My best friend and I both turned 18 in the summer of 2009. We celebrated my birthday by buying a bunch of scratch-off lottery tickets and a pack of Newports. I wasn’t necessarily interested in gambling or smoking, but I wanted to exercise my new and exciting rights as a legal adult. Even better, being 18 meant that once my friend and I went away to college (and had some privacy from our parents and siblings) we’d be able to visit a sex shop for the first time.
Looking back, there’s a lot of things I wish I knew about sex shops and sex toys before making my first purchase. Here’s a list of ten things you should know before you make your first trip to a sex shop.
1. If the sex shop is reputable
Sex shop experiences can vary quite drastically between a sketchy novelty shop and a feminist sex shop. If you’ve never been to a sex shop and you’re curious what options you have in your area, I strongly suggest searching online for a list of sex shops near you. Look through your options and read online reviews of the shops in your area. I have an article series called Sex Tour where I talk about my experiences in shops I’ve visited. Check out my interactive map and see if I’ve visited a shop near you!
2. Not all sex toy materials are body safe
One of the most important things you need to know before going to a sex shop for the first time is that not all sex toy matierals are body safe. I know, it’s wild, right? In the US, the sex toy industry is not a regulated market. This means that while some toys are perfectly safe to use for their intended purpose, some companies put out products made of toxic materials and call them “novelty toys” to release themselves of liability for those who use unsafe toys internally. Thankfully, these toys are usually pretty easy to spot. You can read about how to identify jelly toys in my sex toy material guide. I always recommend getting something made of silicone, glass, or steel if you can afford to.
3. What kind of toy you’re looking for
It’s okay not to know exactly what you want to buy before you walk into a sex shop, but you should have an idea of what you’re looking for, even if that idea is only “I want a body-safe dildo” or “I want a beginner butt plug.” This is especially important for folks who go into sex shops looking for something for their partner because if their partner isn’t there to answer questions, the staff won’t have any idea what they’d like. Have a basic understanding of your or your partner’s body before trying to buy a toy for it. Also consider bringing your partner or having a conversation about things they’d like instead of surprising them with a toy they might not be comfortable with.
4. There is no “best” toy
This is a really common question that I get as a sex toy reviewer: “What is the best sex toy?” The answer is that there is no such thing as the “best” sex toy because everyone’s body, sensitivity, and preferences are all very different. Something that works really well for one person might not be the work for another. Keep this in mind while shopping and if you’re asking staff for input, try being more specific about what you’re looking for.
5. Gender is irrelevant
Throw out all the ideas about sex toys and gender that you have because it’s all irrelevant. While some shops may separate toys into gender categories, there is no rule that says certain toys are for certain genders. Gendered toys ignore the needs of trans people and also create unnecessary division. People with penises can use vibrator wands, too. Anal toys are for everyone. People with vaginas don’t always like penetration. A toy for a woman doesn’t have to be pink. Ignore the gender expectations within the sex toy industry and focus solely on your pleasure when choosing a sex toy.
6. Lube is important
If you’re looking to buy your first sex toy, I would suggest that you consider adding a small bottle of lube to your purchase. Lubricant can really enhance play for a lot of people, even if you don’t think you need it. Just be sure you’re getting the right kind of lube for the toy you’re getting. If the toy is made of silicone, you’re going to want to stick to only water-based lubricants. Be sure to read my lube guide for more information!
7. Anal toys need a flange
If you’re in the market for an anal toy, be sure you’re buying an anal-safe product. In order to be anal-safe, an insertable toy must have what’s know as a flange. A flange is a wide base that prevents toys from going too far inside your body. Almost all butt plugs and most dildos you see have a flange, but not all do. Also, many vibrators do not have a flange. Check out my guide on anal sex for more safety information before choosing an anal toy.
8. Toys are often cheaper online
Just as you should have an idea of what you’re looking for, you should have a budget in mind so you can narrow down your options. I suggest looking at online retailers and reading sex toy reviews of toys that look interesting to you. Just keep in mind that online retailers are often able to sell things at a lower price point than a brick and mortar store. It might be useful to go to a physical location if you’re new to toys and don’t know exactly what you want, but keep in mind that price may be different in person.
9. It’s okay to ask for help
It can be overwhelming to go into a sex shop for the first time, especially if you’re not sure what you’re looking for or you have questions before you make a decision. The staff in a sex shop are there to help! Remember that they are around sex toys all the time and they’re used to talking about these products to customers. Don’t be too shy to ask your questions–that’s exactly what they’re there for. Reputable sex shops have employees who are well trained in sexuality and sex toys and they may even be local sex educators. Ask your questions without shame!
10. Look for classes, workshops, or other events
Not only are sex shop staff often a good source of information, but reputable shops often hold workshops and social events that you can attend and learn more about toys, sexuality, or sexual health. These are really useful services that you can take full advantage of if you’re lucky enough to live near a store that hosts these types of events.
I hope these things have helped prepare you for your first sex shop experience! If you’ve been to a sex shop before, comment something you wish you knew before going in for the first time. If you’re brand new to sex toys, is there anything you’re still unsure of?
This article was sponsored.
As always, all writing and opinions are my own.