‘Tis the Season to Buy Sex Toys

Fa la la. Admit it, you’re tired of giving plush robes and best-selling books. You want to make a real impression this season. You want to buy that special someone a sex toy.

A festive gift! Who can deny it? But the decision to do it is the easy part. Even if you have access to a store to shop in so you can see and handle the merchandise, picking an intimate item for someone else can be a challenging task. Here’s why. Unless you and your intended have had explicit talks about how fun it would be to have a certain make and model of dildo, how empty the house seems without a Hitachi Magic Wand, or how your New Year’s resolutions center on getting good at using a flogger, you might truly have no clue what Sweetie might like to receive. Sales associates at lingerie shops tell tales of guys who rush in at a quarter ’til closing on Christmas Eve and say, “Uh, she’s about your size — what color would she like?” Sadly, this sort of shopper buys sex toys, too, and they ask Good Vibrations staff, “What should I get? What will s/he like? What’s the most popular?”

Friends, we are all well-trained in human sexuality — it’s part of our job description — but we are not trance channelers. We truly don’t know what s/he would like, though we can fill in the gaps in your information about a toy and how it works. We just can’t predict whether or not your squeeze will enjoy it.

Here’s another all-too-common scenario: bringing home a sex toy and finding that your darling doesn’t want anything of the sort. S/he feels s/he’s being pressured or told s/he’s not adequate; you wanted to light a fire, but s/he responds as if s/he’s being criticized or manipulated.

Uh-oh. Trust me, you don’t want to have a gift that you hoped would make you closer, more intimate, and more experimental turn into a “How could you do this?” experience. First rule of sex toy gift-giving: give them to people who want them.

Knowing whether your partner is one of those people may take a little subtle clue-gathering. The very easiest way to do this is to take a trip to the toy store together. Pretend you need some Kama Sutra Oil of Love for a friend at the office, drag your love along to help you pick out the flavor, and casually cruise the sex toys together while you’re there. Pay close attention to things s/he finds interesting.

The next best scenario is to work the topic of toy use into a conversation. If you two never talk about sex, this will be a challenge — if that’s the case, maybe you both should read my book Exhibitionism for the Shy, which has suggestions for talking to your partner about fantasies and explicitly sexual topics. It’s in couples who never talk about sex that the abovementioned “You got me what!?” conversation is most likely to happen.

So what should you get? A gift certificate, that’s what. Let your lover know that you wanted to give a gift that keeps on giving, but thought s/he should have the final say in the matter. If you’re near Good Vibes or another store, schedule a time to go shopping together. Make it a date, with a nice lunch or dinner attached. Confer in whispers in the vibrator aisle. Check out the cock rings. Rent a couple of movies. (Some of the available movies, in fact, are educational videos about using sex toys, like Good Vibrations Part 2 and Carol Queen’s Great Vibrations.) Buy a book of erotica so you can read bedtime stories to each other.

If you’re not near a shop, shop together by catalog. The process of doing so, whether live or in the privacy of your own home, will give you a lot more information about each other’s sexual desires and curiosities. That will come in handy next year.

And if you really must hand over a wrapped gift, consider Laura Corn’s 101 Nights of Grrreat Sex or 101 Nights of Grrreat Romance — books that guide heterosexual couples in intimate, fun explorations of love and relationships — or Passion Play, an interactive game. Playing with these does what a good conversation will — open you up to each other, giving you more information about both of your desires and fantasies.

Don’t forget, giving gifts like these, you’ll definitely also receive. Happy holidays!

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Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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