There is no shortage of toys created explicitly with sexual pleasure in mind, ranging from discreet little vibrators that can fit in the palm of your hand to sex swings for the living room.
Pervasive sex and pleasure taboos have hindered the creation and approval of safety regulations for sex toys. Some manufacturers take advantage of this, making toys out of materials that aren’t confirmed to be safe. Always do your research before buying anything that’s going to come into contact with your genitals.
The following is a list of widely used sex toys you will find in almost any adult store. It does not cover toys created for specific kinks and more adventurous or unusual purposes, as there would be far too many to fit in a single article.
Dildos are made for penetration, and are often phallic in appearance. There are sizes for every preference and different shapes for different purposes: stimulating certain areas within the body, such as the G-spot (often curved), anal penetration (with a flared base to avoid it getting “lost”), and double penetration alone or with a partner (with two ends pointing in either one or opposite directions).
Some dildos come with a harness or can be inserted into one. Widely called strap-ons, these are meant to be worn so that the dildo is in the same position a real penis would be. There are hollow strap-ons for men, strapless strap-ons for women, head harnesses, and more.
Vibrators or “vibes” are electricity powered toys that buzz, pulsate, and throb to stimulate pleasure centres. The power, size, volume, and number of settings the device has can vary greatly depending on type, quality, and purpose. There are all kinds of vibrating dildos, smaller egg- or bullet-shaped vibrators, oral vibrators (made to simulate the sensation of a tongue against the clitoris), prostate vibrators, and cock ring vibrators.
Some vibrators can be controlled remotely, which is easier for both solo access and for couple play. There are battery-charged and plug-in options, travel-sized vibes, waterproof vibes, and endless designs to choose from. Take your pick.
Butt plugs are smaller anal dildos meant to stay inserted—“plugging” the anus—and therefore have an indentation beneath the flared outer base to hold them in place. Some come with a faux animal tail for fetish play.
Anal beads are a string of several smooth spheres connected by a cord with a handle at the end. This toy is meant to facilitate pleasure upon insertion and removal—which must be done very carefully, as the rectum can be easily injured. There are different sizes to choose from based on preference and experience. The cord is usually flexible, but there are rigid versions as well.
Ben Wa balls or Kegel balls are weighted balls of various sizes meant to be held inside the vagina to train the pelvic floor muscles, creating a subtle pleasurable effect.
As the name implies, artificial vaginas are designed to imitate (to an extent) the sensation of penetrating a woman’s vagina. The entrance is often modeled after the female vulva to various degrees of detail. Artificial vaginas often contain moving parts for additional stimulation, and some have openings for a bullet vibrator.
Cock rings are meant to restrict blood flow from an erect penis, making the erection last longer, delaying orgasm, and creating pleasurable sensations. There are both rigid and flexible versions, as well as different designs for different uses, e.g. some prefer a ring worn around the penis and scrotum, sometimes called a cock and ball ring.
Cock rings shouldn’t be worn for longer than 30 minutes at a time, as restricting blood flow for longer can be harmful and potentially lead to priapism or nerve damage. Cock rings that are too tight should not be worn for the same reason.
Handcuffs and bondage rope are for people who enjoy being restrained, or restraining others, adding a little “spice” to the power relations of sex. When tying someone up, it’s important not to cut off their circulation, since that can quickly become uncomfortable.
Nipple clamps are meant to stimulate the nipples by pinching them and restricting blood flow, resulting in a pleasure/pain effect, especially upon release. The clamps are usually connected by a metal chain—the weight affects the intensity of the sensations. There are also adjustable clamps for a more tailored experience.
Whips, crops, floggers, and paddles are designed for people who enjoy BDSM. They are used to cause pain, and are often categorized by the amount of pain they’re likely to cause. People have different desires and tolerance levels, which must be taken into consideration when planning for a special night.
Although meant for fun, these are serious instruments that should be handled by people who know what they’re doing, and used on people who know what they’re getting into. Remember to agree on a safeword! Don’t take any chances when there’s a risk of someone getting injured.
If you’re thinking of buying a sex toy, it might be best to save up for something that’s guaranteed to be good quality. Manufacturers that take their product seriously are much more likely to have the consumer in mind, and will provide more information about how to correctly use their toys. Cheaply made toys can be toxic, break down quickly, and may even have seams that need to be filed down before use. Some manufacturers fib about the materials they use.
Take the utmost care when choosing materials that will come into direct contact with your genitalia. Do your research about both toys and companies you’re buying from. Stay away from anything that has a strong or suspicious smell or taste, or leaves any kind of residue after touching it, and make sure you can identify porous and non-porous materials.
Non-porous materials are safer, easier to clean, and often more durable. Always inspect your sex toys carefully for any cracks, tears, or other damage before use. Do not settle for anything less than a toy in pristine condition. Non-porous toys can be sterilized, but check in with the manufacturer to find out what works best for yours.
Porous materials are more flexible, but are much harder to clean properly, and can harbor bacteria that facilitate all sorts of nasty infections, including STDs. Always use a polyurethane condom and water-based lube when using a porous sex toy. Sharing porous sex toys is not recommended, as they can pass infections between partners. Store porous sex toys individually as they tend to break down over time and can even fuse with other toys!
Regardless of what your sex toys are made of, you should always store them as instructed. Tossing them in the drawer can cause damage, which comes with the risk of something going wrong the next time you use them.
Lubricant or lube is a vital part of sex toy use. Always have a good quality lubricant at hand when engaging in play, especially when engaging in penetration, and especially when it comes to body parts that don’t self-lubricate. Forget about using vaseline or any other household product with a different intended use, it will likely end badly.
There are four types of lubricants made for sex:
It’s more complicated than choosing a between these four, however. A lot of commercial options have ingredients that are harmful to your body. Avoid lubes that contain Glycerin, Propylene Glycol, Polyquaternium compounds, Parabens, Nonoxynol-9, Chlorhexidine, Petroleum Oils, Benzocaine, and/or Ureas.
Another thing to keep in mind is the osmolality of the lubricant, or the degree to which it makes your cells absorb water (hypoosmotic) or expel water (hyperosmotic). A perfect lube would be isosmotic, meaning it does neither.
The osmolality of body fluids ranges between 250-380 mOsmol/kg. The osmolality of water-based lubes can range from about 100 mOsmol/kg to a whopping 10,000 mOsmol/kg. The higher that number, the more likely the lubricant is to dehydrate your cells, irritate your genitals, and cause tissue damage. Yikes. A number that is significantly lower than that of the body’s can cause cells to over-absorb water and burst, but the risk of that happening due to lubes on the market is fairly low.
If you are choosing a water-based lube, go with the osmolality that is closest to that of body fluids. The World Health Organisation recommends using lubricants that are less than 1200 mOsmol/kg.
Last, but not least—the pH of your lube matters a great deal. Vaginas are normally around pH 3.8-4.5, while rectal pH is around 6-8. Use a lubricant with an acidity level that is closest to the orifice you’re planning to use it on. This is more important for the vagina, as vaginal flora is much more delicate than the fairly robust bacterial environment in the anus.
Making sure the sex you are having is safe for you and your body is no small task, but it is a necessary one.