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A sex toy story: how adult toys can improve your life and relationships

What curious beginners and veteran enthusiasts should know about these intimate accessories

Credit: Courtesy AdamMale; Francesca Roh/Xtra

It’s easy to get intimidated by the world of sex toys. Some, with names like the Lux LX3+ Stimulator, sound too complicated. Others, like Ultra Douche, too comical. But make no mistake, that gentle buzzing is a siren call to everyone — especially those hitting a wall in the bedroom.

That’s the insight of Jenni Skyler, sex therapist and founder of the Intimacy Institute. As a psychotherapist, Skyler helps individuals, couples and polyamorous groups negotiate what they want out of intimate relationships.

“We have specialized clinical training to really support people through all the parts of their sexuality. Their orientation, their gender, their fantasies, their fears — and how those behaviours interact with a partner,” Skyler says.

The right sex toy, she adds, can help sort through all of that.

It’s why in addition to Skyler’s practice, she partners with adult toy producer AdamMale to start conversations around sex toys — a kind of dialogue that, she notes, comes more naturally to queer clients.

“Because they’ve had to do the leg work to come out in a culture that is heterocentric, there’s an increased confidence and honesty around sexuality,” she says. That openness and self-awareness makes it easier for queer people to get in touch with their own pleasure drivers — be it fetishes, kinks or, of course, toys.

And that pursuit of pleasure is at the core of all sex toys, she adds.

So if looking for a first toy, rather than debating the kind of sex toys you want — dildos and vibrators vs cuffs and beads — Skyler recommends thinking about the kind of pleasure you hope to intensify. If you’re interested in chest sensations, look into nipple clamps. The neck may respond to chokers or ticklers. As for the groin? Get specific. Different toys are designed to activate places like the clitoris, vulva, penis glans (or head), prostate and more.

“Our whole bodies are capable of sensation, arousal and pleasure, so it’s really about being able to tap into that potential and expand or tighten it.”

But juggling new toys isn’t always smooth sailing for queer people. In the work that Skyler does with couples, she finds that one partner can be hesitant when the other suggests expanding their sexual arsenal.

One of the most sizeable concerns for men that Skyler works with is, well, fears about not sizing up.

“That’s a main place where people think there is a perceived threat . . . that a partner feels his penis is inadequate,” she says. “I usually challenge that and say, think of yourself as Tim Allen on Tool Time — the more tools you have to bolster pleasure, the better off you’re going to be in the bedroom.”

Having that type of honest conversation with yourself and the pleasure you want to achieve is a key step in adding sex toys to your solo routines. When it comes to phasing them into a relationship, Skyler says the same honesty should apply.

“Have that conversation around the same time or within the same conversation that you’re talking about sex,” she says. So when telling a partner about things like your sexual health, preferences or fantasies, include what you’ve done or are hoping to do with toys.

That’s easier said than done, Skyler admits. Several of her clients worry about coming off “sex-crazed” when bringing a collection of toys into a new relationship. But it all goes back to pleasure, she adds.

“Say that you know how to optimize your pleasure together. That there are different, fun ways you know how to turn yourself on, and that you’d love to share those ways during your time together.”

The toy talk isn’t the only hard conversation a couple may have about changes in the bedroom. Though not entirely overlapping, the worlds of sex toys and BDSM are linked through many of the offerings — including restraints, gags and paddles. Add queer sexualities into the mix and you’ve got a Venn diagram of pleasure possibilities.

But it doesn’t have to be as complicated as it looks, Skyler says.

Before prematurely jumping into roleplaying, control or other BDSM touchstones,  consider once again the pleasure you’re attempting to heighten.

“If you deprive one of your senses — let’s say vision, with a blindfold — then you’re able to accentuate another sensation of touch.” Balancing those sensations, then, becomes the first step, with fantasy or role-playing following.

“The more options you have for pleasure, by yourself or with a partner, the better you can expand your sexuality as much as you want.”

Dil-do’s, don’ts and need to knows:

  • Isolate the parts of your body you want to accentuate or heighten the pleasure of. Think beyond genitals, to every region from scalp to toes.
  • If with a partner, talk about the sensations you want to add or have withheld.
  • Sex toys are made from various materials — easy-cleaning silicone, temperature-manipulating glass, weighty metal, versatile plastics — but don’t get overwhelmed. Skyler suggests treating it like shoe shopping, feeling the various materials and seeing how your skin reacts.
  • Ask lots of questions. Skyler says that most sex toy retailers are trained in sexual health and education, so they are comfortable and ready to talk about the inner workings of toys and accessories.
  • Buy lube. Most sex toys need to be combined with a lubricant for safety and comfort. Water-based lubes are particularly good for cleaning and maintaining the condition of the toy.
  • Be safe. Clean toys well between uses, and use condoms if inserting toys in new or multiple partners at once.