An Introduction to Sex Toys
*In this article I use the term penis, but I want to acknowledge that not everyone uses the same word to refer to this organ. Please continue to use the language that makes you feel most comfortable.
The basics: What are sex toys and why do we use them?
Sex toys are items designed to enhance your sexual experiences by stimulating one or more erogenous zones (1). Erogenous zones are areas of that body that can excite sexual feelings when touched or stimulated (2). When you think about sexual arousal, you probably think about the genitals; however, erogenous zones exist all over your body (e.g. breasts, neck, ear) and their sensitivity can vary between individuals (2). Sex toys are a handy tool for exploring these zones on your body with new and exciting forms of sensation.
=While great for personal use, sex toys can also be used durween you and your partner(s). Their use can help to increase your arousal and likelihood of orgasm, as well as decrease your time to orgasm (1). They can even be used as a form of therapy for those dealing with motor or sensory disabilities, decreased libido, pelvic floor dysfunction, and more (1). All of this is to say, sex toys are for everyone! With so many varieties and combinations, there is likely a sex toy out there that will be a perfect fit for you.
It’s important to note that the “perfect fit” looks slightly different for everyone. Not everyone enjoys the same things… and that’s okay! The preferred pattern and speed of touch, along with the location being stimulated (internal or not) has been shown to vary between individuals (3). In fact, what feels good for you may even change throughout the course of your lifetime (3). Hormones, emotions, and stress-levels—factors that may fluctuate day to day—meld together with your own unique anatomy to impact your sexual experience (4).
Here we will break down the main categories of sex toys to hopefully empower you to play around in the vast world of sex toys.
You may know the clitoris as the button-like structure that sits above the opening of the vagina; but, this is actually just a small part of it. Most of the clitoris is internal, extending down on either side of the vaginal canal (5). Many nerve endings are concentrated in the clitoris, making it highly sensitive (5,6). Specifically, the external portion that we can see, called the glans clitoris, has the highest concentration of nerve endings, which is why it is so sensitive (5). This sensitivity makes the clitoris a key to arousal. In one survey, 36.6% of people with vaginas reported that they needed clitoral stimulation to orgasm and another 36% said that, while not necessary, clitoral stimulation enhanced their orgasms (3).
The name “G-spot” is a bit misleading. It was first described as a palpable spot in the vagina that is highly sensitive to stimulation, leading to unique orgasmic experiences (4,7). However, current scientific evidence suggests this “G-spot” isn’t actually a single spot at all (4,7). Rather, it is a large sensitive region across the frontal wall of the vagina that can be internally stimulated (4,7). As with most vaginal structures, this G-spot region likely varies a lot between folks with vaginas (4).
The prostate is a gland about the size of a walnut that is internally located close to the bladder in folks with penises (8). Much like the other erogenous zones mentioned above, stimulation of the prostate can lead to immense pleasure (8). The most direct way to stimulate the prostate is through the rectal wall through anal penetration (8).
The perineum is the region between the vagina/penis and the anus (9). It shares several nerves with both the vagina/penis and the anus, making it highly sensitive. (9) In addition, folks with a prostate can stimulate the prostate externally through the perineum (8,9).
Vibrators are the most commonly used sex toy (10) and for good reason! Vibrators are a sex toy that generates vibrations at varying frequencies to stimulate errogenous areas on the body. They can be used almost anywhere (vulva, nipples, anus, etc), but they are most often used to stimulate the clitoris, “G-spot”, prostate, and perineum.
There are many vibrator variations with unique design features:
Wand vibrators are large vibrators with a soft, vibrating head that is powered by a strong motor. These wands generate deep, powerful vibrations similar to a massage gun and are designed for external stimulation of the clitoris, perineum, and other erogenous zones (this one is good for exploring your external anatomy).
Bullet vibrators are thumb-sized, discreet vibrators that produce a higher frequency vibration. Like the wand vibrator, they are designed for external stimulation of the clitoris and other erogenous zones.
G-spot vibrators are slightly curved, wand-like vibrators that are designed for internal stimulation of the vagina, specifically the frontal wall of the vagina often referred to as the G-spot.
Rabbit (dual) vibrators
Rabbit (dual) vibrators are a broad sub-category of vibrators that are designed to simultaneously stimulate the clitoris and G-spot at the same time. While they come in a variety of shapes, they often have one long shaft that is designed to be inserted into the vagina and a short arm (or pair of arms resembling rabbit ears) that is meant to touch the clitoris.
Wearable vibrators are vibrators that are held in place by straps or by the pelvic floor muscles for hands-free internal and/or external stimulation. Many come with remote controls that can be controlled by you or a partner.
Clit Suction/air pulsating devices
Clit Suction/air pulsating devices are one of the newest innovations in sex toys. While often grouped into the vibrator category, these devices don’t use vibrations at all! Instead, they use gentle air pulsations to stimulate the clitoris, mimicking the sensation of oral sex. These devices are specifically designed for external stimulation of the clitoris.
Ring vibrators are designed to hug the penis around its base. They are available in a variety of sizes to accommodate penises of all sizes.
Dildos are sex toys with a phallic shape designed for penetrative stimulation of the vagina, or anus. Like most sex toys, they come in countless variations. Some are made to look like a penis, while others are more ambiguous in their design. They may be made out of softer materials like silicone or rubber, or harder materials like metal or glass. They come in many sizes but they are usually 4-6 inches in length and 4-5 inches in circumference (11).
While the standard dildo is pretty basic in its design, new variations have emerged with unique features:
Vibrating dildos double as vibrators.
Double-sided dildos can be used to penetrate both partners at the same time.
Strap-on dildos have a harness that can be worn by an individual, generally for partnered penetrative vaginal or anal sex.
Suction-cup dildos have a suction cup base, which allows them to be securely attached to a surface for hands-free use.
Strokers are soft tubes meant to wrap around and stroke the penis. They come in all shapes and sizes, meaning that there are options for everyone no matter the size of your anatomy. Strokers may also have varying textures on the inside for a more unique sensation. Some even have vibration or suction features that target erogenous regions of the penis.
For folks with penises, there are unique erogenous regions to be explored! Just like the clitoris, the head of the penis is filled with nerve endings that make it extremely sensitive and a great target for pleasure (9). The most sensitive parts of the head are its rim (the rounded ridge of the penis’ head) and frenulum (a small tag of skin on the underside of the penis that attaches the head to the shaft) (9). These areas can be stimulated by many of the vibrators mentioned above, but also by strokers.
Manual Strokers are sleeves which you wrap around and move up and down (similar to using your own hand) the shaft to intensify the feeling of each stroke. Strokers can come in a tubular shape, or they may be winged (meaning they don’t fully close around the shaft).
Vibrating Strokers are sleeves that also deliver powerful vibrations. There are a variety of vibrating strokers available, with some being designed to vibrate around the shaft and other being more targeted to stimulate the frenulum and rim.
Automatic Strokers are devices that take care of the stroking. They are designed to hold the penis and, with the push of a button, move around it for a hands-free experience .
Anal devices are sex toys designed to be inserted into the anus, mimicking anal penetration. The anal region and sphincter muscles contains many nerve endings, making them another erogenous hot spot (12). Due to the proximity of the anal cavity and the vagina, anal toys can also stimulate neighbouring erogenous hotspots like the G-spot and clitoris through the walls of the anal cavity (12). In addition, for folks with penises, anal toys can also be used to stimulate the prostate through the anal cavity (8)
It goes without saying, anal toys come in many varieties:
Butt plugs are usually triangular-shaped devices with a narrowing that allows the toy to be easily held in place. While many other sex toys are designed for movement, butt plugs are designed to stay in place, providing a feeling of fullness or pressure in the anal cavity. Butt plugs can also come in sets, which include butt plugs of multiple sizes. These sets allow you to gradually work your way up to larger toys.
Prostate Massagers/vibrators are thumb shaped devices with a curvature that makes them ideal for stimulating the prostate.
Anal beads are long flexible “strings” with interspersed balls. Unlike butt plugs, anal beads are designed for movement. As the beads are removed they stimulate nerve endings in the sphincter muscles at the opening of the anal cavity.
Anal vibrators are vibrators designed specifically for the anus. Unlike other vibrators, they are shaped specifically for safe insertion into the anal cavity.
Toys that are designed for the anus should have a flared base. This prevents the toy from being taken up into the rectum (1). Many of the vibrators and dildos discussed earlier can also be used anally. However, sex toys designed for the vagina may not have a flared base, so it is best to use with care.
While most sex toys are designed for the genitals, there are other erogenous zones that are equally deserving of attention. The breasts are one of the most sensitive area outside of the vagina (2). Like many of the other erogenous zones we have discussed above, the nipples have many nerve endings (13). When stimulated these nerve endings send signals to the same brain region that senses vaginal or clitoral stimulation (14). Some folks can even experience an orgasm, solely from nipple stimulation (13).
Nipple stimulators are sex toys designed to stimulate the nipples. They are available in a variety of different intensities to accommodate a range of nipple sensitivity and sexual preferences.
Nipple Clamps are, as the name suggests, clamps that are designed to be attached to the nipples. While often recommended for those who like to mix pain with pleasure, nipple clamps don’t have to be painful. Some nipple clamps are adjustable, allowing you to experience all of the pleasure with none of the pain–unless that’s your thing, and that’s okay too!
Nipple Suckers are devices that attach to the nipples through suction to mimic the sensation of someone sucking on your nipples.
Nipple Vibrators are vibrators that attach to and stimulate your nipples. While your other vibrators can be used to stimulate your nipples, nipple vibrators are unique in that they are usually designed to stay in place on their own.
Tips for Playing Safe
Take it slow: As with any toy you are inserting, it is best to take it slow at first. Inserting a dildo too quickly or too far can be painful. Allow yourself to be fully relaxed and excited before trying to insert your toy for the first time.
Use lubricant*: It is also important to use plenty of lubricant. Adding a lubricant helps to reduce friction and discomfort, making the experience more enjoyable (1). This is particularly important for butt play because the anus cannot produce any of its own lubricating fluid (1).
Opt for non-porous materials: Porous materials (e.g. thermoplastic rubber, elastomer) can trap liquids and particles, causing a build-up of harmful bacteria (1). When purchasing a sex toy, look for non-porous materials like medical-grade silicone, hypo-allergenic metals (e.g stainless steel or titanium), and borosilicate glass (1).
Clean your toys: Wash your toys with a mild soap and warm water after every use, before sharing with a partner, and before switching between anal and vaginal penetration. Avoid fragrant soaps that may linger on the toy as they may cause irritation the next time you use your toy (1).
*Be mindful when choosing a lubricant for your sex toys. If using a toy made of silicone, try to avoid silicone-based lubricants (1). A chemical reaction can occur between the silicone in the lubricant and the silicone in the toy and this may ruin your toy (1). Similarly if your toys are made of latex or rubber, it is best to avoid oil-based lubricants (1). Water-based lubricants are safe to use for toys made with any material (1).
The world of sex toys is vast for a reason. Just as our bodies differ anatomically between person to person, so too do our sexual preferences. While at times overwhelming, the countless varieties of sex toys means more sensations and erogenous zones for us to explore. Being able to explore your body and discover what gives you pleasure is something that is really special. Because at the end of the day, all of us are deserving of that kind of self-love.
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