Like it or not, we’ve entered the annual period of seasonal gift giving. Hanukkah begins Sunday, December 2. St. Nick’s follows on Thursday, December 6 (leave your shoes out on the night of the 5th). Next up is Winter Solstice on Friday, December 21. And then we wrap up the traditional gifting holidays with Christmas on Tuesday, December 25. Basically, if you’ve got a romantic partner in your life, you’re probably going to be doing a little shopping real soon.
Each year, the staff of the Tool Shed spends about six weeks helping people navigate the fun—but sometimes tricky—adventure of purchasing sex toys for another person. Giving overtly sexy gifts has an etiquette all its own. There are some obvious things (like don’t give an acquaintance a set of vibrating nipple clamps) that are basically common sense. But there are some less obvious things, too. Read on for some important gift giving dos and don’ts from Tool Shed staffers…
Don’t limit yourself to obvious sex toys, i.e. dildos, vibrators, butt plugs, etc. Shy or modest folks may recoil from a gift so blatant. You may also find that a person is just not interested in owning or using a sex toy. And if you’re in a new relationship, getting a sex toy out of the blue can feel like a lot of pressure.
Do remember how many different ways there are to be sexy. TS staffer Stephanie says, “For my sister, I got soap and socks with a gift card. It encouraged her to come back to the store and shop for herself.” Massage oil, books, underwear, and truth or dare games are also fun ideas.
Don’t just buy the most expensive vibrator you can find. You wouldn’t believe how often this happens! A customer will walk in the store, browse briefly, and pick out a vibrator in the $179-$219 price range. Sometimes they’ll ask, “So, is this the best one?” And we’ll try to explain that there’s no best vibrator for everyone. It’s a very individual thing. But because our culture equates cost with quality, they buy the toy anyway.
Do pick a toy that is body safe and reliable, but also that’s likely to make your partner happy. Different things are important to different people. Some people love vibration, while other people find it distracting or annoying. Some people want something small and discreet, but some folks feel that bigger is better. Even color can make or break someone’s relationship with a sex toy.
Don’t buy a sex toy to fulfill your own fantasy, especially if you’ve never discussed it with your partner. For instance, TS staffer Ashe says, “Unless you’ve had a few conversations with your partner about anal play, don’t surprise your partner with an anal toy.” This is also true for BDSM related gifts like paddles, masks, and bondage supplies. New items for activities that you haven’t talked about before can feel less like a special treat and more like an ambush.
Do pick a toy based on what you know about your partner’s pleasure and previous sex toy experience. If the two of you have had your eye on something, but have held back because it seemed too extravagant for a random Tuesday in June, now’s a great time to pick it up. TS staffer Kayla adds, “If you haven’t tried mojoupgrade.com, it might be a great and somewhat subtle way of finding a new gift idea that you would both enjoy. This website allows you and a sexual partner to choose what you both want or desire, then emails you the areas in which you overlap.”
Don’t assume that you’ll get to participate in the using of the sex toy. If it’s a gift, then the recipient gets to decide how they’re going to use it. Before you buy something, ask yourself who will really benefit from the gift. If you want to get your boyfriend a cockring so that his erection will last longer, talk about that ahead of time. If you’re dying to use a vibrator on your girlfriend because you want to see her reaction, be up front about that.
Do give a gift because you want your partner to be happy, and to have some tools to make that easier. While there are definitely toys that are designed for couples to use together, gifts should be things that will bring joy to the receiver.
Don’t use gift giving to make a joke or intentionally cause someone to feel embarrassed. As Kayla wisely says, “Avoid gag gifts or gifts meant as a prank. They may seem funny at the time, but the money you’ve spent could go towards a gift they’ll definitely enjoy, without all the stigma and shame wrapped up around it. Consider getting a hilarious card or funny wrapping paper instead, and have the gift either be meaningful or practical.”
Do pick up supplies and accessories to help the recipient enjoy the gift. That could mean batteries, lube, locking toy box, or instructional book. Consider charging up rechargeable toys so they’re ready right out of the wrapping paper. Make sure you know how to clean and care for the toys, and share that information when you give the gift.
Curious about cunnilingus? Anxious about anal? Do you have questions about queefs or problems with your prostate? Lucky Tomaszek is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee’s only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll get back to you with an answer.