5 Reasons Why Vibration is Helpful if You Experience Painful Sex
By Emma McGowan
Have you heard the one about the Victorian doctor and the orgasm? According to legend, vibrators were invented in the 1800s by a doctor who was tired of bringing women to “hysterical paroxysm” (aka orgasm) with his hands. The belief was, supposedly, that the women were suffering from “hysteria” and that this was the cure. But, oh, the carpal tunnel syndrome! His wrists! Something had to be done!
It’s a fun story — a little sexy, a little silly — but apparently it’s not quite historic truth. According to academic Hallie Lieberman, the vibrator was invented by a doctor, but it was actually originally to soothe aches and pains in hard-laboring men. It was women, Lieberman says, who figured out that the same tool they used on their husbands’ shoulders could be used for… other purposes.
But that doesn’t mean we should throw away the health benefits with the myth. While vibrators today are usually considered to be sex “toys,” an increasing number of studies are finding that they do, in fact, have health benefits. And one of those major health benefits is helping to reduce pain during sex.
Pain during sex can have a huge range of causes. It might be a scraping feeling with penetration. It could feel like deep, muscular pain radiating from your pelvic floor. It could even mean a total inability for anything to penetrate your vagina. Really, there are probably as many types of pain during sex as there are different vulvas and, luckily, vibration can help give relief for many of them. Here’s how they might help.
1. It can elongate your vagina.
The vagina does all sorts of things when you’re turned on and one of the coolest is it actually lengthens. Yup, you read that right: Your vagina stretches out and gets longer when you’re horny.
This is relevant to painful sex because many people go from zero to full penetration without much warm up time. That means the vagina hasn’t lengthened enough to accommodate a penis or a toy, which can lead to more bumping up against sensitive pelvic structures, or sometimes, the cervix. If the cervix is already tender or inflamed– which is often the case if the muscles in your pelvic floor are too tight, or due to another health issue like endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, pelvic congestion syndrome, fibroids, or adenomyosis – repeated “bumps” can lead to cervical bleeding, cramping, and deep pelvic pain, called dyspareunia.
Ouch! No thanks. Luckily, vibration has been shown both in scientific studies and in anecdotal evidence (looking at you, Victorian ladies) to increase arousal, which increases vaginal elongation. So if you’re experiencing this kind of pain during sex, it might be worth it to add a little vibration to your partnered play.
2. It can increase natural lubrication.
Another super common cause of pain during sex is a lack of sufficient lubrication. While our society places a lot of weight on vaginas being super wet to indicate arousal (we mean, Cardi B wrote a whole song about it…), different vaginas experience different levels of lubrication. Some people flood basements, while others need some assistance in the form of a great lube.
And either is totally fine! But if you think that maybe sex is hurting because you’re not wet enough — and you know from experience or you suspect your body might be able to produce more lubrication on its own — a vibrator can help with that. That’s because, similar to the vaginal elongation we just talked about, vibration is associated with increased arousal and subsequent increased lubrication.
However, if you’re still feeling that scraping, stretching feeling with penetration even after a thorough session with your vibe, don’t be shy about getting some help. There are some amazing lubes out there, for every toy and every body.
3. It increases blood flow.
Here’s another thing that happens when you’re aroused: The walls of your vagina and vulva fill up with blood. (Not like, your actual vaginal canal like when you’re on your period. We’re talking about the interior muscles.) That improved blood flow leads to everything from increased lubrication to greater sensitivity to clitoral swelling to the creation of cushioning for penetrative sex.
According to a 2018 evidence review published in the journal Sexual and Relationship Therapy, this increase in blood flow due to genital vibration “may assist in decreasing muscle tone and increasing relaxation.” Basically, it does all the good stuff and most of the benefits from vibration on this list can be attributed at least in part to increased blood flow.
4. It might help with vulvodynia.
Vulvodynia is chronic pain around the vulva, which is the outside part of your genitals that a lot of people call the “lips.” According to that same 2018 review, people with vulvodynia can use gentle vulvar vibration therapy (VVT) to treat the muscular pain that’s associated with vulvodynia.
The research is still new (the study cited didn’t have a control group and only included 49 women) but after five months of VVT three times per week, 74% of the participants reported an increase in sexual enjoyment. It’s not a scientific definite, but it might be worth trying if you’re dealing with vulvodynia.
5. It might help with pelvic floor pain.
Many people clench their pelvic floor muscles, which can lead to vaginismus or genito-pelvic pain/penetration disorder. When that happens, people find that they can’t get anything inside their vagina without serious pain.
But, luckily, all of the great effects of genital vibration — that elongation, lubrication, and relaxation — also helps people relax their pelvic floor muscles. That relaxation quite literally creates space for sexual play, including penetration.
Now, we’re not trying to say that vibrators are the end-all, be-all, cure-all for pain during sex. As we said at the start of this, every body is different and painful sex could be caused by a bunch of different things. But if you see yourself and your pain in any of these sections, why not give a vibe a shot? And, of course, speak with your health care provider if you have ongoing unexplained pain. They should be able to help.
Something should be mentioned about women who have had radical hysterectomies. A cuff is usually not a fun place is the body and it is REALLY important that you are fully arroused and the penetration is slow. That is why I bought an onut. My husband is not crazy for it – but we are working on it. It is also important to stay hydrated with a natural moisturizer DAILY and lube up during sex or toy play. I find that a smallish vibrating vibrator helps too.
So many great talking points! I would like to add that seeing a pelvic floor occupational therapist or pelvic floor physical therapist can be an important, possibly even crucial, piece to the puzzle as well.
Interesting article. Thanks for the info.