Finding your new BFF: Picking the perfect toy

Guest post by Holly J
Image courtesy of Holly.
Image courtesy of Holly.

So, you’ve decided to improve the quality of your self-lovin‘ (and couple-lovin’). Good for you! You wander cautiously into your local sex shop or website only to be totally overwhelmed by the selection. Before you “panic-order,” remember this: not all sex toys are created equal! Here are some tips to help you find your next sexy-time gadget.

Know thyself!

Very often I get clients looking for masturbatory aides that have never enjoyed a bit of self-exploration before. This is a bit like putting the cart before the horse. There is no toy that will magically hit you in all the right spots, especially if you don’t know where those spots are! So before you potentially drop a hundred dollars on a toy that might work, use the sex toys you are born equipped with: your fingers.

Get a hand mirror and take a look at yourself. This applies to all genders.

Use your fingers and hands to play with yourself. The shower is a good place to start, as you are generally more relaxed and comfortable with your own nudity.

You don’t need to orgasm every time. Or at all. Who needs the pressure? You just need to learn what feels good to YOU.

Now to the fun part: narrowing it down. Sex toys come in all shapes, sizes, and functions. To help you decide, narrow it down:

Types of toys

Clitoral-only toys are typically very small and designed for external use only. They offer direct stimulation for the clitoral area and are probably the most popular style of sex toy because they are not invasive, they are easily portable, easy to hide (vibrating lipstick, anyone?), and less intimidating to first-time users.

Internal toys are designed to stimulate the vaginal canal. Sometimes smooth, sometimes textured, sometimes molded from real penises. Usually good for stroking, they offer a wide variety of options based on your personal preference of stimulation.

G-Spot Stimulators are penetrating toys that are designed to add stimulation directly to the g-spot area. They are usually distinctive in that they have a bend or curve at the tip (like a lower-case “j”) or the entire toy will be curved (like a wide “C.”) That curved tip presses into the g-spot (towards your belly button) and uses pressure to stimulate. These toys are not the greatest for stroking.

Dual Stimulators are basically a combination of a clitoral stimulator and an internal/g-spot toy. The most popular example of this is The Rabbit. Dual Stimulators can be simple (just vibration) or a veritable circus of functions (spinning! stroking! beads! pearls!).

Personal Massagers. Ah yes, the “personal massager” style, home to the now-infamous Hitachi Magic Wand. Large, and marketed for muscle massage, these toys are popular because of their strength. There are attachments made to turn them into internal toys.

Cock rings are basically tight (sometimes stretchy, sometimes not) rings that are placed at the base of an erection. They sort of trap the blood in the penis, increasing sensitivity and keeping you hard. Ever wrap a rubber band around the base of your finger? It’s a lot like that. Start with a stretchy material (elastomer or silicone jelly) until you get used to the sensation. NEVER leave a ring on for more than 20 minutes! You need to take it off and let the blood recirculate, otherwise bruising could happen. No fun.

Masturbators/Sleeves are textured tubes and sleeves a la the “Fleshlight.” These toys aid in stimulation during masturbation by using textures, vibration (sometimes) and natural suction. Some are molded from real people’s body parts, some are more “space-agey” in design with ticklers and suction pockets.

The prostate is the gland that regulates the amount semen ejected during climax. Applying direct pressure and stimulation to it during sex or masturbation creates a larger climax and a much more satisfying orgasm. The toys are designed similarly to g-spot toys, with a curved tip. We’ve been hearing more and more that people who receive regular prostate stimulation during sex are less likely to develop prostate problems later in life. Double win!

Anal Toys

Plugs designed to be inserted and left in place during sex. Plugs add a sense of “fullness” and utilize pressure to stimulate the nerves in the rectum. They are also helpful if you are trying to expand your body to prepare it for SAFE anal sex. (A WHOLE other topic on its own.) Always use LOTS of (non-numbing) lubricant with anal play. That part of your body does not self-lubricate. Some companies make great anal toys that are sort of combination plugs and beads. these are usually my recommendation for beginners.

Beads are designed to be inserted one “bead” at a time and pulled out again, stimulating the high concentration of nerves at the entrance to the anus. Time it just right and pull them out at the point of orgasm for an extra big climax! If your beads have fabric or woven string between them, you need to throw them away after one use. The fibers of the string can hold onto lots of pesky bacteria, so it’s best to purchase beads that are all made of one material. Speaking of bacteria, NEVER use a toy (or body part) anally and then use it vaginally! The transfer of bacteria can be crazy-bad. Always sanitize your anal toys.

Couples’ toys

While any of the toys listed above can totally be used during couple (or group) play, there are also toys out there designed to stimulate more than one person at a time.

The vibrating cock ring is a popular one. It basically has an attachment (or two) that vibrate and stimulate the clitoris/testicles/anus.

The WeVibe (and otherwise inspired toys) is newer on the market. It’s shaped like a sideways “u” and is “worn” vaginally during intercourse. It is very popular with couples right now!

Strap-ons can be worn by any gender and used on any gender. A style that is definitely growing in popularity is the harness-free style. Worn vaginally, the wearer uses their kegel muscles to hold it and it extends a bit more “naturally” from the body.


In every one of the styles listed above, there are non-vibrating and vibrating (or otherwise mechanized) toys available. It really is personal preference depending on the design and style of the toy and what YOU find stimulating. Rechargeable toys are becoming more prevalent (bonus, because there are no batteries rattling around, they are super quiet) and tend to have a longer life span. More and more toys are also being made waterproof as well.


Sex toys can be made from any material out there:

  • Hard materials (plastic, glass, metal) are generally non-porous and don’t hold onto bacteria if washed after every use. Hard toys also tend to feel a bit stronger during vibration, because there is nothing to “muffle” the movement. G-spot and prostate toys are good when made from a hard or stiff material because it only adds to the pressure.
  • Soft toys are usually silicone based, though you will see a lot of rubber, latex, jelly, cyber-skin, and UR3 (material used in sex toys to resemble flesh) as well. These materials are porous and these toys must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized after each use. Some people have sensitivity to latex, silicone and silicone jelly.

Final tips:

  • In the US, sex toys are imported as “adult novelties” and there isn’t a lot of regulation on them, so check the packaging to make sure it is phthalate-free. If you open a package and it smells funny (or chemically), wash it really well with anti-bacterial soap before using it.
  • Water-based lubricant is safe with any kind of toy (ones without glycerin have the added bonus of being more sensitive and don’t get sticky).
  • Silicone lubricant is safe with any toy that is NOT silicone. On the same note never store silicone toys touching each other because silicone melts silicone. (Because… science?)
  • Wash your toy with mild anti-bacterial soap (I like Dial sensitive skin) after every use, and let it air dry before putting it away.
  • Take the batteries out of your toys when they aren’t being used. This will save your motor and battery life. Nothing worse than dead batteries mid-play.

This information is based on my training, education and experience in the sex toy industry. There is so much more I could talk about, and I may have left your favorite type of toy out (sorry!) but I’m happy to answer any specific questions you may have in the comments.

Comments on Finding your new BFF: Picking the perfect toy

  1. This is my faaaaavourite! Bonus points for an illustration of the friendliest buttplug in history. Like, that buttplug would help me move next weekend, no problem. It would accept pizza and beer as payment and everything.

  2. Thank you for the great article! I learned the silicone melting silicone thing the hard way πŸ™ Why oh why is it never printed in big red letters on the packaging?

    I hope you’ll contribute more posts πŸ™‚

    • I’ve actually learned recently that toys made out of 100% silicon shouldn’t melt. But cyberskin, TPR, the dreaded silicon-jelly toys WILL get melty and sad. But they don’t always say what percentage of other materials are involved. Typically higher-end silicon toys will be 100% silicon. 2 of my Personal favorite brands are Lelo and Tantus Inc.

    • Also, I would LOVE to contribute more (I’ll answer any of your sexy questions to the best of my ability, if I can’t I will tap into the network of lovely sex industry people that I know!) I just need to know what yall want to know about!

  3. Weeeee! Favorite post of 2014!

    Has anybody tried The Cone?

    Also, regarding the We-Vibe, the blurb implies it’s to be used during intercourse but I’m having a hard time visualizing both it and a penis in my vagina. Even if I suspend disbelief in that regard, I’m not clear how it would stay in during the usual in-out motion.

    Am I getting it all wrong?

    • We’ve had it for a couple of years and it works great (and is rechargeable which is always a plus). Best couple thingy we have.
      It stays inside just fine, and it will give you a more “full” feeling for sure, but isn’t uncomfortable at all for me. I don’t know if they give a size reference on the site, but it’s relatively small (fits in the palm of my smallish hand).
      As with most of these endeavors of course, the best thing to get it to work for you is a lot of lubricant. I am very fond of Liquid Silk.

    • I was having the same issues with “…how?” but if you go to the website linked and look at the we-vibe 4 specifically, there’s a video and pictures to explain it. Because pics or it didn’t happen.

    • You can ALSO use the wevibe in other ways:
      1. by yourself vaginally with or without a second toy
      2. on your male partner: lube up the inside curve of the toy and cup it into your hand, run it up and down the shaft or hold it around the scrotum during….other stimulation…

    • as for “The Cone” I’ve sold a couple, but I never really heard much feedback. Usually people come in raving or ranting about certain toys. so far, this one has been radio silence. But if you are looking for something that you can sit or squat on, lots of toys are compatible with double-sided suction cups…

    • I have the original wevibe (I was impatient, should have waited for the more functions, and better battery, damn) and it is ah-mazing!

      It stays in because it sort of clips around your pelvic bone. The picture’s make it look a lot bigger than what it is, too. The smaller end that goes in up against your g-spot, is about as thick as my thumb (and I have tiny hands with skinny fingers) and just slightly wider, the part that goes out and around is about the thickness of a thin electrical cable (like the kind that comes out of a lamp). As Aldebrana said, it’s a slightly more full feeling, but not at all uncomfortable.

  4. Two thumbs WAY up for the Rabbit.
    Mind = Blown.
    It’s the closest I’ve come to “real” sex. If I could get it to cuddle, I’d marry it.

  5. Yay! Best article ever! Can I put a plug in for Oh Joy Sex Toy, my favorite illustrated sex-toy review blog ever? It’s amazing. There are Anal Safety Snails.


    Get it?

    GET IT?????

  6. I love this post.

    I also wanted to add: Never, ever use a non anal toy for anal insertion. You need the wide base (or whatever design feature) to prevent a potentially very embarassing trip to A&E. Take it from someone who’s worked there.

  7. I didn’t actually read the article because I’m pretty familiar with toys (my apologies to the author), but I just had to say – I LOVE THE ILLUSTRATION!

    That is all.

  8. Oh what a perfect place for my question!

    I use coconut oil for lube. I have a waterproof vibrator (I don’t know the brand name, but it’s purple and smooth, about 5 inches long, you turn it on by twisting one end). Should these two never meet or can they be bffs?

    • Oooook. So there is some debate over coconut oil as a lubricant…even though it is all natural it is still an OIL and can build up in the pores of the sensitive tissue of the vagina. That build up can SOMETIMES lead to infections or irritation. So keep an eye on how your body is reacting and clean up REALLY well afterwards.

      I assume by your description that your toy is a hard plastic. If I am wrong however, and the toy has a soft material on it then that material ALSO has pores and the same kind of build up could occur. That build up has the potential to ruin the material (depending on what its made of) and with some materials if it starts to degrade, it can be bad for you. Try to use a good quality (not astroglide) water based lube on soft material toys…

      If you are looking for all natural lubricants might I recommend: Sliquid ( they are all natural, “always free of DEA, gluten, glycerine, glycerol, parabens, PEG, propylene glycol, sorbitol & sulphates… and they’re 100% Vegan Friendly.” This one is a personal favorite of mine…and the flavored lubes are divine…

      Or Good Clean Love: ( “100% vegan, paraben, glycerin and petrochemical free.”

      just based on my personal experience these are good organic substitutes. there are other brands as well but I can’t personally speak to them all…yet

      • Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but i believe oil-based lubes are not good with natural latex condoms, they can react with it and reduce the effectivness or some such.

        • True. Oil based lubricants breakdown latex making the condom less effective. The only thing I every recommend oil based lubes for is male [only] stimulation.

      • I’m a fan of coconut oil as lube – when you say “clean up” do you mean the toy rather than the vagina? Because I’ve always been told the latter is “self-cleaning” to avoid infections…

        • clean both. really well.
          It can take your body a few days to naturally flush oils (and also silicone based lubricants) from your system. Before its flushed from your pores you run the risk of possibly harboring bacterium and causing irritation or an infection. If you find yourself using it as a lube quite frequently, then your body doesn’t have the opportunity to flush it all out. Lots of women probably wouldn’t have an issue, but they are finding that more and more women are reporting sensitivities to lubricants and other things that are inserted vaginally.

          and the soft materials on toys are not self-cleaning, so unless you are super thorough the old oils can harbor in the pores of the material.

      • —-quote—–
        On Jan 7th at 4:11 pm, Holly J said:
        even though it is all natural it is still an OIL and can build up in the pores of the sensitive tissue of the vagina. That build up can SOMETIMES lead to infections or irritation. So keep an eye on how your body is reacting and clean up REALLY well afterwards.
        —–end quote—–

        Can you find a citation for that? I haven’t seen buildup in pores from coconut oil mentioned as a risk for infection anywhere in the literature.

        To some degree, unrefined coconut oils exhibit antimicrobial properities both in vitro and in vivo. Barring an allergy to coconut, or some other hypersensitivity reaction to it, there is no real contraindication to using coconut oil as a moisturizer or lubricant.

        We should also be clear that the vagina does clean itself – introducing soaps, through vigorous washing or douching disrupt the normal bacterial flora and pose a far greater (documented!) risk for infection. Douching is always a bad idea.


    • I used to use coconut oil as a lube but no more! As much as I thought I was doing a great job cleaning my toys, without realizing, it clearly was leaving a residue and hence bacteria. Long story short, I actually threw that set of toys out, bought new ones, and now only use water-based lube. I would not recommend it as a lube.

      Now…if we’re talking about coconut oil as a hair conditioner or a skin moisturizer, I’m all in there!

  9. Slightly off topic, but a few months ago my now 18mo old daughter walked out of our bedroom with my rabbit. And being a toddler she of course put it straight in her mouth! My husband was horrified πŸ˜›
    Note to self, hide the toys better!

  10. My two-year-old found my vibe, managed to turn it on, and laughed and shrieked with the utmost joy. She cried when I took it away, so I promised her one “in a few years”.

  11. To Holly the illustrator, were you looking in my bedside box when you drew that picture!? I have 4 out of the 5 toys in that picture, and boy oh boy are they fun!

    I love that being a grown up means getting excited that my husband bought me the strap on harness I wanted for Christmas. Even better that I can talk about it on here (I can just imagine all the ladies clutching their pearls at church if they knew).

  12. Oo, I have a question! πŸ™‚ I was very underwhelmed with the Rabbit I got, because of the, for lack of a better word, fit. Specifically, there was no way to get a comfortable angle on penetration while still hitting the clit. I assume my clit is further north than usual or something like that…? Anyway, is there anything I can look for in a dual stimulator toy to see whether it’ll “fit” me? I’d really rather not keep shelling out the big bucks just to discover the angle is all wrong.

    • welp, this is a loaded question. Because duel stimulators come in tons of styles and sizes. But I will try to recommend based on similar feedback I’ve gotten before…
      1. if the shaft feels too thin or long and therefore points at an odd angle when you try to hit the clit, then look for one with a shorter but wider shaft. (the Evolved Dream Maker series is a good one to check into.)
      2. if the shaft is too short then look for one like the iVibe Rabbit by Doc Johnson (the original rabbit, also the “Sex and the City” rabbit) it has a longer tapering shaft
      3. if its your G-spot that you are looking to hit then I cannot recommend the Lelo Ina enough. (its pricey but totally worth it) because it is ergonomically designed and the the clit stimulator is a little stiff so it actually stimulates through the pelvic bone…it looks like the one on the left of the illustration above…
      4. or possibly look for one that is made of a flexible materiel (most duel stims have a hard center to keep their shape) so it will more comfortably follow the curve of your body.

      its hard to give recommendations without more detail, but if you are comfortable going into your local toy shop they may be able to help you narrow it down from there. (or you can leave me more detail here if you want, I will do my best to help)
      and while this doesn’t apply to most sex toys, the cliche “you get what you pay for” usually applies to this type of toy. (I think it has to do with the fact that they usually have more mechanics involved)

  13. Holly, this article was so helpful, thanks!
    I have a quick question, though – what kind of toy would you recommend for a couple who’ve both never tried any before? Something pretty tame that wouldn’t weird out my husband, who doesn’t really ‘get’ toys (but I really want to try something).

    • Definitely try a small vibe you guys can use during play together. A small vibrating bullet (like the Evolved “Speeding Bullets collection” or a Tantus “Little Secrets” vibe are great because they are quiet, waterproof, and not intimidating) try playing with it in the shower a few times, that way the sound wont be a distraction…

      if he is intimidated, give him control of the toy during foreplay, and you can take over during intercourse. Use it on him as well, so its a couples toy and not just for one person. you can hold it against the base of the shaft or the scrotum during fellatio or against the tip and stimulate with your other hand.

      Small toys like bullets are typically meant to be external only, if you want to explore internal stimulation as well, find a long, thin G-spot stimulator (There’s one called “The Teaser” and one called “The Scoop” that are fairly inexpensive. The brand escapes me at the moment, as soon as I think of it I will let you know) work well internally but that you can also hold them flat against your belly so the gspot curve of the toy rests over your clitoris and your hand doesn’t get in the way of intercourse.

      As you both explore what you like/don’t like you can choose other types of toys to add spice to the sexy-time. Hope that helps!

    • Not Holly, but personally I think a bullet vibe is a great starter toy for anyone. It doesn’t look like genitalia so it’s less intimidating, and it provides spot stimulation to anyone who has spots they like to stimulate, so equal opportunity.

  14. GREAT ARTICLE! Just wanted to make sure everyone knows there are other options as to where you buy your bedroom accessories – not just online or at a brick and mortar storefront.

    I live in the southeast US and there are little to no women-friendly, educational and reputable brick and mortar stores to shop at. Most of the storefronts capitalize on the long-haul trucker or bachelorette party demographic, which is why I became a Pure Romance consultant. Pure Romance is an in-home party plan company – we bring a wide variety of bedroom accessories, as well as lotions, lubricants and loads of sexual health knowledge to the privacy of your home for you to browse and have a fun girl’s night in (without the worry of your pastor/mother/nosy neighbor seeing your car parked in the lot of a “novelty shop”!) Consultants are also available for one-on-one consultations and know your purchase history, so we can recommend next steps for your bedroom adventures and build upon the items you’ve already purchased.

    It’s easy for in-home parties to get a bad rap, but our company has been in the business for 20+ years and works closely with the Kinsey Institute out of Indiana University and partner with several well known sexologists (Logan Levkoff, Ian Kerner, Madeline Castellanos, etc). Our focus is much more on the education of sexuality and empowerment of women, not just the titillation/scandalous reputation most of the shops in our area have.

    If you don’t know where to start with your adventure (especially if you’re in a more conservative area!), please check out Pure Romance as a viable option! My sister consultants and I are always happy to help!

    • technically? nothing. It is an approved lube.
      But it is SUPER high in glycerin which is what makes it sticky (KY suffers the same fate) They use the glycerin as a thickening agent, so when the actual lubricant dries up or is absorbed into your skin then all that remains is the glycerin. Atsroglide was originally derived from a formula for medical lubricants (like for catheters) Its formula was not developed for longevity. It has just benefited from a very clever person and their marketing prowess. (like Trojan Condoms!)
      A lot of women (more and more I’m noticing in conversations at my store, as well as myself and most of my coworkers) are finding they are sensitive to lubes that are high in glycerin.

      My personal recommendations (based only on my own experience and on feedback from my clients) for water-based lubes: Pink Water by Empowered Products (glycerin free and hypoallergenic, perfect for sensitive ladies like myself), Sliquid (100% natural and Vegan), and Liquid Silk.

      BUT if Astroglide does it for ya and makes you happy and you’ve never had an issue then by all means stick with it, I’m not saying its inherently bad or anything. Do whats right (and Safe) for you and your body! πŸ™‚

      Do you guys have other lubes you love? I would love to hear your feedback!

      • So that’s what the problem is! I already know I’m sensitive to glycerin and try to avoid it in skin care products, but I didn’t even think about lube. It seems obvious now that I think about it…

        Anyways, thank you! Really. It looks like I have some shopping to do now πŸ˜‰

  15. Just curious, why is the Hitachi Magic Wand “now-infamous”? I recently got one and absolutely love it. Super strong! You can also use it on your back! Tons of attachments and is enjoyed by all partners. Now I’m worried – is it actually dangerous or something?

    • It is absolutely safe. No danger at all. You enjoy that bad boy Jules. Its just infamous because it was created as a legitimate muscle massager that is almost solely purchased for use as a sex toy. You say “Hitachi Magic Wand” to almost any adult and they will probably give you a knowing look and a sly smile. (Much to the chagrin of Hitachi, which has actually removed their company name from the packaging of all units sold in sex shops)

      I WILL say however, if after a few months of use (depending on how frequently you use it) you start to feel like its not “Strong” enough anymore chances are that the toy isn’t losing strength but that you are becoming desensitized by it. People come in to ours stores looking for something stronger, and there really isn’t anything. The only real course of action is to take a vibrator-vacation for about a month to let your body sort of reboot and become sensitive to the sensations again…

    • Naaah–infamous in that it’s famous for something that is not it’s intended purpose. Hitachi wands were designed for body massages, but I don’t know anybody who’s ever bought one for that!
      As far as safety, I don’t know anyone who’s had a complaint. Just treat it like any other mechanical device; don’t use it if the cord appears to be damaged, if the device is damaged in some way (even if that part doesn’t come in contact with your body), if it sounds different than usual or if it gets abnormally hot.

      • I’m that one person who actually bought a Magic Wand to use on my back and shoulders! Of course, I tried it, ahem, elsewhere, but it was too strong for me. Still, no matter what you use it for, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t absolutely love it.

    • Thank you both for the answers! Yeah, we definitely bought it as a sex toy, which it turns out is also a great back/neck massager. Seriously, it works out muscle knots in about a tenth the time of bare hands. But, yeah, I try to use it sparingly for sexy times, sort of as a treat to anticipate ; )

  16. It’s worth noting too, that there’s a lot of information out there on what materials are in toys and what makes them body safe or not. has a lot of information on choosing a safe toy and a list of partners who sell only good ones!

    • This. this. This. THIS. This website was started by the founder/owner of Smitten Kitten in Mpls, MN. I went there for a lesson about bad vibes, and she pulled out a glass jar in which she ‘stored’ jelly vibes and they had all kind of melted into each other, not from heat mind you, but from chemical reaction (unstable plastics will react with one another)

      Anything that calls itself ‘Jelly’ is unsafe. In addition to reacting with other chemicals, they are porous. Which means you can never get them clean enough. A horror story she told was of a girl who broke up with her boyfriend because she thought he had given her Gonorrhea, from repeated outbreaks. Turns out she just kept giving herself a Yeast infection from her toys.

      A good tip I pulled from the lesson, if you can smell anything chemically, that means those chemicals will get into your body. (Mini-chem lesson, if you smell something it is because the particles are floating in the air).

      Ok, stopping before I get too preachy. It just bugs me that the US is unwilling to regulate sex toys (the Phthalates that no one wants in kids toys, because they are unsafe? its the ingredient that makes sex toys ‘jelly’)

  17. Great article! My husband wants to get me a new vibe for Valentine’s and this was very helpful since I have only used the cheap Spencer’s kind before. Great lube advice too!

  18. I was curious if anyone had any opinions about Ben Wa balls? I actually had only first heard about them a few months ago when I was watching an episode of That Sex Show.

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