I’m ready to buy a dildo, but when I went shopping for one they all seemed to look like extra large penises and I’m not really into that aesthetic. Are there dildos that are more exciting than a slim-line vibrator but that aren’t huge dicks?

There is an entire world of different dildo designs out there. Of course, the point of a dildo is to go inside an orifice, so by necessity they will be phallic, i.e. long and slender. And of course, an inanimate object is not a penis, even if it is fashioned to look like one. Large, realistic, penis-styled dildos are what is most commonly available, but I think this is based upon a societal bias towards “bigger is better” and the idea that “sex” is when a penis goes into a vagina. Neither of these ideas lend themselves to more expansive ideas of sex and desire, and in fact can be really harmful when folks internalize the message of what is expected of them sexually.

It is totally fine to not want to have sex with a representation of an anatomical penis. It is also OK if you do, but want it to be neon green, for example. Despite certain tropes around the types of sex toys being more visible in the mainstream, the sex toy world is vast and I guarantee that almost anything you could imagine wanting to put in a hole has already been created.

Something that is objectively gross about a lot of sex toys are the materials they are made from. Prior to a decade ago, many sex toys were made from jelly-rubber (a catch-all phrase for soft and porous material that has the appearance of solid Jell-O) or plastic composites. These materials are chemically unstable and many will disintegrate over time. Not great for items that go inside a body, because they can leave residues that cause allergic reactions or even cause chemical burns or absorb body fluids into the porous materials and become breeding grounds for bacterial infection. Body-safe materials, meaning non-porous and easily cleanable are: silicone, glass, stainless steel, wood that has been varnished and sealed, and ceramics that have a body-safe glaze on them (unless you have an allergy to any of those materials). Due to the work of mostly smaller sex toy companies and the activism of independent sex bloggers over the past 20 years, it is now relatively easy to find body-safe sex toys in even the most far-flung sex shop.

Some dildos are completely non-representational. These often have the look of small abstract sculptures. Glass, wood, and stainless steel are fantastic materials to look for if you want a dildo that you could leave out on your coffee table in mixed company and pass off as a paperweight. There are also a handful of sex toy-makers who create beautiful silicone dildos in non-representational forms and at least one that has created a dildo based on a mold of the vaginal canal (which I guess is representational, but not easily identifiable.) Silicone is great if you want something that is a little more flexible, but both silicone and wood tend to be lighter if you have issues like carpal tunnel syndrome.

Then there are the object dildos, which are sculpted or molded after recognizable objects. This could include shapes like fruits and vegetables or a small sculpted rocket, for instance. These dildos are fun and can be a way to play around with relatable objects that you may already have feelings or connections to, but in a safer way than, say, putting something in your body and having a small piece break off and having your orgasm ruined because you are now freaking out trying to fish out a small plastic piece from inside yourself. Or in the case of fruits and vegetables, you could be introducing sugars into your genitals that cause yeast infections or possibly leaving little bits of organic residue in your orifice which can also mess with your internal pH level. Unlike its organic counterpart, a silicone corn cob won’t rot over time.

Maybe your fantasies veer more into the creature-feature realm: for that, you can have fun exploring the ever-growing category of fantasy dildos. These dildos are mostly silicone. If you ever wanted to know what it was like to be screwed by a dragon, this is probably the closest you’ll be able to come. Dragon dicks, tentacles, werewolf appendages, alien probes, rotting zombie cocks—from fantasy to horror, there is a lot to explore here. Fantasy dildos tend to have a lot going on with them aesthetically speaking, which often translates to a lot of texture. Even if you have never wanted to play out a sex scene with the Creature from the Black Lagoon, you might enjoy a textured and very not-human looking toy.

And lastly, there are the human-penis realistic dildos. You can find these in a variety of sizes, styles, and densities (i.e. how firm or squishy it is). And as I mentioned before, it is totally OK to not be into these. But some folks like having this option for a variety of reasons, such as already relating to having sex with this particular form, forming visual fantasies based on the size or shape, or even not using the dildo for self penetration, but instead wearing it themselves and getting to look down to see the appendage that they want as a part of their body.

And of course, because these materials can be altered with pigment, you can also have a human-penis realistic dildo in just about any color of the rainbow, even designed with cosmic swirls or glitter. If you are drawn to a penis shape but feel weird about a flesh-tone, this is a great option. Maybe you want an aqua blue cock to match your favorite bra. Maybe all of your accessories, including sex toys, need to be gold glitter. Sometimes a neon-pink dick just feels right.

Regardless of style, many dildos are made with a substantial base that can be suctioned to a chair or wall. If this is a way that you see yourself using the toy, make sure it can fulfill this need (i.e. that it will have a flat base instead of a handle, and either has a suction cup or is compatible with a suction cup add-on). Another consideration is that most dildos do not vibrate, so check to see if the dildo has a vibrator inside, or a reservoir to place a small bullet vibrator if that is something you are into.

Now that you have some more dildo styles to look up on the net, be wary of marketing campaigns. Dildos are just objects and there is no such thing as a lesbian dildo or a heterosexual couple’s dildo or a dirty porn star dildo or a sex-positive feminist dildo. All of these are valid identities (and not mutually exclusive) and are based on you, your fantasies, and who you are having sex with, not the auxillary object you are using during sex. If at all possible, it can be really helpful to go to a sex shop that has display dildos and see them in person so you can get a feel for their presence in real life. When buying a dildo online, make sure you get the measurements of the toy before placing your order. Many sex-toy smiths use a soda can as a standard object next to which they photograph their dildos so that you get a good idea of size.

Happy dildo hunting!

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illustrations Ruth Mascelli