relationship and interpersonal factors)
varied little by vibrator use for women aged 45–60
years, and not at all for younger women. It may be
that using a vibrator facilitates orgasm and arousal
(and, consequently, facilitates sufficient vaginal
lubrication), and that having a more comfortable,
pleasurable sexual experience thus helps a woman
to feel more desirous of subsequent sexual activity.
Alternatively, it may be that women who are more
comfortable with their sexuality, or have more
positive sexual function, are women who are also
more comfortable with the use of vibrators. Given
that previous research has suggested that person-
ality factors may be related to ease of orgasm, it is
also possible that personality factors (such as open-
ness to experience) influence both vibrator use and
orgasmic function [51].
That past month users aged 23 and older scored
the highest on the FSFI pain domain (indicating
fewer problems) may reflect the sexual challenges
that vulvovaginal pain poses in women’s lives.
Women who experience significant pain related to
Vibrator Use by Women in the United States 1863
J Sex Med 2009;6:1857–1866
vulvodynia, dyspareunia, or other conditions may
be less likely to use vibrators or more likely to stop
using them (and, as such, be past year or 1+year
ago users), just as these women may reduce or stop
other forms of sexual activity in response to pain.
This finding may also build on previous research
that has demonstrated an increased threshold of
pain in association with orgasm and the utility of
vulvar vibration therapy for vulvar pain [52].
Perhaps as vibrator use facilitates arousal and
orgasm, vibration applied to the genitals may in
turn alleviate or minimize pain.
Finally, the majority of women did not experi-
ence any side effects from vibrator use. Of those
women who had experienced side effects, those
that were most common were mild and transient
experiences of genital numbness, irritation, or
inflammation. There were very few cases of side
effects of long duration or severity. The data
suggest that under normal conditions, vibrator use
is a safe activity that is or has been a part of the
sexual lives of more than half of American women
(and, in many cases, their partners’ sexual lives
too). However, given the historical belief that
vibrator use may habituate women to particular
ways of sexual response (i.e., experiencing orgasm
more easily with a vibrator and less so with a
partner), future research should consider assessing
to what extent women’s sexual response becomes
habituated—or, alternatively, enhanced—in rela-
tion to vibrator use.
A strength of this study is that it used a nation-
ally representative sampling method, thus
improving the ability to generalize findings to
other women ages 18–60 years in the United
States. In addition, widely used reliable and valid
measures were used to assess women’s health-
related quality of life and sexual function. To
enhance the validity of findings, the women were
provided with a specific definition of a “vibrator,”
and only vibrators (rather than dildos, massage
creams, or other sexual enhancement aids) were
the focus of this study so as to maximize its
specificity.
Although this study provides substantial and
informative data on vibrator use among women
ages 18 through 60, a limitation is that adults older
than 60 were not recruited, and thus, the preva-
lence of vibrator use and its correlates among this
age group remains unknown. In addition, although
we had the advantage of using validated methods
for the collection of nationally representative data,
it remains possible that participants may have self-
selected, resulting in more women who were com-
fortable with, or who were more adamantly (or
vociferously) opposed to describing their sexual
behaviors and vibrator use. Fortunately, an advan-
tage of this type of research is that the use of
post-stratification data weights helps to minimize
selection bias on as many characteristics as possible
given the other types of data available on the
U.S. population (e.g., ethnicity, age, gender), but
without a sufficient number of nationally represen-
tative reports that are based on nationally repre-
sentative data, we feel it necessary to point out that
such bias was possible and may be better under-
stood as more research in the area of sexuality has
the opportunity to use such samples.
Another limitation is that we did not ask more
detailed questions about the number of times
women had ever used vibrators, which would have
provided the already low prevalence of side effects
with greater context and should be taken into
account in future research. Finally, given that our
sample was representative of women aged 18–60
years living in the United States, our sample
reflected the overall homogeneity of the popula-
tion (i.e., largely white and identifying as hetero-
sexual). As such, patterns related to vibrator use,
sexual function, and health-promoting behaviors
may benefit from further study in more targeted
groups of women of racial/ethnic and sexual
minority samples, as well as within clinical
populations.
Conclusion
Based on this nationally representative sample of
women aged 18–60 years, the prevalence of vibra-
tor use among women was found to be 52.5%, and
to be associated with health-promoting behaviors
and positive sexual function. Additionally, use was
rarely associated with side effects. Clearly, experi-
mental or event-specific studies would be needed
to examine causal relationships. Nonetheless,
health care providers may find these data useful in
terms of: (i) elucidating the prevalence of vibrator
use and the need to consider this activity when
dealing with patients’ sexual issues; and (ii) sup-
porting existing recommendations of vibrator use
to improve sexual function. Further research on
the relationships between vibrator use and sexual
health is warranted.
Acknowledgment
This study was funded by Church & Dwight Co., Inc,
the maker of Trojan-brand condoms.
1864 Herbenick et al.
J Sex Med 2009;6:1857–1866
Corresponding Author: Debra Herbenick, PhD,
MPH, Center for Sexual Health Promotion, Indiana
University, Bloomington, IN, USA. Tel: (812) 855-
0364; Fax: (812) 855-3936; E-mail: debby@indiana.edu
Conflict of Interest: Annahita Ghassemi is an employee of
Church & Dwight Co., Inc., the entity that funded this
research study.
Statement of Authorship
Category 1
(a) Conception and Design
Debra Herbenick; Michael Reece; Stephanie
Sanders; Dennis Fortenberry; Brian Dodge;
Annahita Ghassemi
(b) Acquisition of Data
Debra Herbenick; Michael Reece; Stephanie
Sanders
(c) Analysis and Interpretation of Data
Debra Herbenick; Stephanie Sanders; Michael
Reece
Category 2
(a) Drafting the Article
Debra Herbenick; Stephanie Sanders
(b) Revising It for Intellectual Content
Michael Reece; Dennis Fortenberry; Brian Dodge;
Annahita Ghassemi
Category 3
(a) Final Approval of the Completed Article
Debra Herbenick; Stephanie Sanders; Michael
Reece; Dennis Fortenberry; Brian Dodge; Annahita
Ghassemi
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... For example, women who feel positively about their body exhibit more sexual agency and are more likely to explore new sexual positions and techniques (Grower & Ward, 2018). Women who masturbate more often tend to experience better sexual function (Herbenick et al., 2009), and women with positive body image may begin exploration of their sexual responses at a younger age. Supporting this, young women who explore masturbation are more likely to report a positive and comfortable relationship with their body and sexuality, feeling entitled to pleasure during partnered sex, and confidence in their ability to achieve sexual pleasure (Hogarth & Ingham, 2009;Horne & Zimmer-Gembeck, 2005). ...
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