Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sex Toy Basics: A Little About Safety and a Whole Lot About Hiding Them

Since venturing forth into the world of pleasure objects, I've done the sort of diligent research for which geeks are generally known. I've learned a few things. First of all, phthalates are bad. Maybe. The extent to which they pose an actual physical health risk is technically unknown, but either way, they make a toy smell icky and icky smells are a turn off. Phthalates are the chemicals that make plastics soft, and they're found in jelly type sex toys. They're also found in food, which can't be good, and quite a few other places, but if we're trying to avoid swallowing poison (*cough* corn syrup *cough*) we might as well avoid sticking them into orifices.

The prevailing theory with jelly rubber toys containing phthalates is that one should use them with a condom, which might not be a bad idea anyway, since jelly rubber is porous and difficult (read: impossible) to sterilize. I've also seen toy covers, which are cheap condoms made specifically for toys, and I'd suspect are more prone to breaking, since the consequences of such an event would not require a college fund.

Anyway, avoid jelly rubber with phthalates if you can, but it's soft and cheap, so make your own decisions.

As for toy care, you want to make sure your lubricant is compatible with the toy, and you want to clean the toy after each use. The lubricant question isn't as hard as it first sounds -- water based lubricant is usually safe for any toy. Silicone based lubricants should always be used with caution, because they will damage many toys, but apparently have advantages involving bathtub use, which I have not been brave enough to explore.

Then there's the toy cleaner. I suspect it's more expensive than the chemical contents justify, but it generally comes in a small spray bottle, which is convenient to hide with the toys, and saves one the trip to the bathroom with a recently-used toy nestled in one's undergarments. Ick. Double-ick if it's a college dorm bathroom, down a long hallway, with actual risk of discovery at any stage in the proceedings.

Also, washing with regular soap apparently leaves a film. I've been warned of this dire film being left on my skin, should I be so rash as to wash my face with soap, and apparently this applies to sex toys as well. So toy cleaner it is. Keep a hand towel with your toys, and wash it often. By wash it, I mean rinse it out when you shower, and then add it to your laundry. You'll be convinced that the lube and/or toy cleaner on the towel is obvious otherwise, and whether that's true or not, your peace of mind is probably more important than the facts at this point.

Finally we come to the problem of storage. Take the batteries out. Many toys come with a removeable battery holder, because toys should not be stored with their batteries in place. Not only could one of the dang things turn itself on and cause you grief (probably not, but better safe than sorry) but also it's a good way to make sure the inside of the toy didn't somehow get wet, and to keep the batteries from corroding inside of an expensive toy (you remember what happened to that hand-held video game from Walmart, don't you?).

So, you have a clean toy, sans batteries, tucked inside a sock and hidden deep in a secret wall safe in your basement lair, where it can never ever be found, right? Um, you bought it to use it, not bury it in the yard. Locate your storage within reach of your bed. Yes, I can hear the panic. Take a deep breath. There are all sorts of nifty ways to store sex toys secretly near your bed. Slip it into a small cosmetics case, or sunglass case, or any number of small inexpensive containers that will keep it from collecting lint, and then hide that inside a half-full box of kleenex, or inside one of those hidden compartment pillows, or inside pretty much anything that locks, like a toolbox or computer case. Better yet, if you can afford it, try
one of these:

the Toibocks

the Tunti Illuminated Boudoir Toybox

For Your Nymphomation -- locking storage cases

(And yes, this is a thinly veiled plea for one of these companies to send me their product. Or it would be, if I wasn't too chicken to give out my address. My current storage method is effective, but unnecessarily elaborate and about to be replaced.)

Toys should not be allowed to touch each other, because silicone toys will damage each other, materials like TPR and jelly rubber can melt together, glass can get chipped, stainless steel (yes, they make stainless steel toys) can get scratched, and plastics can get rub marks or bleed their color onto other things. So each toy gets its own little bag of some nature.

Things made of porous material (phthalate-free TPR, jelly rubber, wood) can harbor bacteria and yeast without proper care and storage, so for those things you might want to invest in some Sugar Saks, which are chemically treated storage bags (or you can buy a bottle of BioShield75 -- I saw some on amazon -- and apply it to your own bags), but for non-porous materials (silicone, glass, stainless steel) you can be more creative. I bought some small cosmetics bags, change purses, and cute little silk bags of unknown intentions at a fair trade store. Buy one more cosmetics bag than you actually need for toys, and use it to store lube and toy cleaner. That way, if those things leak, they don't leak all over everything else.

Okay, now that you have a plan for where to store the toys, it's time to make some decisions about which ones to buy, where to buy them, and how to manage it discreetly. Your legal adult status, and the fact that you pay rent, are gainfully employed, and are working on a master's degree -- these things do not mean that your parents (and others) aren't an obstacle to your sex toy purchases.

If you're the only person who ever really looks at your own credit card statement, you can relax with regards to payment. A casual glance will not reveal your purchase, because online stores are very good at having discreet billing names. Each website provides that information somewhere, so check it out, for your own peace of mind. Your parent, or roommate, or nosy banker would have to google the company name to connect the dots, and they're only going to do that if you give them reason to be suspicious. If you're up to something unrelated (your new pot habit, a secret relationship, the fact that you're flunking French, that novel you mailed off secretly to an agent for impending rejection), you might be raising flags you don't realize you're raising. Or, more innocently, if you're generally frugal, and then drop several hundred dollars at Vaguename Enterprises, well, only you know if that's likely to send up any flags. But Vaguename Enterprises will blend right in if you routinely make online purchases of other kinds.

If your parents monitor your credit card purchases, either directly or indirectly, or are just too likely to open your mail for your comfort, you can buy a visa gift card. You can always spend the balance on amazon. Or, little tip, Target is remarkably patient about customers trying to burn up five different gift cards with less than three dollars each available on them. Certain other stores, less so. Speaking of amazon, they do sell some sex toys. I'll make note of which ones as I write reviews.

There's also eBay, but it would make me jumpy as heck to trust some random eBay seller to be discreet, so I haven't tried it. Plus the possibility of something being used but sold as new creeps me the hell out. There are probably many honorable and discreet sellers on eBay, I know I've had many successful transactions on the site for other types of products, but, yeah, I haven't gone that route yet.

Some companies accept paypal without selling through eBay, a fact which I will soon take advantage of when I purchase one of the storage options named above. You'll want to check out their billing name on the paypal screen before you click to send payment, but I've encountered more suspiciously odd billing names through paypal when buying toner cartridges and comic books, so I personally don't anticipate anyone
giving a hoot in that case, and I'm pretty paranoid.

The real problem with online shopping for these items, even with amazon, is the delivery. How likely is it that someone else in your household will open your mail? Would they question a strange return address? Would the amazon name on the box make the situation better or worse? Heaven forbid your box of dildos arrive on the day your little brother is hoping the newest wii game will turn up.

If they won't open it, but will hover nearby hoping you'll open it in front of them, or will actually ask about the contents, order a book or dvd at the same time. Or keep a new book or dvd handy as the pretend contents of the box. Just be careful not to use the same one twice. Your parents may not be able to tell Star Trek from Star Wars, but when you're in the middle of an elaborate lie, they will suddenly develop the ability to recognize a Doctor Who companion, and somehow acquire the knowledge that she only wore that outfit in one specific dvd.

You can try to time the shipment for a convenient arrival date -- the exact middle of your parents three week cruise would be fantastic, if it's at all realistic. If you're really worried, get a post office box or a Mailboxes Etc. address. One note: the US postal service tracking system is useless in this situation. Don't think you can watch your package move across the country and then be home for delivery, because it'll give you information like this: carrier has been notified to expect your package, *many days of no updates*, your package has been delivered.

Yeah, not useful.

UPS is better, and FedEx seems like it would be better, unless your package experiences an "exception" and then goes missing for days. The stress of your new vibrator missing the plane is not fun stress, especially if you paid for overnight shipping specifically to avoid stress, like I did when that scenario happened to me. Once an "exception" has occurred, all bets are off on knowing when the damn thing will turn up and who in your household will be nearest the front door when it does.

If someone in your household might open your box, for whatever reason, and that possibility holds more disaster-potential than you can stomach, go visit Mailboxes, Etc. You could even share such an investment with your BFF, if you're relaxed enough. (And no, I'm not.)

If you live in or near a major city, you could go buy toys in person. This removes all the shipping stress, plus you can pay cash. Of course, the idea of wandering into a shady neighborhood with a large amount of cash has its drawbacks, but sex toy shops aren't all about seedy locations and lurking pervs any more. There are lots of sex toy boutiques where everything is clean and well lit. Those types of shops come equipped with helpful sales people who had the TMI circuits surgically removed from their brains. They sell vibrators all day, and they may as well be selling office supplies for all it concerns them at this point.

While on a road trip, I made a point of stopping in as many sex toy shops as I could find, because I had decided to get over myself a little and start this blog. Every stop gave me an adrenaline rush, but I managed to rein in my hideous embarrassment a little bit.

I sorted these sex toy shops into a few handy categories, in my own mind: liberal female-centric boutiques, highway-adjacent porn stores that didn't give me the creeps, and Do Not Want. The clue to Do Not Want is this key phrase: buddy booths. Google it, and wish you hadn't. They also sold "tobacco paraphernalia" and I'm not naive enough to think that tobacco actually requires water pipes.

That particular location did have a small advantage in that nobody made eye contact with anyone else, and because I'm overweight and was dressed like a homeless person, I didn't feel threatened even by the sweaty guy fingering some cheap fishnet stockings over in the corner as if he was trying to behave like the stereotypical perv just to fulfill expectations. If you're prepared to look gross and potentially dangerous yourself, and have confidence in your ability to defend yourself if necessary, that's your decision, but I cannot in good conscious recommend voluntarily going into one of those places.

None of the other stops I made, even along major highways, had the same seedy atmosphere. I quite liked the highway-side porn stores, actually. Nobody was big on the eye contact, the stores were all clean and well lit, and the prices were a little random. Having researched online, I recognized some great deals, and some ridiculously high prices, side by side. Having some experience in retail, I know this has to do with suppliers and volume, but that's really not very interesting.

Don't tell the guy behind the counter at the highway-side porn store that you're shopping for a bachelorette party. He's going to know that's a lie, and you're going to know he knows, and if you're half as insecure as I can be, you'll end up buying a bunch of penis-themed party favors to prove your own pointless lie. Let him believe you fully intend to go wank off in the parking lot, what the hell does he care.

He doesn't think that, by the way, this isn't his first day on the job and he's as bored as any convenience store worker by this point. Or he owns the place and is busy worrying about suppliers and volume.

As for the liberal female-centric boutiques, I personally found them a tad bit more intimidating, but I tend to prefer a more masculine shopping experience as a rule, so it could be me. I like to go look at things, make my decision quietly, and be completely ignored by sales clerks. I hate to shop for clothes, especially in nice places where the clerks are helpful and dressed nicely.

Anyway, these boutique type places were friendly and welcoming, but in an oddly creepy way. Once I got past that a little bit, it was nice to be able to see samples of various toys out of the packages, and I found that the employees knew far more about lube than one would guess anyone could possibly even need to know. I felt obligated to buy lube and toy cleaner at every single one of these places, even though I had lube and toy cleaner out in the car, because I was a little too uncomfortable to admit that I'd been driving across the state browsing sex toys stores, and even more uncomfortable at the thought of letting these sexpert types think that I'd recklessly buy a vibrator without lube and toy cleaner. I got the distinct impression that these same women who will chat casually about your desire to shove something no less complex and cumbersome than the working end of a steam shovel up your ass as if they're discussing the latest iPod would be shocked and appalled at the thought of lube-related negligence.

It would be a little like choosing the alternate cover on the latest Batman comic, but failing to slip it neatly into a mylar bag within sight of the comic shop owner. You will be judged, and not for being a woman in her twenties who reads Batman.

So, I learned that it is possible to buy sex toys without dealing with the arrival of mysterious packages in the mail, and that setting foot in said stores does not result in immediate death. The stress of gathering one's courage to make such a trip is more easily contained than the stress of waiting for a box to arrive and cause chaos. So do consider the option, especially if you live within reasonable driving distance of a clean store, which you probably do if you live within reasonable driving distance of a major city. Or a state line. I found one place that sold porn and fireworks. Here's hoping nobody mixes the two up.

Next up -- actual reviews.

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