Do Sex Toys Make You Less Sensitive to Human Touch?
I should preface this story by saying that I am a big advocate for self-pleasure products. Having gone from never picking up a vibrator before the age of 24, I was a little late to the game. But once I did, there was no turning back.
To me, self-pleasure products represent a conversation that women have been needing to have for a long time. With the emergence of so many incredible sexual wellness companies, have come conversations around female pleasure that have literally never been discussed in public before.
We’re finally talking about the life-changing impacts of lube, what consent truly looks and feels like, the actual anatomy of the clitoris and the different ways we can explore pleasure — whether that’s solo, or with a partner.
I think it’d be safe to say that I’m pretty protective over the sexual confidence that pleasure products have provided me with. I’ve never felt so able to ask for what I want in moments of intimacy than I do now, having extensively explored my body through products that have made me feel free to do so.
Which is why, when a lover told me that I “should probably stop using that” — referring to my clitoral suction vibrator — I did not react well.
“Why do you say that?” I asked him sharply, genuinely shocked at such a ludicrous suggestion.
“It’ll make you less sensitive to human touch,” he replied, very matter-of-factly.
I was thrust right back into that Sex and the City episode where Miranda introduces Charlotte to the “Rabbit”, an orgasmic vibrator that causes her to cancel plans and spend time self-pleasuring at home instead. But at first, Charlotte is skeptical, because she’s worried it will desensitise her to human touch. Of course it doesn’t, but this narrative goes to show that negative messaging around solo female pleasure has been rife for decades.
“It’s just totally untrue,” Christine Rafe, sex and relationship expert for We-Vibe, tells POPSUGAR Australia. “While sure, if you hold an external vibrator on its highest setting, on just one spot of the clitoris for 15 minutes, it might start to feel a bit different… there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that it will desensitise you from other forms of touch.”
Plus, it just doesn’t make any sense. We use our hands — which are full of nerve endings — every day, touching things constantly, and they don’t become unable to recognise specific objects. “So, why would our vaginas?,” Rafe asks.
Plus, the feeling of vibrations is completely different from that of human touch. So much so, that they’re impossible to compare.
“While vibration can be more orgasmic, especially when we’re talking about the clitoris, it doesn’t replace penetrative sex,” she says.
“I always like to think about what our motivations are. Whether you’re masturbating or having sex with someone you love or are super horny for — why are you there? What is your motivation? For many of my clients, an orgasm is far more likely to be the goal in mind when engaging in self-pleasure, while it’s not often the goal when engaging in partnered sex.”
“You want to feel close to someone, intimate. You might feel horny, turned-on, as though you’d like to orgasm at some point… but it’s unlikely that you’d go into partnered sex simply thinking about the final destination. If we were all in sex just to cum, it’s pretty likely that we’d get bored of it quickly. We’d probably just masturbate, right?”
She has a point. I don’t think I’ve ever gone into having sex with someone purely because I want to orgasm. There are so many things that lead me into a sexual mood and experience with someone else, so many elements of the exchange that are valuable to me — I don’t need to cum, every time.
But this makes me think about whether it’s the same for men. As women, I think that we’re lucky in many ways, as conversations around female pleasure are so new, that we’re kind of starting from scratch; the world is our oyster. Men, however, have this narrative around the importance of ejaculation and so much pressure put on their manhood, that it must be stifling and difficult to look beyond that patriarchal narrative.
“Sex has always been taught in a very penis-centric way,” Rafe says, “ejaculation has always been the goal and men have more often been at the forefront of that. Especially as women, we’re taught that sex is about the man, and it’s only now that we’re really trying to debunk that, that we’re starting to learn about how we experience pleasure and that it’s not always about cumming.”
Even still, we feel pressure to make that happen. Hands up if you’ve ever faked an orgasm? I know I have.
“Faking it” comes from this pressure to assure your partner — mostly in hetero relationships — that they’ve done it! They’ve made you cum! And while this might seem like an outdated conversation, 2022 research published in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, found that participants who assumed their male partner’s manhood were “fragile” were less likely to provide honest sexual communication due to “anxiety”. In simple terms, they faked orgasms to save their male partners from feeling inadequate.
As much as I hate to admit how relatable that is, I have to submit. I’ve faked many an orgasm, to either save my partner the embarrassment of not making me cum, but also often to bring the sexual encounter to an end — especially if they’re trying to make you orgasm but not listening to what you want and need, so it’s just not happening.
But why do I do this? I don’t need to orgasm every time I have sex. Plus, there are ways to achieve orgasm outside penetrative sex, like bringing a sex toy into the bed, or touching yourself during sex. But again, these are often uncomfortable things to introduce into sex, because many men will take it as a sign that they’re not enough. So, how do we open their minds?
“It’s so important to talk about this stuff with the person you’re having sex with, but sometimes it can help to make it more personal, about your own personal pleasure journey,” suggests Rafe.
“You could say something like, “I love penetrative sex, but I’d love to explore some external stimulation too”, which could be using a sex toy, or asking them to use their fingers too. Frame it as “trying something different” or being keen to explore new types of pleasure and touch with them, so that they feel included and not as though you’re looking to replace them with something.”
At the end of the day, our brain is our biggest sex organ, and we all like different things. If you know that your partner is into you playing with yourself, or open to exploring different ways of experiencing pleasure with you, you’re only going to be more into them.
I see sex toys as a gateway into understanding our bodies more, into learning about what you like and what your body responds well to. I want any sexual partner I have to see that as beneficial to them, I know what I like, which means that they get to experience me in moments of true pleasure, which is surely the ultimate compliment when it comes to getting truly intimate and vulnerable. Rather than them seeing it as a bad reflection on them, they should see it as a strength — that will ultimately result in better, more pleasurable sex.
“I hear it so much in my work,” says Rafe. “Couples that don’t allow sex toys during sex because they feel as though it takes away from the ‘us’ moment when really, it should add to it!”
“Pleasure products are all about understanding ourselves better, and therefore, being able to communicate that during sex to create an experience that is super pleasurable for everyone involved.”
Designed for women, mostly, sex toys are an empowering way for us to unlock parts of ourselves that perhaps we feel more comfortable doing on our own, or that bring a new sensation that is different from human touch. We should absolutely not be made to feel guilty about solo exploration, ever.
Understanding our bodies better makes us more sexual beings, more pleasure-driven and desire-motivated, which is a huge plus for anyone that wants to get us naked. Maybe they could learn a thing or two, as well.
So, don’t be afraid to get your sex toys out during sex. Or to have a conversation with the person you’re f*cking about self-pleasure, and things that you’re learning about your body during that process. It should turn them on, or at least, motivate them to get involved.
But if not, that’s okay too. We’ve knocked down heaps of barriers and stigmas around hetero sex that have been built up over time and are honestly, not very female pleasure-focused. If your partner feels uncomfortable about your sex toys, try to involve them as best you can. Ask them if they’d like to watch you, or even use a vibrator that can stimulate them as well as you, during sex — so that they can feel the magic of pleasure products too.
But whatever you do, don’t listen to anyone who tells you that pleasuring yourself will desensitise you from IRL sex. We’ve worked too hard to go back to outdated patriarchal ideals that don’t serve female pleasure. Thank you very much.