Volonté is excited to feature the writings of several sex and relationship experts from Dr. Ian Kerner’s project, Good in Bed. This week we welcome Kate McCombs, MPH (a sex & relationships educator who specializes in teaching strategies that increase empathy and enable connections) as she discusses the benefits of incorporating sexy toys into sex with your partner, as well as how to go about doing so!
Sex toys are often branded as a boyfriend substitute when, in fact, they can serve as a valuable component of couple play. So what’s really holding people back from reaping the benefits of a well-placed vibrator or dildo?
Common Myths About Sex Toys
First of all, there is that fear among heterosexual women that their partners will be threatened by the introduction of a toy into the bedroom. What’s interesting, though, is that the vast majority of men are not actually nervous or threatened by sex toys. A tidal change has happened in our culture. Even if someone has never used a toy before, they’re likely still open to it. And if they are nervous, I think it’s valuable to reframe these toys as tools that tool-using primates can use to augment pleasure.
Which plays into another myth I encounter often: that it doesn’t count if you make your partner orgasm with a sex toy. I often use metaphors in my workshops to help people understand how silly this mindset is. If you and your partner are cooking a meal together and you use a food processor or a blender to prepare part of the meal, you still get credit for cooking the meal. Or if you’re building a shelf and you use a drill to put the shelves together, you still get credit for building those shelves.
Why not use tools that help make sex more pleasurable or that help shake you out of your usual routine? You would never tell someone they’re inadequate because they have to use power tools to build something.
Others are embarrassed to go shopping, either in person or online. Some are afraid to step into a brick-and-mortar store and others are worried that, if they do order a toy online, it will arrive in a box with a giant penis on it. But those working in your local sex shop aren’t judging you, and can actually be founts of wisdom if you have questions about what to buy. And as for the packaging that online companies use, they’re always incredibly discreet.
People also get overwhelmed with the amount of choices on the market. Even if they get up the courage to go onto a website, they see the huge variety of toys and think oh my god. How do I use all of these things? I say start small and find something like a bullet or lipstick vibrator. Both types are pretty straightforward to use, and it’s easier when you’re learning about how your body responds to sex toys to have something you’re not struggling to operate.
Another thing people often don’t consider is that toys can enhance male sexual pleasure, too. After all, any vibrator you can use on the clitoris you can also use on the frenulum, and some dudes really like that. It doesn’t always lead to orgasm, but it can still be really enjoyable to put some lube under the glans and play with a vibrator there.
There are also toys for men that stimulate the prostate. Some heterosexual men struggle with how to communicate to their partner that they want prostate stimulation… but that they’re not gay. The fact is, men have nerve endings there. Wanting to stimulate those nerve endings doesn’t make you gay. Happily, I’ve noticed an increasing demand for prostate-specific toys for men. And just the fact that they exist can be permission-giving for dudes to explore that part of their body.
But Why Should I Try a Toy?
If you’re looking for more variety in your sex life, if you have a desire to try new things together, trying a toy can be really powerful. And in fact, toys can also act as a sort of a proxy for communicating about a desire you have. For example, a lot of heterosexual women want to bring vibrators into partner play because they want more clitoral stimulation during intercourse or they want more attention played to their clitoris in general, and bringing that toy into the mix can be a way of communicating that. Or for people interested in enjoying anal play, toys are an approachable beginning step to exploring anal and prostate pleasure.
How Do I Bring a Toy into the Bedroom?
Despite that well-known image of a woman surprising her man by greeting him at the door in a robe… and nothing else, I don’t recommend buying a toy and then surprising your partner with it when you’re both naked. If you’re going to get a toy to use together, go shopping together so it feels like you’re on the same team.
As for starting the conversation in the first place, one of my favorite pieces of advice is to not underestimate the power of “Hey, I read this article on ___. What do you think about it? Maybe it’s something worth trying?”
As for how to incorporate those toys seamlessly into your sexual activity, it can be highly practical and highly sexy to build anticipation by talking about it when you’re not naked. People really underestimate the sexy power of talking about what you’re going to do to each other later. For example: “Hey. I read about this toy and I’m kind of intrigued. Should we try it? Hey. Why don’t we check it out online? Ooh. Let’s do it, and let’s get the expedited shipping.” Then, by the time it arrives, you’ve basically been engaged in this four-day foreplay. I think that can be powerful for people.
Also, bodies change over time, and sometimes it’s in masturbation that we realize what’s changing. Masturbation—toys or no toys—can be a data gathering exercise for what you do later on with your partner.
Beyond all of this, I think one of the most important uses of sex toys, and of masturbation in general, is that being orgasmically autonomous is in service to your partnership. Inevitably, two people in a relationship are not always going to have congruous sexual desire. And if you have a sexual impulse and are wanting sexual release, and your partner is just not into it at that time, being able to take care of that on your own is in service to them.
Which Toy Should I Start With?
It’s really important for you to know that there’s no best vibrator or best sex toy. People often ask me what they should buy. While I can make some informed recommendations based upon reviews and other factors, all toys are different and they don’t all work for everyone. And if a toy doesn’t do it for you, it doesn’t mean you’re broken.
By the same point, there are some things you might want to look out for, such as good battery power and body-safe materials. As far as batteries go, the strength of your battery will affect the strength of the toy’s vibration. An alkaline battery is not as strong as a lithium ion battery, and a toy powered by a lithium ion battery might not be as strong as a mains powered one.
As far as materials go, never buy anything made with jelly rubber. Phthalate-free silicone toys are a great alternative. But if your budget is limited, toys made out of hard plastic are also body-safe.
Also, don’t forget about lube! It’s a small thing that can make the biggest difference in how people enjoy sex. Oftentimes, people think of it as something they need when their partner is not turning them on enough. But you can use it regardless of how turned how you are. (Plus, how wet you are is not always in line with how much you’re turned on.) A nice, glycerin-free lube is something everyone should have in their toolbox.
In the end, if toys don’t interest you, that’s completely valid. You don’t need sex toys to have a fulfilling, full sex life.
And it’s the same when it comes to kitchen appliances. You don’t necessarily need a blender in your kitchen, but some people get real satisfaction out of having that Vitamix.
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