May is National Masturbation Month! Perhaps you'd like to celebrate by purchasing a new vibrator or dildo? Whether it's your first time or you're looking to upgrade or try something new, we've got some helpful hints to assist you in shopping for a sex toy. We asked Lux from our sexy sister site Fleshbot as well as writer, speaker, educator and activist Dr. Carol Queen, of Good Vibrations, to share their expert advice.

Let's say I have never ever bought a sex toy, but I'm curious. Where do I begin?

Carol Queen:
First, consider what you already know you like, sexually, assuming you've had some experiences already. Are you more into clitoral and vulva stimulation than being penetrated by a finger/penis/something else? Or vice versa? If the former, try a vibrator made for external use — the Hitachi Magic Wand, the Laya, JimmyJane's Form 3 (video here) — there are many of these. (Plus even if you get something that could be inserted, there's no law that says you must use it that way.) If vaginal play floats your boat, you'd want a dildo or a vibrator that can be inserted — the Gigi, the Seduction, there are also many of these. A variant of this is G-spot play, and some toys are specifically designed to curve in and hit the spot. And if you're a "cake and eat it too" person, either get two toys — one for each hand! — or the a Twice As Nice style like the Rabbit Pearl, made famous on Sex And the City. If insertion sounds like a sexy thing, make sure you choose a size that you like. Ordering something too big or small won't give you your optimal experience.


Think a bit about what your budget is. Sex toys can range from the ultra affordable to the ultra expensive —and you don't want to break the bank only to find out you've invested your life savings in a toy you don't actually like. As a general rule, a more expensive toy probably won't give you better orgasms than a cheaper one — it's just more likely to last longer, be made of higher quality materials, be rechargeable, etc. You'll probably get a longer lasting, better made toy if you spend more, but if you're just figuring out what you like, you'll probably be better off buying something on the cheaper end of the spectrum—and then investing in an upgrade when you have a better idea of what works for you.

Wait, so more expensive sex toys are BETTER sex toys? Or can you get something pretty good for a good price?
Carol Queen:


More expensive toys tend to be made of better-grade materials and very often will last longer than less expensive ones; in addition, they will often have extra-fab qualities like more vibrational strengths and patterns, recharging units, and such. One company makes vibes that buzz to the beat of the music on your MP3 player! But you can get a toy that'll make you perfectly happy for less, too — it may not last as long, but if you like the look of a less expensive toy or it's what you can afford, get it! It'll help you decide what elements you like so that when it's time to buy toy number 2, you'll have a better idea about your optimal ride.

You can try on clothes. What's the best way to "try" a sex toy, since you can't take it home and then return it?

Carol Queen:
Good Vibrations has always put demo models out so people can touch them and choose according to texture, hard/softness, and vibration. It's the one element that really makes live shopping better than online shopping, though a good site will give you lots of information, which is always helpful. (Good Vibes developed a Volume/Intensity scale to help you compare how loud and strong your vibe will be; it's listed on our website and in our catalogs.)

Most of the sex toy stores that I've been to have their wares on display, and you're allowed to play with and examine them.
• Find out how intense the vibrations are. A funny little trick I've heard: if you want to see how a toy's vibrations will feel on a clitoris, try pressing it to your nose (which, fun fact, is way more sensitive than your hands). It wont feel exactly the way it might on your ladyparts, but it will give you some idea of what you're getting into.
• Take a look at the controls. This is something that I consider super important — even though it doesn't get a lot of discussion in most sex toy talks. Think of it this way: when you're in the middle of a hot and heavy session with your sex toy, you're going to want something that's intuitive and easy to use. Personally, I prefer toys like the JimmyJane Form 2 (video here), which has three buttons — one to increase the strength of vibration, one to decrease the strength of vibration, and a third to toggle through the toy's different pulse patterns—but you may find that you like something different. Play around and see what set ups make the most sense to you.
• See how big it is. This one should be self explanatory — but keep one thing in mind. Because sex toys are made of materials that are firmer than body parts, a sex toy is likely to feel bigger than it looks. A silicone dildo feels way bigger than a flesh cock of comparable size (and, correspondingly, a stainless steel dildo of a similar size feels even bigger than both of those).
• See what it's made of. That will give you some idea of what it's going to feel like downstairs (if it's soft or hard; ridged or smooth; and so on).
• See what color it is. A lady should only buy a sex toy if it properly matches her outfits and decor. (I kid, I kid!)

Is it true that if a vibe feels good on your mouth it will feel good on your genitals? I read somewhere that if it's too hard/rough for the lips on your face, you might not like it other places.
Carol Queen:
Hmmm. I'm not sure this would be true for everyone. I'm just thinking of my friend the Hitachi, and no way would I want to brush my teeth with it…
It IS true that some vibrations can be too much for some people. If you find yourself with a too-strong buzz, fold up some fabric to put between it and your body; put your hand over your vulva and buzz the fleshy area between thumb and forefinger; or cushion the clit with your outer labia. FYI, vibrational intensity can come from the strength of the toy, OR the size of the area that comes into contact with your body. Counter-intuitively, the smaller the vibrator, the more its vibration might feel too intense for some, because so few nerve endings are getting all that vibration. That's one reason why the Hitachi is such a good design — though it's strong, the head is so large that many, many more neurons help spread the sensation out. It's also worth noting that a vibration that feels like too much when you get started may feel perfect once you really become aroused. Arousal mediates sensation in many ways, and this is definitely one of them.

Are there advantages and disadvantages regarding materials? Are there things you can do with silicone that you can't with glass ? Or plastic? Also, which can you use in the bathtub?

The most important consideration with regards to sex toy materials is whether the toy is made out of something that is body safe and (ideally) sterilizable. I know this sounds like an obvious thing, but there are still retailers who sell toys that are made out of jelly rubber, which can contain phthalates and are just not good for you. And even if it's phthalate-free, there's still a chance that it's a porous—and thus unsterilizable—material. Case in point: cyberskin, which is used in a lot of toys, can be cleaned but never full sterilized—so if you're using a cyberskin toy, you can't (for example) use it for vaginal and anal play unless you use a condom (in contrast, a silicone toy can be used in many ways—and even shared—provided it's sterilized between uses).

Carol Queen:
Silicone has a pleasant, fairly natural feel to the touch, plus it is non-porous and super-easy to clean thoroughly, and it transmits vibration well. It's a superior material for vibrators, dildos and plugs alike. It's more expensive to work with, so silicone toys will generally be among the more expensive in the store. It comes in different softness grades; some people might like a very bendy toy, others a more firm one.

Silicone conducts vibrations very well, which means it's relatively easy to turn a silicone dildo into a vibrator as well; something you can't quite do with a pretty glass dildo. I'd also add that, as important as material is, the texture of the toy is incredibly important as well. As those "ribbed for her pleasure" condoms have taught us, a little bit of bump can make a ride extra fun. Case in point: I thought the Twisted Rose glass dildo looked super boring...but when I used it, I realized that the combination of ridges and hard glass made for an amazing gspot sensation. Live and learn.[associate}

Carol Queen:
Glass and metal are completely firm (some plastics are too), and some love this feeling, while for others, it's just too rigid and inflexible. This is, though, a quality that makes it especially good for finding and stimulating your G-spot. Many toys are too soft for that.

Softer plastics have the same comfort quality as silicone but are harder to clean thoroughly — we recommend condoms with them.

Any dildo or plug can go into the tub with you (though I'd urge great caution with metal and glass ones in a slippery tub with tile — if you drop your toy you'll screw up both it and your shower!). Any vibe that's sold as waterproof can get wet right along with you, too. If you're not sure if as specific toy is waterproof, ask. NEVER use a toy with a cord in the water, like the Hitachi.

Some vibrators that say they're waterproof are often just splash proof, meaning that they can be washed with water without destroying the circuitry, but not submerged for any length of time. Bathtub compatible toys will generally note that they're submersible — I believe all of JimmyJane's toys (except the vibrators from the iconic collection, which aren't actually manufactured by them) fit this criteria, for those who love vibration while they're sitting in the tub.

How should one take care of a sex toy? Cleaning, storing?

Carol Queen:
Toys can be cleaned with special toy cleanser, or just liquid hand soap or a mild dish soap. I would not recommend the germicidal soaps; triclosan is very irritating to many people. Make sure the soap, whatever it is, is thoroughly rinsed off before the next use. Some toys are not waterproof and will need to be wiped off, not put under water. The easiest materials to clean are silicone and the hard materials like glass and Lucite. Store a toy someplace secure — a special toy box, a drawer — that ideally isn't going to get too warm; most toys today are made of fairly sturdy materials, but I've seen a cheap dildo actually melt in the sun, so try to keep your toys temperate, just to be on the safe side. If you can take the batteries out between uses, do so. Rechargeables should be treated according to their instructions; in some cases you'll need to run the battery all the way down before charging up again, so read your user's manual at least the first time you get ready to use your toy. Oh, and clean it off before using it the first time.

Sometimes a vibe or dildo will look scary, but be pleasurable — and sometimes a sex toy can be really aesthetically pleasing but not actually get you off. What's up with that?

Sadly, form and function aren't always intertwined. Some of the ugliest vibrators (like the Hitachi Magic Wand) were designed as industrial massagers, without erotic encounters specifically in mind—-and the ones that look pretty but don't do much are usually designed by people who care more about aesthetics than sexual pleasure (or, at least, assume that the people buying their toys do).

Carol Queen:
While aesthetics are very important to some of us, the nerve endings in your genitals don't connect to your optics! They respond to vibration (a separate nerve ending evolved for this! Amazing!), temperature, pressure, motion, and there are vaginal and anal nerves that respond to fullness. If a toy isn't the right size, shape, or texture for you, or have the vibrational strength you like, it can be super-pleasing to look at but isn't your most optimal toy. it might make a really sexy paperweight, though!

Earlier: Sounds Of Pleasure: A Masturbation Mixtape