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Dear Dr. Laura,
I’m interested in buying more sex toys. What are some good places to get them? Do you have any advice for picking one out?
Dear Toy Tester,
Remember when you were a kid and all you wanted was more toys? Well, that enthusiasm only morphs into a desire for more sex toys for many of us as we become adults. There are just so many to choose from, they feel so good, and can look really fun, too! But unlike Toys “R” Us, there are often few local places where we can go into a well-lit and comfortable environment to ask an informed salesperson about what we are looking for. Many sex stores sell questionable or straight-up dangerous products and are sold by people who have no idea what they are talking about. So what’s a person to do?
First of all you need to look for products that you will love and will love you back. That means products made with materials that are body safe (not going to leak chemicals into your lovely bits) and fully sanitize-able. Not all materials can be fully sanitized, meaning they can have microscopic holes and creases that hold bacteria and give you a nasty infection you never saw coming. Materials that can be fully sanitized are:
Medical Grade Silicone: Feels very soft and squishy, feels the closest to human skin. You can’t use silicone-based lube with this though.
Stainless Steel: Great for anything you want firm pressure for, such as a g-spot stimulator and for butt plugs.
ABS Plastic: Nice and firm and can come in tons of colors and shapes.
Pyrex Glass: Glass is beautiful and great for things you want to go in smoothly.
Now that you know what materials to look for, the next question is what part(s) of your body are you interested in stimulating? Every single body is unique, and what feels amazing to one will feel like no big deal to another. With new technologies being developed every day, there is no limit to the type’s textures and technologies available to you when it comes to exploring toys. There are internal toys, external toys, toys that are both inside and out. Toys with computer chips, hands-free vibrators, toys that are designed for trans bodies, toys that can stimulate two bodies at the same time, and on and on they go, where they’ll stop nobody knows. You can always check out excellent online shops, but the best experience might be in-person at a feminist sex store where the staff are passionate about sex education and selling body-safe and inclusive toys. I do not suggest buying products from those “in-home sex toy parties,” as I have seen some very unsafe materials and products (such as numbing lube, which is super dangerous) sold by salespeople who have a very basic and often medically inaccurate education. Below is a list of some of my favorite stores that sell great products and have very knowledgeable and inclusive staff. Happy shopping!
In Sex Positivity,
(Most of the below stores also have online shopping, too)
Early to Bed – Chicago, IL
The Smitten Kitten – Minneapolis, MN
She Bop – Portland, OR
Good Vibrations – San Francisco, CA
Babeland – NYC, NY
Q Toys – Austin, TX
Forbidden Fruit – Austin, TX
Dear Dr. Laura,
I have had some really bad sexual experiences. Many were really upsetting, and now I’m having a hard time having sex again. What should I do?
First of all thank you for being brave enough to ask this question. So few people talk about getting back out there after a negative experience, and yet millions of people are experiencing and wondering the exact same thing. So often people talk about getting through a bad situation in the immediate, but very little is discussed in the long term. Whether a “really bad experience” means manipulation, violence, or simply that you felt insecure and unable to voice your needs, there are steps you can take to re-enter and re-engage with sex and your body.
First and foremost you have to reconnect with yourself. Or if you have never connected with yourself, now is a great time to start the journey toward really knowing and understanding who you are and how powerful your desires and voice truly is. One of the most common reactions to a bad sexual experience is to blame yourself. You might think that if you had been more assertive or clearer or in a different location or a different relationship, you could have avoided everything. But life can be straight-up shitty and unfair, and there is so often nothing we could have done to avoid it. Even if we do think of something we could have done differently, we still can never blame ourselves for another person’s actions—that’s 110 percent on them, not us. What we can do is try to figure out what we want to do moving forward, love and care for ourselves, and use what we learn to help others.
The journey to healing and enjoying sex and relationships again, or even for the first time ever, can be long, so be very, very patient and slow with yourself. However, it is often also wise to push yourself to take steps to heal, which might feel uncomfortable compared to hiding away from facing what happened or what we need and want. The best way to move forward is not alone. Talk to friends, family, and advisors who understand trauma and sexuality, and above all seek out professional help from sex educators and therapists who can give you solid tools for making the life and future you desire. Here are a few ideas for next steps:
Journaling: When we go through a difficult or traumatic situation our brain has a hard time processing and organizing all its thoughts around the issue. Writing things down can help us see things from a distance and thus much clearer. Go to your favorite bookstore and find a journal that speaks to you and makes you feel relaxed and at ease. Then, start by writing down what has happened, what is happening, and what you want for your future. Then take a break for a day or so and look back at your lists after. Where do you see similarities, obstacles, and paths for moving forward? This also helps you create a list of things to discuss in your next step, therapy.
Therapy: Therapy is one of my favorite things in the whole wide world! Yet so many people fear it means there is something “wrong” with them. Therapy is for the times in our life when something is mentally blocking us from moving forward and living our best life, and everybody on earth has something that is blocking them at one point or another. Make sure you try out different therapists and approaches so you find the best fit for your experience and personality. Look for therapists who specialize in sexuality and can help you discuss topics that may feel embarrassing or hard to put words to. There is even a specialized form of sexual therapy called somatic sexual healing that you can look into.
Sexual Healing: Lastly, but most importantly, is the work you do with yourself. One of the most powerful tools you can use is masturbation. Learning to touch your body and find what feels good to your unique makeup is vital for sexual empowerment and healing. Try using your hands as well as toys and even things like rubbing your body against a pillow or rolled up towel. Use lubricants and different settings such as the bath or outdoors (as long as it’s on your own private property and out of the view of others and thus legal). If touching yourself feels scary, take the time to notice what is triggering those feelings. Your first reaction might be to want to stop and turn your mind off, but I encourage you to instead think about addressing what is causing you to feel afraid/embarrassed/overwhelmed and write about your triggers and discuss them with your therapist. When you feel like engaging with a romantic/sexual partner again, make sure they are able to communicate with you openly and clearly. Tell them about what you are comfortable/uncomfortable with and what you need to feel safe and secure. Above all, know that you have a right to a safe and fulfilling sex life and partners who understand and support you fully.
In Sex Positivity,
The Survivor’s Guide to Sex by Staci Haines
Dr. Laura McGuire is certified as a sexuality educator through the American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists. Learn more about her work at drlauramcguire.com.