Vibrators and Other Pleasures: When Moderation Fails

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I Love Sex Toys tee-shirtCan you use sex toys or Internet erotica in moderation? The answer lies in your brain—not in any external advice, wisdom or dogma. It depends on the state of your reward circuitry, your brain's ancient appetite mechanism.

Sure, your brain may be particularly vulnerable to intense stimulation due to genetic make-up or past trauma. Yet it also matters what kind of stimulation you hammer your brain with. Consider this woman's experience:

Vibrator-use can absolutely desensitize a woman. I started using one in college, thinking I was a modern, sexually empowered woman, and couldn't believe how effectively it got the job done. It worked TOO well. Within a month, I could no longer orgasm with my boyfriend, and a few months after that, I couldn't even do it with my own hand any longer. The vibrator went in the trash and my responsiveness came back some weeks later. Even now, a decade later, I still sometimes miss the intense stimulation. However, I definitely do not miss having the sexual responsiveness of a rock.

I've stayed away from Internet porn for the same reason. It's too stimulating, and I know I would quickly get hooked. I tried masturbating to it once. I literally came in less than one minute (not at all like real life!) because the stimulation was so intense. Real-life sex will never be able to measure up to that. Perhaps I am the exception, but I know myself well. If I started regularly using Internet porn, I would end up as one of those people who can no longer get turned on without it. No thanks. I'll keep my sex-life organic.

Orgasm using natural methods (think fingers and imagination) is not likely to become a problem. It also stands to reason that your brain evolved to handle the odd binge. Nor is occasional indulgence in something superstimulating likely to decrease your sexual responsiveness.

On the other hand, too much supernormal stimulation can easily become a problem—at least in some of us. It can actually decrease brain sensitivity, and thus satisfaction. 

I had a girlfriend who said that there was a period in her life where she got really into using her vibrator. But she found herself completely unable to orgasm with partners because she had become so desensitized. She quit the vibrator, and I think she said it took her about 6 months to get back to normal.

Nearly half of the participants in a study earlier this year stated that they were concerned with becoming dependent on the vibrator's supernormal stimulation.

'Supernormal' refers to a stimulus that releases inordinate amounts of neurochemicals in the brain's reward circuitry. This occurs when our brain decides something is more enticing than anything our ancestors generally encountered. This extra neurochemical wallop deceives us into registering our abnormal stimulus as Extremely Valuable. That's when we can more easily become hooked. (For more, see Intoxicating Behaviors.)

To understand just how coercive superstimuli can be, consider this: When scientists constructed synthetic butterfly "mates" with exaggerated cues (i.e., the signals that males use to assess mate desirability),

A male silver washed fritillary butterfly was more sexually aroused by a butterfly-sized rotating cylinder with horizontal brown stripes than ... by a real, live female of its own kind.

It it's not only males who are fooled by exaggerated stimuli. Female birds preferred to sit on large, brightly spotted, fake eggs, and ignored their own. Supernormal Stimuli author Deirdre Barrett defines such stimuli as "imitations that appeal to primitive instincts and, oddly, exert a stronger attraction than real things."

Now, think about the synthetic thrills that light up our brains today: larger-than-life video games, glittering casinos, enticing junk food, drugs, sex toys that out perform any penis, cam2cam chat.

The Internet itself feels like hyperstimulation...surfing with many tabs open/multitasking, snagging interesting things from the net. It's like my brain always wants to be entertained by something now. Reading books is not good enough for me anymore.

These are enticements your ancestors couldn't indulge in with the ease you can. They can lead to bothersome brain alterations that are tough to reverse. For example, Internet addiction has been associated with reduction of gray matter in the brains of adolescents. Pathological gambling and overeating have been shown to alter brain function, too.

We can overstimulate our brains many ways, but food and sex are particularly alluring. Unlike drugs, both are already coded into our brain's reward circuitry as Necessary For Existence (top priorities). That is why many users can, and do, get hooked on superstimulating versions of food and sex even though they have no problems with other enticements. Seventy-nine percent of Americans are now overweight, and half obese. By some accounts, half of American ministers reported problems with their own porn use as early as 2001.

The point is that an intense "natural" pleasure can morph into a risky indulgence for you (or your loved one)even if it seemed quite innocuous at some earlier point in life, or still doesn't appear to cause trouble for your friends. This shift happens quite innocently in an environment saturated with enticement. Eskimos eat seal blubber all day long with a smile, but most American kids are crying if they don't get the thrill of an exciting MacDonald's Happy Meal.

Fifty-two percent of women are already using vibrators according to a 2009 study. Thirty-one percent of young women are using porn. One young man who fought a long battle to recover from porn use, and realized how profoundly his brain had changed, said:

1 out of 3 women my age are watching pornography. I remember I used to think it was so cool if a cute girl watches porn. But seriously, this is really, really bad—not good—for me and for people in general. I definitely don't want my future wife's brain to be desensitized by porn, so her life and my lovemaking skills seem boring and bland. Jeez this is awful. It's sad to see how bad technology has screwed with our brains thanks to Internet porn.

In the 2011 study mentioned above more women reported concerns that vibrator use was having a negative impact on the intimacy of their relationship than felt it enhanced their relationship. Do you and your partner already need to join three-somes to have satisfying sex (that is, you two plus your favorite toys and two computer screens with your favorite porn)? If ordinary sexual stimulation isn't doing it for you, your brain has probably adapted. So, the question is, do you want to get rid of the crowd and "reboot" yourself so you can enjoy sex with each other?

"Can't I just cut back?"

Sure. But suppose you find that you can't cut back without experiencing withdrawal symptoms? These might include: intense "need" for an orgasm (even if you just had one, the "chaser effect"), consistently feeling less responsive during sex, powerful attraction to novel partners, fantasizing about extreme stimulation, cravings for rougher or more painful sex, irritably snapping at others over nothing, or feeling uncharacteristically deprived, anxious, dissatisfied or unfairly treated ("needy").

These can sometimes be signs of an addiction process at work. Remember, a primitive part of the brain perceives substances and activities that release lots of stimulating dopamine in the brain as Extremely Valuable. It wires itself to be on the lookout for them. Whenever you get near one, your brain's reward circuitry jumps up and down like a crazed Jack Russell terrier. This is known as sensitization. When you activate a sensitized pathway, it releases a bigger blast of dopamine than usual, igniting demanding cravings.

However, there's growing evidence that sensitization actually gives rise to desensitization—and a numbed response to pleasure. The result can be a need to binge in search of satisfaction, and decreased sexual responsiveness. For example, older men who have stuck to "vanilla," still porn images don't seem to develop the erectile-dysfunction problems that other, often much younger, men who use more extreme porn do. For more on how superstimuli can hijack brains watch this video series.

Paradoxically, it can be easier to give up a superstimulus entirely than to try to use it in moderation. (At first, it's often very uncomfortable, however.) The reason a period of abstinence can succeed where moderation fails lies in that extra jolt of dopamine a sensitized brain releases in response to conditioned cues. In a brain that has changed and is not back to normal, moderation sets the sensitized pathway aquiver with reverberating cravings instead of satisfaction.

In short, "Everything in moderation" only works for some people, with regard to some stimuli, some of the time. Happily, if you avoid a stimulus to which you are sensitized for a lengthy period, the noisy brain pathways gradually weaken, and your appetite moves back toward normal sensitivity. Consistency pays. Mark Hyman, MD makes this point with regard to cravings for another superstimulus, sugar:

Eliminate sugar and artificial sweeteners and your cravings will go away: Go cold turkey. ... You have to stop for you brain to reset. Eliminate refined sugars, sodas, fruit juices, and artificial sweeteners from your diet. These are all drugs that will fuel cravings.

The same is true of sex toy and erotica use. It could be easier to go through the necessary withdrawal discomfort and reboot your brain than wrestle intense cravings repeatedly to maintain moderate use.

"When you want to climb out of a hole..."

If you think you may be overusing erotica or your vibrator, experiment with stopping completely for a month or two. Can you feel yourself move back toward normal sensitivity (or toward increased sensitivity)? Is an evening of flirting more satisfying than an evening with your vibrator? If you relapse early on, do you notice extreme cravings afterward? As you make your own experiments, it grows easier to steer for the results you want.

You could even notice unexpected benefits as your brain returns to balance. One woman reported that when she gave up her magic wand (after a trip to the emergency room with a damaged ovary, and a discreet tip from the attending physician), she was also able to stop smoking and improve her diet, both with relative ease.

It is hard for any of us to accept that a once-harmless pleasure has morphed into a risky indulgence. Yet whether or not the pleasure has changed (e.g., Internet porn in lieu of romance novels), our brains can, and often do, change. Arguing about whether a particular enticement is "bad" or "good," "moral" or "immoral," is beside the point. Its effects on you are what matter, and your mileage will vary depending upon the sensitivity of your brain, whether it has changed, how much your tastes have escalated, and so forth.

It pays to observe yourself carefully so you don't inadvertently numb your pleasure response with today's synthetic superstimuli. Here are some more first-hand insights from women and men:

Porn's not only a problem with men. I find, for myself, when I masturbate I lose all of my natural flowing juices... so when HE'S READY to have it, I'm NOT! He has to lather on the LUBE like crazy and I have to keep stopping to apply more lube and he gets frustrated with me. Even with all the lubricant on the outside, it becomes uncomfortable and even less enjoyable because I am having thoughts that I'd rather look at porn than be dry and having sex...I always knew that when his **** was half-hard or he was limp, that it was because of the porn. And he always knew when I'd been masturbating because I would be dry.

If you are someone who can get off to Internet porn in moderation, hey, great. More power to you. But if you are not—and you know if you are not—then you need to stop entirely. I tried the "once a week" promise; it never held. I had to stop totally.

After giving up porn for a time, I'm noticing that just watching the sexy girls (with clothes) is much more exiting than when I was deep into hardcore porn. I think that's a sign that my brain is rebooting—that it has regained normal sensitivity for visual stimuli.

To sum up, "When you want to climb out of a hole, first stop digging." Completely. Give your brain time to return to balance. Eventually, subtler pleasures will register as delicious once again. If your brain has changed a lot, this process may take months and be uncomfortable. But it's worth it.

Growing scientific evidence of a lingering post-orgasm cycle (studies)

Studies on the overlap between sex and drugs in the brain    


A woman wrote (in response to someone who said our article was trying to "make women frightened of their sexuality"):

What bothers me in all of the sex-positive talk is it wants to deny that too much vibration can have deleterious effects on the body. Why is that we can accept that injury to the hands can be caused by, oh I dunno, say a jack hammer, but we want to resoundingly deny it can happen to the clitoris? Have to say, hot damn vibration feels good, but it left me with an achy numbness which made it near impossible to enjoy softer touch over time—which meant I had to give it up entirely to get the sensation back.

Admissions like mine and articles like this aren't where the threat lies. It's in the hands of individuals who want to make us feel ashamed for exploring our sexual side, who censure information and who limit conversation. The more open we are about sex the better off we'll be.

I'm a woman and I'm pretty sure I've desensitized myself to men and the desire for actual sex by watching too much porn. I don't think it's simply a phenomena affecting men; more women are affected by this than they would probably like to admit as well, even though we obviously can't suffer from erectile dysfunction. I personally have a significant loss in libido for the real thing, and I attribute a lot of that to watching too much porn. Seeing a man's genitalia in real life hasn't become exciting because I see them all the time in porn. There's no stimulation simply from viewing the opposite sex naked. It's about the same to me now as watching the nightly news.

under an article about porn-induced sexual dysfunction:

I have this exact problem except I don't have a penis.

When I read this it made me realize this is what I have been suffering. I did not know Porn was my problem. I have been looking at porn, and addicted to it since I was very, very young. I am only 24 and my love life is a struggle at best. My husband understands somewhat but I have never really been able to tell him what it was from, as I didn't tell him about my addiction. Mine started normal, where my sensitivity to touch decreased exponentially, since I started looking at porn. Also as the paper said, the porn I viewed also increased in "harshness". I used to get turned on over nakedness and now at a stage where I am concerned about my mental sanity.

I have a hard time achieving any type of orgasm without clitoral stimulation and some hard thought processing on my part. I miss being able to have sex and it feel good without much effort.

I have not looked at porn for a long time, and have just started again, and the time away did not increase my libido but might explain why i had no libido. I used to have a very extreme libido and could barely control it, now I don't even like being touched.

I think in my case, giving up porn and visual aids would be difficult and a long journey. I have a feeling it might be years before my sensitivity would come back, if that. Here is for hoping! Thank you for writing this and bring this to not only my attention but many others!

I hope the authors understand that women, along with men, use porn to masturbate too. In secret I bet women are pretty close to the amount and severity that men use and maybe that's why many women need some type of stimulation to achieve anything. Vibrators are the devil and I will be getting rid of mine, that's for sure.

Contributed by a forum member:

I have a female friend whose orgasms have become so-so. She's been smoking herb for years and says she can't have a good orgasm unless shes smoked weed and unless she fantasizes about being used. She's also into extreme porn and doesn't want to give that up.

Seemingly no sex drive, but watch porn and mastubate frequently. Any way to change this? 19yo virgin and first post , so pretty new to it all.

I've been in positions to have sex (heh) since I was 16, but I chickened out at the 11th hour every time. The three relationships I've had were incredibly short lived (a few months, tops) because I bailed as soon as I was pressured for sex.

It was all pretty tame, but as soon as it moved from dry humping (which I was never completely into) to handjobs or beyond I freaked out and was immediately not attracted to the guy.

Meanwhile, I've been masturbating since I can remember (maybe once every day) and watching porn (about three times a week) for the last few years. Why can't I be turned on by a guy that is actually there and eager to please me?

Has anyone else had a similar experience where they enjoy porn and masturbating much more than sex?

Uh, hate to bring this offtopic, but where is the support forum this site required you to sign up for? All I see is offsite forums, not one is actually here

Signing up allows you to comment under post or articles. I suggest visiting the fastest growing porn recovery site on the web - 

They are very familiar with YBOP.

good luck, gary


My previous SO and I had a long distance relationship, and that's when I started getting into masturbating and porn. We sometimes wouldn't see each other for a couple months at a time, so I masturbated and watched porn almost everyday for 3 years. Within the first year of our relationship, I found that the sex we had was dull and I couldn't get off from just sex at all. So as soon as he was done, I'd sneak off to finish myself watching really extreme porn. The porn got more extreme as the years went on, and the sexual relationship I had with my SO became worse.

I have a new SO, we've been seeing each other for over a year. In the beginning of our relationship, he mentioned to me that when we had sex, seems like my mind was elsewhere and that I'm not connecting with him at all. Sometimes in the middle of sex, I'd end up thinking about something I've seen or read recently, instead of HIM. After I decided to take this challenge and read a little on r/kareeza.. things are so much better between us. I feel an empowering connection, and my mind doesn't drift at all. Sex feels better, being with my SO is better, and I can orgasm so much easier now with just sex alone. Plus, the orgasms are better than PVO.


Kim has commented on: "Porn-Induced Sexual Dysfunction Is a Growing Problem"

Subject: This doesn't just apply to men!

It's ridiculous to claim women don't understand the need for masturbation. Numerous recent studies show that a very high percentage of women masturbate, and frequently! Why would female sex toys exist if no one buys them?

As for this article, I am struggling with this particular issue as well, and I am a woman in a long-term relationship. I usually masturbate every few days, and I started using porn because it made it easier and faster to reach orgasm. However, each time it gets more and more difficult to climax, and over the years the porn I watch has become more extreme/unusual to get the same amount of excitement. I also cannot climax with my boyfriend. It's very true that porn desensitizes you, but once you can hardly orgasm without it, it's difficult to give up.


posted this:

I am only able to come when masturbating to kinky porn (mostly gangbang). My SO is definitely not into that, and I'm worried that regular sex will never turn me on enough to get me to come. Should I be concerned?? How can I wean myself off this?

I'm a 40-year old woman, and I do have a lot of history when it comes to masturbation. Reading this article, I'm glad that my experience with sex toys was a negative one. About three years ago, I did buy a vibrator (because the digital stimulation of my clitoris, pillow humping, etc. didn't really satisfy me anymore), but this plastic penis turned out too big for my vagina, and so it wouldn't enter - and I didn't really know how to use this vibrating device otherwise. After a little while, my bad conscience also caught me and I trashed it. Later, I heard about a smaller device, and I was tempted to get it, but fortunately I didn't! Anyway, I can only underline what was said in the article:

"We can overstimulate our brains many ways, but food and sex are particularly alluring."

Indeed, it usually has been one of the two addictions that I've been hooked up in the past. Whenever food wasn't my problem, it was certainly masturbation (sometimes even both) - including fantasizing of course, as well as inappropriate reading material that would turn me on (at times also soft porn). And I have definitely overstimulated myself in many ways. Unfortunately, I'm still single, and my last sexual encounter is many years ago. But I'm a Christian and I don't believe in premarital sex, so I can't do anything else but wait!

A young woman reports:

this is so relieving to read. i'm a 20 year old girl and i'm pretty this is my problem. I have yet to find any other females reporting having this problem though. Apparently they just don't look at porn, heh. i was mega confused when I hadn't been with anyone for a year and wasn't even able to get aroused for my new boyfriend who I knew I was attracted to as much as I could ever possibly be to anyone. I thought it was just self consciousness (even though I didn't actually have any anxiety) or just my hormones were whacked.

It wasn't adding up though, I'm like a shining beacon of health among my more sexually active peers. If anything my athleticism should be bumping up my testosterone and giving me an edge.

Today I realized I can barely get myself off WITH porn and my Os have not been the same the last few times. I'm surprised my boyfriend even managed to. anyways, i found out about this today. even though all the info I found is in regards to males there's many parallels. can't get off or aroused without P, not actually being aroused before M, watching more extreme P consisting of stuff that weren't actually in line with my real life fetishes, etc. even homosexual porn ceased to gross me out.

I am so ecstatic to find to root of my problem. rebooting should be fast and easy considering I was never really *addicted* (just bored) and i haven't been engaging in said desensitizing behaviors for even a year or as often as others. your results make me be hopeful. cheers! ^_^=

ExistenceTheorem7 days 21 points 2 hours agoOh, believe me, some women need no fap.

I used to watch more porn than most men I know. I'd get an urge, then spend anywhere from five minutes to an hour searching for the perfect video to get off to because I found myself bored of the same old stuff. I started off with soft stuff in my early teens and it turned into the most taboo things I could find. I had a folder in the GB range on my PC. I put files on my phone and mp3/video player for easy access when I couldn't be near a computer. I got a trial account on a porn site because I saw a gif that turned me on so much that I just had to know who the girl was.

The next part is a bit more graphic and details how all this altered(alters) my views on sex, so I'm gonna go ahead and NSFW it to be safe.This porn addiction has changed my life in so many ways. The idea of slowly making love seemed uninteresting to me. I only had PIV sex with one guy and it sucked because he has ED due to PMO and is trying to fix it. However, I've done other things with other guys. I always wanted to blow them and found that it turned me on more than getting it from them. In fact, I never wanted anyone to go down on me, not even a girl who offered after I went down on her. Guys couldn't finger me hard enough; everything had to be rougher for me. I wanted to be called a bitch and a whore. I asked to be slapped and most guys couldn't do it. Sex was basically everything but loving for me; all that was missing from my sex life was a camera and a paycheck. I considered myself bisexual, but could never see myself in a relationship with a woman. Basically all I wanted to do with women was eat them out and fuck them with a strap on. So not only was I objectifying myself, I was objectifying them as well. Sexual encounters with others felt okay, but never did much for me. I'd lie about how good it felt and I'd fake orgasms just for it to end. It felt wrong, dirty, and I just wanted to be left alone. With porn? I'd have the most intense orgasms and I'd do it anywhere from one to five times a day.

Nobody ever knew because I'm pretty damn tight down there and my PMO problems never showed in that aspect the way it does with some men and ED. However, the damage it has done to me psychologically with regard to sex, self-esteem, and relationships are pretty damn evident. Also, it made me want to flirt with men a lot less. "Why do I need to talk to that cute guy? He's never going to make me feel good sexually the way I can feel by myself." I'd be in a conversation with a guy online, and I'd just get up and walk away from the PC to masturbate. I'd be late to class or work because I just needed to get in that one quickie PMO session. I was pathetic and I wanted to change it. It wasn't until recently that I came to terms with all the ways that I've changed from this. I've been free of PMO for seven days and I'm all tingly down there, porn clips flash into my head sometimes and, to be candid, sometimes I feel like I just want to grab the first guy that walks by my house and just fuck his brains out.

So yeah, ladies definitely get affected by all of this.

Questions about NoFap from a Lady in a LDR

 by PetticoatMay

Hello NoFap, I've been lurking for a while now and have been debating whether I should start on a NoFap regimen. I read hentai quite a bit and masturbate almost every day. I understand that I need to quit: I've noticeably lost sensitivity in my clitoris from my vibrator, I find myself mentally objectifying my male friends, and I lose a lot of valuable time that I should be spending on work projects.

However, I'm afraid that if I do quit, I might have that confidence that so many Fapstronauts have experienced and/or might feel more physically attracted to my male friends. I have a partner in a long distance relationship, and I don't want to accidentally flirt or give signs that I'm interested when I'm not. To clarify, I'm very clear in my verbal behavior that I'm in a wonderful happy relationship and am not interested in anyone else, but I don't want to develop any non-verbal behavior that says otherwise.

I am a 26 year old female. I was in a pretty fruitless long term relationship where I was able to utilize porn to pick up the slack. After the relationship ended, I definitely increased my porn use to every day. I met my now fiance and we have sex pretty regularly. However, when I was out of work for a couple of months, I was masturbating several times a day. By the time he got home, I didnt ever feel like having sex or the sex just didnt feel that great.

I went back to work but still was masturbating and watching porn at least 2-3x a day. I realized he was rarely able to get me off with oral (he used to all the time!) and never could with his hands.

It has been four weeks of no masturbation, porn or vibrators and I feel like a changed woman!!! Our sex together has become so much more fruitful and connected. I dont have porn images running through my head. He's able to get me off so easily now with both oral and his hands and I feel like he is so much more fulfilled. I am craving him versus craving the porn. I still get urges but I am more able and willing to control myself.

Am i allowed to use a "pocket pussy" during masterbation