Six Questions For The Sex Shop Newbie: A Guide to Your First Time Buying Sex Toys

Last week marks my final week slinging dils – after nearly two years in the biz I’ve decided to take a step back from my day jobs to focus on the freelance work that brings me joy.1 Working retail is always an adventure, but sex toy retail is unique. Every day I would meet customers who have “never been in a place like this before” and are confronting any combination of nervousness, shame, or just confusion. They truly don’t know what to expect.

I can empathize with that, I really can, but at the same time, the customers that are so lost they don’t even know where to begin make my job incredibly hard. Here’s the thing, you’ve probably had more sex with you than I’ve had with you. I might be a sex educator, but you are the expert on your own body, and I’m going to need input from you if we’re going to find the best possible product for you. To that end, I’ve collected a few of the things you can ask yourself to make your sex toy buying experience flow as easily as possible.

What Kind of Experience Do You Want?

What a lot of people don’t realize right off the bat is there’s a lot of ways to shop for sex toys, and you can customize your experience almost as much as you can the product you walk out the door with. Is privacy a priority for you? Do you want to have a sexy time with your partner while you decide what you’re going to use that night? Shop online! There are plenty of sites you can navigate from the comfort of your own home, and you don’t even have to put on pants! Plus there are plenty of reviewers out there to help point you in the right direction.

Do you feel like you need a lot of guidance? Do you want a trained professional to hold your hand through the process and answer all your burning sex questions? Find a local sex positive brick and mortar store and head in on a weekday afternoon. While we’re always eager to help you, a Saturday night is a hard time to get dedicated attention from staff, but during our slow times it’s easy to take all the time you need.

Do you want to feel sexy and maybe a little bit dirty? Sex toy retail has their boutiques and they have their dive bars, if you want to feel a little bit filthy stop into your local dive shop on the side of the highway to peruse the lingerie and dust covered porn. These shops are going to carry a lot of garbage, and I suggest you learn a little bit about sex toy safety before stopping in, but they have their place, and I’m the first to say that sometimes I need to bypass the boutique and go down into the basement store with the sticky floors for my jock straps and leather gear.

What Kind of Product Do You Want?

It’s amazing how frequently people will come into the store and just ask for the best thing that we have, which is a little like asking the clerk at your local grocery store for the most delicious thing they carry. Do you want to leave with ice cream or a steak? Do you want something that vibrates? Do you want to use it inside or outside of your body? Which holes might it be going in? Do you want something designed to be used with a penis or vulva? Do you want something you can use with a partner? Do you want a realistic dildo? Do you want to explore kink?

You might not know all the answers to these questions, and that’s okay, consider how you’re planning on integrating this toy into your sex life, what role do you want it to play? The overall goal here is actually more important than the specifics, because you might stumble across something that fills that hole in a way you didn’t expect (pun only slightly intended). Are you looking to “spice up your relationship”? Are you looking to explore your body solo and have your first orgasm? Do you just want to upgrade what you already have? Find your g-spot? Put on a show? Have a secret thrill in public? Clue the staff member into exactly how you want to integrate a toy into what you’re doing and they might have some ideas that never occurred to you!

This should go without saying, but you’re not here to detail your sexy fantasy to the staff member, that’s just creepy and will make both of us uncomfortable. A simple “I’m looking for something my girlfriend can wear under her clothes that I can use to tease her with in public. Ideally I’m looking for something she can wear on her penis, but she also likes anal play” is far better than “I need something to humiliate my slutty little girl in public, she loves when I play with her girlcock but maybe I should fill her ass too?” We’re not here to be a part of your scene, bro.

What Do You Already Enjoy?

This is especially helpful if you already own sex toys, but if you don’t there’s still a lot to learn from the kind of sex you’re already having. Do you like a lot of pressure? Do you want pinpoint focus or something more broad? Do you love g-spot stimulation? Do you like incorporating vibration into your partnered sex? Do you get overstimulated easily and prefer something gentle? How do you feel about texture? What about penetration? Do you have a lot of Skype sex?

Paying attention to the things you enjoy now can help you clue in to what you might enjoy from your next purchase. Many sex toy reviewers can look at a sex toy and know almost immediately if it will work for them or not, simply because they have spent so much time deconstructing what it is they like about the things they like. Take a moment to do the same with your sex life. What do you feel yourself coming back to time and time again? This doesn’t mean you’re about to spend money on more of the same, but we can take those clues and build on them to get you something that is new and different, but also something we’re confident you’re going to enjoy.

What Have You Hated?

This is the other side of the same coin, but it’s equally if not more important. Have you ever tried a sex toy you hated? Did it numb you? Was it too firm? Have you had an allergic reaction to lube? Remember that Tinder bro who insisted that hard and fast was the ONLY possible thing you could like and left you sore and frustrated? Do wrist cuffs make you anxious while rope is right up your alley?

By sharing the things that absolutely don’t work (and most importantly – why they didn’t work) we’re able to be sure that we’re not wasting time on something you already know you’re going to hate. Many times customers seem afraid to insult us, “well, if you say it’s good…” as if my endorsements invalidates their experience. I’m operating on my own preferences and on what seems “popular” but if I’m completely off the mark let me know so I can re-calibrate!

What Is Your Budget?

Many newbies don’t actually know how much sex toys cost, and while I would never shame someone for having a budget, it’s also important to recognize what you can get at each price point.

Under $30: I’ll be honest, there’s not much here. Internal and external toys will all be hard plastic (or toxic) and vibrators will be battery operated with unimpressive power levels. There are a few things that aren’t terrible, but consider them disposable, you’ll be back in my store in a few weeks getting a replacement.

$30-$80: You can start to get some decent rechargable toys in this range, with mid-range motors. They’re probably going to be water resistant but not waterproof, and they’ll probably be mid-range on durability, lasting a year or less. You can find some body safe dildos in this range but they will be quite firm and it will be hard to find anything very large.

$80-$120: If you can afford to spend this much I recommend it, these are solid toys well worth their price. They are well made, have strong, rechargable motors, are often waterproof, often have warranties, and will last for years. Dildos can be soft, dual density, hyper-realistic, and/or on the larger side of things.

$120+: Here we’re looking at the real luxury toys, they’re name brand, high quality, and often unique, with technology you just won’t see at a lower price point. #TreatYoSelf

What is Important To You?

There’s a lot here, I know, and odds are you’re not going to find the perfect sex toy that checks every box you’re looking for, so just like the people on HGTV tell me about shopping for a house, you make a list of must-haves. Will you spend a lot of time with your new toy in the tub, or is splashproof good enough? Is it imperative that it work for both you and your partner? Do you hate batteries? Do you have a hard limit- under $60? Do you really want it to be discrete? Pretty? Realistic? Determine your non-negotiables early, because like any shopping experience, it’s easy to get caught up in all of the new features you’ve discovered and realize that yes, actually, you do need your vibrator to be bluetooth compatible.

At the end of the day, I know it can be nerve-wracking to step outside of your comfort zone and into a sex toy shop, but I promise you, whatever you have to say will not be the weirdest thing that employee has heard that day, and as long as you are respectful of them and their time, they will be happy to help you find the right product for you.

Many thanks to Love Andrea for partnering with me to bring you this post! As always, all opinions are my own.
  1. This seems like a great opportunity to remind y’all that you can book me to teach workshops or write for you! []

About Bex

Bex talks about sex, a lot, and feels this is the only way to reduce the stigma and lack of education surrounding it. When they're not trying to save the world, talking about sex to strangers, typing frantically, or sticking things in various holes they are usually indulging the other facets of their geekery.

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