I was 22 when I tried my first sex toy.

The experience came courtesy of a college internship I had stumbled my way into, at which I reviewed toys, porn, and other sexual aids for an adult personals site. At the time, I had only had one sexual partner, and he happened to be sexually and emotionally abusive. He had, in fact, coerced me into my first instance of penetrative sex. Ever since the dissolution of that relationship, I had avoided sexual intimacy.

So, believe me when I say that, in terms of sex writing, I was a bit out of my depth.

The first toy I chose—from a drawer filled with toys—was a glossy purple, double-ended dildo. I had no idea it was a couples toy, intended to be used by two people simultaneously. As a single person who was not engaging in partnered sex, you can probably guess how that went.

My second experience—with a small, waterproof clitoral vibrator—was far better. After that, I became a bit of a vibrator evangelist. My only regret is that it took me so long to seize control of my own sexual pleasure.

The Glories of Sex Toys

While sex toys aren’t necessary for play, they can be helpful in a number of ways. They can allow you to explore and discover the spots and sensations that give you pleasure. They can be handy when your hand just isn’t cutting it and you want an orgasm NOW. They can be a nice complement to partner play, a way to shake things up, or a means of receiving additional stimulation. They can be an aid in plain old stress relief.

But if you’ve never tried a sex toy before, how do you know where to start?

Consider the Type(s) of Stimulation You Enjoy

There are so many different types of sex toys. SO. MANY. But a good starting point when picking out a toy is to ask yourself: What feels good to me?

For one, do you prefer penetrative or non-penetrative stimulation?

If you enjoy penetration, there are a ton of toys to choose from, smooth, ridged, and in every color of the rainbow. If you’re interested in anal play, you’ll need one with a flared base or, if you’d like to start smaller, a set of anal beads. Other penetrative toys are curved specifically for g-spot or prostate stimulation. And of course, there are endless other penis-like dildos that can be used for vaginal penetration. If there’s a certain button you want to press, you can bet that there’s a toy that will meet your needs.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for external stimulation, a clitoral vibrator might be more your speed—though you don’t have to limit your play to the clitoris. Toys like these provide a wonderful opportunity for you to discover additional erogenous zones. Run them up your inner thighs, along your nipples, and anywhere else you think the vibration might feel good.

And of course, there are toys—like the dual-action “rabbit vibrators”—that allow you to experience penetration while also providing direct stimulation of the clitoris. After all, even if you love penetrative intercourse, you might still enjoy additional stimulation. (::raises hand::)

And don’t let me leave out those readers who are in possession of a penis! If you’re in search for something to enhance your solo play, a masturbation sleeve could be just the thing.

To Vibrate… or Not to Vibrate

You should also consider whether or not you want your toy to vibrate at all. Your vaginal toy might buzz… or it might not. The same goes for cock rings and nipple clamps. Do vibrations heighten your experience, or are they just too intense?

And if you are looking for some good vibrations, do you want to keep it simple, or do you want all the bells and whistles? Some vibrators offer varying speeds, intensities, and patterns. Others allow you to program in your favorite patterns. Some are shaped to cradle your most erogenous of zones, while others are geared toward direct stimulation.

And, well, how discreet does your toy need to be? I’ve experienced small clit vibes that whined as loudly as weed whackers. If you’d rather the entire household not know you’re masturbating, you might want to make sure the toy you choose boasts quieter vibrations. Checking out product descriptions and customer reviews should give you a sense of what you’re getting into in terms of volume.

Take a Look at Other Features

If you’re in the market for a vibrator, you’ll notice that some are battery-operated while others come with a USB cord for recharging. These rechargeable vibrators can oftentimes be pricier in the short-term but, in the long run, you’ll save on battery replacement costs and also get the added buzz (sorry not sorry) of knowing you’ve gone the more environmentally-conscious route.

Consider also where you plan to use your toy. If you want to take it in the tub with you, it needs to be waterproof.

And finally, consider the materials used to make your toy. Body-safe materials include medical-grade silicone, glass, and stainless steel. Because there aren’t sex toy regulations within the U.S., it’s up to you to make sure that your toy isn’t made out of a material that could prove toxic to your body.

Using Toys for Partner Play

Of course, you can use any of the toys mentioned above with your partner. But there are also a number of toys made specifically for partner play (and not just that ill-fated double dildo I tried to review 20 years ago).

Some toys, for example, come with a remote control, allowing one partner to “wear” the toy while the other controls the speed and intensity of its vibrations. There are vibrating c-rings, which are intended to be worn at the base of the penis (and sometimes the testicles) in order to make an erection last longer while simultaneously delivering stimulation to the clitoris during penetrative intercourse. There are strap-ons for those who want to penetrate their partner but who don’t have a penis of their own.

Talk to your partner about what the two of you might most enjoy and pick out something together!

Don’t Forget This Important Ingredient

And of course, the perfect pairing for any sex toy is a bottle of personal lubricant. These come in a wide variety as well, from water-based to oil-based to silicone-based to cotton candy-flavored. The most important thing to remember is that oil-based lubes should never be used with latex condoms, and that you should be careful using silicone-based lube with certain toys, as the toy may experience some slight swelling or deterioration, making it more difficult to keep clean. Keep in mind, Pure Romance silicone toys use a top-tier material that does play nice with their silicone-based lubricant.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can always take this handy quiz to determine the best lube for you.

Happy Shopping!

If this all sounds like… a lot, I get it. I really do. I mean, it’s enough to make anyone either curl up in a corner, filled with sexual despair and frustration or, conversely, throw up their hands and buy ALL THE THINGS. (::coughcough:: Who, me?)

Luckily, there are opportunities out there for you to shop for toys, places where you can handle the toys, getting a better sense for how they feel in your hand and how intense the vibrations might be. And, because I know many of us are more comfortable online shopping, you can start with this sex toy quiz. When you’re ready to see some toys in-person, then a Pure Romance party can do the trick! If you and your girlfriends like the idea of a small gathering, give a Partner a chance to show you toys and other sex must-haves.

Happy shopping, everyone. I can’t wait to hear about your first time!

Stephanie Auteri

Stephanie Auteri

Journalist & Content Marketing Writer
Steph Auteri has written about sexuality for the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, VICE, and other publications, and has collaborated with folks at the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), the Center for Sex Education, and Good in Bed. She is the author of A Dirty Word, a reported memoir about how female sexuality is so often treated like a dirty word.