Thinking of buying a sex toy?
Victoria from Passionfruit The Sensuality Shop in Melbourne, Australia, talks sex toys, the sex toy industry, and how to find the right fit for you.
How did you learn about sex toys?
Two years ago, I hadn’t stepped into a sex shop or owned a sex toy. I thought it wasn’t for me, that it was dirty or even cheating to get a toy. My background is in technology, and it was only once I researched the industry’s history for a workshop on 3D printing that I realised the potential this industry has for empowerment and health.
What is your personal passion in Passionfruit?
I love to know what triggered each buyer to visit Passionfruit; the moment they thought, I want to buy a sex toy today. The underlying needs and emotions behind this kind of decision are very important, especially if it’s not a sex toy they need at all. For instance, someone might come in saying, ‘I want a vibrator’, but a conversation later reveals they actually want to increase their libido. That’s a different conversation about lifestyle, erotica, lingerie, good porn, and might even be as simple as a massage oil to reconnect with their body.
How do you help customers feel comfortable?
Environment plays a huge part. Even I feel on edge walking into the classic porn-dungeon adult shops. Passionfruit is designed more like a perfumery or a hotel lobby to help put people at ease. None of our decor or toy boxes has serious-faced porn stars on them, and we work hard to create an atmosphere that allows open conversation and a natural journey, so people don’t think what they are doing is wrong or dirty.
Conversationally, I don’t embarrass easily. Many first-time customers will start their question with, ‘I’ve got an embarrassing question,’ followed by, ‘Can I buy a vibrator?’ I’m still waiting for someone to actually ask an embarrassing question!
What advice would you give to someone who is buying his or her first sex toy?
1. Invest in quality
You don’t need to buy the most expensive toy, but a rechargeable vibe from a reputable brand will be a very different experience from a battery-operated ‘novelty’ toy.
2. There is no right and wrong way of using a toy
There is no right or wrong way of using a sex toy, but if you want to avoid an awkward visit to Accident and Emergency, don’t put it up your bum unless it has a flared base. Use your creativity and follow what feels good. If you buy a G-spot vibe and it’s not working for you internally, try it externally. Some curved G-spot vibes (like the Rosa by l’Amourose) are also good for P-spot massage. A vibe that’s too strong directly on your skin might feel amazing over knickers.
3. Start slowly and work your way up
First time vibes with lots of variation are great beginner toys. Be kind to your body: start slowly and use lots of lube.
4. Use it by yourself first
It can take a while to get used to the sensation and placement of a new toy (particularly in new holes), and finding that out on your own will make for a much more enjoyable time when another person is involved.
6. Consider what you already enjoy or what you want to create in your sex life
Do you want more clitoral stimulation during penetrative sex? Do you want to find your G-spot? Do you want to use this with a partner? This will help whittle down what is right for you.
6. Read reviews by unbiased bloggers
7. Ask the shop assistant lots of questions
What is this made of? How do I turn it on and off? Is there a warranty if it breaks? What are the charger and batteries? If you travel, ask if your vibrator is USB re-chargeable. A sex shop that cares about what they stock will be extremely happy to help, and if they can’t answer the basic question, ‘What material is this?’ that’s the sound of alarm bells! The sex toy industry is unregulated, so companies can legally make toys out of carcinogenic materials. Most don’t because that’s evil, but you can’t assume it’s safe because it’s being sold commercially.
And the experienced buyer?
I would ask what they have already tried and what they liked or disliked about the experience, and go from there.
What about customers with special needs?
I work with what mobility the client has and what they want to achieve alone or with a partner and then match this to the toys on offer. For example, for difficulties gripping with hands, I’d recommend the JimmyJane HelloTouch and a lube dispenser you can keep on a bedside table. If maintaining an erection is an issue but you want to give your partner pleasure, strap harnesses and dildos are great.
I also work with nurses and carers at spinal rehabilitation units, urology departments, breast care nurses, and the cancer community, helping patients meet their sexual needs. In addition, Michelle Temminghoff, Passionfruit’s founder, offers 1-on-1 sex coaching.
What makes a good sex toy or sexual aid?
It should be well-designed and user tested during the design process so that it is as user-friendly and likely-to-please as possible. Otherwise, you end up with something that sounds like a good concept and looks sleek, but in practice offends many vaginas. The materials should also be body-safe and the control pad easy-to-navigate.
What makes a bad one?
A bad sex toy is one that doesn’t appreciate the shape of a woman’s body. Back in the 1990s and 2000s, the classic massive phallic-shaped rabbit complete with rotating beads and extreme pinkness was still the standard. However, the G-spot is behind the wall of the vagina and approximately two-three finger widths deep, not at the very end—that’s the cervix. Hitting the top of your cervix repeatedly is not going to set off any fireworks, but may make you want to start a fire.
There is also a difference in vibration between ‘rumbly’ and ‘buzzy’ or ‘surface’ vibrations. Poor quality vibes and bullets are less likely to give you a good time than make your clit feel itchy or numb.
What should people be aware of when selecting toys and lubes?
When selecting a toy, smell it and feel it. If it smells rubbery or like metal, it could be made of poisonous materials. You often find porous jelly material on traditional toys, which could trap bacteria. The safest materials are body-safe silicone, stainless steel, ABS plastic and glass. Dangerous Lilly has a great article on toy safety that includes a list of reputable toy companies.
The number of women who report having yeast infections and irritation from supermarket-bought lubes is enraging. Not all lubes are designed for pleasure. Gynaecologists designed KY jelly for single finger insertion, not continuous wonderful friction.
When looking for lube, test it between two fingers, apply friction and see what happens. It should remain slippery and not get ‘gloopy’. Most importantly, check the ingredients. Look for lubes that don’t contain glycerin, paraben, or glycol. If you see ‘glycerin’ as the first ingredient, throw it in the nearest bin—that’s essentially a sugar mansion designed for housing bacteria.
What are some of the more unusual toys people buy?
That’s a hard one; my baseline for unusual is rather high, though I am pleasantly surprised how often I get to explain Luna Beads, cock rings, ON arousal oil and Tantus Eggs to people.
Luna Beads are pelvic floor exercisers for women. I call it the vagina gym. You wear them while doing any kind of activity that involves movement and the balls work your muscles. Stronger muscles reduce the risk of pelvic floor problems and provide more intense orgasms.
Cock rings constrict blood flow around the base of the penis, forcing blood to the surface. This means you last longer and have more intense orgasms. It also looks spectacular.
ON arousal oil is like a coffee in your pants. It’s herbal, and free from harmful and irritating ingredients like menthol and chilli.
Tenga Eggs are a soft silicon sheath you place over your favourite erect penis and go to town. I call it the ‘connoisseur wank’.
Do you take returns?
We don’t take returns on toys once they are out of the box. The only returns we get are on the rare occasion that a new high-tech toy malfunctions. If a toy isn’t maintaining charge or the charger is broken we will replace it with a new one.
Investing in your pleasure and the pleasure of others is one of the healthiest, most important decisions you can make, so it pays to take the time to get it right.
Victoria confesses to being ‘obsessed with the industry of pleasure’. In addition to her work at Passionfruit, she co-runs Sex Geekdom, a meetup group for those who want to learn more about sex in a non-hookup space, she lectures at RMIT in the Future Sex Studio of the product design department on how to apply design thinking and research techniques to innovate the adult industry, and she co-founded RubUp, a company reinventing how we learn about sex as adults.