Three events this week have me thinking about the general topic of orgasms and the more specific topic of vibrator-assisted orgasms. The first was an article sent to me by an undergraduate student. The second was a comment on my prior Psychology Today Blog, What's the Buzz? The Science Behind the #1 Sex Toy. Finally, and quite personally, was my own vibrator-induced orgasm. All three events have led me to contemplate what I consider to be our society's misguided beliefs about the correct, or desirable form, of female orgasm—and the psychological impact that these beliefs have on women.

A student of mine at the University of Florida sent me an article she was required to read for one of her religion classes. The article, Sexual Healing by JoAnn Wypijewski, which appeared in a September 2009 edition of The Nation, is a well-written expose on how drug companies, in search of big money, create female sexual dysfunction. In proof of the creation of female sexual dysfunction Wypijewski rhetorically asks, "How else to explain that a reality as old as god—that the vast majority of women do not climax simply through intercourse—has re-emerged as dysfunction?" Related, she asks, "How to explain that a doctor like Stuart Meloy of North Carolina...has even one patient to test his Orgasmatron, an electrode threaded up a woman's spinal cord and controlled by a hand-held button that the patient can push (assuming the procedure doesn't paralyze her) to make her clit throb with excitement during intercourse and reach the grail of mutually assured orgasm?" In other words, while addressing the thorny issue of the medicalization of women's sexuality, Wypijewski points out that intercourse is an ineffective way for women to reach orgasm, yet we keep trying and keep feeling inferior if we do not.

One sign of this shame is women's fears regarding vibrator use—despite their effectiveness in creating orgasm. In a prior blog, What's the Buzz? The Science Behind the #1 Sex Toy, I stated that ""There is no evidence that solo use of vibrators decreases women's interest in sex with partners." A reader took issue with this statement, commenting that it is contradicted by numerous studies and articles. This anonymous reader pointed me to another Psychology Today blog, in which a study on women's responses to vibrator use was linked. In this study, women who had never before used a vibrator were asked to do so and were then interviewed about their experience. Results revealed that the majority of women found it easier to reach orgasm using a vibrator and that their orgasms were more intense with a vibrator. A great number of the women, however, also expressed that they were fearful of becoming dependent on the vibrator and that they were hesitant to discuss their vibrator use with male partners. Many feared that the vibrator might make their partner feel diminished. Of note, several women questioned if they were entitled to the pleasure a vibrator can bring.

In short, a close read of this study doesn't prove that vibrator use diminishes interest in partners—only that women are fearful it will, as well as afraid of insulting their partner's manhood. The results of this study bolsters my premise that the vast majority of women don't reach orgasm through intercourse, vibrators are quite effective in producing orgasms, and yet women feel shamed and fearful about using this route to pleasure.

Why are women reluctant and ashamed to reach orgasm the easiest and most powerful way? Why do women continue to seek what is most rare and difficult to achieve?

The authors of the above-referenced study answer these questions. They explain that "... coloring our view of vibrators, society has always monitored [women] ...for "acceptable" orgasms, and throughout the literature, the "right" type of orgasm has been one produced by coitus. In other words, society tells women that they should reach orgasm the same way men do—through coitus—when in fact, the research demonstrates that only a minority of women reach orgasm through intercourse alone (i.e., without clitoral stimulation). What's the solution?

The answer is for women to embrace their pleasure. If you are one of the few women who orgasm from intercourse alone, then by all means, keep having your orgasms in this way. However, if you are among the vast majority of women who do not orgasm from intercourse alone, stop trying and instead, embrace your path to pleasure. My proposal—along with that of several other sex researchers and therapists—is to introduce vibrator use into coupled sex. As aptly explained by Corey Silverberg, in an About.Com article on this topic

It's not uncommon for people to be able to orgasm while using a vibrator but not have orgasms during sex with a partner. There are plenty of reasons for this, but whatever is going on, if you are in a good relationship you probably want to have orgasms, or at least experience a lot of pleasure, when you have sex with your partner, and your partner (hopefully) wants to be with you while you are feeling that pleasure. For many, the easiest and fastest way to achieve this is to use your vibrator with your partner.

In this article, Corey Silverberg then goes onto give tips on how to introduce vibrator play to your partner. I also address this in my book, A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex. In my book, I also point readers to vibrators designed specifically to be used in heterosexual couple sex.

As just one example, the Progressor is worn by the man during intercourse and produces clitoral stimulation for the women. My husband of over 25 years and I used this just last weekend. Thankfully, and likely because he is a psychologist familiar with the literature on women's sexuality, he didn't feel diminished by the experience but happy that we both achieved orgasm during our encounter. And likewise, I am grateful to not be in search of the societally-defined "right" orgasm (i.e., one that is produced by intercourse alone), but instead to have a real orgasm, one that makes me feel all right! Let's all work to shed the notion of a "right" kind of orgasm and instead allow ourselves the pleasure which is rightfully ours.

 Note: For More information on the medicalization of women's sexuality, see The New View website.

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