Sex toys are an amazing addition to your sex life, whether you’re single, dating, happily partnered or anything in between. But there are literally thousands of options out there on the market, and choosing can be daunting, to say the least. Never fear – this guide will take all the mystery out of choosing a sex toy, whether you want to get one for yourself, as a present for your partner, or for the two of you to use together.
First, educate yourself when choosing a sex toy
The sex toy industry is essentially completely unregulated. Just because an item is sold as a sex toy in a store or online, this does not necessarily mean it is safe for your body. Unfortunately, a lot of sex toys are made of porous materials which harbour bacteria and can never be fully sterilised, and some are even made which toxic chemicals such as phthalates, which can leech out into your sensitive mucus membranes and seriously harm you. There have been reports of people getting infections and even chemical burns (!) from unsafe sex toys.
Now that I’ve scared you: don’t worry! Your best weapon is educating yourself, and reading this article is a great start. You can learn much more about toxic and safe toys from bloggers such as Dangerous Lilly (dangerouslilly.com) and Epiphora (heyepiphora.com), but for now, here’s a quick-and-dirty guide to materials to help you towards informed shopping.
Body-Safe – Go Ahead:
• Stainless steel
• Glass (Borosilicate or “Pyrex” glass)
• Wood (if properly finished with a safe glaze)
• Ceramic (if glazed and kiln-fired)
• ABS (hard or solid) plastic
TPE/TPR (thermoplastic elastomer/rubber). These are technically non-toxic, but are porous and can degrade over time. TPE/R for penis strokers is fine as long as you don’t expect them to last forever. Avoid it for insertable vaginal toys, and go absolutely nowhere near it for anal toys.
Other metals. If a toy is listed as “metal” with no specifics, ask more questions.
Jelly rubber or anything with “jelly” or “gel” in the name.
Sil-a-gel and any “silicone blends.”
RealSkin, CyberSkin, “Real Feel” toys that are made of anything other than pure silicone.
What do you want your sex toy to do?
People ask me surprisingly often what the “best” sex toy is. As a very wise educator, I know said, this is a bit like walking into the supermarket and asking what is the “best” food! There is simply no one right answer. I can tell you what the best toy is for me (it’s the Doxy Original since I know you’re wondering!), but I cannot tell you what the best toy is for you.
Before you can begin narrowing down your toy choices, you need to decide what you want the toy to do. If you have a vulva, are you looking for external (clitoral) stimulation, or internal (G-spot) stimulation, or perhaps a versatile toy that can do either? If you have a penis, are you looking for a stroker, a cock ring, or something that vibrates? Perhaps you want something you can use anally, which comes with a whole different set of considerations. Perhaps you’re not after something that goes on your genitals at all and are actually more interested in restraining your partner or receiving some consensual pain.
Knowing broadly what kind of product you’re looking for, even if that’s all you know at this stage, is a great start.
Think about what kind of stimulation you already like
If you’ve had any kind of sex at all, or even just explored erotic female masturbation, chances are that you already have an idea what kind of stimulation you enjoy. If you have a vulva and need a lot of intense clitoral stimulation to bring you to orgasm, you might wish to consider a high-powered vibrator. Do you like broad stimulation? If so, a larger toy such as a wand will serve you well. If you prefer more pinpoint stimulation, a powerful bullet is a good choice. If, on the other hand, you find yourself craving penetrative play, you might want to focus on size, shape and material rather than motor when choosing your toy.
Don’t start too big when choosing a sex toy
When it comes to penetrative toys, don’t go for the biggest dildo you can find unless you absolutely know you’re a size queen-or-king. This is especially true for newbies to anal sex play – there’s no pride in taking the biggest thing on the shelf, and even a small plug can be surprisingly intense.
Aim for versatility when you can
Any G-spot vibrator can also be used clitorally, which makes them a great choice if you want to explore both internal and external play. Wand vibrators can easily be adapted with attachments, which are relatively cheapy. You can get penis stroker attachments, rabbit-style attachments, even anal attachments for your favourite wand. If you think you might be exploring anal play but are also into vaginal sex, a dildo with a wide flared base or suction cup can be used just as well for both. And I love toy materials such as glass and metal because you can stick them in the fridge (NOT the freezer!) or run them under warm water before play for a totally different temperature-based sensory experience.
Sex toys to use together
The term “toys for couples” is really a misnomer. In advertising parlance, this tends to mean hands-free vibrators which are worn hands-free during penis-in-vagina intercourse. This style of toy is one great option and can be wonderful, especially because the vast majority of people with vulvas do not experience orgasm from penetration alone. However, they are far from the end of the story when it comes to couples’ toys. Anything – absolutely anything – can be a couples’ toy. Do you use it with a partner? Congratulations, it’s a toy for couples.
Here are just a few options to consider, and discuss with your partner: a strap-on harness and dildo, for vaginal sex or pegging or both; a vibrator for you to use on them, or vice-versa; a double-ended dildo for you both to use at the same time; a cock-ring to wear while you have penetrative, oral or manual sex; a wand with a couple of attachments for you to take turns using on yourself while your partner watches.
I strongly recommend having a conversation with your partner before introducing toys into the bedroom. This doesn’t have to be a fraught or difficult conversation! Simply open with, “honey, I think it’d be really hot for us to use a sex toy together. What do you think?” Then listen to the response. If you had something specific in mind, tell them. If not, bounce some ideas around together.
A quick tip for the non-monogamously inclined amongst you: make it clear at the outset whether a toy is only to be used with a single partner, or whether either of you may use it with other lovers as well. This will save you hurt feelings and drama later.
Choosing a sex toy for a partner
Some sex educators believe you should never buy a toy for anyone else and suggest that you instead give them a gift card to pick out what they want. I think this is a brilliant idea if someone is a new partner or you don’t know them exceptionally well, but I do not come down in the “never pick a toy out for someone else” camp. I think a sex toy, well-chosen, can be a very romantic gift!
My take is that you should only buy a sex toy for a partner you know very well, and only after you’ve paid extremely close attention to their preferences. I was blown away when my partner bought me a Doxy for my birthday the first year we were together. This proved he’d paid attention and taken note of not only my preference for intense clitoral stimulation but the fact that my cheap old battery-operated wand was on its last legs. (I choose to believe that giving me this toy and then asking me to be his life partner later that same day was a deliberate and tactical move. Reader, I said yes.)
Before you buy sex toys for your partner, you need to be sure it’s something they are open to receiving, sex with vibrator is wonderful but its best to chat about your desires first. You can achieve this without spoiling a potential surprise by using the conversational opener I suggested above and having a discussion about possibilities and preferences. Then surprise them with a toy once you’re sure they’ll be happy to receive it!
If you’re really unsure of your partner’s preferences but want to do something a bit more personal than giving a gift card, take them on a shopping trip to your local feminist sex shop and choose something together. Take it from me, toy shopping is a great date activity in an established relationship.
A cautionary word: if you’re buying a toy for your partner as a gift, make absolutely sure it’s a gift for them and not secretly a gift for you. If you want to see, them penetrate themselves with a dildo, but they’ve previously indicated they really prefer clitoral play, buying them a penetrative toy means you’ll look as though you are actually catering to your own fantasies instead of their authentic desires.
Ask questions. Pay attention.
Where to buy from?
When you’re new to sex toys, I’m a big advocate of buying in person if you possibly can. All sex shops are not created equal, however. If at all possible, go to an independent women-owned-and-run shop, which offers a non-threatening and non-seedy environment where you can ask questions, touch and handle the products, and ask questions of the knowledgeable staff. Sh! Women’s Store in London and Lust in Brighton are great options if you’re UK based, and there are dozens of similar stores all over the USA and Canada. Try to avoid seedier sex shops and high-street chains, as these tend to carry fewer high-quality products and more unsafe items.
If you can only buy online, a reputable source is still essential. LoveHoney sex toys site is a staple for a reason, as they have a huge catalogue and a great returns policy. They do sell some unsafe products, but they label their materials accurately – so if a product says it is silicone you can be sure you’ll receive genuine silicone. There are also great smaller retailers committed to selling only body-safe products, such as The Pleasure Garden in the UK and Peepshow in the USA.
Please, whatever you do, do not buy your toys from Amazon, Ebay or Aliexpress. At best, you’ll get a genuine product but with no guarantee or warranty. At worst, you’ll end up with an unsafe knock-off that could harm you.
How much should I expect to spend?
That’s hugely variable and I recommend you have a maximum budget in mind before you start shopping. You can get a basic safe vibrator for as little as £10, but it won’t be the highest quality or have the strongest vibrations. A strong vibrator can set you back £35 – £80, a good wand can easily run to £100, and some name-brand toys (Lelo, Tantus, Womanizer to name but a few) can be £200 or more.
If you’re on a budget, do a search for sex bloggers and educators who have done round-ups of the best toys under a certain price point. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but to a certain extent you do get what you pay for.
Other considerations: lube, barriers, cleaning
If you do not already use lubricant as a regular part of your sex life, please get some! Even if you or your partner get very wet naturally, lube makes everything extra slippery and delicious. I recommend water-based lube with as few ingredients as possible, as it is extremely versatile, safe with all toys and all types of barriers, and compatible with the vast majority of bodies. Sliquid H20 is my personal go-to.
If you’re going to be sharing your toys without sterilising between partners, you’ll want to use a barrier. Most dildos and many vibrators are condom-compatible, so throw a pack of your favourite brand in your shopping cart too.
Always follow the instructions when it comes to cleaning your toys. Pure silicone or metal toys without motors can be sterilised in a pot of boiling water on the stove… or in the top rack of the dishwasher! Plastic toys or those without motors should not be boiled, but can be cleaned with warm water and gentle soap (check that they’re waterproof before dunking in water!)
In general, toy wipes and toy cleaning solutions are a waste of money. At most, get a pack of body-safe sterile wipes for a quick clean-up between uses.
Finally: if you’ve picked a battery-operated toy, don’t forget some batteries!
I hope this has taken the mystery out of toy shopping for yourself or your partner. Whatever you choose, have fun!