The ins and outs to your exploration with sex toys

Sabrina Werts /Staff

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My first-ever real-life sex toy was the result of an awkward conversation with my now-boyfriend, who insisted that I would benefit from learning more about my body. I was reluctant, but as soon as the purple, jelly dildo, reeking of chemicals and unfamiliarity, arrived in the mail, my curiosity won over whatever anxieties I held. Knowing what I know now, I should have never let that thing anywhere near me, but it sparked my sex-toy journey, and I’m never looking back.

All together, some toys can get pretty expensive, but there are truly enough options that everyone should be able to find something safe within a reasonable budget. A $10 dildo can be attractive, but something that cheap could be misleading and may only be meant as a novelty toy.

That being said, when I was in a budget bind, I used barriers — condom on a jelly dildo, dental dam on a questionable vibrator, for example. But in the long run, it’s better to invest in something that will last with proper care. When you are beginning a foray into the world of sex toys, there are many different types to consider.

Internal toys

Internal toys can be used safely by basically anyone. The most important factor concerning internal toys is their material, as many studies on certain chemicals — namely phthalates, which are sometimes used in sex toys — have shown that some toys on the market are not considered body-safe and can harbor infection-causing bacteria due to their porous surfaces. My first dildo fell into this category of unsafe mystery material, and it wasn’t until a consultation with Dr. Google and a urinary tract infection later that I knew how to use it. Studies have shown that steel, glass and silicone are considered safe materials because they can be properly cleaned and sterilized.


Despite the horrible material of my first dildo, it has some interesting features I’ve since looked for in my sex toys. It was firm but flexible, with a vein-like texture and suction cup on the end. When looking at a new toy, I note the length and width to see if it’s something I would be comfortable with.

When it comes to internal toys, remember that they are not reserved for vaginas — dildos can be used for anal penetration as well. Unlike butt plugs, however, they cannot be left inside the body for extended periods of time. Internal toys have a wide range of variety for a seemingly short list of uses, so it never hurts to really explore what’s out there.

Butt plug:

The biggest advantage of butt plugs and other toys for anal use is that they don’t discriminate based on anatomy: Everyone has a butt! Butt plugs are shorter in length than dildos and gradually increase in width. The most important factor regarding any toy that is inserted into the anus is that it can be retrieved safely. This means that all butt plugs should have a flared base to prevent full insertion into the rectum. Should the butt plug be unable to be retrieved, you may find yourself taking an unwanted trip to the emergency room.

Butt plugs can be worn for extended periods of time, though ones made of steel or glass may become uncomfortable after a while. These little devices can have decorative elements as well, such as jewels — called princess plugs — or faux fur tails — tail plugs — for some added fun.

External toys

External toys, in my experience, are really what make the difference between reaching orgasm and not. I waited years between learning about masturbation and actually getting a vibrator, for fear of desensitization or whatever it is that the Internet tells young girls to convince them that they should fear their bodies. Now, I always find a way to incorporate them into a scene.


Vibrators are a type of external toy, and they are most frequently used for clitoral stimulation. Like with internal toys, there seems to be no limit of options. They can be large powerful wands, or they can be small or battery-powered or waterproof, and they come in about any shape you could possibly imagine. They can have varying speeds, patterns and intensities as well.

Bullet vibe

A recent favorite activity of mine is using a bullet vibe — a small, egg-shaped vibrator with a separate controller — during penetrative sex because I get the intimacy of being with my partner while also experiencing the intense sensation of the vibrator. Often, I will have him control it, too, so I won’t know what to expect. And seriously, what could be better than such a combination of feelings?


When it’s just me, my rabbit — characterized by an internal dildo-like piece with an external vibrating piece that sometimes resembles rabbit ears — can get me off in minutes, while also being relatively quiet and water-resistant. The insertable part even has a rotating head with three different speeds and with a half-dozen or so vibration patterns, so every use can be a new experience.

How to maintain your toys:

Regularly cleaning sex toys is super important for their sakes and yours. After each use, I wipe them down with baby wipes or wash them with warm water and a mild soap. Most toys without motors can be rinsed in a solution that’s 10 percent bleach and 90 percent water, boiled or put in the top rack of a dishwasher. Side note: Don’t do what I did and nearly break a $100 toy because of a cleaning mistake. I read “waterproof” as meaning fully submersible — the company said the waterproof description really refers to bodily fluids.

My final words of wisdom can be summed up fairly concisely: Use common sense! If you’re unsure about a toy, research the company and material. Listen to your body and use plenty of lube — even if you’re into pain, stop if something feels truly wrong. Don’t share sex toys or go from anus to vagina or mouth without putting a new condom on the toy. Explore your body, and have a sexy time doing it.

Contact Melanie Archipley at [email protected].