Choosing a toy - advice for newbies
What type of stimulation do you want?
Before you go looking for your first sex toy, it’s a good idea to know what you want to experience from that toy.
While sex toys can be a great way to explore your sexuality and discover new forms of pleasure, you have to start somewhere, and since toys made of body-safe materials (which are the only kind you should be buying) are usually fairly expensive, you want to be sure your first purchase is something you’ll actually use.
So before you start looking for a sex toy, explore your body, pay attention to what feels good where, and make notes! This is especially important when it comes to knowing what size of toy to buy. If you like two fingers inserted, measure how wide those two fingers are. If you’re looking for a cock ring, measure the width of your erect cock. If you want a rabbit vibrator, measure the distance between the two places you want it to stimulate.
This might sound excessive, but the most important thing when choosing a sex toy is finding one that is compatible with your body!
Types of toys
Sex toys are available for all kinds of stimulation, but unfortunately the market is heavily biased towards toys for clitoral and internal (i.e. vaginal and anal) stimulation. This means that if you’re looking for toys for the penis, you’ll have trouble finding ones that are actually any good, let alone made of body-safe materials.
Some (by no means all - there are far too many to list!) of the types of toys on the market include:
Phallic toys designed for thrusting that don’t vibrate; may be highly realistic penis imitations, or very abstract. May have a suction-cup base so it can be attached to a smooth surface and ridden.
Dildos that can be worn to penetrate a partner with. Usually they have a broad base that can be worn in a harness, but there are also cool “strapless strapons” (e.g. Tantus ‘feeldoes’) where one end of the dildo is a bulb that you insert and use to hold the dildo in place with your pelvic floor muscles.
Things that go in your butt and just sit there; may or may not vibrate. Often roughly egg-shaped.
A two-pronged vibrator, one bit goes inside you and one bit goes outside, usually to stimulate the vagina and clitoris simultaneously. Possibly the hardest type of toy to match with your anatomy. Usually badly designed, but for some reason very popular.
Small, bullet-shaped vibrators designed for pinpoint clitoral stimulation. Extremely variable in quality.
Flat, palm-sized vibrators that can lie on your genitals, or that you can lie on top of (up to you). Designed to be ergonomic to hold.
Vibrators with large, broad heads for external stimulation. Usually plug into mains power and are very intense.
A vibrator with a pronounced curve and/or bulbous bit on the end, specifically designed to target the G-spot or prostate. (There are dildos designed this way as well, but they’re rarely given a category of their own in toy stores.)
A tight stretchy ring that goes around your cock (and sometimes balls as well) to restrict blood flow and help maintain an erection; may or may not vibrate; vibrating ones are often marketed as doubling as a clitoral stimulator for a partner during sex. I’ve been led to believe they’re usually terrible.
These external vibrators are meant to simulate oral sex using pulsations of air.
I wish these had a better name. They’re kinda tubes you thrust your cock into, which may be designed to look like a vagina or anus, or may be abstract. Usually textured on the inside. May or may not vibrate. It’s hard to find ones made of body-safe materials.
Intended to stimulate both partners during intercourse. Unfortunately if it’s called a couple’s toy, it probably assumes you’re straight and cis.
Researching sex toys
Most people feel more comfortable browsing toys on the internet than going into a sex shop and awkwardly asking where the butt plugs are. Searching online will also give you more options than a physical store, both in terms of price and range of products.
There is an overwhelming number of online toy stores, so to help you get started I’ve compiled a list of stores I recommend. These websites usually have search filtering options to let you easily find the kind of toy you’re looking for. Which leads us to…
How do I choose?
Chances are, if you’ve just started looking for your first sex toy online, you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of choices. You should start by making a shortlist of toys based on their suitability. Here are the things you need to consider:
The very first thing you should be looking at when deciding whether to add a toy to your shortlist is: are the materials body-safe?
I’m planning on writing an article on this topic in the future, and linking it here once finished, but for now the short explanation is this: some materials used to make sex toys, such as plastics, can leach toxins over time which are bad for your body. These materials also tend to degrade with time. Finally, any material which is porous can absorb fluids and is impossible to sterilise, making it unhygienic.
The most common body-safe materials are silicon, glass and stainless steel, all of which are non-toxic, non-porous and can be easily sterilised using soap and hot water.
The best toy stores only stock body-safe toys, but they aren’t always the cheapest. Additionally, some unscrupulous companies will market toys as being made from pure silicone when they aren’t, so it’s advisable to only buy trusted brands known for specialising in pure silicon toys e.g. Tantus.
Silicone is rubbery, but otherwise varies greatly in texture. It can be very firm, to flexible; shiny, or matte; used for the entire toy, or just as a thin coating over hard plastic. It’s a versatile substance and no two silicone toys are exactly the same. Silicone can create quite a lot of friction and may require more lube, especially the matte varieties.
Silicone requires a bit of special care, as it can be damaged by contact with other silicone products. Silicone toys need to be kept separate from each other for this reason. Many lubricants are silicone-based, so make sure you use only water-based lube with silicone toys. Also be careful with any soaps you use to clean the toy, patch test first to make sure it doesn’t appear to have damaged the silicone (you can buy special toy cleaning fluid if necessary).
Silicone, especially the glossy kind, is highly electrostatic and picks up a lot of dust and hairs. Store the toy in a clean toy bag to minimise this and wash the toy before use. You can dry silicone toys with a towel but it will leave some fluff on the toy. Water beads up on silicone, so it’s easier to shake off most of the water, and allow the toy to air-dry.
It might sound like silicone is a nuisance to maintain but it’s actually a very durable material and can last a lifetime if you take just a few minor precautions. You can throw silicone toys across the room if you want, and they’ll bounce!
Glass may sound scary, but the type of glass used to make sex toys is highly durable, and breaks into large pieces if damaged rather than shattering. I’ve heard of people dropping glass toys on hard floors without them breaking! That said, you certainly want to be cautious with your glass toys, but you don’t need worry about them breaking during normal use.
Unlike silicone, glass has very little friction, so it’s very easy to insert. It’s very cold initially, but quickly warms to body temperature. It can be warmed up or cooled down by running it under the tap, if desired. (To avoid weakening the glass, any temperature changes should be gradual.)
Glass is a very heavy material, and that weight can be felt internally; some like it, some don’t. Glass is obviously very hard and inflexible, which makes it great for targeted stimulation of the G-spot and prostate. However it means you really need to make sure the toy is the right shape and size for you. For this reason I wouldn’t recommend it for a first toy.
Steel has all the characteristics of glass, minus the breakability. The downside is that toys made of steel tend to be extremely expensive. The surgical appearance of steel may also be offputting to some people.
Near the start of this article, I mentioned the importance of finding out what size of toy is right for your body. You need to have at least a rough idea of the size of your anatomy if you’re looking for a toy that goes inside you, or around your penis. Once you have these measurements, you can compare them with the advertised measurements of toys you look at online.
A toy can be measured by width (diameter) or girth (circumference). Some online toy stores will provide diameter, others will provide circumference, some use inches, others use centimetres.
It’s really understand the format of the measurement when comparing toys to your own measurements or to other toys. If necessary, you can convert diameter to circumference and vice versa using an online tool like this one.
If you can’t find dimensions on a toy store’s website, look for the listing for that product on the manufacturer’s website, as they almost always provide dimensions.
Unfortunately not many toy stores allow you to filter toys by dimensions. If you look at my list of recommended stores, I note which ones provide such a filtering option.
A word of warning
The size of a toy as listed on a website may not always be accurate or representative.
Generally the provided diameter or circumference will refer to the measurement of a toy at its widest point. However, sometimes the shape of the toy is tapered so most of it is smaller than that measurement, and other times the widest point might not appear too wide from the given measurement, but the place on the toy where that widest point occurs makes it extremely uncomfortable for your particular anatomy. The shape really needs to be considered at the same time as the size, or you might end up with an unusuable toy, like I did once.
Additionally, toy measurements in inches are usually rounded up or down to the nearest .25 inches or so. In the worst case scenario I have known toy measurements to be off by an entire quarter of an inch, which may not sound like a lot but is really significant when it comes to whether or not a dildo fits inside you.
Whenever I’m looking to buy a new toy, I search for pictures of it taken by reviewers or showing the toy in relation to other known objects such as hands or other toys I own, to get a better sense of scale. This is useful even if the marketed measurements are in fact accurate.
Just as important as size is the actual shape of the toy. While overall shape is usually determined by the erogenous zone it’s designed to stimulate, the details matter too: for example, a slightly different shaped head on a dildo can make the difference between an amazing orgasmic experience and being completely unable to use the toy.
With insertable toys, a tapered head (where the tip of the toy is narrower or pointy and it broadens out towards the shaft) makes insertion much, much easier. This kind of design can also provide more targeted “pinpoint” stimulation. For people who need smaller toys or are new to penetration, I would recommend the tapered head design.
On the other hand, if you like the sensation of being stretched and/or prefer broader, less targeted stimulation, a rounded head is better.
You also need to consider the curvature of the toy. Toys designed for targeted G-spot or prostate stimulation are usually steeply curved, due to the location of these areas. Completely- or mostly-straight toys provide less stimulation of those areas but can be inserted further, which makes them good for A-spot stimulation.
As always, keep in mind that shape and size together determine your experience of a toy.
Many toys have nubs, bumps, ridges, swirls, waves or other kinds of texture to increase stimulation. Vaginally this kind of texture can’t be perceived as much as elsewhere. Broader textures like waves may be felt less than e.g. lots of small bumps. Textured toys may feel larger internally than an untextured toy of the same size would.
You won’t know if you like texture until you try it. If you want to try a toy with texture, it’s a good idea to start with something that has subtle texture and a low-friction material (not matte silicon!) And use plenty of lube, of course.
Vibrating or non-vibrating
Vibrating sex toys probably have the highest market share. They can be used on any part of the body for masssage or pleasure, although they are usually specifically designed for a particular erogenous zone.
“Vibrators” don’t necessarily just vibrate. While some have just a couple of simple vibration speeds, others come with loads of preset vibration patterns, allow you to program your own patterns, or have unusual high-tech features - for example there are G-spot toys that have rolling balls inside or waving functions for additional stimulation. High-tech vibrators are probably not a good choice as a first toy because they add many more variables to compatibility with your body.
Vibrations can provide a lot of intense stimulation very quickly, but may be numbing or cause irritation if used for a long time. The general consensus is that “rumbly” vibrations are more pleasurable, although some people prefer “buzzy” vibes. “Rumbly” vibrations can be felt spreading deep into the body, feel slower and more massaging. “Buzzy” vibrations are the opposite: they don’t spread very deep and can feel irritating or itchy.
Most high-quality vibrators are somewhere in between the two extremes. Cheap vibrators are almost always buzzy. Truly “rumbly” vibrations are hard to come by.
If you’ve never used a vibrator before, there’s no way of telling whether you will enjoy vibrations or not, so experimentation is essential. Because of this, and because the quality of vibrations varies so much, it’s particularly important that you know your preferences before purchasing one for the first time.
Vibrators can be powered in one of three ways:
Extremely powerful, but inconvenient (you have to find a power socket whenever you want to masturbate). Mains-powered vibes are usually what are known as “massage wands”, designed for broad external stimulation.
Significantly cheaper than other kinds, and you can put rechargeable batteries in them if you want. However, they are often not waterproof or are only “water resistant”, which makes cleaning them harder (and means you can’t use them in the shower).
These are the most convenient as they can be charged via USB and are usually fully waterproof, but good-quality ones can be expensive.
This should always be the last thing you think about when looking for a sex toy, because chances are, if the toy is cheap, it’s made of unsafe materials, has crappy vibrations or will break soon. Or all three of the above.
This is not always the case, of course! Expensive toys can sometimes be terrible, and there are affordable toys that are excellent. If you’re buying a toy for the first time you might choose to compromise so you’re not wasting too much money if you don’t like it. But you should never buy a toy just because it’s cheap, and safe materials should be your first priority.