Ask Amy #4: “Can I get safe toys on a budget?”

It’s been a while since I’ve had a reader question, so I am super excited to dive into today’s. This one’s about one of my favourite topics: SEX TOYS!

Our lovely reader asks:

“Hi Amy. I was wondering, what do I need to know when looking for cheap, body-safe sex toys, especially here in the UK?”

A blue dildo and some condoms. For a post about body safe toys on a budget

I love this question so much. First, Letter Writer and everyone else, please know this: it is simply NOT TRUE that affordable body-safe toys don’t exist. This is a complete myth, and it’s a harmful fiction that leads people on a restricted budget to buy unsafe toys under the mistaken notion that they can’t get anything better within their price-range.

You absolutely can. You categorically, 1000% can. And what’s more, you deserve high-quality, safe stuff that you can enjoy without worrying about your health.

So, what to look out for?

Firstly, it’s all about materials.

Good: Silicone. ABS Plastic. Glass (of the borosilicate or “Pyrex” variety.) Stainless steel. Aluminium. Ceramic, as long as it’s treated with a non-toxic glaze. Wood, as long as it’s treated with a non-toxic glaze or sealant.

Bad: TPR. TPE. Rubber. PVC. “Cyberskin” etc. “Sil-a-Gel.” Latex. Anything with “jelly” in the name.

Generally, metal, ceramic and wood toys will be more expensive, while silicone, ABS and glass are easy to find on a budget.

The materials I’ve listed as “good” are perfect because they’re non-toxic (no phthalates or other harmful ingredients,) don’t off-gas or leech chemicals, and are non-porous so they won’t harbour bacteria as long as you wash them thoroughly between every use.

Those I’ve listed as “bad” are variable. Please avoid anything with “jelly” in the name like the plague – these almost certainly contain phthalates, as does PVC. That’s how they get that squishy texture. “Cyberskin” and anything else that is sold as “realistic,” if it’s not silicone, is also to be avoided. TPE/TPR (thermoplastic elastomer/rubber) don’t usually contain phthalates, but are porous as fuck and may be softened with other nasty chemicals. Same goes for latex, which is also a super common allergen and there’s some evidence that prolonged exposure can cause or exacerbate sensitivity. “Sil-a-gel” isn’t even a real thing and it certainly isn’t in any way the same as silicone.

[Note: The ONE exception I’ll make for PVC is the Doxy Original, which uses medical-grade (and therefore phthalate-free) PVC for the head. They claim it’s non-porous and I’m inclined to believe them as they’re such a great, transparent and ethical company – and also my Doxy is still good as new after 2 years – but I haven’t seen any hard scientific evidence. If you’re cautious and want a Doxy, either always use a non-latex condom, or buy the Die Cast, which has a silicone head.]

If you want to read up more on the specifics of these materials and why they’re toxic, I recommend Dangerous Lilly’s brilliant guide.

Also worth adding is that if you don’t know what it’s made of, avoid it, and remember that the sex toy industry is pretty much unregulated – so just because a company claims something is body-safe, doesn’t mean that it is.

It’s NOT all about brands

A lot of the toys you’ll hear recommended come from big-name brands in the business: Doxy. Lelo. Tantus. We-vibe. Hitachi (less so this one in the UK.) These brands and many more are popular for good reason (though Lelo are kinda… ugh, these days,) so if you do ever spot their products on a mega-sale, you’ll most likely be getting something good quality.

But you don’t need big brands or loads of cash for great quality toys!

Go own-brand

As with food, own-brand sex toys can be much cheaper but not compromise much on quality when compared to the big names.

Lovehoney and Bondara are two examples of companies who do some really solid own-brand stuff. Not everything in their lines are safe, unfortunately, but if you follow the materials guide above, you can’t go far wrong.

A quick note about retailers:

Tempting though it is, please please resist the urge to buy your toys from a retailer such as eBay or Amazon. There are loads of knock-offs around on all the major brand toys, some of them quite convincing, so there’s no way to know for sure if you’re getting a genuine product. Dangerous Lilly (she’s amazing!) has written more extensively on this.

I personally really advocate for Lovehoney, because their returns policy is stellar and they really care about their customers. Full disclosure: they are an affiliate partner of mine and if you buy through them with one of my links, I may make a small commission. However, my first concern is always my readers’ happiness and safety, I will never recommend an unsafe toy, and I only partner with companies I strongly believe in.

Some Concrete Suggestions

I thought I’d put together a list of options for various tastes that are body-safe, under £30, and easily available in the UK.

In the interests of full disclosure, Lovehoney links are affiliate links. Other links are not. If you buy from Lovehoney, whether one of the listed items or something else, use code COFFKINK10 to get 10% off your order.

Clitoral Vibrators:

G-spot Vibrators:

Rabbit Vibrators:

Dildos (silicone)

Dildos (other safe materials)

Anal toys:

This list is by no means exhaustive or even really scratching the surface. These are just a few of the categories of toys available and just a very small handful of the options out there. Go forth and get your sexy on, lovely Letter Writer, and I hope this was helpful to you and anyone else shopping for safe toys on a budget.

Remember: we all deserve pleasure, and we all deserve SAFE toys, no matter what our financial situation.

Love,
Amy xx

Remember: I’ll answer your question on the blog, too! Just email coffeeandkink69 (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll help if I can.

The image featured in this post was offered for use under Creative Commons Licensing.

Ask Amy #2: “First Visit to a Sex Shop”

I love today’s question because I remember being in this reader’s position not all that many years ago. Sex shops can feel intimidating when you’ve never been in one before. We’ve all been the nervous first-timer at some point.

A selection of my sex toy collection. For a post about visiting a sex shop for the first time“How do I behave at a sex shop!?”

“Hi Amy,
Hope you don’t think this is a stupid question! I’m a 35 year old mother of one living in London. I’m recently single after coming out of a 12 year marriage. My ex husband was super vanilla but now that I’m on my own I want to try using sex toys. I’ve heard that it’s much better to go to a shop rather than buy online so that you can see and feel the toys before choosing one, but my secret is I’ve never been in a sex shop before! I don’t know what to expect or how to behave. Can I ask questions? Will the staff think it’s really weird that I’m a mum in my mid 30s who hasn’t ever used a vibrator before? Any advice would be really helpful.”
– Nervous Newbie

Hey Nervous! What a great question. It’s not at all weird. Loads of people have never been to a sex shop and are nervous at the idea. Firstly, congratulations on deciding you want to explore your sexuality more after finding yourself single. That’s a great gift you can give yourself which will improve both your solo sex life and any partnered sex you might have in the future.

Visiting a sex shop really doesn’t need to be scary. Promise! There’s just a few things you need to know to make your visit as smooth and – yes – enjoyable as possible.

First, research and pick a reputable store. As you’re in London, I can’t recommend better than the utterly wonderful Sh! Women’s Store. There’s also Coco De Mer, which is a real treat to visit but extremely high-end – basically the Prada of sex shops, with price tags to match. Any woman-owned and run, independent sex shop is likely to be better than a mainstream chain store. It’s honestly worth traveling to get to a really good store and there are a few in the major cities throughout the country. (If you must go to a chain store, Simply Pleasure isn’t bad but sadly they sell a lot of toxic and porous toys in amongst the good stuff, so do your research first.)

What you’ll find at a good store is a friendly, welcoming and non-judgemental environment. The staff typically choose to work in these shops because they’re sex positive and passionate about sexual pleasure and health. I’ve never met a sex shop worker for whom it was “just a retail gig.” I absolutely promise you the staff won’t think you’re weird for having never bought toys before, so feel free to say “I’m new to toys and looking for something to start with.”

So, ask questions! Ask for advice! (Not “what’s your favourite?” which is not only invasive but also a redundant question as all bodies are different. Think more along the lines of, “what’s a good anal toy for a beginner?” “I like strong vibrations with variable patterns, what do you recommend?” “I’m looking for an insertable toy that’s not too rigid.”)

On that note: think about what you might like to get before you go in. Are you more interested in vaginal penetration, clitoral stimulation, or a mix? What about anal? Think about what you want to experiment with, what your body likes and doesn’t like, and – very important – how much you want to spend. If you can afford it, it’s worth spending a bit more to get a really good toy that’s well-made, body safe and from a reputable manufacturer.

Please read up on materials and get something that’s body-safe and non porous. Dangerous Lilly has a tonne of valuable advice on safe toys. It’s okay not to know exactly what you’re looking for (that’s partly why you ask for advice!) but having at least a general knowledge of how your pleasure works is a good starting point. (I think I need to do a whole post on picking out your first sex toy.)

Don’t be afraid to pick things up and play with them (in your hand, not your pants, obviously!) The vast majority of shops will have a sample of each toy out of the box so you can feel it, test the vibrations for strength, see how you like the materials against your skin etc. Play as much as you like. Take your time. A good retailer won’t hurry you.

As far as any other etiquette, it’s all super obvious. Don’t hit on the staff – they probably love the job but they’re also at work and no-one wants to field unwanted come-ons at work. Don’t ask the staff personal questions about their own sex life or toy use. Keep your clothes on. Don’t test anything out on your genitals. Don’t be weird or judgy about toys or sex acts that aren’t your thing. (Think, for example, “I don’t think what would do it for me,” rather than “ewwww, why would anyone do that?”) Honestly, it’s no more complicated than being respectful, polite and behaving in ways that are generally acceptable in a public space, albeit one where it’s totally okay – encouraged! – to have frank conversations about sexuality.

One final pro tip: if you’re nervous, try going at a time when it’s likely to be quieter. Mornings are typically quieter than afternoons/evenings, and weekdays are quieter than weekends. This way the staff are likely to have more time to devote to you and you won’t feel so self-conscious examining the toys in front of other shoppers.

Good luck and please check back for an upcoming post on some more specifics of choosing your first toy!

Dear readers! If you’d like me to answer your question, get in touch and I’ll tackle your issue on the blog – completely anonymously of course.

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