Thanks to our country’s subpar sex education and general tendency toward puritanism, our relationship with sex and our ability to talk about it is, you know, fucked. Despite how much talking about sex makes for better sex, we’re still not very good at being vulnerable in that way, even with long-term partners.
In fact, it’s often easier to ask a one night stand to choke you than it is to admit your interest in using nipple clamps to your partner of four years. Because there’s generally a repressive attitude toward all things kinky, even the smallest deviations from vanilla sex can be uncomfortable to bring up. Many of my female friends have avoided asking their partners to use sex toys in bed because they feel embarrassed about it, or like they come across as too kinky. Men’s qualms tended to be more about feeling inadequate or like they might be replaced. Sometimes the hesitation about shame, sometimes it’s more a matter of why rock the boat when I’m getting laid on the regular?, and sometimes you simply don’t know what to say or when.
Look, you’re not going to be replaced by a Hitachi, no matter how many times it makes your partner cum. If they put up with your corny jokes, 45-minute bathroom marathons, and ratty basketball shorts, they’re in way too deep for a dildo to replace you. Adding sex toys to your oeuvre only fosters more open, fun sex. You’ll experience lulls or grow bored with “the usual.” Watching The Office for the 18th time is comforting, but it can’t be the only show you watch, you know?
Of course, having conversations with your partner about incorporating new elements into your sex lives shouldn’t be a one-time ordeal—your desires and interests will change over time—but usually the first conversation is the hardest. So I’m going to tell you how and when to bring up the kinky stuff.
You’re normal. It’s normal.
The first thing you need to do before you bring up expanding your sex accessory repertoire is remind yourself that what you’re into is normal and not shameful.
Aside from the truly weird shit you might end up watching on nights when you have the house to yourself and you slide down a porn rabbithole, there’s likely very little you’ll want to try with potential to outright disgust your partner. That doesn’t mean they’re going to hop on board the butt plug train just because you brought it up—using sex toys can be intimidating, and there are some things your partner might never be interested in trying—but most people these days have at least a general awareness of sex toys.
In fact, there’s a good chance that your partner owns some already. As far back as 2009, 52.5% of women reported having used or owned a vibrator. The number is almost surely higher now, as sex accerssories get easier to discreetly purchase online. (In fact, another study from 2017 puts that number as high as 78%.) And despite its stigma among straight people for being messy and superfluous, according to a 2012 survey, 65.6% of women had used lube before, and 20% reported having used lube in the past month.
When to have The Talk(s).
Even though wanting to experiment with toys is extremely normal, it’s still important to get the timing of your conversation right. Your partner might not be feeling the same lull you are, and might be defensive or feel hurt at first. Pick a neutral time when you two are alone. No one wants to hear that their partner is sexually dissatisfied when they’re getting ready for their nephew’s baptism. Ideally, you should broach the conversation on a date night while sharing a bottle of wine (or during whatever other pleasant post-dinner ritual you two have). You should both be relaxed and in a good mood.
Whatever you do, please don’t float the idea of adding toys for the first time during sex—that puts your partner in a high-pressure position to either agree immediately in order to keep the moment going, or hit pause on sexytime altogether. It also might make it seem like you were more focused on what was missing rather than enjoying the probably very nice sex you two were just having. You can bring up more low-stakes ideas like trying lube or a vibrator you know your partner has during foreplay, especially if you feel like your partner is probably into the idea. Just be clear that they don’t need to say yes as a condition of your continued sexual interest in them.
How soon is too soon?
There isn’t some easy rule of thumb, like, “If you’ve had sex seven times with a person they will of course be open to a butt plug.” While I’m sure some people have busted out flavored lube and blindfolds night one, it really depends from couple to couple. Consider your own personal comfort level, what you imagine your partner’s openness to be, and what you’re trying to incorporate. Jumping from missionary-only to anal beads is like jumping from 7th grade math to advanced calculus. Take it slow.
If you’ve spent the night post-sex a few times and stayed over for breakfast, or if you’re calling each other boyfriend and girlfriend, you are absolutely in the clear to bring up using common sex toys like lube, dildos, and vibrators. If you’ve been with someone exclusively for a while and you’re doing things like meeting their family or going to work events, they’re probably not going to be turned off by you wanting to get a little kinkier in bed.
A study done by sex toy retailer Adam and Eve found that a plurality of people wait a year or more to bring up using sex toys with their partners. Obviously you should wait to talk until you’re comfortable, but you do not need to wait a year. A few months is plenty of time.
Your sex toy journey should be something that you two embark on together with shared excitement, rather than something one of you feels pressured to do.
You don’t have to make a pitch with a PowerPoint about why using handcuffs will be fun—you can say something as simple as, “Would you ever be into me using a vibrator on you? I think it would be really hot.”
One easy way to kick off the conversation is to shop together either in person or online for a toy that you’re both into. Don’t bring one home and spring it on your partner without a conversation first about what they’d be into. Besides, it’s good practice to buy new sex toys with a new partner. Even if it’s deeply cleaned, no one wants to use your ex’s cock ring. The only exception here is if a toy’s been used exclusively by you, but once a person outside of your current relationship has used a toy, it’s time to retire it.
Fight through the awkwardness.
Talking about sex in general signals a better sex life. A study from the Gottman institute showed only 9% of couples who don’t talk about sex reported having satisfying sex lives. As I said earlier, you have to do some talking if you want to consistently have hot sex throughout your relationship! And sometimes, it’ll be awkward, but the more you do it, the more you’ll realize that uncomfortable conversations won’t kill you. Like all things, with a bit of practice you can get better. Reconcile yourself to the fact that you might get embarrassed and do it anyway.
One great way to fight through awkwardness is to keep the tone light, to act as if what you’re bringing up is not at all uncomfortable for you. This is a case of fake it ‘til you make it through the conversation. This doesn’t mean you should ignore or downplay your partner’s potential concerns because they’re “no big deal,” but rather you should approach the conversation with the attitude that this is something fun that you’re open to trying, should they be similarly inclined.
Remember it’s ultimately benefiting you both.
One study on vibrators by the University of Indiana showed that women who reported using vibrators had more orgasms, more arousal, and more desire than those who did not. Another survey done by We Vibe, a company that makes sex toys for couples, showed that buying sex toys can help lead to talking more about sex, which, of course, leads to better sex.
At the end of the day, when you’re choosing between settling for routinized, rote sex or fighting through a little bit of discomfort in order to unlock better communication and much steamier sex? That’s not a very tough decision.