A Guide to Sex Toys


Sex toys can be a fun and novel way to engage in sex by yourself or with a partner. In today’s modern world, there are hundreds of different types of sex toys, many of which can be used by people of any gender or sexual orientation. Incorporating toys into your sex life can be an enriching experience; finding the right toy should be approached with a bit of patience, playfulness, and safety.

A variety of colorful sex toys: vibrators, anal beads, dildos.

There are a couple of guidelines which should be noted for anybody using sex toys of any kind:

  • Sex toys are a better option than household items. Most sex toys are designed with the human body and safety in mind. Such products are by far the safest option for items to use for sexual pleasure. Using household phallically shaped items such as a cucumber, hot dog, banana, or otherwise is not only unsanitary but also unsafe for those who use them. Investing in a sex toy is a good decision for anyone looking to expand their sexual practices 
  • Cleaning is an essential process to ensure that using a sex toy is as safe as it is fun. In general, soap and warm water can effectively prevent a sex toy from collecting and maintaining harmful bacteria. Such bacteria could contribute to the passage of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Different toys are made of different materials that require different cleaning methods. We recommend taking note of a toy’s material and researching how to best clean the toy.
  • One toy, one hole, one time. Switching between anal and vaginal penetration with a sex toy can spread harmful bacteria between orifices which can lead to STIs. In any instance, be sure to clean the sex toy appropriately before switching users or orifices.
  • If you wish to use sex toys with your partner, be sure to discuss with them so that each party is fully consenting. Sex toys should positively enrich a couple’s sex lives, but this can only happen with open and honest communication between individuals about expectations and comfort levels. Be respectful and patient of a partner’s wishes to make sex more enjoyable for both individuals.
  • Using a sex toy for your own pleasure is not a reflection of inadequacies in your sex life. If one partner is dissatisfied after sex and decides to use a sex toy, the other partner should not feel hurt or upset. Sex toys can supplement one’s sex life in a positive way and should not be interpreted as an another’s deficiency in sex.

These are just a few of the essential things to keep in mind when selecting and using a sex toy. For most individuals, incorporating toys into sexual activities is new and can be uncomfortable to discuss; we hope this article provides you with the information you need to be more confident about sex toys in your own life.

Materials and Cleaning Care


Rubber is a common material for making sex toys because rubber is inexpensive to produce and easy to mold. The rubber used in most sex toys is porous, so it is not easy to clean thoroughly. Because of this, condoms are recommended when using a rubber toy.1 Rubber is used to make traditional and realistic dildos. Rubber has a firm feeling and is structurally sturdy. Rubber is also one of the most common materials used for strap-on dildos because it does not tear easily.


A jelly dildo.

Jelly toys are similar to rubber toys, but they are slightly more squishy and pliable. This makes them feel more realistic than the cheaper rubber dildos. Jelly dildos are made soft by using special plasticizers, called phthalates, and these may be slightly toxic to humans, although the EU (European Union) has declared current levels of phthalate safe. Jelly toys are also porous, so it is wise to use a condom over the toy to help keep it free of potentially dangerous bacteria and protect yourself from any negative effects of phthalates. Jelly dildos can be used in strap-ons, but they should be carefully handled because they are not as solid as rubber dildos.


Silicon toys are very smooth and comfortable, and they are increasingly popular as a material for sex toys. Silicone toys are non-porous and very durable, so they can be cleaned and disinfected in a dishwasher, boiling water, or just scrubbed with soap and water. Take into consideration that an electric toy might require special care concerning water. In addition, silicone toys should not be used with silicone–based lubricant as this could lead to degradation of the toy.2

Synthetic Skin

Another type of material used for sex toys is called  “realistic skin”; other labels such as Cyberskin, Real Feel Super Skin, Better-Than-Real, and Fanta Flesh all refer to the same material.2 This is a synthetic blend that is the closest you can get to real skin today. It is soft and smooth and feels realistic; however, it is very porous as well as being fragile and easily torn. Careful cleaning and disinfecting of the material is necessary. Realistic skin must also be cleaned with a powdery material such as corn starch. This special cleaner helps keep the material soft.2 Using condoms to protect the synthetic skin helps make its cleaning easier. This synthetic material is most popularly used in penile sex toys such as a Fleshlight.


Latex toys are made of rubber. Many people have latex allergies, so for some it may be wise to stay away from these kinds of toys. Latex is generally flexible and has a smooth, glossy finish. Latex toys require extra care when cleaning as they can be porous. As such, it is recommended that one use a condom with latex toys. They should be cleaned with a special antibacterial sex–toy cleanser. In addition, they should be powdered with a renewing powder for best results.2


A glass dildo.

Glass is a newer material being used in toys. Glass is non-porous and, therefore, very easy to clean. Like silicone, it can be put in the dishwasher or cleaned with soap and warm water. While glass dildos can be for the most part safe, there are some caveats we would like to discuss. Glass toys with paint on their surface are not safe for use. The paint may be slightly toxic for humans and can chip off during use. Glass is prone to chipping, so be sure to check glass dildos for chips and cracks before use. Another potential problem with glass toys is that the material that glass dildos are made out of is the same material as glass cookware, which could spontaneously shatter under extreme temperatures.1

Surgical Steel

Some dildos and vibrators are also made from surgical steel. Surgical steel is safe for internal play as it is smooth and nonporous. In addition, steel toys are easy to clean and will not break easily. Steel toys can be washed in the dishwasher or in a mixture of 10% bleach and 90% water to fully disinfect.1

Whatever material your toy is made of, it is recommended that you follow the cleaning directions provided by the manufacturer. Taking appropriate cleaning care for your specific toy will increase its longevity and ensure that the pleasure you enjoy from it is risk free.

A dildo made from surgical steel.


A dildo is any phallic object that is inserted into the vagina or anus to produce pleasure. There are several different types of dildos, and users should know how to use them correctly and how to take care of them. Remember that anyone can use a dildo for both vaginal or anal stimulation, and your sexual activity is not a basis for one’s sexual orientation. Unlike the vagina, the anus is not biologically designed to be penetrated by any object; thus, it is essential that you use adequate lubrication if you attempt to use a dildo in anal play. Some dildos are specifically designed for anal play, so one might consider a toy such as a butt plug, which has a wider base to prevent the object from being lost inside of an orifice.  In addition, for people with vulvas there are many more nerves in the clitoris than in the walls of the vagina. If dildo penetration does not provide enough stimulation, the vibrator section below offers information for how to better stimulate the clitoris for desired pleasure. 

Two nude dildos.

Dildos come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. You may want to experiment to discover which of these sex toys, if any, is right for you. Traditional dildos are usually made out of rubber; these dildos are simply designed to be inserted into an orifice and gripped at the base. Some traditional dildos also double as vibrators. Some of these dildos are designed to look like realistic penises. Some have testicles at the base of the dildo, and a few of the fancier models can produce liquid, modeling ejaculate to further the similarities. Sometimes porn stars sell exact molded replicas of their penises. There are even kits to create a dildo molded from your own penis, which might be a fun activity for couples looking to further explore their sexuality. 

Other traditional dildos are specially designed to be curved or double pronged so that people may stimulate the G-spot in the vagina or others may stimulate the prostate gland rectally.  These toys might also have a special vibrating option that can be positioned against the clitoris or the prostate. Some dildos are even double sided so that partners can both be penetrated simultaneously.

A double-sided dildo.

Decorative Dildos

There are many dildos designed to look beautiful in order to reflect the beauty of sexuality and love; however, these are not often as functional as traditional dildos.  Decorative dildos are often made of glass, which requires a great deal of consideration and care before any use. First, glass is cold and may not be very pleasurable. Secondly, glass can be made slippery from lube or vaginal fluid, making the toy difficult to hold on to and easier to lose inside of one’s body. Lastly, glass can break, and broken glass in the vagina or anus is extremely painful and might require medical attention.

Strap-on Dildos

A pink and black strap-on dildo.

 Some dildos are specially designed to be strapped onto a person’s body or head. To the left, you can see a harness that would attach to a dildo. Strap–on dildos can be utilized for an exciting role reversal from traditional penile/vaginal sex. When a partner without a penis penetrates their partner anally with a strap on, it is called “pegging.” Many people might be afraid to engage in pegging because of the stigma of anal sex. However, we would like to stress that one’s sexual orientation is not determined by sexual activity but rather one’s attraction to a particular gender. Being open to the experience of pegging can even be thought of as a sign of strength for those who are confident in their sexuality and comfortable in a non-traditional sexual relationship. Individuals who are “pegged” by their partner might find that they enjoy the sensation of penetration and prostate stimulation, which can make orgasms more intense.

Anal Plugs

These toys are similar to dildos; however, they are specifically designed for anal play. Some anal plugs double as vibrators, which might increase their appeal as a stimulating toy. Anal plugs are often used to help stretch the anus, in turn making anal intercourse easier. Anal plugs can be purchased in sets that provide various sizing options. Prior to using one of these toys, we recommend using the restroom and thoroughly cleaning the anus including about 1 inch inside. To make the process of insertion easier, be generous with the amount of lubrication you use.3

Five anal plugs.

Unlike some dildos, butt plugs have a wider base to prevent the toy from being fully inserted into the anus. If an object is fully inserted in the anus, the muscle that surround the rectal opening, called the anal sphincter, involuntarily closes and traps the foreign object in the anus. This can be painful, frustrating, and costly if you need to go to a doctor to have the foreign object removed from your anus. It can also be very dangerous. Do not assume that something is too long to become trapped inside the anus. 


Vibrators come in a diverse number of shapes and sizes. They are often sold commercially as “personal massagers.” Depending on the vibrator, it might be optimized for vaginal, penile, or anal stimulation. Vibrators are especially effective at providing clitoral stimulation. Like dildos, vibrators come in a variety of materials. Hard plastic vibrators are rigid, are appropriate for internal and external stimulation, and provide more intense stimulation than soft vibrators. Soft vibrators can be made from rubber, silicone, or even realistic skin and provide less intense stimulation.

In today’s technologically advanced world, vibrators have developed drastically. Many of the vibrators sold today offer different options for varying intensities of vibrations. Sometimes a vibrator can be paired with a smart phone to be controlled remotely or even be synced with music. These new capabilities can allow for exciting and novel experiences for an individual or a couple’s pleasure.

A white and blue vibrator.

When cleaning a vibrator take caution with any batteries or electrical sources. Many vibrators are water safe however some might not be. Be aware of the specific toy you have and look to the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and maintenance.

Vibrator Tips

Vibrators are fun for almost everyone, but are especially popular among people with vulvas. Using a vibrator clitorally is among the easiest ways for many people to reach orgasm, with oral sex and water stimulation high on the list too. Here are some basic tips for getting the most out of a vibrator:

  • If a person feels comfortable making a little noise, then they will probably find that letting themselves moan or sigh while exhaling will improve the whole experience. Moving or rocking their hips rhythmically, in time with their breathing, can also make a big difference.
  • If the vibrations are the right speed but seem too intense, then a person might try either draping a thin cloth between their clitoris and the vibrator or leaving a light article of clothing on. They can also try moving the vibrator to the side of the clitoris or to other erogenous zones rather than keeping it directly on the clitoris.
  • Rather than keeping the vibrator stationary and using heavy pressure, a person can try using lighter pressure but moving the head of the vibrator back and forth in circles.
  • If someone is already comfortable moving their hips in time with their breathing, she can try squeezing and relaxing their PC muscle (the same muscle they squeezes to stop the flow of urine when they are urinating) in time with their pelvic movements.
  • Some people find they can have multiple clitoral orgasms with their vibrator. The secret is to back off on the pressure, keep the vibrator moving, and avoid direct contact with the clitoris until the sexual arousal builds up again.
  • Anyone can enjoy vibrators too. One obvious approach is for a partner to use a vibrator on their partner’s clitoris during penile/vaginal sex. The vibrations reverberate onto the penis, a sensation which some people really enjoy. People with penises can also enjoy vibrators without a partner. This is a fundamentally different experience than masturbating with the hand. However, people who practice rhythmic breathing, pelvis rocking, and PC muscle contractions may find that they like the sensation. Some people find they can reach pleasurable orgasms with a vibrator without ever having a full erection.

Anal Beads

Four anal beads.

As pictured above, anal beads are a series of beads on a “string” in ascending sizes. They are intended to be inserted into the anus slowly, one at a time. At a time of significant arousal, or when one is nearing orgasm, a person or their partner should remove the beads from the anus one by one. One should not pull out the beads too quickly and should discuss with their partner what speed provides the best sensations. It is often said that the insertion of anal beads is not what feels pleasurable but rather their removal. These toys come in a variety of materials and should be soft and flexible. Especially given that they are an anal toy, it is essential that one appropriately clean the beads after every use. Discuss with your partner beforehand if you decide you would like to incorporate anal beads into your time together.4

Ben Wa Balls

Ben Wa balls

Ben Wa balls are similar to anal beads but are primarily intended for vaginal stimulation. The pair of balls are often connected by a string or are sometimes magnetized. In general, one ball is usually weighted differently than the other. The pair of balls should be lubricated prior to being inserted into the vagina. After their insertion, it is recommended that the individual sit in a rocking chair or a swing; even performing Kegal excercises will cause the balls to move inside the vagina. This motion from within can provide pleasure to the individual. At first, the balls might fall out with too much activity, but with practice the user should be able to keep them in for longer durations. With some practice and confidence, individuals might use the Ben Wa balls while in public, often without anyone else’s awareness.5

Diagram of ben wa balls inserted into a vagina.

Cock Rings

Cock rings come in a variety of sizes and materials, often metal or flexible elastic. It is recommended that first–time users try more flexible rings before moving on to metal or more rigid materials. The rings are used by being placed at the base of the penis or, for greater sensation, behind the testicles as well. Cock rings are most easily put in place while the penis is flaccid; using appropriate lubrication also helps to make the experience more comfortable. Cock rings work by restricting blood flood, thus providing the ability to last longer during intercourse and with a stronger erection. In addition, cock rings provide greater sensation and more intense orgasms to individuals who use them.6

A pair of cock rings.

The Penile Sleeve

Popular models include the “Fleshlight” or “Fleshjack,” these toys have a hard plastic outer cylinder with an internal portion that is usually modeled off of a body orifice. The various inserts are generally made from realistic skin-like material, making the experience of using one very similar to real penetration of some variety. Other penile sex toys may be a soft sleeve, and some have different textures on the inside. Some brands offer penile sleeves that are only intended to be used 1-2 times before being disposed. Individuals can insert their penis into these toys to masturbate by themselves, or a partner can participate to add to the experience.  The synthetic skin material is porous; thus, it is essential that you either use a condom or appropriately clean the toy with antibacterial soap, as well as an additional cleansing powder such as corn starch.7

Four penile sleeves. One is shaped like a vagina, another like an anus, and another like a mouth.

This toy is very versatile and can be used in a number of different positions. One can move the toy along the length of the penis as in traditional masturbation, or they could position the device so that they are able to thrust into it as in missionary position. Some brands sell alternate attachments such as wall mounts or suction cups.7 For those who choose to invest in these toys, this could be an exciting way to improve the overall pleasure and experience.

Sex Dolls

Inflatable sex doll.

In making the experience of using toys even closer to reality, people have developed sex dolls with which individuals can have sex. In general, they come in two different varieties: blow-up dolls and realistic sex dolls.

Blow-up sex dolls can be more basic while others are more realistic and complex. The simpler blow-up sex dolls often do not incorporate any masturbators but rather have holes in the appropriate locations. These dolls are a good beginner option for individuals who already own masturbators such as a dildo or the insert piece of a “Fleshlight” that can be inserted into the dolls. Other more realistic blow-up dolls might come with masturbators or vibrating functions for added pleasure. Dolls vary in the experience; some might even talk, suck, or secrete lubricant.8

Hyper-realistic sex dolls can be extremely expensive but might be a worthwhile investment if it is what one truly wants. Usually such dolls are sturdier and designed to feel and look more like a person; however, one can purchase only parts of said dolls, such as the torso. These dolls are a much greater commitment and not just financially. They require extensive cleaning with soap and water and a dusting of corn starch. In addition, they require space for storage and can be incredibly heavy.8 Despite these downsides, realistic sex dolls provide intense and accurate sexual stimulation. 

Concluding Remarks

These are just a few of the extensive variety of sex toys sold commercially. Sex toys offer an exciting and satisfying new way to experience sexual stimulation by yourself or with a partner. We recommend trying out a couple of toys before deciding which ones work best for you. There is no reason to feel embarrassed in purchasing a sex toy. While sex toys can be viewed as an extra cost, they are an investment in your own sexual satisfaction. 


  1. Brown University. “What’s the Best Way to Clean Sex Toys? | Health Promotion |” Brown University.
  2. “Guide to Sex Toy Material.” Lovehoney.com.
  3. Couse, Loren. “How to Use a Butt Plug: The Complete Anal Plug Guide.” MQ, 21 Mar. 2018.
  4. Couse, Loren. “How to Use Anal Beads.” MQ, 21 Mar. 2018.
  5. “How To Use Ben Wa Balls.” Ultimate Guide to Ben Wa Balls.
  6. Couse, Loren. “How to Use a Cock Ring.” MQ, 23 Mar. 2018.
  7. Review Team, LTS. “How to Use a Flashlight: 11 Classic and Innovative Ways.” LetsTalkSexnet, 28 Sept. 2017.
  8. “How to Choose a Sex Doll.” Lovehoney.com.

Last Updated: 17 April 2018.