Women worry about getting so attached to their vibrators that intercourse no longer “does it” for them. But is vibrator burnout real? And what can retailers do to help customers who experience it?
Sex experts are divided on exactly what “vibrator burnout” really means and how it affects women’s sex lives.
“I think vibrator burnout is an urban legend,” says sex educator Annie Sprinkle, Ph.D., and owner of AnnieSprinkle.org. “However, I think sometimes we do get over stimulated with a vibrator, or at least get used to heavier stimulation.”
Ann-Marie Holman, product educator for The Stockroom at Stockroom.com, says she sees a couple of different issues with the topic of vibrator burnout.
“Often I hear people talking about ‘vibrator burnout’ in terms of not being able to get off from a vibrator any more,” she says. “It’s as if their vibrator isn’t as exciting, so maybe that’s more of a physiological reaction to a lack of variety.”
Another issue, Holman notes, involves women becoming more attached sexually to their vibrators than they are to their partners.
“I think that can happen, especially to women who don’t communicate well, or who have partners who don’t communicate well,” she says. “They’re not able to tell their partners how they prefer to get off, or their partners may be insecure and take everything as personal criticism, so they don’t listen.”
A third issue is women who have limited self knowledge.
“These women may be afraid to talk about the topic,” Holman says.
Then there are those women whose external physiology simply requires extra stimulation to reach orgasm.
“That’s actually very common,” Holman says. “If you either don’t know that about yourself or you have a partner who doesn’t listen to you or you’re afraid to bring it up to him, I can see how you would come to expect more satisfaction from your vibrator than from your partner.”
Sprinkle says sometimes women go through periods of time where they can’t have an orgasm except with a vibrator.
“But so what?” she says. “As long as women are having great orgasms, however they have them is good. And remember, our sex lives are in a constant state of change. It’s not like you learn one way to do it and that’s it. You can go through periods where you have different needs, wants and desires, and different things turn you on; there are different priorities at different times of your life.”
One problem with vibrators, Sprinkle says, is that men often don’t like them because they think women shouldn’t need them to achieve an orgasm.
“If you’re a woman who has trouble having an orgasm and the vibrator is the best way to get you there, you need to educate your partner that that’s what you really like and that that’s how you have the best orgasm,” she says.
In terms of couples, the healthiest outlook is to communicate well with your partner and incorporate the vibrator into your sex life.
“Incorporating a vibrator into your partnership is a whole different matter than having it be an either/or situation,” Holman says. “It’s one thing to see a vibrator as a substitute, and another thing to see it as an aid; there’s a big difference between treating a vibrator like a tool and treating it like a surrogate.”
In fact, some women say when they’re using their vibrators they often fantasize about having their men with them; however, when they’re having intercourse, they don’t fantasize about their vibrators.
“That’s not an either/or situation either,” Holman says. “There’s a big difference in those two dynamics.”
Sometimes a woman will feel like her vibrator is becoming less effective. That’s when it’s time to get back to basics: start by checking the batteries.
“Sometimes a vibrator just needs fresh batteries,” Holman says. “A vibrator isn’t something that just dies. It runs down, and that often can be a source of feeling like it’s not stimulating you enough.”
And vibrators sometimes do go bad; they get kind of sluggish and stay that way.
“I think women burn out more vibrators than vibrators burn out women!” Sprinkle says.
For those women who need external stimulation to achieve an orgasm, a vibrator isn’t the only answer, Holman says.
“There’s still oral and manual play,” she says. “Part of the reason that’s effective is that it’s a change from the vibrator.”
And remember that the clit isn’t the only erogenous zone that benefits from vibration.
“Move the vibrator around,” Holman says. “Changing location can be good.”
What does this mean to retailers?
Keep in mind that any given customer—even a long-time customer—won’t want to use the same vibrator all the time. She may not even know that she wants to try a different vibrator, so you may have to lead her to try something different.
That means keeping a good variety of vibrators with different speeds and different functionalities in stock so your customer can have choices, and having an idea of how they differ. Keep some at the counter so she can hold them in her hand, feel their vibration, and gain some “ownership” of the one she likes.
“Some women use the same vibrator for so long that they’ve gotten used to it,” Holman says. “If a woman prefers mechanical means, she may need a vibrator that has different settings; not just different speeds but different functions.”
Remind your customers that using a vibrator is, in some ways, similar to intercourse.
“When you’re having intercourse, think about the number of times you change positions,” Holman says. “Using a vibrator is the same way. Why wouldn’t that be a fairly normal rate of needing a switch with a vibrator as well? Suggest changing the functionality of a vibrator often during use, rather than just sticking to the same thing time after time.”
For those women who have limited self-knowledge, provide education. Clearly this takes patience and a delicate touch, as women in this situation may be very uncomfortable discussing vibrators with a male sales person. Try to have a female sales person on hand to help educate these customers about the hows and whys of using a vibrator.
And lastly, encourage your customer to communicate her desires with her partner, and encourage both of them to make using a vibrator part of their sexual enjoyment.
“The ideal thing is for the couple to communicate, and to make the vibrator part of their play,” Holman says. “If intercourse isn’t doing it, you still need to have a sex life together or you don’t have an intimate relationship. A sexual partnership is more than just having intercourse; in some cases, the idea of what constitutes intercourse may need to change. You shouldn’t have a situation where you’re thinking of intercourse in such classic terms that it becomes as case of she’s only doing it to please him and he’s thinking in terms of what else he has to do for her. It should all flow together and extend to using toys and tools so you have a sense of sharing between the partners.”