Andrew Siegel, MD 9/19/15
(Image above is antique vibrator in Dolly’s House Museum in Ketchikan, Alaska. Copied under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Author Wknight94, August 2009)
Vibrators are far more than erotic toys used to enhance female sexual pleasure. Their prevalence of use in the male population is catching up to that of females. It is becoming a more conventional practice for physicians to recommend their use as a component in the management of many forms of sexual dysfunction for both genders.
The origin of vibrational devices dates back to Victorian times, when masturbation was considered to be a deviant behavior, particularly so for women. In the late 1800s, the diagnosis of “female hysteria” was commonly entertained. This was a vague symptom complex consisting of anxiety, insomnia, irritability, fainting, outbursts, excessive sexual desire, etc. It was often managed with pelvic and genital manipulation (“medicinal massage”) by physicians in an effort to bring a patient to “hysterical paroxysm” (a.k.a., orgasm). This typically dramatically relieved the “hysteria” symptoms and this practice of “physician-assisted paroxysm” became entrenched in both European and American medical practice. It proved to be lucrative for physicians and a socially acceptable means of sexual fulfillment for multitudes of women, greatly appreciative of services rendered and readily willing to return for regular office treatments.
The medical community that delivered such treatments often became afflicted with fatigue that developed as a consequence of overuse of their hands. The vibrator was invented as an electro-mechanical medical device to facilitate the treatment of “hysteria” and preserve the cramped and achy fingers of physicians. It was a welcome advance that efficiently brought patients to “hysterical paroxysm,” allowing physicians to treat more patients. With the advent of this device, what sometimes took an hour and was not always successful could be accomplished in a matter of minutes. In 1880, a British physician, Dr. Joseph Mortimer, patented the electric vibrator. It was originally referred to as Granville’s hammer. In 1883, he wrote a book on the subject entitled: “Nerve-Vibration and Excitation as Agents in the Treatment of Functional Disorder and Organic Disease.”
Vibrational devices became popular outside the medical community when electricity became available in American homes. As these devices became commercially available, women began buying them for personal use. In the early 1900s, they were advertised and sold in many popular women’s magazines and catalogs and were eventually called “personal massagers” as a means of to make them more socially acceptable. The era of “physician-assisted paroxysm” came to an abrupt end.
What Goes Around Comes Around
Modern vibrators are battery-powered or plug-in handheld “sexual enrichment aids” that generate vibratory pulsations of a variety of amplitudes and frequencies, intended to enhance sexual stimulation in both females and males. They can be used externally and/or internally to facilitate arousal, sexual pleasure and orgasm. Their popularity has increased markedly over time and they are now readily displayed and sold in mainstream retail outlets.
In the earliest years of vibrational devices, they were used under the domain of the medical community with subsequent use dominated by individuals for recreational use. This has turned full circle, as it has become an increasingly acceptable practice for medical practitioners to recommend vibrational devices as a means of treating sexual dysfunction. Vibrator use is now recognized as a bona fide tool in the armamentarium to help manage both female and male sexual dysfunction, including arousal disorders, erectile dysfunction and difficulty achieving orgasm.
For a number of years, vibrator use in males was predominantly for the spinal cord injured population that desired to father children but could not ejaculate. When a vibrator is applied to the head of the penis of a spinal cord injury patient, it initiates a reflex erection and subsequently ejaculation and thus became an accepted means of gathering semen in order to perform insemination. (It will also do the same for men without spinal cord injuries.)
In recent years, a medical penile vibratory stimulation device specifically designed for male anatomy has become available. The device consists of dual vibrators for the purpose of providing vibration stimulation to both the top and bottom surfaces of the penis. It is prescribed for many forms of male sexual dysfunction, including difficulty obtaining and maintaining an erection, rigidity issues, ejaculatory and orgasmic dysfunction and erectile dysfunction occurring after prostate surgery. It is now being use in conjunction with pelvic floor training prior to prostate surgery in order to help prevent the sexual and urinary side effects that may ensue after prostate removal.
Female Vibrator Use
A medical study of almost 4000 women showed vibrator use in 53%. With respect to demographics, married women are more apt to partake than single women and their use in lesbian women is more prevalent than heterosexual women and greater in Caucasian women than African-American or Hispanic women. Vibrator use correlates with education level with the more educated using vibrators more commonly than the less educated population. Those who attend religious services more regularly are less likely to be users than those who attend services less regularly.
Vibrators are frequently used in solo as well as partnered sexual activities. 46% of females use vibrators during masturbation, 41% during foreplay or sex play with a partner and 37% during sexual intercourse. Of those females who use vibrators, 84% have used them for clitoral stimulation and 64% for vaginal stimulation. Negative side effects from vibrator use are occasional and mild and include numbness, pain, irritation, inflammation, swelling, and rarely tears or cuts. Women who use vibrators experience more positive sexual function in terms of desire, arousal, lubrication, pain, and orgasm. Vibrator use is correlated with other health promoting behaviors.
Male Vibrator Use
About 50% have used one during their lifetime, 10% within the last month, 15% in the past year and 20% more than one year ago. Women play a pivotal role in driving vibrator use in men: 40% of men have used a vibrator during sexual play or foreplay with a partner, 36% during sexual intercourse and 17% during solo masturbation.
In a survey of 1000 men who were questioned about why they used vibrators, the most common reply was “for fun,” followed by “to spice up my sex life,” “curiosity,” “to help my partner orgasm,” and “upon the request of a sexual partner.” A small percentage of men use vibrators to facilitate their own orgasm.
Men who use vibrators report less sexual dysfunction than non-users, scoring higher on four of five domains of the most common index used for erectile dysfunction (International Index of Erectile Function). Slightly higher proportions of gay and bisexual men use vibrators as opposed to heterosexual men.
Bottom Line: Vibrator use is a healthy, safe and well-established practice that has contributed to sexual enhancement in more than half of American women and often their partners. In both genders, vibrator use correlates positively with healthy sexual functioning and other health-promoting behaviors. Vibrators have found their way into the current medical armamentarium, prescribed by physicians and offering a non-pharmacological option to the management of many forms of sexual dysfunction on both men and women. Their latest utility is in combination with pelvic floor muscle training in men before prostate cancer surgery.
Herbenick D, Reece M, Sanders S, Dodge P, Ghassemi A, Fortenberry D. Prevalence and Characteristics of Vibrator Use by Women in the United States: Results From a Nationally Representative Study, Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2009; 6: 1857-1866
Reece M, Herbenick D, Sanders S, Dodge P, Ghassemi A, Fortenberry D. Prevalence and Characteristics of Vibrator Use by Men in the United States, Journal of Sexual Medicine 2009; 6:1867-1874.
Wishing you the best of health,
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Author of Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health: available in e-book (Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo) and paperback: www.MalePelvicFitness.com. In the works is The Kegel Fix: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual and Urinary Health.
Co-creator of Private Gym, a comprehensive, interactive, FDA-registered follow-along male pelvic floor muscle training program. Built upon the foundational work of Dr. Arnold Kegel, Private Gym empowers men to increase pelvic floor muscle strength, tone, power, and endurance: www.PrivateGym.com or Amazon.
Tags: Andrew Siegel MD, Dr. Joseph Mortimer, ejaculation issues, erectile dysfunction, female vibrator use, hysteria, hysterical paroxysm, male vibrator use, masturbation, medical penile vibration stimulation device, medicinal massage, orgasm issues, recreation use, sex toys, sexual dysfunction, sexual enrichment aids, spinal cord injuries, vibrators