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Before Buying Your First Sex Toy(s) 

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1 Don't wait until you win your local Planned Parenthood's Sexytime Trivia contest (next one is Feb. 20) and, as a prize, receive a goodie bag with oh-my-would-you-look-at-that to discover the joys of toys. Whatever your situation, orgasms are awesome and a world of enhancement awaits. Come on in.

2. Who have you come shopping for and why? Are you looking for a little you time — a way to privately explore heightening your sexual pleasure? Or maybe you're just a really lazy masturbator? Are you considering a present for your partner(s)? If so, is your partner known to enjoy this sort of action or are you springing the Beginning Bondage kit on him/her/them without warning? (Best to feel things out first.) Are you buying your partner a sex toy because you're not one and you're tired of rejecting her? You can't just hand a man a Fleshlight and say, "I'm going to sleep now. Come up when you're done and please don't wake me." (Well, maybe you can.) (Aside: When that particular toy shows up in your winnings, selling it on eBay will go all kinds of wrong.) Point is, you don't want to just walk into a sex shop, grab the first toy you see and hope it's the right fit. Or order something in the confusion of online options only to stay confused when it arrives on your doorstep. So identify your needs, involve your partner if appropriate, do some research and be prepared to ask questions.

3. Consider your fears — and those of your sex partner(s) if applicable. Anecdotal reports suggest that many women are concerned they'll become desensitized and thus dependent on a mechanical assist to reach orgasm. And some men can feel threatened when their girlfriend comes home with an artificial sidekick. When it comes to the former, don't worry! Remember, one can take many roads to Satisfaction City. The freeway might be the most direct route, but that doesn't mean the lovely, meandering country path ceases to be an option — emphasis on "option." Sex toys are a way to expand, not limit, them. Remember that, guys. The Rabbit Habit Original Deluxe might intimidate you at first glance, but real, live people have the advantage of hands and mouths and hearts and brains.

4. Now that you're clear on the who, the why and the worry, step into your local sex shop — look, I know, small town, right? Sure, you might come across someone you know, but hey, he's also trying to decide between this object and that — discretion is understood in these situations. Or at least it should be. Please do not engage your fellow customer in small talk if she clearly is uncomfortable. Let her examine the Stronic Drei Pulsator in peace, would you? And for the love of all things holy, don't come on to her. Do consider bringing cash, lest the clerk ask for your driver's license to go along with your credit card, then recognize your name — small town factor — and say it out loud for the entire store to hear, followed by, "Are you the one from the radio?" I mean, hypothetically, that could happen. It probably won't. But if you want to be sure — cash. And despite these teensy risks, being able to ask questions of the sales staff helps ensure you'll come out with the best product from what can be an overwhelming number of choices. Being able to see, hear and sometimes touch the future object of your affection informs your decision-making for the best. Size matters! Vibration varies! Much like buying shoes and bras online, buying sex toys that way often goes awry because you're unable to properly familiarize yourself with them first. If you absolutely need more anonymity, try popping into a shop during your next trip out of town. If you do order online, check the site's reputation (Dan Savage suggests www.adameve.com; www.goodvibes.com is the Helen Mirren of sex shops; www.babeland.com and www.edensfantasy.com come recommended), do your research and read reviews.

5. Make healthy choices. Not all sex toys are created equal. The Kinsey Institute ranks silicone, ABS plastic, stainless steel and Borosilicate glass (yep) as the safest materials because they are non-porous (think about it) and phthalate-free. Avoid jelly rubber, PVC and anything that is too bendy or odorous. Your toy should not smell like a new car. Quality goods are worth the investment. Please note, once a plaything gets boring or broken, www.scarletgirl.com offers sex toy recycling. (Based in Portland, natch.)

BONUS: If it comes with a remote control option, take it.

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Jennifer Savage

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