Shopping for sex toys is one of the few areas of sexual experimentation where women are far more adventurous than men. Yes, it's shopping (which explains a lot), and we're suckers for anything shiny, pink and playful, which many sex toys are. But most importantly, for a number of us, the humble vibrator is also our most reliable means of orgasm.
Men, on the other hand, are slightly more apprehensive: They tend to see vibrators as "replacements," rather than supplements, to a sex life. It's true that our buzz buddies do occasionally help us achieve orgasms more efficiently than our partner. However, there are still good reasons why he should be smiling supportively when you walk through the front door with an oddly shaped parcel in a discreet, dark bag (looking like the cat that swallowed the canary). After all, sex toys are, just as the name suggests, toys, things to play with for a bit of fun ‑- and have fun you will. [Editor's note: If your man isn't convinced, Tracey wrote a column just for him.]
Choosing a Sex ShopPick a place to suit your mood: A sleazy shop if you're feeling down and dirty or a "posh" shop if you want to go a swankier route. If you're paranoid that his mother or your nosy big sister will be walking down the street as you head in or out of the store, choose one in an area they're unlikely to visit. If you get caught by friends and they look at all shocked, just laugh and launch into a funny story of what happened in there; it will make them look prudish while you and your partner appear liberated and terribly cool.
Picking Out Your Products
Research suggests that around 10 percent of adults use sex toys regularly, but I'd put that figure much higher. In fact, about 60 percent of my girlfriends own at least one vibrator (not to mention all the other stuff they're not admitting to). You can go online to decide on your toys of choice, of course, if you're shy (and yes, they will arrive in unmarked packaging, not a box that screams "10-inch throbbing dildo!"). But I'd highly recommend that you and your guy visit a reputable sex shop together ‑- even if you just go once ‑- simply because you can hold and touch the products. It's also a naughty, sexy bonding experience that might turn you both on more than you can imagine! But since both ways of shopping can be very intimidating and overwhelming, I've compiled a list of favorite things to get you started:
Vibrators: Every woman's best friends, vibrators come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny buzzing "lipsticks" to enormous, penis-shaped devices. Narrow the selection by deciding what you want from yours: If it's for masturbation and you prefer penetration with clitoral stimulation, go for one of the "Rabbits," as featured in Sex and the City, a penis-shaped vibrator with a clitoral attachment. "Wand" vibrators, small cylindrical vibrators that you hold against the clitoris, are also great and ideal for use during intercourse. For more powerful vibration on the clitoris, opt for one that looks like a back massager, large with a big rounded head, such as the Hitachi Magic Wand.
The small, hard plastic ones offer better vibration, while the jellylike rubber or silicone varieties have weaker vibration but feel nicer. Make sure you get one with variable speed. Test how quiet it is, and be sure it's waterproof if you want to use it in the bath or shower. You'll also find "gadget"-type vibrators, ones with and without remote controls that are disguised as everyday objects. Such models are fun ‑- but only in addition to, not in place of staple purchases.
Dildos: These are basically imitation penises that come in a range of sizes. The difference between a dildo and a vibrator is that dildos don't vibrate. Usually made of rubber, they're sometimes "S" shaped for G-spot stimulation. If you like the feeling of fullness, they're good to insert during oral sex. You'll also see strap-on versions called harnesses. By attaching them to your body, you can transform female into male instantly: the ultimate gender-bender. These are handy for lesbians who like penetration, for men who are into anal penetration and for fantasy role-play. Some harnesses have a second dildo which fits inside the vagina or anus.
Nipple Clamps: S & M devotees adore these because they create the sensation of pinching and pain. The rest of us look at them, think Ouch! and move back to the warm, fuzzy vibrator section.
Pelvic Floor Toners: The more toned your vaginal muscles are, the better sex will be for both of you since you'll be able to grip his penis tighter. You can rhythmically squeeze the muscles, doing repetitive sets called Kegel exercises without inserting one of these gadgets. But having something to grip increases the odds that you're doing the exercises correctly. Most pelvic floor toners resemble tiny barbells. They're highly recommended after childbirth but handy for anyone, really.
Penis Rings: He slips one of these rubber, leather or metal rings onto a flaccid or semierect penis. Because the ring is tight, it traps blood in the penis, helping maintain a stronger erection for longer. If he's a little on the, ahem, small side, he'll probably like it because they make the penis look and feel bigger. The only problem is, men with smaller penises tend to be premature ejaculators (not very fair, but it's because the penis head has roughly the same amount of nerves, and they're more concentrated over a smaller surface). So consider yourself warned: Since penis rings tend to increase sensitivity, he could orgasm sooner than usual. (Gain some, lose some.) If you want to try one, opt for rubber first (leather is more expensive and metal a bit scary), but make sure it will fit snugly around the penis. Also, don't leave it on for more than 20 minutes, and whatever you do, remove it before you snuggle up for the night.
Vibrating Penis Rings: These are generally made of rubber and have little vibrators attached for clitoral stimulation. In order for them to work effectively he should use a grinding, circular thrusting motion during intercourse, rather than the traditional in-out motion, to keep the little vibrator in as much contact with the clitoris as possible. Despite the extra effort required, they're well worth a try ‑- and inexpensive as well.
Blindfolds: You know what these are and exactly what to do with them! You can make a blindfold out of anything, but fancy ones are good for role-play and dress-up.
Whips and Riding Crops: All used for spanking and not nearly as threatening as you'd imagine, many of these make menacing sounds but land with a whisper-soft touch ‑- perfect for role-play. Riding crops, for example, come in pretty colors, but with a serious expression on your face, you'll be the one in charge.
S & M Gear: Those dangerous-looking studded collars, leather outfits and masks are sometimes enough to send people back out the sex shop door. But if you're intrigued rather than intimidated, start off with some handcuffs or a studded collar. If that really does it for you, then work your way up to the complete leather get-up and serious bondage gear. It can cost a fortune.
Dress-Up Clothes: Nurses' outfits, baby-doll lingerie, one-piece catsuits... They're straight out of the '80s and tons of fun. Be warned, though: You'll pay through the nose for them in a sex shop, and they're not very well made. But if you've got the cash and you like the look of them, why not?
Porn and Erotica: Porn has come a long way since Debbie Does Dallas. While traditional male porn still dominates most video sections, there are many films made by women for women (read: smart, fun and clever).