Photo Illustration by Elena Scotti/Fusion

The Afterglow laser vibrator may sound like Star Wars for vaginas, but there's nothing fictional about it. In fact, it could become the first vibrator medically proven to improve sexual function.

The device's inventor, Ralph Zipper, a urogynecologist in Florida, gave Fusion an early look at the results of a small pilot study examining its potential in the bedroom. Zipper expects the study to be published later this year.

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In the study, researchers at Florida State University used the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI)—a standard test used in clinical trials to measure sexual function in women—to determine whether the vibrator could go beyond simply catalyzing orgasms and improve sex more generally.

It's still early, but for some of the 32 participants, it did. "Afterglow was found to improve every sexual parameter measured by the FSFI," said Zipper. That means these women saw improvements in sexual desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, and satisfaction with their partner, and also experienced a decrease in sex-related discomfort.

A happy accident

The Afterglow made a splash when it first hit the market a year ago—if you stick lasers on a vibrator, people pay attention. Modeled in the style of a "Rabbit vibrator," it runs about $200 on both its website and Amazon. But it isn't just another flashy gadget (pun intended).

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Zipper, who is a board certified female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgeon, originally developed the device to treat women with pelvic pain, using low-level laser therapy (LLLT). During clinical trials, however, participants reported sexual arousal, orgasms, and an improved sex life. Zipper then decided to retool it as a vibrator.

"Essentially, we had to figure out how to get a $30,000 laser into an adult toy," he said. After an additional year-and-a-half of research and development, the Afterglow became available to the masses.

How does it work?

Only about one-third of women reach orgasm through intercourse—and many women say they are more likely to orgasm on their own than with a partner. Zipper said that he regularly receives emails from women reporting positive results from the vibrator, both in the moment and beyond.

"Women who are now achieving orgasm on a more regular basis are going to be more interested in having intercourse," he said. "More interested and more satisfied."

Along with the vibration and stimulation offered by typical vibrators, the Afterglow emits low-level pulsating light, invisible to the naked eye, that increases blood flow to the genitals.

More specifically (brace yourself for some science), the pulsating light increases cellular production of a chemical called cGMP, or cyclic guanosine monophosphate. And the buildup of cGMP in the body relaxes smooth muscles and acts as a vasodilator, increasing blood flow, clitoral engorgement, and in turn, arousal. For comparison, Zipper explained that Viagra also works by targeting cGMP, but instead of building up the chemical, the little blue pill prevents the body from breaking it down.

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"When using the Afterglow, it's all about taking your time to go through the excitement phase," said Zipper. "By slowly increasing cGMP it gets you to that place."

Promising, but more research is needed

Still, while the Afterglow pilot study appears to have demonstrated that something real is happening in some women, Zipper admitted that larger, more conclusive studies need to be conducted.

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And real-world reviews of the Afterglow have been mixed. Sex toy reviewer Property of Potter gave the device three out of five stars when it hit the market. Refinery 29 also reviewed the toy and said it did lead to orgasm, but "nothing out of the ordinary."

If you're intrigued, though, and want to see how it works for yourself, you can purchase your very own vagina laser here. May the force of its pulsing lights be with you.

Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.