A Different Kind of Death-Grip Syndrome
Let's be clear from the outset: You can't overuse your vagina by way of pleasurable masturbation. However, if the pleasure doesn't extend to partnered sex, you may want to start looking for answers.
The most obvious factor, of course, could be the company you're keeping. But there could be a number of issues at play, including mental and emotional- or mental-grip syndrome.
Your vibrator isn't to blame...
"While it's indeed normal to experience decreased sensitivity right after using a vibrator, scientific studies—admittedly, those done on people's hands and facial lips—in which vibration was applied found that any dulling of sensitivity usually fades within an hour," Bee said. "The researchers conclude that this is also probably the case for genitals."
In fact, dating coach Erika Davian, based in Washington, D.C., said integrating your favorite vibrator into partnered sex can be a great opportunity to bridge the gap between fail-safe methods developed during masturbation and exploring with your sexual partner.
"No research indicates that the clitoris or other parts of the vulva can be damaged through masturbation that feels good, including with a high-powered vibrator," Davian explained. "The body can become conditioned to have preferences, and this can make it harder or easier to orgasm. If you always masturbate in the same way, then sex with a partner can be difficult if that particular kind of stimulation isn't included."
Either as an opportunity to show your partner your preferences or to engage in mutual masturbation, introducing your favorite vibrator operates almost like a sexual control group. If you're unable to reach orgasm using the toy with your partner but are able to climax alone, perhaps your lack of orgasm is indicative of a deeper problem.
… but it does have drawbacks
Speaking up to ensure your masturbation techniques are included in partnered sex is a trade-off. The trusted and true method works, but as Bee explained, it might be a vehicle to get where you're going faster than you might need.
"Vibrators are great shortcuts on the pleasure highway," Bee said. "Since we live in a 'productivity culture,' where things that take time and effort are less valued than things that are fast and easy, it's no wonder that our brains love vibrators, because vibrators mean the brain has to do less work arousing you and still gets the reward payoff in an incredibly efficient time. But sex is not a task. Pleasure is not a job to be done."
Sexual comfort zones are just fine and can work to your benefit as long as they're not used as a crutch to treat the immediate issue rather than the cause. For example, continued use of the same masturbation (and sex) techniques that you know get you off can mask a lack of sensation in the vulva and clitoris.
"There are so many things that can cause someone to feel little sensation in their clitoris with a partner," Davian said. "Stress, clitoral adhesions, depression, hormonal changes, lack of blood flow, medication or underlying health conditions can all have an effect on the sensitivity of the clitoris."
Your mind might have a grip on you
If no other aspects of your health have changed and you don't feel concerned by other potential symptoms, Davian suggested the underlying obstacles between you and orgasm with your partner may be more complex.
"One reason you might feel less sensation or find it more difficult to orgasm with a partner is that you're distracted," she explained. "With a partner, there can be all sorts of thoughts that distract us and make it more difficult to tune in to sensations. We might feel self-conscious, be focusing more on their pleasure or be worrying about whether or not we'll have an orgasm—whatever it is, being distracted turns the volume down on our sensory experience."
Consider whether or not the lack of orgasm is situational. Have you climaxed with this partner before? What was happening in the hours or days before this specific sexual session? You may still be plagued by upsetting events that occurred with this partner or alone, even if they happened last week or last month. It can be easy to internalize a lack of arousal as an individual issue when the real matter is the relationship, Bee said.
"If you're orgasming just fine on your own and not with a partner, it has nothing to do with your vulva or your clitoral sensitivity, and has everything to do with needing to communicate better with your partner," she explained.
We might consider this an emotional- or mental-grip syndrome, rather than a female equivalent to men's death-grip syndrome, which is a physical manifestation. Rather than needing extreme physical measures, you've just become reliant on a specific mindset or set of circumstances for maximum pleasure. Emotional-grip syndrome doesn't necessarily mean you're not attracted to your partner or the relationship is doomed. Perhaps unresolved issues and avoided arguments are preventing you from fully relaxing into your time together. For this situation, Bee provided advice that can be applied to sexual as well as larger emotional contexts.
How to overcome the female version of a death-grip
"Like every other habit that you try to change, it takes time, awareness and sustained perseverance," she said. "You also need to be willing to push through some mental resistance, because your brain is going to try to convince you very hard that it's not worth doing."
Just as you may wish to retrain your body's ability to orgasm in more varied situations, you may want to assess your communicative habits with this partner. Cold shoulders and a lack of verbalization can catch up to you in very somatic ways.
The first step to take, if you haven't already, is alerting your partner to the situation. If you've been faking orgasms up until now, it's definitely time to stop and take action.