The notion of purchasing a sex toy (gasp) in person is positively terrifying for many people. But it turns out, shopping for sex toys can be just like walking into your friendly corner store, except, you know, dildos. Bonus: it’s way better (and less risky) than shopping online.
If you’re among the curious but shy, here’s a handy guide for a sex toy shopping spree.
Narrow it down by sensation
If you’ve never purchased a sex toy, Claire Cavanah, co-founder of New York’s Bableland, suggests thinking “about what kind of sensations you enjoy and how you want to use a sex toy.” For example, “If you’re shopping for a vibrator, do you like internal or external stimulation or both simultaneously? Thick or thin? Curved for the G-spot or smooth and straight?” So basically, know where you want to put it and how you want it to feel.
Megan Church of Austin’s Forbidden Fruit gives the exact same advice to her potential customers. If you’re interested in penetration, “think penetrative,” says Megan. Narrowing it down makes is “a lot less cumbersome than looking at a whole wall of things,” she explains. Since most stores are organized along these lines, having a desired sensation in mind can take you right past that goliath dildo giving you the stink eye and into a section that won’t make your face as red.
Pre-game on the web
For those of you that would rather dip your toe in the pool before diving in, you can read reviews of sex toys online. Maybe don’t Google “dildo,” though. “If you’re the kind of shopper who likes to research purchases, there are a couple of ways to do that. Customer reviews on store websites like Babeland and user reviews in media outlets [can] give you an idea of the merits and experiences of others with certain toys,” says Cavanah. “You can also do some online searching for blogs that review sex toys.”
But the truth is, reviews and product descriptions can be as subjective as sexual preferences. “The words ‘soft,’ ‘hard,’ ‘big,’ and ‘small’ are all very relative,” notes Church.
Please DO touch
See something interesting, but still not sure? Don’t be afraid to pick it up and give it a test spin on (your hand! For the love of god, just on your hand!). One of the great advantages to swallowing your pride and buying in-store as opposed to online is that many shops have test toys on display that are meant to be fondled. Go ahead and grope! Again, with your hand.
Consider the material
If you’re slightly neurotic (like me) or Jewish (like half of me), you’re probably going to want to understand what these things are made of before you go sticking them in and around your body. There are generally six basic materials from which sex toys are made: glass, wood, metal, hard plastic, jelly (rubber and PVC), and silicone. Each material has its own unique advantages, depending on your preferences.
“Glass and wood are used in making dildos and are also non-porous, easy to clean, and recyclable!,” explains Cavanah, offering up another way to really mess with your garbage man. “The unbending quality of both of these, and also steel, makes them great for G-spot or [prostate] stimulation, and the toys are really beautiful too.”
Take note: Different materials are also maintained differently, so make sure to inquire about cleaning and care instructions to avoid a Broad City moment.
No one is going to judge you for being into butt stuff
Sex toy shops like Babeland and Forbidden Fruit are safe spaces. I felt less judged buying a vibrator than I did in therapy. So whatever it is you’re looking for, it’s okay to talk about it with them; it’s their job.
Cavanah firmly believes “everyone deserves helpful, knowledgeable, friendly, and non-judgmental customer service when shopping for a sex toy, and it’s what Babeland was founded on and has won awards for. Many stores have that reputation, support them!”
Church agrees. If that staff doesn’t talk to you, or at least seem approachable, “walk out,” she says.
Being coy may lead to some disappointing moments once you get the toy home, too. I mention anal play, because not all toys can be stuck willy-nilly into any hole. Church tells me that she knew someone who broke her Rabbit (a vibrator/dildo combination toy) because it wasn’t designed to withstand the power of the human sphincter: “If it’s phallic, people try and put it in their butt,” she sagely points out. So if some backdoor action is your pleasure, make sure the toy is made for it. I’m less concerned about you breaking the toy than I am about you breaking something else.
Ask about what’s popular, but don’t buy based on hype
For me, sex-ed was 20% what some weird lady who smelled like patchouli and cats came to talk to my class about in third grade and 80% Sex and the City. The show was also responsible for bringing the illustrious Rabbit (see above) to fame. While it’s popularity has merit, it’s not for everyone. Church points out that the proportions are rather long for many women. So you can sleep easy tonight, straight dudes.
That being said, there are some crowd favorites, including the Rabbit, that you may want to consider. Babeland’s most popular vibrator is the We-Vibe 4 Plus, which can be worn by a woman during sex. It provides internal and external stimulation, and her partner can feel it too. It even comes with a smartphone app feature for remote control, because absolutely everything has an app now. For the ladies, Church recommends starting off with something simple, like a bullet-style vibrator and a softer, silicone vibrator that’s five to six inches.
Know how to spot or smell a bootleg
While they might not be hawked on Canal St, sex toys have knockoffs too. And people are less likely to speak out if they get a counterfeit or faulty product, which only allows the problem to persist. As Church notes, “nobody tweets when something goes wrong with their sex toy.”
If you’re trench coat and wig are at the cleaners, and you just can’t bring yourself to walk into a store, know that buying online presents its own set of risks. Church advises “making sure [the toy is] coming from the toy company or direct distributor. A lot of third-party websites like Amazon and eBay have zero regulation. There are toys out there with the exact same packaging and design, but the quality is lower.” That being said, Babeland and Forbidden Fruit have websites, as do many premier sex toy shops, so make those your first stop.
When it comes to jelly toys, knockoffs will reek of gasoline or something that smells like weed, but not in a good way. These products may have been produced with chemicals that aren’t body safe. So sniff it before you stick it. Another important note: toys marked as “novelty” are not intended for bodily use.
Sex toys are not a gateway drug
You’re not going to get addicted to your vibrator or fleshlight. Relax. “Are you going to work? Are you dealing with your life?” asks Church. If so, using your toy to unwind doesn’t mean you need to stage an intervention.
“People worry they’re going to get desensitized by their vibrators too,” Church explains. Rest assured, ladies and gents, that’s not going to happen, even with frequent use. Church says that people may get used to reaching orgasm in a certain way, whether that be with a toy or in a certain position, but she also notes that “our bodies and minds are elastic, and they’re constantly evolving.” So if you’re feeling a little too reliant on a specific toy, change it up and be patient. Your body will take the hint and adapt.
Sex toys aren’t meant to take anything, or more specifically anyone, away from the experience. Your dildo is not “some bionic cock” that’s going to put your boyfriend “out of work,” as Church put it. Sex toys are all about adding to a sexual experience, whether it be a solo session or a couple’s retreat.
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Julia Reiss is a writer and standup comedian who got tired of her vibrator always wanting to be the little spoon. Follow her sexual misadventures and neurotic musings on Twitter: @thereisspiece. For upcoming performances, make sure to check out her website www.iamjuliareiss.com.