California researchers are seeking women willing to use sex toys for science.
A group at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles has launched a study to see whether the current generation of vibrators — powerful, technologically advanced, even Bluetooth-enabled — can improve sexual health, pelvic floor function, and overall well-being.
"We have not had good-quality studies with the use of modern vibrators," Alexandra Dubinskaya, MD, an obstetrician who is leading the study, told Medscape Medical News.
Vibrators of various kinds have been used by women for centuries if not millennia. More than half of women in the United States have at least some experience with the devices.
Victorian-era physicians are said to have routinely prescribed multiple types of vibrators to treat "female hysteria," although the frequency with which vibrators were recommended for therapeutic purposes has been questioned.
Still, Dubinskaya said vibrators have a long history of use as therapy — with some evidence of success.
She and her colleagues reviewed the medical literature and found that studies generally supported the use of vibrators for increased blood flow in pelvic tissues, improved sexual function, including orgasms, and possibly urinary incontinence by helping to strengthen the pelvic floor. They also appear to boost desire, arousal, and genital sensation.
For the new study, Dubinskaya and her colleagues hope to eventually include 100 women between the ages of 18 and 99 years. Each will receive a commercially available genital vibrator and instructions to use the device to reach orgasm three times per week for 3 to 4 months. The researchers will track any changes in sexual function, pelvic prolapse, urinary continence, and other measures of pelvic and sexual health.
The goal of the study, Dubinskaya said, is to provide prospective data for clinicians who might consider recommending vibrators to their patients — a list that includes urologists, gynecologists, and experts in sexual medicine.
These clinicians "are frequently the first to encounter questions on women's sexual function, pelvic floor problems, and vulvar health," Dubinskaya said. She noted that such questions are common.
Asking women to consider using vibrators might seem too sensitive a subject in a clinical setting, but Dubinskaya said data indicate that women are receptive to the suggestion.
Debra Lynne Herbenick, PhD, director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion and a professor of public health at Indiana University, Indianapolis, who has studied vibrator use in the United States, said the research could make a valuable contribution to sexual health.
"This study is an important next step because it is a prospective study and will be able to assess changes in sexual and pelvic floor function over time in relation to vibrator use," Herbenick said. Owing to the limited quality of the currently available evidence, these data have the potential "to support clinicians' recommendations and also their communication with patients."
American Urological Association (AUA) 2022 Annual Meeting: Abstract MP38-16. Presented May 15, 2022.
Dubinskaya and Herbenick reported no relevant financial relationships.
Ted Bosworth is a medical writer in New York City.
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Cite this: Ted Bosworth. Sex Toys for Science - Medscape - May 16, 2022.