Alexandra Fine, Credentialed Sexologist, M. Psych | Written by Dame
We’ll get to vibrators in a minute, but first, a few words about cars.
Imagine that you finally have the money to buy your dream car.
Are you going to head to the dealership closest to your house, whether it sells Kias, Fords or Jaguars, and grab the first car you see on the lot?
Of course not. You’ll first figure out exactly what type of car you need.
You’re not going to buy a minivan if you’re young, single and dating (or hooking up) a few times a week. And you’re not going to buy a Corvette if you need to haul three kids to school, playdates and soccer practices every day.
No, we’re not equating cars with vibrators. They’re obviously very different; the car costs a lot more, but you’ll probably have more fun with the vibrator. But there’s one important similarity.
Not all cars are the same. Vibrators aren’t all the same, either. If you buy the wrong car, it may not be able to meet your needs. And if you just grab the first vibrator you see after a quick Amazon search, you might find that it can’t get your motor purring the way you’d hoped.
Buying a sex toy doesn’t require as much research as buying a car, of course.
However, it does require understanding the different types of vibrators you can choose from – and the types of sexual pleasure each can provide. If you choose the wrong one, you might mistakenly think that you’ve ended up with a lemon, when you really just chose the wrong type of vibrator.
We can help with that.
The Five Types of Vibrators
There are five basic categories of vibrators. A few models don’t fit neatly into those categories, though, so we’ll take a look at them after exploring the big five.
Studies show that more than half of the vulva owners in America use vibrators (it’s more like three-quarters of them when they play together), and industry insiders will tell you that the most popular types aren’t the “vibrating dildos” made to fit into the vagina. They’re vibes designed to stimulate the external genitals – and they come in many different forms.
Why are external vibrators, often called clitoral vibrators or clitoral stimulators, so popular? The answer can be found in surveys which repeatedly show that fewer than 20% of respondents can reach orgasm with just vaginal stimulation. About two-third, on the other hand, say either that they need clitoral stimulation or have better climaxes when it’s combined with penetrative sex.
The beauty of these vibrators (other than their effectiveness, of course), is that there are so many choices – with each best suited for a different type of external stimulation.
Magic Wand Vibrators
Much of the world learned about wand vibrators by watching Samantha trying to return her “back massager” on Sex and the City. (Fun fact: the Hitachi Magic Wand really was first marketed as a back massager back in 1968.) It may look intimidating at first, but it’s not long before vulva-havers (and their partners) fall deeply in love with the magic wand.
This vibrator often has to be plugged in since it’s extremely powerful and requires a lot of juice. (We’re talking about the type you get from the wall, although lube always helps). Despite its large handle and nearly-as-large vibrating ball at the top, the wand is ideally suited for stimulating the glans clitoris – the only part of the clitoris which is external and accessible.
Magic wand massagers are versatile because you can tilt the head in many different directions to contact specific parts of the glans, the labia, the clitoral hood and the mons pubis. They’re one of the best vibrators for partner play. And as is the case with most vibes we discuss throughout this article, they’re also great for stimulating just about any other erogenous zone on vulva and penis owners. If you’re in a throwback mood, they can even be used to massage your back.
For targeted stimulation of the glans clitoris, it’s hard to beat the time-honored bullet vibrator. It’s small and easy to manipulate, it’s travel-friendly, it’s ideal for targeting specific areas of the genitals, it plays well with other types of toys, and its size allows it to easily fit between two partners to be used for clitoral stimulation during penetrative sex.
You won’t always find lots of options on bullet vibes, many of which are made to be simple toys without multiple speed or vibration settings. There are always exceptions to the rule, though, and these days you can purchase bullets with different vibration patterns and even remote controls. And some aren’t really shaped like bullets, either; you can find a few that can double as jewelry.
These vibes are ideal for use on any sensitive area of the body, since they’re small enough to move around easily. The only activity for which they’re not really optimal: vaginal or anal insertion, since they can easily get lost inside.
We probably don’t have to tell you how where to wear a finger vibe. They’re quite popular with those who travel a lot, those who want a toy that’s extremely discreet to use – and those who get tired of using their fingers, since these vibrators are able to “do the job” a lot more quickly during solo sessions.
They’re not just useful for a quickie before bed, though. Finger vibrators are great toys to use either during foreplay or sex play, as they can get blood flowing to the glans and labia (or the testicles, frenulum and shaft of the penis) without being so strong that they distract attention or disrupt the mood. Most finger vibes (like the Frisky from Babeland) are pointed or penis-shaped, but newer generations like the Dame Fin are oval-shaped and able to provide a greater range of sensations.
“Oral Sex” Vibrators
Most well-made external vibrators replicate the experience of digital stimulation of the glans, lips and hood quite well. The sensations of receiving oral sex in those areas can be quite different, though. Vibrators designed to resemble the feelings experienced during cunnilingus most often use suction instead of vibrations, although a few combine the two actions.
Those aren’t the only choices, though. For example, you can buy a machine with “tongues” attached to a wheel, which makes it feel as if the glans is being licked. Or you can choose a tiny vibrator meant to attach to a partner’s tongue, which supercharges the sensations during “human” oral sex.
These vibrators are designed primarily to fit into the vagina (not the anus – we’ll explain why shortly), so you won’t be surprised that almost all of them are built in the approximate shape of a penis. They’re not all the same by any means, though.
Here are the “vibrating dildos” we mentioned earlier. They come in different lengths, different shaft widths, slightly different shapes, and they’re certainly available in a wide selection of materials and appearances.
The important thing to remember about penetrative vibrators is that they don’t have to be used simply to simulate intercourse. It can be arousing and enjoyable to use the tip of the toy to explore the vaginal opening, or to try different depths and angles to discover new sensations usually not felt during “simple” vaginal penetration.
Penetrative vibrators are commonly used in partner play, since they don’t require a delicate touch and in-depth familiarity with the partner’s body to do their job well. And we wouldn’t be doing justice to these long-time standards without mentioning that their strong vibrations make them a good choice to use on other erogenous zones that can handle the shaking.
For those who are sure it’s there, or those who want to search for it, there are vibrators specifically designed to hit the sweet spot on the vaginal wall where the clitoral network can be stimulated from inside the vagina. (That’s why G-spot stimulation and orgasm is so intense that it can sometimes cause ejaculation.)
A penis-shaped internal vibrator is unlikely to hit the G-spot; that’s why these vibrators are flexible with a slight curve to their shafts. This vibe certainly feels good when used simply for vaginal penetration, but that’s ignoring the earth-shaking possibilities of G-spot vibrators.
Egg vibes (shaped like a you-know-what) could also have been listed in the external vibrators category, since it’s a multi-purpose toy that can be used in several different ways. One of the distinctive features of most egg vibrators is a remote control; that’s what can make them tremendous fun as well as arousing and satisfying.
The egg is small enough to be used to stimulate the glans clitoris, other areas of the vulva or any other part of the body. But it can also fit into the vagina, presenting all sorts of tantalizing possibilities to spice up your sex life when you go out with a partner for the evening. Just one example: one partner inserts the vibe ahead of time, and the other partner uses the remote control to initiate discreet but hot sex play in public.
Remember those studies that showed how many vulva owners needed or wanted external genital stimulation while having penetrative sex? That’s exactly why combination vibes were invented.
By far the most popular combination vibrator – and in fact, one of the most popular vibe of any type – is the rabbit. It’s really two vibrators in one; most models feature a shaft that’s made for vaginal penetration, and attached “rabbit ears” which effectively stimulate the glans clitoris at the same time.
With the huge popularity of the rabbit vibrator (again, helped out by an episode of “Sex and the City”), many variations on the rabbit are now on the market. Some are shaped for G-spot penetration, and others have a more versatile, flexible “arm” rather than rabbit ears. A few can even do double duty, able to stimulate the vagina and clitoris, or the anus and the perineum.
We don’t really know if people call these models “triple play,” but it’s as good a name as any for vibrators which are built to hit three erogenous zones at once. Vibes for those with vulvas can stimulate the clitoris, vagina and anus at the same time; those with penises can use these amazing toys to excite the anus, perineum and scrotum simultaneously.
A common misconception is that anal sex toys are designed for those with prostate glands, generally those assigned male at birth and cisgender men. In truth, anal vibes are for everyone.
Let’s talk about the prostate first. Since it’s located inside the rectum, there’s only one way to effectively stimulate it: coming in from behind. (Perineum massage hits the prostate as well, but usually doesn’t create the shuddering orgasms possible from a direct internal hit on the “P-spot.”)
Vibrators made for prostate stimulation look something like G-spot vibes, sometimes with a few well-placed “bumps” on them. But like almost all anal vibrators, they’re slimmer than those meant for vaginal penetration because the anus isn’t as wide, and because even with a good deal of lube, the anus doesn’t open up as quickly for sex play.
There are anal vibrators meant for those without a prostate, too. They’ll also be slim, and they’ll have another feature that’s important for any sex toy that’s inserted into the anus: a wide base to allow the vibe to easily be pulled back out. For those who’d prefer to start more slowly, there are other types of vibes for anal play, including vibrating butt plugs and vibrating anal beads.
Vibrators for Penis Owners
Prostate stimulators, anal toys and some triple-play models fit into this category, but there are other options. They include vibrating cock rings, Fleshlights and similar toys which are extremely popular masturbation aids, vibrating “blankets” that can be wrapped around the penis, bullet-style vibes which stimulate the head of the penis, and even some intricate machines which simulate the sensations of oral sex quite well.
Even More Vibrators!
We could have added several extra categories, but we stuck with the standard five. Here’s a sample list of vibes that didn’t easily fit into any of the categories; some are great for partner play, others are simply “different.”
- Wearable vibrators: There’s a pretty big selection of these cool toys. In addition to the egg vibes we’ve already mentioned, there are hands-off clitoral G-spot, rabbit and triple-play vibrators, as well as anal beads and prostate massagers. One of the coolest uses for these vibes: most respond either to remote controls or apps on phones and tablets. That allows you to engage in self-gratification in public, or sex play with a partner who may be across from you on a dance floor – or halfway around the world.
- Vibrating panties: These are similar, of course, but there are many styles on the market. Some have a tiny, discreet motor for general stimulation, while others have full-fledged sex toys built right into them.
- Couples’ vibrators: One of the most popular is the We-Vibe, which fits between two partners and is designed to be adjustable, so it can hit just about any erogenous zone from the G-spot and glans clitoris to the shaft of the penis. Another is Dame Products’ Eva II, a hands-free vibe which not only stimulates the glans and labia during penetrative sex, but also provides sensual vibrations for a partner. There are also models that can act as a clitoral stimulator and penis ring simultaneously, double-headed vibrators which can be used by two people – and that’s only scratching the surface.
Vibrator Materials and Features
Function isn’t the only way to categorize vibrators. Some people group them by the materials they’re made from, and the features they offer.
Once you get past the question of where to use them, two qualities of a vibrator really matter. One is comfort, and one is ease of cleaning. Both are a function of the material used to create the outer skin of the vibe.
Before we go further, a cautionary note. Some lower-end sex toys contain materials that are known hormone disruptors, like phthalates and BPAs. Be sure to check the materials list before buying a vibrator.
Many people prefer a soft and flexible vibrator, for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, many of the softest and most flexible materials are porous, meaning that even when they’re thoroughly cleaned, bacteria and dirt can remain trapped in their pores – increasing the risk of genital infections and even STD transmission. If you do use toys made from porous materials, it’s best to use them with a condom. Anti-bacterial sex toy spray may help, but be sure to scrub the vibrators as diligently as possible after spraying.
Which are the porous materials to watch out for? The most common are PVC, jelly rubber, cyberskin and TPE.
Better choices are non-porous materials, and medical-grade silicone is by far the best, at least in terms of its flexibility and feel against the body. Other safe, non-porous materials include stainless steel and glass, which can each be boiled for complete disinfecting.
While we’re on the subject of cleaning, soap and water will almost always be sufficient. Just be sure to avoid antibacterial soaps containing Triclosan (another hormone disruptor) and scented soaps which may cause genital irritations or infections.
The remote controls and apps we’ve already discussed are high-end bells and whistles. The more mundane but important features to look for include the number of speeds a vibrator can offer, and the vibrating functions it may provide.
More speeds mean more control over your enjoyment, of course. Vibrating functions can include selectable vibration patterns, a rotation through several different patterns, and other movements like pulsing or throbbing (in-and-out motions). Vibes that pleasure several different areas simultaneously work best if they have more than one independent motor.
The majority of today’s vibrators are rechargeable models, although some less-expensive models use disposable batteries. Powerful vibes like the magic wand may have to plug into the wall; be sure to check before buying, since that might be inconvenient or off-putting during an otherwise-sexy encounter.
Finally, if you enjoy a nice, relaxing bubble bath with your sex toys, make sure your vibrator is waterproof. Even if you’re adventurous enough to play around with toys that can shock you during sex, you certainly don’t want the experience to be unexpected.