May 31, 2023
Experts Recommend Vibrators for Sexual Health at All Ages
Claire Wolters is a staff reporter covering health news for Verywell. Nick
Claire Wolters is a staff reporter covering health news for Verywell.
Nick Blackmer is a librarian, fact-checker, and researcher with more than 20 years’ experience in consumer-oriented health and wellness content.
Penetrative sex can hurt with age. Especially for people with vaginas, decreased estrogen levels around age 50 can create vaginal dryness and discomfort during intercourse. Could sex toys like vibrators be the magic wand to alleviate pain?
That's a question that Alexandra Dubinskaya, MD, a gynecologist with Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital in California, hopes to answer. Dubinskaya is the lead researcher on an ongoing study on vibrator use among menopausal women that will assess to what extent vibration can increase the health of a person's vagina and potentially improve their sex life.
To conduct the study, Dubinskaya recruited 100 people with vaginas, many of whom were menopausal or experiencing perimenopause (the stage leading up to menopause). She asked participants to use vibrators on areas like the clitoris for five minutes a day or until reaching an orgasm, three days a week. She also asked them to journal about how they felt during and after usage.
Participants completed a series of questions and underwent a pelvic exam before the study began and will do so again after the study is complete, which should be in January 2023.
So far, it appears vibrators can increase blood flow to vaginal tissues and facilitate lubrication—or "wetness"—which can enhance the quality of sex life, Dubinskaya said. She thinks regular vibrator use could be an easy way to make sex more comfortable with age. The hard part will be getting people to try it.
Several older participants in Dubinskaya's study said that they were first-time vibrator users, having been unaware or uncomfortable using a toy in the past. Some told her they orgasmed for the first time during the study.
Even if the study results bode well for the impact of vibrator use on overall sexual health, encouraging people over the age of 50 to use them may be difficult.
Wendasha Jenkins Hall, PhD, a sex educator who was not involved in the study, told Verywell that some women are ashamed to masturbate due to old-fashioned stereotypes about how women should act during sex.
"Not that long ago, our grandparents—especially our grandmothers—were taught that self-pleasure was something taboo, that only men did," Jenkins Hall said.
A 2017 study found that women struggle to talk about solo sex because of stigma or fear that doing so would make their partner feel inadequate in the bedroom.
"Even though we see sex everywhere, a lot of times, people are uncomfortable talking about sex as it relates to them," Jenkins Hall said.
There aren't a lot of studies on how vibrators impact health, but some literature suggests they could positively impact other parts of the body. Some studies have shown that vibrators can induce an orgasm—which releases serotonin and dopamine—and may help alleviate mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
Dubinskaya said she also wants to consider whether vibration can improve urinary and bowel function.
There are several ways to use a vibrator. While study participants use vibrators alone, some people may want to use their toy with a partner.
Jenkins Hall recommends a solo start for people who want to discover (or rediscover) their wants and needs in the bedroom. People in their 50s or 60s may find that their desires have changed over the years or that some of the sexual experiences that used to arouse them in their 20s are no longer appealing or physically possible.
"That doesn't mean that we still can't enjoy sex; we just have to make some adjustments," Jenkins Hall said.
For people who feel intense vaginal dryness or tightness, she recommends starting with an external vibrator on a low setting or even putting down the vibrator and masturbating with fingers.
It's important to remember you can change your approach over time.
"You don't age out of sex," Jenkins Hall said. "If you want it, and if it's something that brings value to your life, pursue it. Whether you're 50, 60, 70, 80, or 90—if you can still do it at that age—go for it. Your pleasure is not exclusive to youth."
If you're experiencing pain and/or vaginal dryness during sex, it could be because of your age. Regularly using tools like vibrators may help facilitate better sex and offer other mental and physical benefits along the way.
Kraus F. The practice of masturbation for women: the end of a taboo?. Sexologies. 2017;26(4):e35-e41. doi:10.1016/j.sexol.2017.09.009
Wise NJ, Frangos E, Komisaruk BR. Brain activity unique to orgasm in women: an fMRI analysis. J Sex Med. 2017;14(11):1380-1391. doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2017.08.014
By Claire WoltersClaire Wolters is a staff reporter covering health news for Verywell. She is most passionate about stories that cover real issues and spark change.