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How Sex Toys Impact Relationships

Do they always increase satisfaction?

Key points

  • Exploring novel ways of being intimate, including using sex toys, can help maintain passion and desire within relationships over the long term.
  • A study found heterosexual men who had used sex toys with their partners had lower levels of sexual satisfaction than men who had never done so.
  • Eighty-six percent of women who have sex with women say they’ve used a sex toy and experienced increased sexual satisfaction as a result.

The popularity of adult toys has increased over the past decade. Research suggests that the taboos surrounding vibrators and other devices intended to increase individual or mutual pleasure are dissolving as more individuals (and couples) reach for a far more intimate type of technology.

Enhancing physical pleasure may enhance enjoyment. But how does using sex toys impact the satisfaction both partners derive from their relationship? Results from new research into the prevalence and demographics of sex toy use suggest that pleasure in bed and pleasure in a relationship may differ for partners, depending on their gender.

A large nationally representative study led by researcher Michael Reece, Ph.D., examined the prevalence of vibrator use among heterosexual men in the U.S. Intriguingly, heterosexual men who had used sex toys with their partners reported lower levels of sexual satisfaction than men who had never used a sex toy with their partners. The researchers couldn’t say for sure why satisfaction was lower in this cohort. But given that most heterosexual men who had used vibrators with a partner reported doing so to increase their partner’s pleasure (as opposed to their own) it’s possible that these men’s sexual satisfaction was unchanged by the introduction of a vibrator and may have already been lower, to begin with.

That said, it may also be the case that some heterosexual men who have used vibrators with their partners (either because their partner suggested they do so or because they organically thought it could improve their partner’s enjoyment) felt that having to use a vibrator reflected poorly on their own romantic abilities. If this were the case it would make sense that their satisfaction remained low.

The belief that “using a sex toy means your partner isn’t a good enough lover is common," says licensed marriage and family therapist, and resident relationship expert at, Dr. Kat Van Kirk, Ph.D. "One partner may fear that another partner’s use of a sex toy will replace them or that they'll become overly reliant on them."

Generally speaking, couples who can explore novel ways of being intimate together tend to fare better in terms of maintaining passion and desire (in addition to relationship satisfaction) over the long haul. A 2016 study conducted by Chapman University’s David Frederick, Ph.D., found that women and men who reported feeling satisfied by their relationship and their intimacy with their partners were more likely to report having used toys together, but also engaged in other activities, such as taking a shower together and scheduling date nights.

Communication and non-sexual intimacy both seem to trump any kind of toy in terms of boosting relationship satisfaction. As a 2013 report by the Guttmacher Institute demonstrates, the more positively individuals in relationships rate their interactions with their partners, the higher they tend to rate their desire for one another as well as the satisfaction they derive from their relationship.

In the context of sex toys, positive communication means that partners can discuss their physical needs and desires and show respect for each other's preferences and also boundaries. If one partner genuinely isn't comfortable using a toy, pushing for this will likely breed mistrust and feelings of insecurity in the relationship.

“If there is a sense of openness and non-judgment that can be cultivated most people can learn to incorporate new aspects into their intimate lives," says Van Kirk. The key is to listen to and be present for what your partner is trying to communicate to you—and being willing to find a mutually agreeable way to proceed.

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