How to find the pandemic sex toy that’s right for you

Sex-toy sales are up during the pandemic
The last two weeks of March saw an increase in sex toy sales as housebound consumers found themselves with time on their hands and a desire to connect.
(Kirsten Ulve / For The Times)

Whether your goal is alleviating boredom or becoming a more complete sexual being, there’s a sex toy out there somewhere with your name on it. There are several options to narrow the field (hey, this pandemic isn’t going to last forever, right?) for singletons, cohabitants and disconnected couples alike.

And if you’re taking your first baby steps into the buzzing, pulsing, shiny chrome and colored plastic world of assisted loving, here’s a piece of advice from the professionals: Check any self-judgment at the door.

“Be there to meet yourself where you’re at,” said Jill McDevitt, a San Diego-based sexual wellness coach who serves as the in-house sexologist for Ontario, Calif.-based adult-novelty company CalExotics. “If you have no sexual desire right now, don’t beat yourself up about that. If you want to have masturbation marathons because that’s a coping strategy for you, that’s OK. It’s really about giving yourself permission to do what you need to do right now to take care of yourself. Be kind to yourself.”

If sex-toy sales are any indication, people are seeking sexual pleasure during this anxiety-fraught period of extended social isolation.


Psychologist Laurie Mintz echoes that sentiment. “There really are no rules except to do what feels good and don’t feel guilty about it — that’s a hard one for a lot of people,” said Mintz, a University of Florida professor and author of “Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters — And How To Get It.” “Take your time. Enjoy yourself. And if it doesn’t work, try something different.”

Party of one

If your home zone is as partner-free as it was before the great societal shutdown of 2020, you might think there’s nothing to be done besides chatting on apps like Tinder or Scruff to set up post-COVID-19 dates or hookups or taking advantage of the #playathome discounts that retailers are offering on intimate hardware.

If that’s your mind-set, you’d be missing a golden opportunity to better yourself.

For those flying solo, Mintz, whose specialty is working with women, recommends the website of masturbation guru Betty Dodson, author of the 1987 self-help book “Sex For One: The Joy of Self-Loving” as a starting point as well as, a two-season collection of videos, infographics and touchable simulations (requires a one-time fee of $49 or $89) aimed at normalizing self-pleasure for women.

There’s also Mintz’s own book, “Becoming Cliterate,” which has a step-by-step chapter specifically on the topic of masturbation. And guys, if this bright pink book ends up in your house, there’s something in it for you too: the chapter “Cliteracy for Him,” which includes an anatomy lesson, myth-debunking and tips on sexual communication skills.

Is it safe to have sex with my partner or with a person I met on Tinder? Can I pick my nose at home? Do I need to disinfect my groceries? A virologist answers.

What’s the best pleasure-providing plaything for your house party of one? Only you’ll know. What we can tell you, though, is what some of the bestsellers are at the companies we surveyed.

At Stockholm-based luxury sex-toy maker Lelo, the most popular pieces of pulsing plastic are the Sona 2 Cruise ($139, a clitoral stimulator that varies intensity with applied pressure) for women; and the F1s sleeve ($189) for men with the remote-controlled prostate-massaging Hugo ($219) close behind.

Doc Johnson's bestsellers
Among the current bestsellers at North Hollywood-based Doc Johnson are an antibacterial toy cleaner ($9.99, at left) and the adult-star replica Main Squeeze toy ($79.99, at right).
(Doc Johnson)

At Doc Johnson, a North Hollywood company that’s been around since 1976, the current bestseller is actually an antibacterial toy cleaner (“Sales are way up on that,” said Chief Creative Officer Chad Braverman. “Maybe people are trying to double it as a hand sanitizer”), but toy-wise, it’s the Main Squeeze line of replica masturbators for men ($79.99, modeled after specific adult performers’ and social media stars’ actual body parts) that seem to be selling like hotcakes.

And at CalExotics, founder and Chief Executive Susan Colvin reports that the No. 1 women’s bestseller — for the last two decades — has been the Butterfly Kiss, a personal massager with butterfly-shaped wings ($16.99).

Home (not) alone

When the number of consenting adults in your safer-at-home circle reaches two or more (no judgments here), communication skills become more important. Is your sex drive stronger than that of your partner or partners? Do different things get each of you in the mood? Does the pandemic seem to be the perfect time to unleash the beast lurking in the bottom of your sock drawer? Are you — and we’re talking mostly to you hetero guys here — jealous of your wife’s handheld sidepiece? Mintz underscores that you needn’t be jealous.

“Regardless of the pandemic or not,” Mintz said, “the research is unequivocal that women who use vibrators have easier and more frequent orgasms. And women who have male partners who accept their vibrator use have higher sexual satisfaction. So, for those people, this is a great time to embrace the idea of a sex toy, experiment with it and debunk those myths for heterosexual couples that it’s going to replace men. All it does is provide good, intense stimulation. It doesn’t cuddle. It doesn’t laugh.”

CalExotics' Hot & Spice Party Dice
If you’re part of a quarantined couple just stepping into the sex-toy space, CalExotics’ Hot & Spicy Party Dice ($15.99) will help you randomize the what and where of playtime.

For a slow on-ramp to couples play, Colvin suggests rolling out a pair of naughty dice ($5.99 to $15.99). “These are very popular,” she said, “each side has a different option, like what body part are we going to focus on, what we’re going to do and where we’re going to do it.”

For those well past the ice-breaking phase, Braverman points to his bestselling Tryst V2 ($172.99), a vibrating novelty with multiple stimulation points designed to please both parties either alone or together.

Doc Johnson's Tryst V2
The Tryst V2 ($172.99) is a toy that Doc Johnson’s Chief Creative Officer Chad Braverman suggests for couples because it has stimulation points for both partners.
(Doc Johnson)

In an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, couples may find themselves sharing a home but not necessarily a bedroom (perhaps she’s a doctor or he’s been exposed to the virus). Thankfully there are no shortage of options to keep the titillation train rolling.

There’s Lelo’s Tiani 2, a vibrating U-shaped dual-motor item designed to be worn internally by a woman, which can be remote-controlled from nearly 40 feet away ($159), but perhaps consider opening your wallet just a tiny bit wider and spend $399 on the luxe version, which sports a 24-karat gold ring detail.

The Lelo Tiani 24K
The Lelo Tani 24K ($399) includes a laser-engraved 24-karat gold ring and a remote that can be used from about 40 feet away.

Fun from afar

What, though, if your playmate is on the other side of the world instead of the other side of the bed? That’s exactly the situation that Lovense Chief Executive Dan Liu described in an email to The Times. “I was involved in a long-distance relationship with my partner back in 2009, where I was away for extended periods of time,” he said. “This lack of physical intimacy was challenging, and it led me to believe that there had to be a better way to maintain that sense of closeness. This ended up sparking a lasting interest in sex-tech and teledildonics.”

Founded in 2011, Hong Kong-based Lovense’s flagship products are a pair of his-and-hers sex toys that can be used both solo or linked to smartphones and the internet for a synced-up interactive experience (using motion sensors that simulate moving in tandem) over long distances.

The Max 2 ($199) for him is essentially a smart version of the 1990s-era Fleshlight, with customizable speeds and vibration patterns as well as the ability to be controlled by smartphone both near (using Bluetooth) and far (using an internet connection). The Nora ($199) for her has the silhouette of the classic rabbit-style vibrator but likewise can respond to movement and manipulation by another person. Expanding the possibilities further, the Max 2 can also be connected to any of the other toys in the Lovense arsenal, including another Max 2, which opens the door for same-sex/different ZIP Code encounters.

Popular with gay men (though Liu says not as popular as the Max 2) is the Hush ($119), a discreetly wearable, near-silent, internet-connected butt plug (available in two sizes). The company’s most popular item overall is the Lush 2 ($99), a vibrating-egg-style toy for women. Both of these also have an app-accessible alarm clock feature, which might not get you out of bed in the morning but will definitely put a smile on your face long before the coffee’s ready.

If nothing in the eight-toy Lovense lineup tickles your fancy, there are a couple of other major players in the same sex-tech space worth checking out, including Canada-based We-Vibe and Amsterdam-headquartered Kiiroo.

Going old-school

If you’re not quite ready to jump into the internet so intimately, there’s always the old-fashioned, high-tech way to get hot and bothered from far away: making a NSFW FaceTime or Skype video call.

While it may feel like you’re on familiar ground, there are some things you should keep in mind.

Screenshot of Coral's quarantine care package offerings
Coral, a 6-month-old app that’s part sex coach, part self-help guide, recently launched a quarantine care package that tackles the topic of sexual intimacy in the context of social distancing.

“Establishing rules for Skype sex is pretty important, and it’s not something we ever talk about or [that] comes naturally,” said Isharna Walsh, founder and chief executive of Culver City-based digital sex-coach app Coral. “How do you actually have a great Skype sex session? Having a framework in place before you engage in virtual sex is really important. First, have a conversation — fully clothed — ahead of time about what you could be into, what you would be comfortable with and what you wouldn’t. Are you comfortable being fully naked in front of them or do you only want to show your boobs? All that kind of stuff is helpful to have a conversation about ahead of time.”

Specific materials designed to help people navigate the nuances of a video-assisted sex chat were recently posted to the app, Walsh said, joining a growing content base of pandemic-related material in a “quarantine care section” (also available to nonsubscribers) that address topics such as stress reduction and self-pleasure, all of which she noted have seen a lot of traffic over the last several weeks.