Vaginal dilators are medical tools that help to relax and stretch tight vaginal tissues, scar tissue, and pelvic floor muscles. Commonly recommended to treat dyspareunia, vaginismus, and pelvic floor conditions, dilators are also used as a recovery aid after pelvic surgery, transgender surgery, or brachytherapy for cervical cancer.
If you’re not sure which size dilator you need, or wondering what’s the difference between silicone dilators and plastic dilators, read on for more understanding.
What Are Vaginal Dilators?
Vaginal dilators are tube-shaped devices, that range in size from resembling a mini tampon to several inches long and 1-2 inches wide. Made from either m plastic or medical-grade silicone, they are designed to gently relieve vaginal tightness resulting from anxiety, injury, hormone fluctuations, pelvic surgery, or trauma.
Whether you’re seeking more ease when inserting a tampon, more assurance before your first sexual experience, returning to sex after menopause, or recovering from a pelvic injury, hysterectomy, or surgery for vaginal septum or imperforate hymen - vaginal dilators can help.
Are Silicone Dilators and Plastic Dilators Safe?
Silicone dilators and plastic dilators are considered safe, as long as they are made using medical-grade silicone or medical-grade plastic that is approved by the FDA. In the current vaginal dilator market, Intimate Rose silicone dilators are not only FDA registered they also comply with FDA guidelines more than any other dilator manufacturer in America.
Silicone Dilators vs Plastic Dilators: Which is Better?
Although plastic dilators were the first commercially produced versions, the more modern silicone dilators are considered far more comfortable and more effective.
Differing in several ways, the most obvious variance between silicone dilators and plastic dilators is the material from which they are made. While plastic dilators are commonly defined as hard, rigid, unbending, and sticky, silicone dilators are described as flexible but firm, smooth, soft, comfortable, and easy to use.
We’ve explained these differences in greater detail below.
Hard & Unbending vs Soft & Firm
When alleviating pain, especially within the sensitive realms of the vagina, the gentler force from the softer (yet still firm) silicone dilators provides the perfect amount of pressure to relax and stretch the vaginal tissues, pelvic floor muscles, or scar tissue. The hard and unbending plastic dilators, on the other hand, are far less sensitive to the fragile vaginal environment, particularly when pain is present.
Taking patient feedback and product reviews into account, the softer and more flexible silicone dilators result in little to no bruising or irritation when compared with plastic dilators. Silicone dilators are also less daunting and less painful than their plastic counterparts, which encourages users to be more consistent with dilator therapy and ultimately produce more effective results.
Rigid vs Life-Like
Due to the soft, smooth, and flexible nature of medical-grade silicone dilators, customers frequently mention that they feel more life-like inside the vagina than plastic dilators.
This more human-like sensation of silicone dilators compared with the rigidity of plastic dilators not only helps women to relax more while dilating but also prepares them for the ultimate goal of feeling comfortable and relaxed upon the insertion of a real penis.
Given that the ultimate goal of vaginal dilator therapy is to relieve discomfort during vaginal penetration and increase women’s confidence in comfortable and enjoyable sex, the more life-like a dilator feels inside the vagina the more realistic the results will be.
Sticky vs Smooth
For comfortable insertion, lubrication is a vital component of vaginal dilator therapy, however, lube tends to make plastic dilators feel sticky, which is not an ideal sensation against the extremely sensitive skin of the vagina, particularly after brachytherapy, vaginal surgery, or transgender surgery.
In comparison, when lubrication is applied to the soft surface of silicone dilators, the sensation upon insertion is far smoother and more comfortable.
That said, not all silicone dilators have the same outer layer finishing and some are clearly considered more comfortable than others. Soul Source silicone dilators are often defined as “a little rubbery” or “sticky silicone”, for example, whereas Intimate Rose silicone dilators are repeatedly described as “ultra smooth and velvety soft” due to their luxurious matte finish.
Hygiene & Cleaning
The grooves and indentations that are often present on the surface of plastic dilators can be difficult to clean and provide the perfect spots for harmful bacteria to thrive, which could result in a vaginal infection. In contrast, the outer coating of medical-grade silicone dilators is even, smooth, and very easily cleaned with warm water and non-fragranced soap.
Is it Better to Buy Dilators in Sets?
Yes, vaginal dilators are intentionally sold in sets of progressive sizes (length & diameter) to allow for a gradual relaxing and stretching of the vaginal canal over time. Pelvic health specialists generally advise all women using dilators, to begin with the smallest size in the set and progress to the next only when inserting and holding the first dilator in place for a predetermined time is no longer painful.
Once the first dilator feels comfortable in the vagina, patients move up to the next dilator in the set, and so forth until it feels comfortable and easy to insert the largest dilator, which is typically the size of an average penis.
For best results with vaginal dilators, it is always advisable to speak with a pelvic health specialist or gynecologist for clarification on which dilator is the best starting size for you. Depending on the diagnosis, some women may not need the smaller dilators, for example. In this case, smaller dilator sets or individual dilators are also available.
When it comes to relaxing vaginal tightness and relieving pain from such a sensitive part of the body, the smoother, softer, and more pliable silicone dilators appear to appeal to women in far greater numbers compared to the unyielding firmness of plastic dilators.
Additional factors to look out for when choosing the right dilator for you are FDA-approved medical-grade manufacturing materials and dilator sets in progressively increasing sizes to allow for gentle and gradual stretching of the vaginal tissues.
To learn more about the differences between silicone dilators and plastic dilators, read our in-depth comparison above.
Very Well Health – Vaginal Dilators: What You Need to Know - https://www.verywellhealth.com/vaginal-dilators-5220401
The Pelvic Hub – Silicone Dilators vs Plastic Dilators - https://www.thepelvichub.com/post/silicone-dilators-vs-plastic-dilators
Mayo Clinic – Dysapeurnia - https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/painful-intercourse/symptoms-causes/syc-20375967
Cleveland Clinic – Vaginismus - https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15723-vaginismus
Intimate Rose – Sexual Function After Pelvic Floor Surgery - https://www.intimaterose.com/blogs/pelvic-pain/sex-after-pelvic-floor-surgery
National Library of Medicine - Vaginal Dilator Therapy for Women Receiving Pelvic Radiotherapy - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6513398/
Obstetrics & Gynaecology - Creation and maintenance of neo-vagina with the use of vaginal dilators as first-line treatment- https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ajo.13487?af=R
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.