How to choose the right sex toys and tools for you
Your age, your abilities and your body type all matter
In season two of Grace and Frankie, the popular Netflix show starring the hot comedy duo of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as women in their sixties whose husbands have just left them, the best buddies have an epiphany and decide to create a vibrator for people who have mobility issues. While the 'Ménage à Moi' is not available IRL, the idea behind it, to be more inclusive when it comes to sexual pleasure, is a welcome one.
"There's never been a better time to be looking for some product to enhance your sexual experience," says sexuality educator Robin R. Milhausen, PhD, "because the range of things available is almost as unlimited as your imagination."
"Everybody is different," she notes. "Some have challenges that may relate to mobility. Some have more visible difficulties. Others are aging or have arthritis or menopause or hormonal changes. All of our different bodies have different needs, and those are gonna change throughout our lifespan, and so it's really great that there's a huge range of different types of products that mean all of us can access sexual pleasure."
If you're reading this, you're probably interested in enhancing your sexual pleasure — or are at least a little curious about tools that can help with that. And you're not alone. As Veronica Kazoleas, a social psychologist and owner of Toronto-based sexuality shop The Nookie, was quick to point out, a lot more people own sex toys than you might think.
We talked to Milhausen and Kazoleas about what to keep in mind when looking for the best sex toy or tool for you — no matter your stage of life or your ability.
First things first
Walking into a sex shop can be an intimidating experience, but today you're likely to find friendly staff who are extremely knowledgeable and will converse with you without any judgment. Here are some things they'll likely say are worth thinking about before you make a visit.
Make note of what type of sex you'd like to have and what turns you on; knowing yourself, at least a little, is key. Are you looking to bring a sex toy into a couples experience, or use it for some solo time? If you have a vagina, do you want something for clitoral stimulation or penetration? What about anal penetration? It's helpful to think of all of the above for a few important reasons.
"If a person has a clitoral response, then clitoral stimulation [becomes] one of the key functions of a sex toy," advises Milhausen. "If they have a vagina, something that can be inserted is often a [key] function. If it's a penis, oftentimes, you're looking for something that can surround or envelop the penis, and they have penis sleeves or sheaths, which are really great for that. You also might be looking for perineum stimulation, and actually so might female-bodied folks. Thinking about where you want the stimulation ... maybe it's not genital, maybe it's nipple stimulation that you're looking for or some other kind of sensation ... figuring out where you want to target is the first thing."
We're talking about the body, so materials matter. "Products like silicone, glass, metal, wood, plastic — all of those things are safe," explains Kazoleas. "But anything jelly-based is probably not." Kazoleas, whose shop has been open on College Street since 2017, cautions against these jelly-based toys because people have reported unpleasant chemical burns (no, thank you!).
She also advises keeping budget in mind. Kazoleas says you can spend upward of $300 on a toy, but you can also get a quality product for around $100 to $140, depending on your needs and desires. And do a bit of research before purchasing anything online. "The $20 one that you see on Amazon is a $20 one on Amazon for a reason," cautions Kazoleas.
One thing you might not have at the top of your mind when shopping is where you want to put your toy — and how those parts of the body function differently. "Vaginas can push things out; the anus [tends] to suck things in and keep them there," says Kazoleas. "[For] anything that people want to use anally, you want something with a flared base." Read: the best way to avoid an embarrassing trip to emerg is to grab something meant for anal penetration.
Kazoleas suggests, if both you and your partner are into bum play, that you grab a separate apparatus for each of you to use. "Also, start smaller," she advises. "People's eyes are bigger than their orifices."
If you want to keep your frisky business to yourself, Milhausen says to look for a toy with a quiet motor. She also recommends looking into an app-based toy for solo play: "Hands-free can be a benefit for people with mobility issues and also for people who want to use a sex toy on their own but sort of feel like they're getting the partner experience."
"They can set up a whole vibratory pattern with their app, and then push play, lean back and enjoy an experience that they don't have to be directing the whole time," Milhausen explains. "Almost every major sex toy company now has a hands-free version of a toy that's controlled with an app."
Also worth noting, says Kazoleas, is the size of buttons and controls on your solo sex toy — some can be hard to use depending on your mobility. You should also think about how much sensation you're comfortable starting with. How fast do you want it to move? Can you control how strong the toy is?
As women age, our hormones fluctuate so much that it can send our sex organs into Sahara territory. Aside from vaginal dryness during sex (which affects young and old, up to 17 per cent of women ages 18 to 50, according to one British report), there's also the issue of decreased blood flow. To address this, look for a clitoral suction device. "If you have blood-flow issues to the clitoris, it can increase arousal so that sensation is easier to achieve," Milhausen says.
For those with penises, erectile dysfunction may be a concern with age. But that doesn't mean you can't get down — and get off. "There's a lot of confusion around how penises work, quite frankly," says Kazoleas, noting that the organs can function in remarkable ways. "Somebody who has had prostate cancer, and the surgeon decides they need to take the whole prostate… [often] you can't get an erection … but you can still enjoy orgasms and ejaculation by having vibration on a flaccid penis. Vibration on the head of a penis [can] make it ejaculate, even without an erection."
Kazoleas also encourages the use of constrictive bands for penises (commonly known as cock rings), which can help someone maintain an erection if they tend to lose it — something that can happen for a variety of reasons. "People with spinal cord issues can get aroused from stimulation of the neck or the nipples, but they might not maintain an erection, because they might not have a lot of sensation," she says, as an example. "Putting a cock ring on a penis is going to trap the blood in, and that will increase sensation for people."
The magic wand–type toy has stood the test of time, with good reason. "It's been around for decades," says Milhausen, "and it's still the number one prescribed device in sex therapy for individuals who aren't able to have orgasms."
"It has a longer arm, so that makes it easier to hold, but also you can balance it on a pillow or lie on it if it's too difficult to hold," she explains. "It's extremely powerful … but that [also] means it's versatile. If you put a pillow or a towel over it, you can limit the vibration, or you can use it as is."
Milhausen also recommends smaller toys for a different type of stimulation. "There are vibrating sex toys that attach to your finger so you don't have to hold onto them … you can move your finger where you want to stimulate. Having a sex toy that attaches to your body can be really helpful."
Kazoleas concurs and takes that notion even further. "Strap-ons are also an option," she says. "You can get strap-ons that sit on your thigh, you can get strap-ons that you wear… then you can put a dildo of a variety of shapes and sizes in it and still feel like you're having a traditional kind of sexual encounter."
"Another thing that's good for people with hand-mobility issues and any sort of erectile difficulty is a dildo with a suction-based cup," Kazoleas continues. "There are some insanely strong suction-based dildos out there … they can ride it, mount it, they can put it on a wall, on a floor, on any sort of hard surface, and [then] they're not using their hands."
Hips don't lie
Aches, pains and injuries can really hinder how hot things can get. But thankfully, there are some sexy options to help in this department, too.
"For people that have issues with hip mobility — people might spasm or cramp, they might lose some strength — you can get pillows that are designed for sex," says Kazoleas, adding that "they're made to support a body." These pillows come in varying shapes, like a wedge, ramp or with rounded edges, as well as a variety of materials.
Kazoleas also suggests thinking inside the BDSM or bondage box if movement is a barrier for you. For instance, there are straps that can be used to help pull something closer or help increase the intensity of thrusting with someone who needs assistance. "Binding somebody who has some discomfort, or let's say they have loose joints, can actually help support them in the moment and keep them from feeling uncomfortable or moving around too much."
Up the sensation
Tools like feathers, Wartenberg wheels (basically little metal wheels with tiny, sharp spikes) and blindfolds can all add to the realm of pleasure possibilities. "If, for some reason, there's no penetration, you can still have a really satisfying sexual encounter through sensation and touch," says Kazoleas.
"Hypersensitivity happens vaginally and clitorally … so maybe you want somebody to rub a feather over your thighs, over your neck — that can be quite stimulating," she suggests.
Whether you're miles away from your partner or there's something getting in the way of you having what would be called a "traditional" experience, there are now toys and apps that can help you virtually experience sexual pleasure. Milhausen notes that there are tools where you can "put on the eye goggles and [get] immersed in the experience."
"[There are] a lot more ways of virtually connecting with your partner, [where] they're able to use an app to manipulate a sex toy, and you experience what they're doing … and you feel the sensation." It sounds pretty futuristic, but it's here today.