How to Buy a Safe and Quality Sex Toy, According to Experts
On the Overwhelming Scale of one to the menu at the Cheesecake Factory, shopping for a sex toy is, like, an 11. But, with arguably more pleasure potential than a slice of Oreo cheesecake (and certainly a longer shelf-life), it's definitely worth it.
But where do you start? Here. Scroll down for the top things you need to keep in mind before taking a sex toy home, according to sexperts—including what type of toy is best for every person or situation, tips for picking a body-safe material, and how you should actually expect to pay for a pleasure product. Keep these in mind for your first sex toy purchase, and for any that come after!
1. Figure out what type of sex toy you want.
From clit suction toys to vibes that look like microphones, butt plugs to prostate massagers, there are nearly as many types of sex-toys as there are plates on the Cheesecake Factory menu. Before you start looking, do some noodling about the kind of sex toy you actually want to buy. This guide on the 12 Main Types of Sex Toys is a great place to start.
2. Do a little research.
You comb through Reddit and reviews before splurging on a new skin-care product—why should sex toy shopping be any different? Reading some online sex toy reviews and/or going into a sex shop IRL should be part of the process, too.
"I recommend reading online reviews just as you would before you book Airbnb," says Dominnique Karetsos, resident sex expert at MysteryVibe. Learning online gives you the opportunity to explore what's out there, learn about other folks' experience, and offer you an ~invisbility cloak~ if you're nervous about sharing your desires (even with the educated professional at the sex shop), she says.
That said, perusing in-store has some perks. "Informed staff members can answer questions on the spot and help you make a selection," says Karetsos. Nowadays, most sales associates at sex shops are queer-friendly, body-positive, sex-positive, and genuinely knowledgeable about the products offered. If want to know whether vibe X or vibe Y is better for you? Ask a staff member. Want to know if the toy is body-safe without reading the back? Ask the staff member. Plus, they usually have some savvy tricks on hand to elevate your experience with the toy, she says.
Finally, there's the added value of being able to touch the toys. Sex shops usually have tester toys on display. Hold those babies in your hand. Press all the buttons. "Give yourself permission to let your turn-ons lead the way in deciding what you want to buy. Find something you can see feeling good and bringing you pleasure," says Karetsos.
3. Set your price point.
Don't mistakenly conflate price for quality. A higher price point isn't necessarily indicative of a higher-quality and/or more orgasmic toy. For instance, this 24K $2,500+ butt plug by Lelo may be sexy AF but, functionally, it's likely going to work just as well any other body-safe butt plug. With that in mind, there's no reason to drop a ton of cash on your first-ever sex toy. Below, Amy Boyajian, co-founder and CEO of Wild Flower, an online sex toy boutique, breaks down what you can expect from different price points.
Toys under $50: These are great starter toys, but they likely won't last more than a couple of years. "There are some great vibes in this price range that can serve as introductions to new sensation," says Boyajian. (For reference, my favorite vibrator ever is $50.)
Toys between $50 and $100: Here, you'll find a solid toy that will last you a few years. "You'll get quality toys with really nice features, without the premium price tag," says Boyajian. (The Enby, a gender-neutral vibrator is within this price range at $75 and so is the Pom by Dame, which is $95.)
Toys above $100: Now you're getting into ~luxury~ sex toys. "These toys tend to have extended warranties, a host of great features like remotes, Bluetooth connected apps, and fancy storage cases," says Boyajian. If you know what kind of sensations you like, investing in a high-quality toy that will last through years of use is a great move. Confirmed that you enjoy clit suction toys? Check out the Sona by Lelo (Buy It, $149, lelo.com). Love steel sex toys? Tempt yourself with the stainless steel Eleven Dildo by Njoy (Buy It, $300, wildflowersex.com).
Toys above $1000: Yep, that aforementioned gold karat butt plug isn't the *only* big-spender toy. There's the $15K vibrator Inez by Lelo (Buy It, $15,000, lelo.com) that's made of 24-karat gold plate and the $1,500 The Cowgirl (Buy It, $1,500, ridethecowgirl.com) which is a sex machine designed to simulate penetration.
4. Make sure it's a body-safe material.
PSA: Because they're classified as "novelty items," sex toys aren't FDA regulated. That means it's up to consumers (you!) and companies to ensure that they're body-safe. Plus, body-safe is a bit of an ill-defined category; essentially, it means the toy is made of a material you can get completely clean. (Related: Your Sex Toy Might Be Toxic)
Sex toys are commonly made of three main categories of materials: porous, non-porous, and slightly porous. The bad news is that you can only get one of them can get completelyyyyy clean. (Yikes.) ICYDK, porous is another way of saying "bacteria can get in and stay in." For that reason, your best choice is a toy made of a non-porous material. Use the guide below to know which materials to look out for.
Materials: Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), thermoplastic rubber (TPR), thermoplastic elastomer (TPE), jelly rubber, and latex
It's wise to stay away from these—especially jelly rubber toys, which contain phthalates which are harmful to the body. "These toys are typically soft and jelly-like, and have a distinct scent," says Boyajian. "You can't clean these toys fully, so they can hold onto bacteria which may cause infection or irritation down the line." Unfortunately, some of these materials are still used by sex toy companies because they're cheap to manufacture.
Materials: Leather, crystal, and elastomer
"These are safe for solo use, but need to be used with caution or with a barrier during partnered play if you're not fluid bonded," says Boyajian. (FYI: Fluid bonded mean you and your partner have made the choice to exchange bodily fluids.) Usually, these toys are for folks for whom this isn't their first sex toy rodeo. (Related: Everything You Should Know About Oral STDs).
For instance, some woo-woo sex toy lovers claim feeling a higher ~vibration~ (like, spiritually) when they masturbate with crystal sex toys, while some people who enjoy strap-on sex may want to experiment with a leather harness. But for first-time use, stick to non-porous toys and come back to these materials in like, six-plus months. K? (Learn more about strap on play here.)
Materials: Silicone, stainless steel, glass, Pyrex, and ABS plastics
Let's reiterate: You want a non-porous toy. Which non-porous material is best? Most sexperts will say silicone. Really, it depends on what you're looking for. Silicone will have a silky feel to it and be a smidge pricier than ABS plastic, which is also body-safe but less soft to the touch. Again, glass and metal are going to be pricier, but friction-free.
The takeaway here: "Even if you're on a budget, never compromise your safety. There are many reasonably priced, body-safe, non-porous toys available," says Boyajian.
5. Add accessories to the cart!
"Don't forget accessories!" says Boyajian. "Lube, condoms, and storage are important things to consider adding to your purchase while you're picking up your toy."
Lube, in particular, can be the difference between a good experience with your toy and a great one. "It can make literally any sexual experience more pleasurable," says sex and relationship educator Sarah Sloane, who's been teaching sex toy classes at Good Vibrations and Pleasure Chest since 2001. (Hey, there's a reason ~the wetter the better~ became a sex catchphrase.)
For anal play, silicone-based lube is best because it often lasts longer; however, it can't be used with silicone-based toys. "Most silicone-based lubes will bond with the toy, and warp the shape of it," says Boyajian. That said, there are some high-quality and water-silicone-hybrid lubes that can be used with silicone-based toys. "As a test, put a tiny bit on a part of the toy that you won't be using directly (like the base) and let it sit for a few minutes. If there's no change, you're good to go."
Or, opt for a water-based lube, which is always compatible with silicone toys, and are easy to clean off of sheets and clothes, says Boyajian. (See more: Everything You Need to Know About Lube).
There are also aloe-based lubes and oil-based lubes. These are less popular and may dry out quicker than silicone lube, but it comes down to personal preference. Just remember that oil-based lubes (including coconut oil!) are not compatible with latex, and can make latex barriers (like condoms) less effective. Yikes. (Related: What to Know Before Using Coconut Oil As Lube)
As for storage? It doesn't really matter. Just keep in mind that if you don't buy a special case or bag for your toy, you're definitely going to want to give the toy a rinse with warm water and soap both before and after using it, too. (Related: The Best Way to Clean Your Sex Toys)
Have more questions about purchasing a sex toy?
Go to your local sex shop if you have one! And if you can't get to a store, you can always call them up. One of their experts will be more than willing to help you out. Try Good Vibrations, The Pleasure Chest, and Babeland to talk to a sales associate directly, and Unbound Babes or Wild Flower for email support.