The strange, vaguely ruinous feeling of being addicted to your vibrator

The strange, vaguely ruinous feeling of being addicted to your vibrator

SexFebruary 24, 2017 By Isabelle Kohn

"I got to a point where I couldn't get off without it. Every time I had sex, I'd have to have it on hand," Julie*, a  26-year-old L.A.-based graphic artist tells me.

She's referring to her vibrator, a powerful little machine which with she shared a long and tumultuous relationship with before quitting it cold turkey after it drew her into its clutches and "tried to ruin her life."

"I was totally addicted to it," she says. "It's a strange feeling, being addicted to something that's not a drug."

Vibrators are by far the most popular sex toy. According to a recent nationally representative survey by University of Indiana researchers, 53 percent of American women have them. Of them, 82 percent use them for the sole purpose of clitoral orgasm. Julie was definitely in that category.

"Nothing feels as good as a super-strong vibration on the most sensitive part of your body," she tells me. Her eyes are moist, like she's remembering a fond time with an old friend.

Julie started using hers — a rabbit-style toy — when she was 21. She was in college, away from her long-distance girlfriend, and looking for a way to make up for it. At first, she enjoyed the warm gush of pleasure the vibrator gave her. "It felt like every cell in my body was alive when I'd use it," she says. "I came every time. I was in love with it."

But then, the rabbit started to lose effect. She noticed the vibration was no longer intense enough to get her off. Confused, she went in search of something stronger. When a glowing internet reviews from sex toy enthusiasts introduced her to the Hitachi wand — one of the most high-powered vibes on the market — she jumped at the opportunity to get one.  Its fierce tremors worked great for a while, though she sometimes had to turn it up to a higher setting to come or it wouldn't work. One day, there was no higher setting. She'd maxed out. And she couldn't get off.

She kept trying though, fixed on the feeling she'd first had when she got it. Every now and then, she'd get somewhere, but she'd have to leave her clit alone for a few days if she wanted to feel anything at all.

Meanwhile, her sex life with her then-girlfriend Sasha started to take on a funny form. Whereas Sasha used to be able to make Julie come orally or with their strap-on, or sometimes even just by using her fingers, Julie couldn't get off like that anymore. Julie was suddenly involving the Hitachi every time they'd fuck. It was like she was more interested in it than Sasha.

It was then that her story began to match the narratives of the thousands of American women each year who become addicted to their vibrators.

While hardly a medical term, vibrator addiction describes the gradual ramping up of high-voltage toys until one's body becomes desensitized to the vibration of even the most powerful fuck-stick.

"It's almost like being an alcoholic," Julie explains. "You start with beer, move to liquor, then need more and more to get you drunk until you're drinking so much to chase that original feeling that it's not even fun anymore."

And while there's no hard data on its prevalence — academic scholars tend to shy away from x-rated unmentionables — vibrator addiction is something many women find themselves grappling with. According to sex therapist Vanessa Marin, many women come to her seeking help with vibrator dependency because their frequent use has made it harder to orgasm through other methods of sex.

Carly*, a 29-year-old sex shop employee, can relate. In her line of work, she had the opportunity to test hundreds of vibrators, and since she was making bank writing reviews of them, she kept doing it until the vibrations that once brought her so much pleasure stopped cutting it.

"I felt like I vibrated my clit off," she says by phone. "It was so frustrating because I'd feel aroused but have no way to get off."

All this has to do with the anatomy of the clit. Home to the highest concentration of pleasurable nerves in the female body, it can be an insanely giving source of pleasure, but it's also extremely delicate. Because of that, vibrators can both provide powerful orgasms and numb some of the nerves after repeated heavy use. When that happens, the nerves need progressively stronger stimulation to produce pleasure, whereas before, they might have only need a light or gentle touch from a tongue, finger or toy.

Good news is that it's reversible.

"You can't harm your vagina by using a vibrator," sex therapist Sarah Berry told Broadly, "but you can desensitize it, particularly if you're having a bit of a session." This is a common concern amongst her patients. ""If you're used to using the vibrator every time on a really high setting, it might be when you go to masturbate or have sex that you're so used to the strong vibration that you're kind of reliant on it," Berry warns. "But you can retrain yourself to take something more gentle."

Julie realized she had to do just that — retrain herself — after she found herself dozing off while her girlfriend was eating her out, something that used to feel incredibly good to her.

"I was just laying there, bored," she says. "I didn't have the vibrator, so I wasn't into it. I just fell asleep. Sasha [her girlfriend] got up, looked at me, and said 'Fix this.' Then she walked away. I can't imagine how shitty that must of felt for her, to feel incapable like that. I felt so bad that I immediately started on the regimen the next day."

Julie's regimen went like this.

1. Relax with glass of wine, some weed or some tea.

2. Don't use the vibrator.

3. Liberally lube up vagina. Lightly feel around down there.

4. Don't use the vibrator.

5. Gradually grow accustomed to pleasurable feelings that aren't clitoral vibrations.

6. Don't ... you get the picture.

It was part of a vibrator addiction rehabilitation program she looked up online that aimed to help women with desensitized clits learn to re-experience sexual pleasure. There are many of these programs, but their basic premise is simple: lay off the Hitachi, give your pussy some paid time off, then come back to it with less intense sensations — weaker vibes, tongues, fingers, penises, internal toys, etc. After all, clits don't stay desensitized forever — according to Berry, they're fully capable of a full recovery. By the end of these programs, clitori are supposed to regain their normal sensitivity.

After about a month of this, Julie began to feel her dependence on her vibrator fading. And one day, after she was able to get off using no more than her fingers and some warming lube, she knew she was ready.

"The next time Sasha ate me out, I practically died," she tells me. "It felt like the first time a woman ever went down on me — like fireworks."

For Carly, her clitoral retraining was more about finding ways to stimulate her internal clit, a newly discovered and vast extension of the external clit that wraps around the vagina. This meant exploring the world of g-spot orgasms, and training herself to find vaginal pleasure without Richter scale-level vibrations on her clit.

"There are so many toys specifically meant for g-spotting out there, but I never through they'd work for me," she admits. "I guess I had a one-track vibrator mind."

Now, she says, she's able to orgasm in more ways than before, something she actually thanks her brief vibrator dependency for.

"If I'd never killed my clit, I'd never have discovered my g-spot," she says.

However, psycho sexual therapist Kate Moyle says that while toys are great and all, people also need to be able to come without them.

"You need to believe you have the ability to orgasm without your vibrator," she explained to Broadly. "If you only believe you can orgasm with a sex toy, when you don't have it there you'll feel like it's not possible. Believe that you don't need a battery-powered piece of plastic to orgasm. The physical ability to orgasm is likely there, it's just that you might not believe it's possible. Like anything if you don't believe it will happen, then you will struggle to achieve it."

Welp, we never knew "believe and you will achieve" was anything more than a poster in our guidance counselor's office, but when it comes to the female orgasm, its influence seems stronger than a 12-speed industrial Hitachi.

 

* = not their real name.