We at Bustle love giving you tips for how to tap into your sexual potential and troubleshoot when things aren’t going your way in the bedroom. But what about finding solutions to those stressful sexual health situations that inevitably crop up when you’re getting down? Emma Kaywin, a Brooklyn-based sexual health writer and activist, is here to calm your nerves and answer your questions. This week’s topic: how to clean, store, and use your vibrator so that it doesn't give you a yeast infection.
Q: I got my first sex toy a few weeks ago and I’ve been having so much fun with it! But I’ve noticed that I’ve been feeling less balanced down there since I started using it... is there something I’m doing wrong or not doing? I’m worried I’m doing something incorrectly and am giving myself a yeast infection.
A: Welcome to the world of sex toys! They are definitely super fun, regardless of whether you’re also having sex with humans — because it’s not like anyone has special parts that vibrate, not to mention a multi-directional shape that hits you in all the right places at once. However, they do require some maintenance and thought, because when you’re done with it it doesn’t walk to the shower and sexily sponge itself down.
All sex toys come with manuals in the packaging, which not only tell you how to turn the damned thing on (if it’s battery operated) but how to clean and maintain your vibrator. But sometimes, we get so excited about a new sex toy that we rip open the box and immediately gotten down to business, losing/throwing away the maintenance information in the process. Some of us also get lazy or sleepy after a good romp and think "I'll clean it later" or even "I'll deal with it next time." If this is you, you may be hurting your body, which is the opposite of what a sex toy is for! Here are some of the mistakes you may be making — and how to fix them.
Mistake #1: Not Cleaning Your Toys (Well) Enough
Cleaning your toys is very very important! I mean, you clean your cutlery after you eat right? Treat your pussy/ass/clit/etc. with at least the same respect as the implement that holds your mac 'n' cheese. But real talk, cleaning your toys is really important, because bacteria can build up on it, which can infect you the next time you go to get down. Also, if you don’t clean your toys between usages, they can degrade over time. So, every time you use a sex toy, clean it after.
Sex toys can be made of a number of different materials (and some have more than one material in a single device, because modernity!), all of which have their own cleaning tips. If you have questions about how to clean specific types of toys, check out this handy dandy guide. If you’ve already purchased a toy and want to know how to maintain it, read the manual — they all come with one! If you lost the manual, look up your toy on the Internet and read about it online. Here are the high-level tips for how to clean your sex toys:
Wipe It Down With Soap and Warm Water
If your toy is made out of silicone, stainless steel, wood, or glass, you can wash it with just soap and warm water. Just make sure the soap you use is gentle and doesn't have fragrance in it, otherwise the next time you go to get freaky you may end up itchy instead.
There are a bunch of sex toy cleaning fluids on the market that you can also check out, although these are basically as effective as good old soap and warm water.
If your toy is made out of silicone, stainless steel, Pyrex, or stone and (this is important) doesn't have a motor or battery pack/vibrator that you can't remove, you can boil it to disinfect it. You should boil your sex toys for eight to ten minutes to get all the bacteria out. Just make sure your roommate doesn't come home and ask you for some of whatever you're making.
Stick It In the Dishwasher
If you have a dishwasher, you can put anything that's boilable in there instead of in a pot of hot water — just don’t use soap/detergent. Also, congratulate yourself for the adult nature of your living situation.
Dry It Thoroughly After You Clean It
If you don’t dry your sex toy after you’ve cleaned it, the whole cleaning process may be thwarted! That’s because mold and mildew can crop up on damp toys. So give your toy a thorough pat-down after you clean it. After all, it probably deserves it. It's worked hard.
Mistake #2: Switching Toys Between Orifices
It's your toy, which means you can do whatever you want with it, and sometimes that means putting it in more than one place. To this we say: YOU GO GIRL! (or boy or gender fluid creature of joy). However, if you’re swapping between anal and vaginal, you could be making yourself feel terrible. In this case, terrible can mean getting a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis.
If you’re getting down in multiple places, either wash your toy between locations, or (since, realistically, are you going to stop, walk to the sink, and soap up while you’re in the middle of playing?) throw a condom on there and have a couple more handy to roll on when you want to switch it up.
Mistake #3: Sharing Toys Between People
If you can infect yourself with sex toys, then it should come as no surprise that you can get infected with something by sharing toys with other humans. Sharing toys without washing them in between or changing condoms can pass on a number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including chlamydia, syphilis, herpes, and HIV. The good news is that most of these pathogens can't survive in the air for long periods of time, so your risk for getting these infections goes down if you use a toy, say, a month after someone else, as opposed to immediately. But it’s better to take precautions so you don’t have to think about the risk at all.
Mistake #4: Not Checking Your Toys Routinely For Wear And Tear
Toys can go the way of all things, even if you’re not riding them hard on the regular. It’s important to give your toys a once-over every once and a while to make sure there are no chips, rips, or cracks. This is super important because these scratches are harder to clean, making them perfect homes for germs. If your toy is cracked or in any way messed up, it’s time to get a new one.
Mistake #5: Not Using Condoms With Porous Toys
Some of the softer toys can't ever be fully sanitized. Why do these rubbery toys exist then? Because lots of people think they feel great! If you're one of this camp, not to worry — you can protect yourself and your partners from getting infected by a potentially unsanitary toy by putting a condom on it. Basically, if you can’t boil it (because of its material or because it has electronics in it for added fun), put a condom on it.
Mistake #6: Not Storing Your Toys In A Clean, Dry Place
Where you put your toys when you’re not using them is almost as important as where you put them when you are (although not nearly as fun). Storing your toys properly not only ensures they are clean for the next time you use them, but also can extend their life. It’s important to keep your toys in a place that’s dry and optimally cool and dark so they don’t get exposed heat, which can cause warping and discoloration. Also, toy boxes are fun and classy!
Mistake #7: Keeping Batteries In Vibrators Between Uses
If your toy is battery-operated, it’s a good idea to remove the batteries when you store your toy between uses. This not only makes it easier to clean (since no battery I’ve ever met can withstand being boiled) but it also makes your batteries last longer, so you can keep going... and going... and going.
Mistake #8: Using The Wrong Lubrication
While you may be a naturally slippery one, more lubrication is always more fun. This is just as true when you're using a toy as when you're getting down with human body parts. There are three main types of lube, and not all are toy-safe.
This type is the best lube for toys, because it doesn't degrade silicone or jelly and it’s the easiest to wash off. It’s also the type of lube that’s condom-friendly, so if you’re pairing condoms with your toys, this lube is the lube for you! Finally, it’s the gentlest on your body, although if you have a pussy you should look for glycerin-free versions because glycerin can give you a yeast infection.
Silicone lube is great if you like to get down in the shower or bath, because it’s water-resistant. Unsurprisingly, this does make it harder to clean, so you need to clean it longer and use more soap. This type of lube works with certain types of toys, but it degrades silicone and jelly, and it’s not condom-friendly.
Oil lube is really only for external parts and anal play, because it can seriously unbalance your pussy. This type of lube degrades most toys, including those made with jelly, plastic, and silicone. But if you have a stainless steel toy that you love in your ass, this is a great option!
Mistake #9: Using A Sex Toy That Could Be Poisoning You
Jelly toys are often made out of phthalates, which is a soft, rubbery plastic. In addition to this material being very porous (aka a great home for bacteria), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has indicated that this type of plastic might be carcinogenic. So if you like this type of toy too much to give it up, please protect yourself by putting a condom between this potentially cancerous stick and your tenderest of bits.
Mistake #10: Using A Toy In A Way It Was Not Designed For
No one wants to go to the Emergency Room because they lost a sex toy up an orifice, but it happens more often than you’d think. Sex toys designed for external and pussy use are not necessarily safe for anal use. If you want to engage in anal play with a toy, make sure that your toy has a base that can remain outside so you can retrieve your toy when you're done.
Mistake #11: Using Something As A Toy That Wasn’t Designed As Such
I’m all about ingenuity, but there are some considerations for what you’re putting up your body and how well it will do once it’s there. Objects that aren't designed explicitly as a sex toy but are used as such are called "pervertibles" (a name I love for so many reasons) and you can use your imagination about what these objects might be. If you find yourself in a situation where you want to get down with a pervertible, make sure that it's smooth and can’t break inside you, and that you’ll be able to get it out.
The Bottom Line
Sex toys are incredibly fun, and the market is pretty expansive. So go forth, and experiment with toys of all sizes, shapes, textures, and motions! Just make sure that you're respecting your body's health while you do it. Ecstasy today doesn’t have to mean pain and itchiness tomorrow.
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