What Is a Vulva Pump?
Sex toys are not only fun novelties for you and your partner. They can also improve sexual satisfaction by priming your body to maximize pleasure.
Take the vulva pump, a device that has recently captured attention online, including from Cosmopolitan. It has even inspired salacious, NSFW Reddit content.
But what is the vulva pump actually for? What does it do to your body? What are sensible warnings for beginners? We talked to experts for answers.
A suction device for blood flow
When used correctly, the vulva pump is a suction device that covers the vulva and, upon pumping, increases blood flow to that area of the woman's body. Think of it like the better-known penis pump, which pumps blood to a man's genitals to create firmer erections and potentially increase size.
The vulva and penis both grow from the same biological matter when we're first developing in utero. They both contain corpus cavernosum, according to Chelsie Reed, Ph.D., L.P.C., a mental health counselor and author from Arizona.
"The corpus cavernosum are spongy tubes that fill with blood and increase sensitivity to the genitals," Reed said. "For men and women, increasing the blood flow by using a pump can increase sensitivity."
A vulva pump is scientifically designed to enhance sensitivity. Importantly, it is not the same as a clit pump, which is supposed to stimulate blood flow to the clitoris alone rather than the entire vulva region, which covers all the exterior parts of the genitals, including the labia and clitoris. Both the vulva pump and clitoris pump are designed for the same end: sexual fulfillment.
Speaking of fulfillment: The vulva pump is meant to be used when a woman is feeling sensual, either on her own or engaging in sexual play with a partner. Maybe you'd like to feel more sensitive during foreplay, or maybe the mere thought of using the tool adds a bit of excitement to the situation. Or maybe you want peak sensitivity during intercourse if, say, your vulva no longer has the ability to fill the corpus cavernosum on its own. In that case, the pump can be an effective at-home remedy to get the most stimulation possible, Reed said.
Whatever the case, the goal is to give more pleasure.
"When you are more sensitive, stimulation can feel even more pleasurable, and you can increase your chance of having an orgasm," said Isabelle Uren, a sex toy expert at Bedbible, based in Denmark.
Some vulva pumps also include extraneous features, such as a flicking tongue to stimulate your clitoris while you use the pump, which may provide additional help in achieving orgasm, Uren said.
Whether the vulva pump is something you'll enjoy really depends on you: what turns you on and how your body works. While the extra sensitivity can be beneficial for some people who struggle to reach orgasm or find they need very strong stimulation, Uren noted, others who already experience intense sensitivity in their vulva may find the pump overwhelming—and not in a good way.
The visual enticement of a fuller vulva
There's another layer to the perceived value of the vulva pump. It comes down to appearances.
"Vulva pumps are popular for enhancing the look of the vulva, particularly the labia. When aroused, the labia swell and become flushed, and pumping amplifies this effect," Uren said. "This flushed and pumped-up look can be attractive to a partner, as it signifies that the vulva is physically ready for sex, although PSA, that doesn't mean the person is; only consent can tell you that."
While it's hard to say if there's an uptick in desire for particularly "full" labia, it is easy to find internet visuals focused on them. The market is there: One vulva pump available on Amazon is branded as the "Size Matters Vaginal Pump Kit." Just as insecurity over a large enough penis pervades the male population, the labeling suggests that similar idealizing of a full-looking vulva may be underway.
But vulva size is by no means an across-the-board aesthetic concern, and the individual look of a vulva should not get in the way of great sex. Likewise, no one should feel pressured into using a toy on their own body.
"Please talk about your assumptions and thoughts before buying someone else a toy," Reed advised.
Warnings and safety
If you decide to buy a vulva pump, practice will make perfect, and cautious practice at that.
"It can take a little while to get used to the sensation and for your brain to register that it is pleasurable, although it should never be painful," Uren said.
"When used properly, pussy pumps are generally safe if you have no medical conditions and can be used alone or with a partner," she added.
Shopping around? Hand pumps are easier to control and reduce the chance of overly fast and painful or damaging inflation of the corpus cavernosum, Reed said.
Pause before your first use.
"Familiarize yourself with the pump mechanism and quick-release valve," Uren said. "Then test it out on your arm or leg to see how much suction you get with each pump."
When approaching the vulva, "get it into position and always go slowly; let your body adjust and then decide if you want more suction. Once you have reached a comfortable pressure, leave the pump on for a few minutes before removing it," Uren said.
Always use the release valve when you want to remove the pump. Do not try pulling the pump off while it is still suctioned to your body.
Once the pump is removed, expect more sensitivity. Experiment with sexual activities and techniques to find what fits best.
"If you are playing with a partner, be sure to communicate clearly about what feels good," Uren added.
A major warning from Uren: "If you have any preexisting medical conditions that affect your vulva or circulation, or you have any damaged or irritated skin in the area, check with your healthcare provider before using a vulva pump."
And remember: It's the person with the vulva who should be calling the shots.