de·​sen·​si·​tize (ˌ)dē-ˈsen(t)-sə-ˌtīz How to pronounce desensitize (audio)
desensitized; desensitizing; desensitizes

transitive verb

: to make (a sensitized or hypersensitive individual) insensitive or nonreactive to a sensitizing agent
: to make emotionally insensitive or callous
specifically : to extinguish an emotional response (as of fear, anxiety, or guilt) to stimuli that formerly induced it
desensitizer noun

Did you know?

Physical desensitizing is something that biologists have long been aware of. Basic training in the armed forces tries to desensitize new recruits to pain. We can desensitize ourselves to the summer heat by turning off the air conditioning, or become desensitized to the cold by walking barefoot in the snow. But desensitize is more often used when talking about negative emotions. Parents worry that their children will be desensitized to violence by playing video games. Soldiers may become desensitized to death on the battlefield. Desensitizing may be natural and desirable under some circumstances, but maybe not so good in others.

Examples of desensitize in a Sentence

The shot will help to desensitize the nerve.
Recent Examples on the Web The intent is to suck the air out of the defense’s attacks and desensitize the jury to Mr. Cohen’s baggage, turning him into an object of amusement. William K. Rashbaum, New York Times, 12 May 2024 The community seems wary about the country’s civil conflict, but also roundly desensitized by decades of sporadic, bloody attacks. J. Kim Murphy, Variety, 28 Mar. 2024 Leprosy primarily affects the skin and peripheral nervous system, causing physical deformity and desensitizing one’s ability to feel pain on affected skin. Robert A. Schwartz, Discover Magazine, 18 Mar. 2024 Normalizing the use of AI imagery in official videos could have the unintended effect of desensitizing viewers, leading them to expect official political videos to use AI imagery. Ashley Belanger, Ars Technica, 25 Apr. 2023 Another mother, Gail from Texas, described being desensitized to the men’s messages. Michael H. Keller, New York Times, 23 Feb. 2024 Consuming this honey can possibly desensitize you from those allergens. Judy Bart Kancigor, Orange County Register, 18 Jan. 2024 Anandamide plays a number of roles throughout the body, including sensory and pain modulation, and increased levels are expected to desensitize overactive sensory neurons in the upper airways of chronic cough patients, limiting the urge to cough. Miami Herald, 25 Jan. 2024 The idea behind it is to desensitize the body and decrease the severity of an allergic reaction to an allergen (for example, reducing the risk of life-threatening anaphylaxis). Amy Isler, Rn, Msn, Csn, Verywell Health, 5 Dec. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'desensitize.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1898, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of desensitize was in 1898

Dictionary Entries Near desensitize

Cite this Entry

“Desensitize.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 May. 2024.

Medical Definition


transitive verb
variants also British desensitise
desensitized also British desensitised; desensitizing also British desensitising
: to make less sensitive : reduce sensitivity in
desensitize a nerve with a local anesthetic
: as
: to make (a sensitized or hypersensitive individual) insensitive or nonreactive to a sensitizing agent
: to extinguish an emotional response (as of fear, anxiety, or guilt) to stimuli which formerly induced it : make emotionally insensitive
evidence that violence on television desensitizes children to actual violenceStephanie Harrington
: to decrease a response (as of a cell receptor) progressively following prolonged exposure to a stimulus
formation of cAMP was reduced significantly in desensitized cells and remained low in the continuous presence of agonistS. M. Nilius et al.
desensitization noun
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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