Now that I'm a sex writer with dozens of vibrators in my apartment, getting sex toys seems like second nature to me. That makes it easy to forget that a decade ago, I was a nervous teen shopping for her first vibrator — and I had no clue what to get. When you've never set foot in a sex shop before, buying sex toys can be confusing. They have so many different shapes, sizes, and functions, it's hard to know what to even factor into your decision.
When I bought my first sex toy, I was a freshman in college just starting to explore my sexuality with other people. I'd been masturbating forever, but only with my hands. And since I was having a sort of sexual awakening, it seemed appropriate to switch up my solo sex routine too. So, a friend and I took an excursion to Condom World in Boston — which, it turns out, has far more than condoms. I blushed as I perused the shelves and lingered on a purple vibrating dildo. It seemed adequate for both clitoral and vaginal use and was simple enough not to be intimidating, so I placed it on the counter and tried to avoid eye contact with the salesperson.
Now that I think about it, very little went into that decision — because I had no idea what questions to ask. If I could go back in time, here's what I (and a few experts) would ask my 18-year-old self.
1"Am I An Indoor Cat Or An Outdoor Cat?"
I have to credit We-Vibe brand manager Stephanie Keating for this hilarious phrase. If you enjoy or want to explore vaginal stimulation, go for something longer with a curve (the Njoy PureG Spot Metal Wand is good for that).
If you're into clitoral stimulation, try an egg or bullet vibrator. Or, to get the best of both worlds, go with a rabbit vibrator or another two-headed one like We-Vibe's Nova.
2"Do I Want To Share This With Partners?
You can use any sex toy with a partner, but some have cool features that make partner play extra fun, Keating tells Bustle. Some, like Dame Products' Eva, can be worn during intercourse; others, like Dame Products' Fin, can be worn around your partner's finger; and still others, like We-Vibe's toys, connect to apps so that your partner can control them from a distance.
3"Is This Toy Even Safe?"
We are way too careless about what materials we put in our bodies. Stay away from packaging with the word "jelly" on it, since jellies can contain chemicals called phthalates that have been linked to cancer and infertility. "Look for a product that is free from phthalates and BPA," says Keating. You also might want to avoid latex if you've got sensitive skin. And make sure your toy doesn't have seams or crevices, which can house bacteria. The safest materials, according to Keating, are silicone for soft toys and ABS plastic for hard ones.
4"What's My Budget?"
There are a few things to consider here. First of all, you may not want to commit to an expensive toy until you know what you really like. That's why Adam and Eve's sex and relationship expert Dr. Kat Van Kirk recommends getting a few cheaper toys of different varieties initially, she tells Bustle. On the other hand, you don't want to sacrifice quality too much when it comes to sex toys, especially given the potential safety concerns. Keating suggests spending $50-$200 on your first sex toy.
5"Do I Want A Battery-Operated Or Rechargeable Toy?"
The cheapest toys you'll find will probably be battery-powered, but they may not actually be that cheap once you factor in the price of batteries. Rechargeable toys also tend to last longer, says Keating. Their only downside is that when a battery-powered vibrator dies, you can refill the batteries immediately (provided that you have them), whereas charging them sometimes takes time. Some rechargeable toys will tell you when they're running out of batteries to avoid that situation.
6"Will I Be Using This With Other People Nearby?"
This is the #1 question I would ask my 18-year-old self, because despite what I convinced myself when the lights were off and my vibrator was on the quietest setting, there's no way my roommate never heard it buzzing from a few feet away. If you share a room with someone or have an apartment with thin walls, you might want to opt for one of these sex toys that barely make a peep. (Or, if they're cool with it, use your Hitachi Magic Wand as much as your heart desires! But you should probably check with them.)
7"Am I OK With Depending On This To Orgasm?"
Some people find that repeated vibrator use — especially use of very powerful vibrators — can make it harder for them to orgasm without a vibrator. This effect isn't permanent, and it's only a problem if you consider it one. But if you want to make sure you can still orgasm with your hands or a partner, sex therapist Vanessa Marin recommends using a vibrator only half the time you masturbate or getting a less powerful one.
All that said, there are only so many questions you can answer yourself. Fortunately, many sex shop sales clerks can talk to you about what would best suit your needs (don't be embarrassed — this is their job!). And then, of course, there's an endless wealth of knowledge on the Internet. You could spend your whole life reading sex toy reviews, but this and this could be good places to start if you want to learn from those who have ~come~ before you.