The best thing about sex toys is that you can pretty much use them in whatever way brings you pleasure. It’s your body, so you get to pick what toys to use and how: the shape, the type of touch, the intensity, the location, and a lot more. It’s like the world’s most pleasurable choose your own adventure journey.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t a few precautions to take when you use sex toys and some general ground rules that can make sure you have an even better time. So, if you use sex toys or are planning to start, here are a few mistakes you don’t want to make.
1. You don’t wash them correctly or enough (or at all…).
Proper toy hygiene and storage are important for the longevity of your toy and your own safety. Using a dirty and deteriorated toy is honestly just impolite to your genitals. But it can theoretically also leave you at risk for health issues like urinary tract infections if bacteria on a toy makes its way into your urethra. It’s not like you’ll definitely wind up with a UTI if you don’t clean your sex toys. Keeping things sanitary does lower the chances of anything like this happening, though.
The right way to clean a sex toy depends on a few factors, including the material of the toy and whether or not it’s battery-operated, Lisa Finn, a sex educator at the sex toy boutique Babeland, tells SELF. Luckily, SELF already has a guide to the care and keeping of your toys, which is where you can get all the details about exactly how to keep your sex toys as pristine as possible. In summary, though, you usually don’t need anything fancy (a mild unscented soap that won’t leave residue is enough to clean most toys), and you ideally should wash your toy before and after every use—but at least before.
All that said, everyone gets lazy. Sometimes after you’ve finished with a sex toy, the last thing you want to do is hop up and clean it. Finn suggests keeping unscented baby wipes or a cleanser like Babeland Toy Cleaner in a bedside drawer for easy access. It’s not as good as cleaning a toy, but a quick wipe down until you have time to wash it thoroughly is better than nothing. An even lazier hack? Use a barrier between your body and the toy, like an unlubricated condom or dental dam (depending on the type of toy) so there’s little to no cleanup required. With that said, there’s an excellent case to be made for actually using lube with a sex toy. Yes, it requires more cleanup, but it can also have a seriously great payoff. More on that in a bit.
2. You automatically go for the most popular toy.
People come into Babeland and ask Finn which toy sells best all the time (it’s the Magic Wand, surprise!). While it’s a totally fair question for curiosity’s sake, popularity shouldn’t completely dictate which toy you use. “A sex toy isn’t like a cell phone where if you have the one that does all the things and has all the features, it’s going to be [best],” Finn says. “This is about your body and your needs.”
That doesn’t mean that you can’t get advice on what toy to get. If a certain toy is wildly popular, it’s likely for good reason. But as a starting point, it makes more sense to ask about the most well-loved toys for what you’re into specifically. Ask about (or research) the best toys for someone who likes really intense clit stimulation (again, the Magic Wand!) or deep, heavy penetration (Finn suggests the Njoy Pure Wand), or whatever it is you enjoy in bed. If you’re not sure exactly what you like, it may make sense to experiment a bit on your own before investing in a toy.
3. You focus too much on orgasms.
You might be thinking, “Well, duh I want to orgasm when I use a sex toy.” Because, yeah, one of their perks is that they can be really, really useful for getting yourself off. But that attitude could be adding unneeded pressure and taking some of the fun out of it.
“Sex toys don’t have to be used just for orgasm,” Lexx Brown-James, L.M.F.T., certified sex educator and the founder of The Institute for Sexuality and Intimacy in St. Louis, tells SELF. “You can use them to have some feel-good feelings and to enjoy the pleasure of sexual play without it being just a means to have to an orgasm.”
What does that look like in practice? You might want to start by mixing up how you’re using your toy. For instance, instead of sticking to the standard clit, vaginal, or anal stimulation when using a vibrator, Finn recommends exploring your nipples, stomach, thighs, the shaft of the penis, or even giving yourself a sensual massage. “The Magic Wand was originally designed to be a back massager,” she points out.
Of course, if you’re going to switch up a toy’s intended use, make sure it’s safe to do so. Most notably, you wouldn’t want to use a dildo you typically use for vaginal penetration to try some anal play unless it has a flared base so you don’t risk losing it up your butt.
4. You only use toys by yourself.
There’s often a weird shame about bringing toys into partnered sex. Some people worry that a toy is there as a “replacement” or to make up for some sort of performance inadequacy. But it doesn’t have to be related to anything like that.
“Many, many [cis] women are not able to have an orgasm unless they use a vibrator,” Lauren Streicher, M.D., an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, tells SELF. So, if you’re worried about introducing toys to your partnered sex life, Dr. Streicher suggests keeping in mind that a good sexual partner should want you to experience as much pleasure as possible—including with the use of a sex toy if that’s what you like.
Even if you have no trouble orgasming without a toy—or want to take the focus off of orgasms like we talked about—toys can still enhance something that’s already pleasurable. “Sex toys can be like delicious toppings [on] an already really good scoop of ice cream,” says Finn. “Yes, ice cream is delicious by itself, but today I want some with chocolate and a cherry on top just to change it up, to add a little bit of texture and flavor.”
5. You don’t use the right (or any) lube.
Lube can be just as useful for solo sex as it is for partnered sex—sometimes even more so. We don’t always have the time or patience for the type of foreplay we need to self-lubricate when masturbating, you know? And according to Dr. Streicher, anytime you don’t use lube but aren’t naturally wet enough, you not only run the risk of discomfort and irritation, you could also wind up with some vaginal tearing. Ouch.
As for the right kind of lube, many toy materials are compatible with water-based, silicone-based, and oil-based lubricants. But silicone toys—arguably one of the most popular materials for these items—can only be used with water- and oil-based lubes. Silicone-based lube will deteriorate the surface of a silicone toy and pretty much ruin it over time.
Of course, if you prefer silicone lube—and lots of people do because of how long-lasting it can be—this is another time when unlubricated condoms come in handy. Put one on your toy, and you can technically use silicone with silicone all you want.
Speaking of condoms, oil-based lube makes latex prone to ripping, so you should only use water- or silicone-based lube if you decide to use a latex condom with your toy.
6. You only let expensive, luxury sex toys near your genitals.
Hey, it makes sense, you deserve the best. But you should know that sometimes a $ 20 toy can feel just as great as a $ 200 one. People tend to assume that the most expensive toys on the market are automatically the best, but according to Finn, that’s not necessarily true—especially if you’re not very experienced with sex toys yet.
“If you don’t know what you’re looking for out of a toy and you don’t know what you like specifically, maybe start with something that’s a little bit more moderately priced,” says Finn. “Don’t be afraid to get a $ 20 battery-operated bullet and explore your body with that. Once you find out what works and what doesn’t, you can upgrade to something better.” (Caveat to affordable toys: Make sure they’re body-safe, meaning made out of materials that are known not to cause harm, and always familiarize yourself with the best way to care for your toy no matter its material.)
After you do know what you like, splurging can be worth it. More expensive brands tend to have better warranties, higher quality materials and parts, and will generally last you a long time.
7. You don’t read the instructions.
Look, I get it. When you buy a new toy, sometimes you want to try it right away, instructions be damned. But there are usually a few reasons not to do that.
When it comes to battery-operated toys, most instructions suggest getting a full charge before use to extend the battery life. Plus, don’t you want to know what all the buttons do so you don’t accidentally switch settings at the worst possible moment? (As in, right before you orgasm, so wow, thanks, starting from the bottom sounds great.) Same goes for non-battery operated toys; you may save yourself a lot of frustration if you brush up on how to put on a harness before giving it a go.
On the subject of non-sexy tasks related to sex toy care, Finn suggests taking a picture of your receipt in case you need to return the toy. Also, a lot of toys, especially the more expensive ones, come with a warranty that may be useful one day. Look out for Future You and register your device right away if you can—that could make it a lot easier to get it replaced if it buzzes to an early death.
8. You share toys without taking the proper precautions.
Dr. Streicher doesn’t recommend sharing unprotected toys with a partner during sex, especially if you’re using the toy for penetration. Using the same sex toys without protection is essentially the same thing as having unprotected sex. You’re sharing bodily fluids, which puts you at risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection. Not taking the proper precautions with this can also increase your risk of bacterial vaginosis, Dr. Streicher says. This condition happens when the normal balance of bacteria in your vagina gets out of whack, and it can lead to symptoms like itchiness, bad odor, and a burning sensation while you pee (though many people with BV don’t present with symptoms at all).
You also don’t want to share the same toy with different holes on your own body without cleaning up properly in between. You should never use a toy that’s touched your anus on your vagina without washing it or swapping out the barrier between your body and the device, says Dr. Streicher. While your vagina is home to plenty of bacteria and fungi to keep it healthy, it’s not used to the gastrointestinal bacteria like E. coli that chill in the rectum, so cross-contamination can lead to infections.
So, what exactly are proper precautions here? Similar to when you don’t want to deal with a lot of cleanup after solo sex, condoms are useful to have on hand so you can use a new one for each sexual act. Or, you know, you can use this as an excuse to expand your sex toy collection so no one has to share (whether that’s you and a partner or your vagina and your butt).
9. You’re embarrassed about using a sex toy.
If a toy is a permanent fixture in your sex life, you’re not alone and you definitely don’t have anything to be ashamed about. Like Dr. Streicher said, many people can’t orgasm without a toy for a variety of reasons, and even if you can, sex toys are just a lot of fun to use.
Of course, letting go of any inhibitions you have around sex toys can be easier said than done. If that’s a goal for you, Finn suggests integrating toys into your idea of sex as often and enthusiastically as possible: Go shopping for them with a partner, use them as a way of exploring what turns you on, buy toys that are aesthetically pleasing to you—do whatever it takes to normalize their use and make it enjoyable. And if you’re still having trouble, there are sex therapists out there whose whole job it is to work with people on issues like sexual shame.
“Remember that the point of a sex toy is to find your pleasure,” says Finn. “Especially if you’re using it during masturbation, which is a time when you should feel completely free to do whatever you want, because it’s your body.”
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