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Sexual Aids and Your Sexual Health

Should sexual healthcare providers prescribe vibrators, lubricants, or other sexual aids and sell them directly to patients?

This is one of the controversial issues sexual medicine experts discussed in a recent issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Vibrators and Sexual Health

Vibrators are a popular sexual aid, used by over half of American women and 45% of American men who participated in a 2009 study. Vibrators appeared to enhance their sexual experiences and side effects were rare. Other research has shown that vibrator use is popular among lesbian women and gay and bisexual men.

However, people do have concerns about vibrators. Some worry that their orgasms will change or that they might become dependent on the vibrator for sexual satisfaction. They may also be anxious about their partner’s reaction to including a vibrator in their sexual activity and whether that will negatively affect their relationship.

Sale of Sexual Aids to Patients: Opportunities and Obstacles

Stephanie Buehler, Director of The Buehler Institute in Newport Beach, CA opposes the sale of sexual aids, such as vibrators, lubricants, erotica, and instructional DVDs, to patients, calling the practice “undignified, exploitive, and potentially harmful to clients who entrust their health and well being to professionals.”

It’s possible that the sale of sexual aids and a healthcare provider’s interest in profit could blur the boundaries of the provider/patient relationship. If the product doesn’t meet expectations, a patient may be anxious about disappointing the provider.

Buehler also addresses patients’ feelings of embarrassment when purchasing sexual aids. While some patients may be more comfortable buying sexual aids from a healthcare provider, doing so may reinforce a patient’s idea that sex is shameful.

“On balance, it seems that empowering women to take charge of their sexual pleasure and comfort outweighs the need to send them out the office door with a hush-hush bag of supplies,” she writes.

Michael Krychman, Executive Director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine in Newport Beach, CA supports the sale of sexual aids in medical offices.

He notes that patients may be reluctant to buy sexual aids outside of their provider’s office. Sexual accessory stores are not always centrally located and have a “seedy” reputation. “Society frowns upon sexual expression,” Krychman writes. Patients may be afraid that someone they know will recognize them as they make their purchase.

Buying sexual aids online can be complicated as well. Patients cannot be assured of a web retailer’s reliability or a product’s quality. They may also worry about indiscreet packaging.

The obstacles to purchasing sexual aids could prevent patients from trying them, Krychman adds. On the other hand, selling products in a medical setting offers patients confidentiality and privacy. Providers can choose quality products and give instructions on proper use. Patients can use the products immediately.

In response to ethical concerns on profit and conflicts of interest, Krychman suggests requiring waivers that explain the availability of sexual aids outside the medical office, giving patients more choice.


The Journal of Sexual Medicine

Herbenick, Debra, PhD, MPH, et al.

“Prevalence and Characteristics of Vibrator Use by Women in the United States: Results from a Nationally Representative Study”

(Abstract. First published online: May 7, 2009)

Jannini, Emmanuele A., MD, et al.

“Ethical Aspects of Sexual Medicine. Internet, Vibrators, and Other Sex Aids: Toys or Therapeutic Instruments?”

(Full-text. First published online: December 3, 2012)