As someone who grew up in the Bible Belt and didn’t receive my first kiss until I was 14 years old, it always struck me as more than a bit ironic that by the time I became a senior in college, I became the go-to-girl to ask when it came to questions about vibrators.
The reason I became that go-to-girl was actually pretty non-sexy. As a freshman at another college, one that happened to be all women, I became friends with a girl whose mother was a sex therapist and who hoped to one day follow in her footsteps.
This young lady was appalled by the naïveté and downright ignorance of many of the girls in our dorms and arranged for someone from the local health department to talk about birth control and safe sex procedures.
Near the end of the talk, the speaker spoke briefly about sex toys. This brought more than a few giggles and red faces. After all, this was the mid-90s. Outside of adult movies, no one ever saw them, much less used them. Still, it turns out she was on to something.
By the time I graduated in 1999, thanks largely to the internet which allowed for the discreet purchase of such things, more and more people, even so-called “nice girls” (and guys) were buying them. When a close friend confided she was buying a vibrator, I remembered what I heard all those years before and passed the information onto her.
Now, nearly 20 years later, sex toys have become so mainstream that they are now referenced in mainstream TV shows and movies. There are also endless retailers online selling them. (It’s even possible to get them on Amazon.) However, despite their ubiquity, there is still a lot of mystery around them especially when it comes to proper use or finding the right one for a specific purpose. And, alas, the internet cannot always be relied on for correct information.
Therefore, for those who are newbies and are interested in purchasing a particular item for themselves or for “a friend,” please keep the following in mind:
1. Keep toys clean and for use by one person only.
It’s possible to transmit STDs, including the HIV virus, via sharing vibrators, dildos, butt plugs, etc. Therefore, they should not be shared unless they are disinfected or condoms are used by each partner. (The non-profit NAM, which is dedicated to fighting HIV and AIDS notes that “using the same condom with both partners is effectively the same as not using one at all.”)
Even in monogamous relationships where STDs are not a concern, toys should be disinfected after use for hygienic reasons. Alas, while most can be, some cannot or not effectively cleaned without destroying the item. If in doubt, ask the retailer if it is or if they offer a money-back guarantee should the item be damaged by cleaning. If in doubt, then don’t buy it.
2. Never use an item for anal play unless it is specifically made for that purpose.
True story: I knew a doctor who shared stories about people rushed to the emergency room for “accidentally falling” on objects that became lodged in the anus. While this may be the stuff of R-rated movies and jokes, there is absolutely nothing funny about this in real life.
Unlike the vagina, the anus has no natural lubrication. It is possible for objects to become stuck inside of it which can provided severe pain and in some cases, even permanent damage.
Much like in #1, if they are any doubts about an object’s intended use, ask the retailer or even ask a doctor. Don’t be embarrassed: chances are they heard it all before.
3. Be very careful about using fruits or vegetables for sex play.
While these tend to be a staple of erotic fiction and movies, this is another case where reality may be a whole different matter entirely.
For one thing, the insertion of a fruit or vegetable can cause any yeast present to multiply since yeast love sugar and fruits, and vegetables are full of sugar. Also, little particles may break off leading to infection or irritation.
Frankly, as much as I tend to believe natural is usually better, this is one thing I would skip entirely.
4. If there’s any pain or discomfort, stop using it immediately.
While this one sounds self-explanatory, I am always amazed and disturbed by the number of people who say they used an item despite feeling discomfort because they thought they should like them. I can’t help but wonder if those who are saying this are influenced by pornography they see where sex toys play a big role and are often cartoonishly exaggerated. Some sex toys really are just novelty items and should remain that way. (In many cases, along with being uncomfortable to use they often cannot be properly cleaned either.)
This leads me to the last tip: Don’t look to porn as a how-to or buyer’s guide for selecting sex toys. Porn is fantasy and usually has very little to do with real-life sex.
In closing, despite the continuing mainstreaming of various sex toys, it can be a bit overwhelming when it comes to choosing them. Thankfully, there is no longer as much of a stigma as there was even a decade ago against purchasing or using them, but it can still be a little embarrassing to some to ask questions.
Therefore, when in doubt, ask someone in the know like a healthcare provider or sex therapist. Everyone has the right to experience pleasurable sex and for some, that may include sex toys. And contrary to what was once common belief, everyone, even many “nice girls” (and guys) do use the latter.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Travis May