I bought my first sex toy at a run-down Adam & Eve that faced the interstate highway three months after I turned 18. My lack of knowledge revealed itself in the form of nervous laughter and awkward glances with the employees. My then-boyfriend had given me a budget of $50 to spend on what would become my cap and gown from manual masturbation. Did I have a specific toy in mind? Nope. All I knew is that I wanted something portable and discreet—similar to some toys I had seen in solo-porn clips.
In the end, I left the store with a rechargeable 15-function, water-resistant, hot pink bullet vibrator that was three dollars over budget. I was unaware of how it, a slab of silicone given to me in a brown paper bag, would become my most reliable (and not-so-silent) friend with benefits.
The truth is, the sex-toy market remains stigmatized by various socio-sexual norms. My story isn't unique, but the feeling that I had when I bought that first vibrator is. There's a vast amount of sex-negativity engrained in our culture: every time sex-curious thoughts spark, feelings of shame and embarrassment automatically arise. There’s been some slight progress over the past couple of years, but not enough to mask the issue. When I bought my first toy, I had no idea what I wanted, and I was far too nervous to ask questions. Luckily, that sex toy ended up being a good fit for me until it couldn't turn on anymore. Still, I recognize that the fear I felt back then was understandable, yet unnecessary. In a perfect world, everyone would shop for their sex toys with pride—they would even use them as home decor. Unfortunately, that isn’t the most realistic thought, but that shouldn't keep you from venturing out to find the perfect sex toy.
So, whether you want to indulge in solo pleasure for the first time, or you’re simply looking to broaden your horizons, here are some tips to find the perfect toy!
The sex-toy market is bigger than you might think, which is why it’s smart to tackle your purchases with a checklist of personal requirements. As someone who has taken a trip to the sex shop more times than she’s taken her car for an oil change, I can assure you that walking in prepared will keep you from getting overwhelmed. Now, this doesn’t mean that you should sign yourself up for an entry-level course on pleasure, but you should walk in knowing what sensations you’re looking to get out of your toys.
I can only come from clitoral stimulation, so I tend to gravitate toward non-penetrative toys with vibrating settings: wand vibrators, bullet vibrators, and clitoral-suction vibrators. However, if you’re someone who enjoys the feeling of being penetrated, I would recommend dildos, rabbit vibrators, and G-spot vibrators. For those wanting to pleasure their penises, look into masturbating “strokers” and cock rings.
But, wait! There’s more.
If you’re looking to achieve a more specific orgasm, don’t worry—there are toys for that too! For example, if you’re interested in stimulating your anal region, there’s an array of dildos, plugs, anal beads, and prostate vibrators available. Not to mention, a diverse array of clamps, ticklers, and warming oils for those looking to satisfy their BDSM needs.
We are lucky to live in an age when the sex-toy market is evolving to fit the needs of people of all gender identities, sexualities, and walks of life. That being said, take some time to explore your body and touch yourself. You might discover that you’re a fan of a sensation you never thought you’d enjoy. And, if you find yourself purchasing a toy that didn’t satisfy you the way you hoped it would, don’t get discouraged—it’s all about trial and error. Ask an employee or read some product reviews; at the end of the day, they’re there to help you.
2. Keep your experience in mind.
I knew I was ready to buy a sex toy when I caught myself feeling jealous of the adult performers I was watching. That being said, I know how easily one can get carried away with their sexual cravings. In my case, I was tired of exercising my right hand for a total of 20-30 minutes—which is why I ended up with my now-dead, hot pink bullet vibrator. However, when I wanted to explore some solo anal play, I found myself picking up items my body was not ready for. It’s crucial to keep your sexual experience in mind when picking out sex toys.
Several sex shop sites have a beginner’s tab full of toys for first-timers. If you still have questions after reviewing some of your options, you might want to ask a store clerk for help. You can also ask some strangers online! Subreddits such as r/Sex or r/SexToys are perfect for whatever questions you have—you might even get a recommendation or two just from posting.
3. Don’t stray far from your limitations.
After doing proper research, buying a sex toy is easy. If you think about it, all you need to do is grab it and pay. What’s hard is finding one that perfectly aligns with your lifestyle. And what am I referring to exactly? Well, I’m talking about your parents, your roommates, and everyone in between. Sometimes, your dream sex toy isn’t the most convenient—unless you live alone, of course. In that case, you can buy whatever you want. While it might be harder to hide the fact that you have a sex toy, don’t let the people you cohabitate with dismay you from buying one at all. If you’re worried about your sex toy being found, stay away from anything larger than five or six inches. There’s a variety of strokers, plugs, and vibrators that are smaller than three.
Speaking of vibrators, look for one that is advertised as being discreet. A vibrator will never be 100% silent, but there are some that, when used under the covers, can barely be heard. It might be tempting to purchase a toy that goes against all of your limitations, and you might still want to buy that—which is fine. Just make sure to use it when nobody else is home.
4. Prioritize your materials.
When it comes to sex toys, high price means high quality. In recent years, there’s been a plethora of scandals surrounding the materials used in cheaper sex toys due to the lack of regulations in the United States. Because of this, it’s necessary to pay attention to the materials you’re putting in contact with your body. The last thing you want to do is end up with an infection or chemical burns.
For my peace of mind, I’ve always stayed away from toys that aren’t made of 100% silicone or stainless steel. While it’s been helpful, I understand that this habit might keep me from trying some toys that are safe for me to use. One thing to keep in mind is that all of the toys you pick out should be 100% free of phthalates, a cancerous chemical used to make plastics flexible. The reason why you should look out for this particular chemical is that it’s one of the most common, but also one of the most harmful to the liver, kidneys, lungs, and even reproductive systems.
Though it might be tempting to spend money on a jelly toy due to its affordability, keep in mind that most jelly sex toys are porous—making them a hub of bacteria that is nearly impossible to clean. Not to mention that if bacteria somehow forms on these toys, they can cause yeast infections, UTIs, and even the spread of STIs (if the toys are shared).
Some body-safe materials for sex toys include ABS plastic, aluminum, wood, ceramic, and glass (if they aren’t painted with toxic pigments).
Your best bet is to stay away from any toy that lacks information on its materials.
Photo by Ryan Segedi for Self