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TOYS FOR ALL SEASONS: Basic Sex Toy Styles

TOYS FOR ALL SEASONS: Basic Sex Toy Styles

Does the term sex toy conjure up images of flesh-colored plastic dongs? If it does, it's because these were the standard-issue sex toys for decades. But within the last twenty years, changes in toy material and technology, as well as in consumer's tastes, have resulted in a dazzling array of toys. You can buy a dildo that looks like it's made of marble, a vibrator shaped like a bunny, a harness that could double as sexy thong underwear, or a butt plug that looks like a flower. True to the adage, find a need and fill it, the adult industry has come up with a device that'll stimulate, prod, soothe, or tingle any sexual itch you might have.

Navigating this sea of sex toys can be rather overwhelming until you realize there really are only a dozen or so basic styles of sex toys. Once you understand what the toy is designed to do, you can look for variations that will suit your particular position, aesthetic, or whim. In this chapter, I'll describe various styles of toys, explain their purpose, and offer tips on choosing between similar models. But don't worry about retaining it all, because in the Play section, I recommend a specific toy to use for each activity. In some cases, I've chosen a brand name, but in other cases, I refer to one of the generic toy styles below since any of the models within that style will do. Of course, you are free to experiment with any toy you desire, and I encourage you to do just that. You'll also find tips in the Shop section that can help with selection, especially if you're looking for quality toys.


Vibrators come in all shapes and sizes”some look like handheld mixers, some like fake penises, some like eggs, and some like animals. Some are waterproof, some glow in the dark, some talk back. They are powered either by batteries or electricity, and deliver more intense stimulation to the genital area than a hand, a penis, or a mouth.

Vibrators have long been recommended to women learning to have orgasms, but they are by no means exclusively a woman's toy. Men enjoy the feel of vibrations on their genitals, and couples use them to enliven partner sex. Vibrator orgasms”which can be more intense and easier to achieve”are so enthralling that they soon become a regular part of a person's sexual repertoire.

Most people think of vibrators as long, penis-shaped toys, because that's what they looked like for so long. Unfortunately, this misleading vibrator shape has created endless confusion and resulted in disappointing toy experiences for thousands of women. The phallic-shaped toy suggests vaginal insertion, but since most women orgasm from direct clitoral stimulation, a dildo-style vibrator can prove disappointing unless it's pressed against the clitoris. Fortunately, there are plenty of styles on the market today, so whether you have orgasms from clitoral or vaginal stimulation, or a combination of the two, you can find the right toy for the job.

Basic Vibrator Styles

Clitoral Vibrators

Any vibrator can stimulate the clitoris, but some accomplish this much better than others. Perhaps the most well-known is the Hitachi Magic Wand, a massager with a phenomenal word-of-mouth reputation. It packs a very powerful vibration and is often recommended to preorgasmic women, but it's loud and large, which intimidates some first-timers. (It's not intended for insertion, so don't let the tennis ball“size head scare you off.) Coil-operated vibrators are a quieter, smaller alternative (Wahl makes a popular model); they look more like handheld mixers than anything remotely sexual. Both toys run on electricity and provide direct, focused vibration to the clitoris. Battery-powered clit vibrators come in all shapes and styles, but some of the more popular models (see illustrations) are the Bullet, the Pocket Rocket, Natural Contours, and vibrator that slips over the fingertip!


Vaginal (Insertable) and G Spot Vibrators

These are the most traditional-looking dildo-type vibrators; they appeal to women who want a vibrator that can be used both vaginally and clitorally. Some resemble a penis while others are smooth, but you'll find many variations in texture, color (including glow-in-the-dark), and subtle features (nubs or ridges). Vibrators with a bend toward the tip are designed specifically for G spot stimulation, the most popular of which is a somewhat generic adult toy that goes by many names (Classic G, Nubby G, Crystal G). It's made of clear jelly rubber, curves near the tip, and features a ring of jelly fingers around the base designed to stimulate the vaginal opening (see illustration).


Dual-Style Vibrators

The Japanese improved on the dildo-type vibrator by inventing an insertable toy that also sports a clitoral branch, so you can enjoy both vaginal and clitoral (or vaginal and anal) stimulation at the same time. Since realistic sex toys are banned in Japan, these toys are crafted in the likeness of animals and sea creatures, with the Rabbit Pearl and its cousin, the Rabbit Habit, being the most famous. There are many knockoffs of this style, but the Japanese-made toys tend to be a higher quality than those made elsewhere.

Hands-free Vibrators

Imagine vibrating underwear and you get the basic concept behind hands-free vibrators. A clitoral vibrator is attached to a G string or thong-style panty, with the vibrator positioned right over the clitoris. The vibrator is often shaped like a butterfly, sea creature, or some other tiny critter. This is also a great toy when you want a little extra clitoral stimulation during intercourse. Remote-controlled versions make this toy especially fun for adventurous partner sex.

Vibes in Disguise

These are vibrators that masquerade as something else” a pen, a lipstick case, or a paperweight, for example. They're popular as novelties, traveling vibes, or gifts for the sex toy novice.

Men's Vibrators

Most of the penis sleeves and cock rings described in the men's section (below) are also available in vibrating models.

Anal Vibes

Most of the anal toys mentioned below are available (or can be adapted) as vibrators.

Choosing a Vibrator

First decide where you want to use the vibrator (clitoris, anus, G spot, penis, etc.) and choose a toy made for that purpose. If you want a strong, reliable vibrator, look for the electric toys made by name-brand manufacturers. If you want to experiment inexpensively or need a toy that travels well, choose a smaller battery toy. If you want something more adventurous, try one of the high-tech toys like a remote-controlled toy or one that responds to sound (like the Audio-Oh). In general, most people base their choices on intensity, sound, and aesthetics. Fortunately many websites are beginning to rate vibrators based on the first two factors.


A dildo, typically thought of as a penis substitute, is designed for vaginal or anal insertion. In general, dildos don't vibrate, although many penis-shaped vibrators can be used as dildos. Some dildos have handles, some have suction-cup bases, some are double-ended, and some curve toward the top to provide G spot stimulation. Some metal dildos are used for Kegel exercises and have been nicknamed vaginal barbells since they strengthen the PC muscle (see the Love Muscle activity). Glass and acrylic dildos are curvaceous, sensuous works of art that also make great G spot toys.

Dildos have been used throughout history”I saw one beautiful stone phallus unearthed from a four-thousand-year-old burial mound in Ireland”a testament to their age-old pleasure potential. Today's dildos are available in a magnificent array of sizes, styles, colors, and textures: sleek glass wands, marbleized silicone, fetishy black rubber, or jewel-toned jelly rubber.

A dildo can be used by itself or in a harness to enable hands-free penetration of a partner. The latter is often referred to as strap-on sex and is a common practice among straights and gays alike because it feels great to be anally or vaginally penetrated by a lover wearing a dildo. Many men also don strap-ons to experiment with double penetration on their lovers or to prolong intercourse after an erection has subsided.

Choosing a Dildo

If you'll be using your dildo in a harness, make sure it has a flared base, as this holds it in place. (If you'll be using the dildo anally, the flared base is also necessary to keep it from slipping into the rectum.) Beyond that, your decision boils down to four considerations: material, size, function, and aesthetic. Rubber and plastic can be an inexpensive way to test the waters, but the undisputed ideal material for dildos is silicone, as it is easy to clean, warms quickly, and lasts longer than other materials. As for aesthetics, you can choose between dildos that are realistic, abstract, or whimsical.

Size is simply a matter of getting the right fit. Dildo sizes usually refer to length and width. If you're planning to use a dildo in a harness, you need to add about half an inch to the length to accommodate the space between bodies. A good-size length is about seven inches. The width usually refers to the diameter of the dildo”the measurement across the toy if you were to cut it in half. If you're not sure about the diameter, choose something slightly smaller than what you think you'll need. Here's a tip if you want to get really precise: buy a fat cucumber, peel it, and then warm it in the microwave. Try inserting it. If it doesn't fit comfortably, keep paring it down till you've found the right size. Then cut it in half and measure the diameter across your cuke. Voilà! It's not as easy as figuring out your shoe size, but it works.

Function refers to how you plan to use your dildo. Will you use it alone or with a partner? What body part do you want to stimulate? When you're all suited up in your harness, what position are you partial to? A dildo with a suction cup is great for solo masturbation, and one that has a handle can be easily gripped by a partner. A dildo that curves up will stimulate the prostate or G spot in the missionary position, whereas a straight (or less curved) dildo affords more range of motion for those who want to try different positions. Women who want to wear a dildo while penetrating their partners give rave reviews to the double dildo known as the Nexus.


Choosing a Harness

Comfort and a good fit are essential in a harness. If you hate thong underwear because you can't tolerate a thin string between your butt cheeks, stay away from the single-strap harnesses (called thong or G-string style). Try a two-strap harness (also known as jock harnesses), which have two leg straps connected to a waist strap. Also, men prefer this style because it leaves their testicles unrestricted. For maximum comfort, look for a harness that is fully adjustable, has a flap behind the hole to prevent the dildo from chafing pubic hair or skin, and features a removable ring that enables you to accommodate much larger or smaller dildos (the Terra Firma is a popular leather model). Most harnesses are listed with dimensions and will fit a wide range of body types, but you should check to make sure the leg and waist straps are adjustable.


Finally, you will have to choose between leather and fabric. Both are durable, but leather tends to be more supple and sexy, while fabric is more economical. Additional variations on the harness theme include a double harness, which allows the wearer to insert a dildo, or the thigh harness, which lends itself to some interesting positions.


Anal toys are designed for insertion into the anus and have a flared base to prevent them from slipping into the rectum. Some anal toys vibrate. The anus is an erogenous zone for both men and women, and anal toys take pleasurable advantage of that. You may want to stimulate the sensitive anal opening, massage your prostate, or engage in anal intercourse. Anal toys are particularly effective at stimulating the prostate in men, which is analogous to the G spot in women. Most men find prostate stimulation is a source of sexual pleasure; some find it enhances other types of sex play while others can orgasm purely from prostate stimulation.

Basic Anal Toys

Butt Plugs

Designed to be inserted and left in place, these are short, stout toys with a bulge in the middle and a narrow neck toward the base. After insertion, your sphincter muscle contracts around the neck of the toy so that it stays firmly in place. Some plugs bend slightly to one side to apply pressure to the prostate when inserted.

Anal Dildos

These are smooth dildos (that is, there's no bulge) designed to penetrate the anus using an in-and-out motion.

Anal Beads

A series of marble-size beads strung together on a cord with a loop at one end, anal beads feel good when inserted into the anus one at a time. The beads are available in different sizes, and sometimes they are mounted on a thin dildo rather than on a string.

Anal Vibes

Anal toys that vibrate.

Choosing an Anal Toy

The most important thing to look for in an anal toy is a flared base. Beyond that, you must choose based on material, size, function, and aesthetics. As with dildos, you can find rubber and plastic anal toys, but silicone makes the very best material for an anal toy because it is so easy to clean. Size is a matter of personal preference, but if you're new to anal play you might want to start with a finger-width toy.

What you plan to do with your anal toy will determine the style. If you want to move the toy in and out, you want a smooth toy like a dildo. If you want to leave the toy in place, you want a butt plug. They come in all different widths, so start small and work your way up. Some people enjoy anal vibrations; any vibrator can be pressed against the anal opening, but choose a vibrating anal plug or dildo with a flared base for insertion.


Great masturbation toys, penis sleeves are intended to replicate the feeling of penis-in-vagina, which they do with varying degrees of success. Some look like tubes, while others take the form of blow-up dolls. The sleeve's texture has a lot to do with how well it gets the job done”something many guys learn the hard way thanks to plastic Sally's scratchy seams. Fortunately, a new material called Cyberskin, which looks and feels a lot like real skin, has revolutionized men's sleeves. One sleeve in particular, the Fleshlight, has earned rave reviews from men who've used the product.

Choosing a Penis Sleeve

Comfort is the key to a good penis sleeve, which can usually be achieved by adding lots of lubricant. Finding a sleeve that is snug yet elastic enough for easy removal is also important, as is choosing a material that is easy to keep clean. Vibrations are another option.


These are rings designed to fit around the base of the penis and the scrotum, restricting blood flow out of the penis. The resulting pressure can be very pleasurable and can heighten sensation in the penis and testicles. Some men find that wearing cock rings prolongs the erection or even makes the erection firmer, a side effect that can enhance intercourse for both parties. Vibrating cock rings are great for partner sex”a bullet vibrator attached to the cock ring is positioned so that it will rub up against the woman's clitoris during intercourse (while also vibrating his penis). This is great for women who need a little more stimulation during penetration. Alternately, you can flip this toy upside down so the vibrator is underneath the penis and facing inward. This stimulates the testicles during partner sex or solo play.

Choosing a Cock Ring

If you're new to cock rings, choose one that is easy to remove and can be adjusted to fit various sizes. If you're looking for the couple's toy (the cock ring with clitoral stimulator), try one that has a self-contained battery pack.


Penis pumps temporarily enlarge the penis by drawing blood to the surface. The cylinder slips over the length of the penis and creates a seal against the skin, while the pump (usually hand operated) creates a vacuum inside the cylinder. Many men enjoy the feeling of pressure on the penis while pumping.

Choosing a Penis Pump

Novelty pumps are pretty similar in terms of quality, but the pricier pumps offer stronger suction and more bells and whistles (attachments, controls, etc.).


Many people think of SM as a deviant sexual practice involving pain. SM is shorthand for the term sadomasochism, but there is a difference in the terms. People who enjoy others' suffering (bullies, for example) are often referred to as sadists, while those who seek humiliation are called masochists. But in contrast, SM is a consensual exchange of power that can be highly erotic for the participants. Although the media tends to fetishize SM play with depictions of leather-clad, stiletto-heeled dominatrices, many people dabble in SM play without the fashion trimmings or hard-core edge. If you've ever tied your lover's wrists with a scarf or donned a blindfold, you've experienced the thrill of erotic power exchange. Consult a book or website for an extensive discussion of SM technique and gear, but these basic toys make a nice introduction to power play.

Basic SM Accessories


Many people engage in the bondage of some sort during sex because it can be nice to escape the egalitarian roles we've been taught to assume in the bedroom. Just let yourself do or be done to” submitting to a partner's ministrations is an incredibly intimate gesture that resonates quite powerfully in the bedroom. You can fashion your own restraints out of stockings, backpack webbing, or clothesline, or purchase leather or fur-lined wrist or ankle restraints with easy-to-release clasps and tethers that will secure them to bedposts.


Sight deprivation is a time-honored way of increasing your enjoyment of your other senses. With a blindfold on, you're tuned in to the sounds of breathing, words, and bodies, the feel of skin on skin, the smell of the candles burning, or the images floating through your mind. In addition, you can manipulate exquisite sexual tension through this game of anticipation and release.

Whips, Paddles, Floggers

Sexual excitement increases one's tolerance for pain, often transforming it into something erotic, which is why spanking, slapping, or whipping can feel especially good during the heat of passion. Some folks refer to this not as pain, but as an altered state of heightened sensation. If this sounds intriguing but you're a novice to flagellation, it's worth doing some research into the types of devices available, as the difference in the sting or bite between them is enormous. Whether you crave a light spanking from a paddle or a thrashing from a cat-o'-nine-tails will determine your toy of choice.


Clamps are designed to simulate pinching, and many people like to experiment with them on nipples and genitals. While everyday items like clothespins can be employed as makeshift clamps, I'd suggest investing in something designed specifically as a nipple clip, which allows you to adjust the pressure and can accommodate a variety of nipple sizes.

Choosing SM Toys

With restraints and clamps, choose toys that are adjustable and easy to remove. What type of whip or paddle you use depends on how many stings you desire, so read up on the different types before purchasing.


A lot has been written about the importance of expanding our definition of sex beyond intercourse. After all, one's sexuality encompasses so much more than just this particular act. What we see, feel, hear, taste, and touch can all be part of our sexual experience. Toys designed to take erotic advantage of our five senses” things like massage oil, feathers, edible gels, erotica, and food”all fall into this category.