Many popular sex toys are designed to resemble human genitals and may be vibrating or non-vibrating. The term sex toy can also include BDSM apparatus and sex furniture such as slings; however, it is not applied to items such as birth control, pornography, or condoms. Alternative expressions include adult toy and the dated euphemism marital aid, although “marital aid” has a broader sense and is applied to drugs and herbs marketed to supposedly enhance or prolong sex. Sex toys are most commonly sold at a sex shop, but they may also be sold in a pharmacy/chemist store, a pornographic DVD store, a head shop, or a department store. Today’s sex toys are available in almost all countries for males and females.
Another form of sex toys for both men and women are those for erotic electrostimulation. Erotic electrostimulation refers to the act of using electricity for sexual stimulation. Electrostimulation dates back as early as the mid-1700s. By the mid-1970s, medical transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machines were widely available. The machines work by stimulating nerve endings with electricity, sending signals of stimulation to the brain. Electrostimulation works off this same principle when the brain received a signal of stimulation from the genitals, pleasure hormones are released.
Erotic furniture is furniture specially shaped for comfort, penetration levels, and stimulation. Also known as sex furniture, it is any form of furniture that can act as an aid to sexual activity. While almost anything can be used for this purpose, the most common form of furniture employed for sexual activity is the bed, but couches and sofas come a close second. These are not strictly erotic furniture, as their primary use is not erotic.
A spanking bench
Specifically designed furniture for erotic purposes can include:
- Devices for spanking and flagellation such as the Berkley Horse
- Devices for using gravity to aid in lovemaking without the use of complicated slings.
- Fisting slings
- Sex gliders
- Sex swings
- Various types of angled foam wedges or specially designed pillows that support various sex positions, e.g., liberator shapes or the ergonomically based Lovebumpers.
General penetrative toys
- Ben Wa balls are hollow metal balls inserted vaginally which can be worn inside the vagina for extended periods of time. The internal rolling is claimed to enhance orgasms.
- A dildo is a non-vibrating device that is used for sexual stimulation of the vagina or anus. Dildos are generally made of silicone rubber but can be made of other materials such as body safe metals such as titanium, stainless steel, aluminum, or glass. They are often made to resemble a penis, although some are C-shaped or S-shaped for G-spot or P-spot stimulation.
- A double penetration dildo is a long, usually flexible dildo with both ends designed for penetration. It allows for mutual penetration between two persons (or for double penetration of a single female, both anally and vaginally).
- A strap-on dildo is a dildo worn in a harness, used to penetrate another person.
- A horseshoe is a non-vibrating sex toy that is shaped similar to a horseshoe, which is put into the vagina and anus at the same time. It is made with softer plastics.
- Kegel exerciser, also known as vaginal barbells, eggs, or jugglers, is designed to improve muscle tone in the pelvic floor and can be used for sexual pleasure as well as enhancing vaginal response.
- Love Balls are solid metal balls inserted vaginally prior to sex. The weight and agitation by penis or dildo enhance sensation. They were popularised by the novel Fifty Shades of Grey and its film adaptation.
- A sex-machine is a motor-driven device that combines penetration with rotational or reciprocal movement or both.
- Anal beads
- Butt plugs are often shorter dildos intended for anal insertion. They tend to have a flared base to prevent the device from becoming sucked into the rectum.
- Prostate massagers are devices designed to stimulate a man’s prostate for health and pleasure.
Glass sex toys
Glass sex toys are commonly made from clear medical grade borosilicate glass (“hard glass”). This particular type of safety toughened glass is non-toxic and will withstand extreme temperatures as well as physical shock without compromising its structural integrity.
The choice of this high-grade material provides safety in use and the option to heat or chill the toys. Borosilicate glass is also non-porous and can be sterilized to help prevent infection with reuse. The highest quality glass toys can even be put in the dishwasher making them easier to keep clean. As well as their practical qualities, the main selling point of glass sex toys is their visual appeal.
Some glass sex toys vibrate. There are two main ways this can be achieved. Either the toy may have a hole into which a small bullet vibrator can be inserted, or the core of the glass design can be modified to form a standard vibrator. The latter option usually has a plastic cap covering the battery compartment, which will also house any control buttons or switches.
Vibrators are electric motor-powered devices intended to stimulate the body by creating a pulsating or buzzing sensation.
Vibrators come in a range of shapes and sizes, for internal or external use. Some vibrators intended for internal use are phallic in shape. Small vibrators may have a stretchy loop attachment for use as a finger toy or cock ring. Penetrative vibrators usually measure twelve to eighteen cm (five to seven inches) in length and two to five cm (one to two inches) wide often to mimic the size of the average human penis.
Anal vibrators are designed to be inserted into the rectum, which may stimulate the prostate in men. The safest ones have a flared base that remains outside the body, which prevents the toy from becoming irretrievable.
Bullet vibrators are small, bullet-shaped vibrators that can be used for direct stimulation or inserted into other sex toys to increase stimulation. Some are sold with stretchy loops for attachment as a finger toy or cock ring.
G-spot vibrators are curved at one end to facilitate stimulation of the female G-spot.
Luxury vibrators have an increased focus on design and the use of expensive materials that appeal to a more upscale fashion market.
The rabbit vibrator, of which there are several variations, is a popular female sex toy popularized by the television series Sex and the City. It comprises an insertable shaft that often has additional functionality, such as rotation and internal beads or a thrusting action. Attached to the shaft is a vibrating clitoral stimulator. For most rabbit vibrators this comes in the form of “bunny ears” which sit each side of the clitoris.
Vibrator wands, such as the Hitachi Magic Wand, are large vibrators that generally plug into an electrical outlet (versus operating on battery power) and are often marketed as back massagers. They are able to produce far more powerful vibration than most battery-powered vibrators. Various attachments made of silicone or a rubber material allow the toy to be used penetratively, or give the toy a more interesting texture.
Sybians are dual-area vibrators in the form of a clitoral stimulator and vaginal stimulator, designed to stimulate the two erogenous zones simultaneously and independently.
A nipple clamp is a clamp used to stimulate the nipples by applying varying degrees of pressure. Suction devices are generally either rubber or glass.
Artificial vaginas, also known as “pocket pussies”, “male masturbators”, or “strokes”, are tubes made of soft material to simulate sexual intercourse. The material and often textured inner canal are designed to stimulate the penis and induce orgasm. The male masturbators come in many shapes and styles; they can be shaped like vulvas, anuses, mouths, or as non-descriptive holes. Some male masturbators are disposable and some can be washed and used repeatedly. Some are equipped with sex-machine options that work similarly to milking machines.
A cock harness is a more elaborate harness designed to be worn around the penis and scrotum. Its function is similar to that of a cock ring. These devices are often associated with BDSM activities such as cock and ball torture. An Arab strap is one such form of harness, purported to be a device used for maintaining an erection.
Cock rings prolong male erection by holding blood inside the penis. A man may wear a cock-ring to combat erectile difficulties, or for the sensation of tightness and engorgement that wearing one provides. Some models include a protruding clitoral stimulator, designed to stimulate the clitoris during sex. Others vibrate, either vibrating the ring itself or in a popular ‘Dolphin’ variant by using two removable bullet vibrators to provide stimulation to both the testicles and clitoris. Some cock rings also have vibrators attached which can be worn to stimulate a partner during sexual intercourse, especially in the scrotum or perineum. Yet other cock rings have arms that rub and apply pressure to the perineum of the wearer.
A triple crown is a special cock-ring that has additional rings for restraining the testicles. In orgasm, the testicles usually retract toward the body before ejaculation. A triple crown changes and intensifies the sensation of orgasm by forcing the testicles to stay away from the body.
A docking sleeve is a cylindrical device similar to a penis sleeve, but is open at both ends so that two men can dock, a form of mutual masturbation.
An FTM stroker is a pocket-pussy-style toy designed “for [the] t-cock/enlarged clitoris” of a transgender man on hormone replacement therapy. In 2016, Buck Angel released the first such device, the Buck-Off.
A penis extension is a partially hollow device like a very short dildo, with the hollow end placed on the end of the penis, intended to increase the effective length of the penis, again for the benefit of the person being penetrated. These are generally worn with condoms to prevent them from falling off during use.
A penis sleeve is a cylindrical device that is placed on the shaft of the penis, with the aim of increasing stimulation for the person being penetrated. They often have soft bumps intended to provide further stimulation.
Health, safety, and privacy concerns
No safety regulations exist in the sex toy industry. The sex toys are sold as novelty items so they do not need to adhere to certain regulations such as reporting the chemicals and materials used in a product. Due to this status, manufacturers are not responsible if their toys are used for any other purpose than being a novelty. Regulations such as REACH do exist, and some sex toys may be compliant to this though, despite that there is no obligation for manufacturers on attaining compliance. A 2006 study conducted by the Greenpeace Netherlands office found a high level of phthalates in seven out of eight plastic sex toys tested.
Sex toys are classified as novelties in the United States because the Food and Drug Administration has extensive testing and financial requirements in order for sex toys to be classified as medical devices. Therefore, sex toy manufacturers more often choose less complex production by labeling them a novelty, where their listed ingredients do not have to be accurate in chemical composition or percentage of ingredients. Due to the novelty classification, sex toys may contain toxins such as phthalates, which have been banned in children’s toys by the CPSC. Phthalates are chemical plasticizers that are added as softeners, to create the malleable and soft effect that many look for in sex toys.
Before using a sex toy, owners should take precautions. One should check for tears, rough seams or cracks that could harm the inside of the vagina or anus. Condoms should also be used on porous sex toys and sex toys that are being shared between two or more partners. They should also use appropriate lubricants; silicone lube will break down silicone toys, and oil-based lubes will break down latex condoms.
Cleaning sex toys is also very important for sexual health and sex toy safety. Cleaning them will avoid the potential of bacterial infection, the transmission of STIs (if shared), or pregnancy (if sperm is present on the toy). Porous sex toys (ridged, flexible, soft, and squishy) are difficult to clean and can hide bacteria that multiply and harm the human body. Non-porous toys are easier to clean, making them less potentially harmful. When cleaning sex toys, always use warm water and unscented anti-bacterial soap.
When used in the anus, sex toys can easily get lost as rectal muscles contract and can suck an object upward, potentially obstructing the colon; to prevent this serious problem, it is recommended that individuals use sex toys with a flared base or a string.
Glass toys: some can be put in the dishwasher, but it is recommended not to expose them to extreme temperatures and to wash them with soap and water.
Hard plastic toys: do not boil the toy, and wash with soap and water.
Silicone toys: put it on the top shelf of the dishwasher, boil for 5–10 minutes, or wash with water and soap.
Stainless Steel toys: boil or soak stainless-steel toys in 1-10 bleach-water solution for ten minutes, put it on the top shelf of the dishwasher, or use soap and water (if there are electrical components to the toy).
Cyberskin and Vinyl toys: clean with warm water, air dry, and sprinkle it with a small amount of cornstarch (to keep them dry and not sticky).
Nylon toys: put it in the top rack of the dishwasher or wash with soap and water.
Rubber toys: they cannot be properly cleaned because bacteria are absorbed into the material, so it is recommended to always use a condom.