Q: Okay, so I was watching that Sex & The City episode where Miranda introduces them all to the Rabbit vibrator, and Charlotte mentions that she is worried that it might ruin her for actual sex with a man… I’m (technically) a virgin who has never had sex, but I do own a bunch of sex toys that I use; this remark kind of made my similar concern way worse. Am I freaking out over nothing? Thanks so much! I love your column!
A: Great question! (And thank you for the kind words, we always really appreciate hearing when people enjoy our posts!) I’ve heard similar concerns expressed by other women before, so I think this is really important to talk about.
First, when you say that you’re “(technically) a virgin,” we’re going to infer that means you haven’t had a certain kind or kinds of sex yet, perhaps including penetrative vaginal sex, as that’s what most people seem to mean when they mention virginity. (Sidenote, because I am a nerd: for more about the history and social construction of the idea of virginity, have a look at these two great Scarleteen articles here and here.)
Short answer: no, using sex toys has not ruined you or your prospects of enjoying sex with future partner/partners. Usually when we hear this kind of idea or concern expressed, people are alluding to two things: the prospect of the vagina being “stretched out” by sex toys, or vibrators “ruining” a woman’s chances of having non-vibrator orgasms with a partner. So let’s talk about these ideas in more depth.
“Sex toys / masturbation will make the vagina loose and stretched out.”
I think a few different misconceptions contribute to this idea. Masturbation may affect the hymen, but lots and lots of things can affect the hymen, and it’s important to remember 1. hymen size/shape/thickness/tenacity can vary significantly from person to person and 2. hymen condition/existence is in no way a reliable indicator of a person’s sexual experience or lack of experience. Have a look at this post for more info about hymens.
What masturbation does not permanently affect is the size/toned-ness of your vagina. It’s a muscle, after all, and a really cool muscle that can expand and contract in various circumstances – it lengthens and expands during the arousal process and shrinks back to how it was before when the sexy fun has concluded. There is variation from person to person, and the vagina can change with age, just like the rest of the body. But you getting down with some toys by yourself is by no means going to negatively affect the way your vagina feels and reacts during partner sex of any kind. Check out Heather Corinna’s great post about vaginas and the notion that they can get “worn out” for an even more detailed explanation of the vagina as a muscle and how it all works.
“Sex toy use makes it difficult or impossible to have orgasms during partner sex.”
I’ve seen this notion lots of places, from TV shows to magazine advice columns. I like how Heather Corinna puts it in this post: “People are not cartons of milk. We cannot spoil or be ‘ruined.'” What is true is that masturbation, whether by hand or with toys, is almost definitely going to feel different from sex with a partner, but studies have shown that masturbation can help increase sexual pleasure and satisfaction with a partner – if you have some idea of things that work and don’t work, that’s really useful when it comes to giving a partner feedback about what you need.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that what works when you’re by yourself will work during partner sex (for example, I mainly masturbate with clitoral stimulation and very little penetration, but during partner sex it’s all about penetration and G-spot stimulation), but being familiar with how approaching an orgasm can feel can be really helpful, even if the kinds of stimulation and the feel of the orgasm differ.
I have read about concerns that vibrators can “desensitize” women, since people and their various appendages can’t vibrate in similar ways. However, like I mentioned earlier, no matter what you use, masturbation is probably going to feel quite different than partner sex, and there may be a period of adjustment during which you learn how to enjoy yourself with a partner. (I definitely had that learning period, and I only ever masturbated by hand, so it’s certainly not something that’s specific to sex toy users.) And people can form “habits” or get used to certain, specific kinds of stimulation in any context – when I first began having orgasms with a partner, I could only have them via oral sex when my legs were pulled back and bent. After a while, as I got better able to identify exactly what did it for me and how approaching an orgasm from oral sex felt, I began being able to have them in other positions and eventually from other kinds of stimulation.
Also, nothing says you can’t incorporate your favorite sex toys into your partnered sex life. It may not be something you do right away, but it can be a lot of fun – you can put on a show for your partner or have them use the toys on you. The only time I can see sex toy usage being a problem for partner sex is if you expected your partner(s) to perform exactly like your toys, and you haven’t said anything that makes me think you feel that way.
I also think it’s interesting to consider these concerns in a cultural context – in the U.S., at least, I think female sexuality is frequently regarded something that must be controlled and policed, and the prospect of women having a really satisfying sex life by themselves (i.e. without a man) threatens many of the hegemonic narratives about women and sex that operate at a cultural level.
Anyway, I hope I was able to help ease your mind! If you have any other questions or concerns related to this (or anything, really), feel free to e-mail or respond in the comments.
Keep the great questions coming! (Hee.) Got a question to ask, subject you’d like us to discuss, or myth you’d like us to bust? You can e-mail us at FriskyFeminist@persephonemagazine.com, and we’ve also set up a Tumblr for the sole purpose of receiving completely anonymous questions here.