A Beginner's Guide To BDSM Toys

We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. Now, onto today's topic: how to use BDSM toys.

Q: "My long-term partner and I are interested in upping our BDSM game. We’ve done very, very basic stuff like light spanking and gentle hair pulling. We’ve never used toys or props before, and we were looking to make a couple of purchases together. What are some good beginner BDSM toys? I know about things like paddles, nipple clamps, whips, and gags, but is there anything else we haven’t thought about? What’s the best way to start experimenting with these toys? And anything we should know about safety or general best practices? Thanks!”

A: Thanks for the question! BDSM toys can be a lot of fun to play with, but it’s important to learn about your toy before putting it to use. In general, I recommend playing with any toy outside of the bedroom before bringing it into the bedroom. Try it out on yourself first, then practice putting it on your partner. This will give you the opportunity to give feedback without feeling like you’ll “ruin the moment.” Plus, when you’re horny and ready to go, you’re less likely to pay attention to the safety nuances that you might normally pick up on. I also recommend reading online reviews of any toy you’re considering purchasing. You can get the best advice from people who have tried out that specific product.

Before we go any further, don’t forget the most important part of any sort of pain or sensation play: a safeword. It’s too easy to cross the line from “good pain” to “bad pain,” so you need a quick and simple way to put a pause on what you’re doing. Before taking your clothes off, agree on a word that either one of you can say to let your partner know, “I need to stop right now.” Pick something that you wouldn’t normally say during sex, like, “banana” or “giraffe.” When one person says the safeword, both of you need to stop what you’re doing immediately, take the toy off, and check in with each other.

Try: BDSM Positions: The Beginner's Guide to BDSM , $15.99, Amazon

All good? OK, let’s dive in! Here are some recommendations for seven categories of BDSM toys, plus instructions and ideas for how to use each.

Blindfolds

Blindfolds are one of the cheapest and easiest ways to start experimenting with BDSM. They’re usually incredibly safe. A simple sleep mask can work perfectly for your BDSM play. Look for a mask that doesn’t apply direct pressure to your eyes and has an adjustable strap. If you have a blindfold that puts pressure against your eyeballs, you may notice blurry vision for a few minutes once you take it off.

Kinzi Dream Weave Contoured Sleep Mask, $10, Amazon

Restraints

Restraints are perhaps the bread and butter of the BDSM world. You can get quite complex with restraints, but I’d recommend starting simple if you’re a beginner. I like Neoprene cuffs with velcro attachments, since they’re gentle on the wrists and easy to get out of — like these Sportsheets cuffs, which come with a tether. If you want to go whole-hog, check out this Sportsheets under the bed restraint system, which has cuffs for your hands and wrists. If you’re really nervous, keep the restraints loose, so you can slip out of them without undoing the fastener. Don’t use rope if you’re a beginner, since it requires proper knowledge about knot safety. And forget about metal handcuffs; they’re way too uncomfortable.

You also should never leave a restrained person unattended. If you’re the one being restrained, try not to put the cuffs on too tightly, or exert too much pressure on the restraints. You don’t want to end up cutting off circulation.

Harbinger Neoprene Padded Cuffs, $10, Amazon; Sportsheets Under the Bed Restraint System, $42, Amazon

Floggers

If you want a bit more versatility with your toy, check out a flogger like this one from LELO. Floggers are made of multiple strips of fabric, typically suede or leather (though there are plenty of cruelty-free options as well). You can use them for very gentle sensation play by simply stroking your partner’s skin with the toy. Or you can up the intensity by lightly flicking the handle. The nice thing about floggers is that the multiple strips dull the impact, so you typically can’t go overboard with the intensity. This makes them great beginners toys.

Practice using the toy on your own skin first, so you get a sense of what the sensation is like (of course, you’ll still need to ask your partner for feedback on the intensity level when you use it on them). Avoid whipping a flogger near the face or genitals.

LELO Sensua Whip, $68, Amazon

Paddles

If you’re a beginner, I recommend sticking with large, padded paddles. The larger the surface area of the paddle, the less it will sting the skin. Paddles that are covered in faux fur, like this one, will create an even gentler smack.

When getting used to a paddle, try it out on your own body first. This will help you get a sense of how hard you can swing it. When you’re using it on a partner, warm up the skin first with gentle smacks, then gradually up the amount of force. Aim for the meaty parts of the body, like the butt cheeks or thighs. Don’t ever smack bony parts like elbows or knees, and avoid the genitals. After any particularly strong slap, apply pressure to the skin with your hand right after smacking to help ease the sting.

Try: Strict Leather Fur Paddle, $56, Amazon

Candles

Candles are a great for sensation play, but you need to make sure you buy candles that are specifically designed to be dripped onto the skin (no birthday candles!). Check out this Jimmy Jane massage candle or these Japanese drip candles. The wax melts at a lower temperature, which prevents you from getting singed. Test them out on the palm of your hand before moving onto more sensitive areas like the chest. Make sure you have a shower curtain or tarp beneath you, unless you want to try getting wax out of your nice sheets! Never melt candles on your genitals.

Jimmy Jane Massage Candles, $23, Amazon; Japanese Drip Candles, $10.95, Pleasure Chest

Nipple Clamps

Nipple clamps, as the name implies, are designed to clamp over your nipples. They’re good for people who like a side of pain with their pleasure. Beginners should look for clamps that are adjustable, like these or these.

Start off on the lowest pressure level, and place the clamp on the base of the nipple to decrease the sensation. The important thing to know about clamps is that you feel the most pain when you take off the clamp, so you want to be careful about how long you leave them on. Your body adjusts to the sensation, making you think you can leave them on for longer. In reality, you’re in for a surprise when you take them off! When trying your clamps for the very first time, leave them on for just a few seconds, then remove. Slowly increase your hold time by 15 second time intervals.

Adjustable Tapered Nipple Clamps, $14.95, Pleasure Chest

Gags

Gags can be a great way to up the intensity of your sexual encounters without invoking pain. This gag by Tantus is great for beginners because it has an easy-to-release strap, and the gag itself isn’t so big that it prevents you from breathing. If you want to play with a gag, try it on first to make sure it doesn’t trigger your gag reflex. Practice relaxing and breathing once it’s in place. Keep in mind that your jaw will start to tire the longer you wear the gag, so start off using it for just a few minutes at a time, then slowly work your way up. Since the gag will prevent you from saying your safeword clearly, come up with a safeword signal, like raising the index finger of one hand or moving your head in a circle.

Tantus Beginner Ball Gag, $13, Amazon

Have fun, and stay safe!

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Images: Bustle; Pleasure Chest (2); Giphy