How to choose a dildo

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Dear Sex Counselor,

I’m a little curious about dildos. Why would someone want to use one? How can I choose one that’s the right shape and size for me?


Dildos are the oldest sex toys known to humans, with the earliest on record dating back to 5000 BC. Dildos are available in many shapes and sizes because people’s desires come in many shapes and sizes. Although generally used for vaginal penetration, dildos can also be used for anal or oral penetration. All dildos can be hand-held, but some are especially designed to be held on the body (or a chair) by a harness. (For more information, see our How to Choose a Harness brochure).

Here are some ways that people use dildos:

  • Women use dildos during self-pleasuring when they want the feeling of vaginal penetration.
  • Women and men use dildos for anal penetration during self-pleasuring.
  • Women use dildos to penetrate female or male partners.
  • Women use dildos to therapeutically massage their vaginal walls, to keep them healthy, or bring them back to health.
  • Men use dildos with female or male partners to provide penetration independent of an erection.

We generally recommend silicone dildos because they are flexible, easy to clean, nearly indestructible, and will warm to body temperature as you use them (people who are allergic to latex rubber can use silicone without experiencing an allergic reaction). Lucite, glass, wood and stainless steel dildos share many of the same features as silicone, but are inflexible (which can be great for directing firm stimulation right where you like it), and warm more slowly.

We don’t sell or recommend plastic jelly dildos because they are made with “phthalates”, which are chemicals that are linked to cancer and reproductive problems. For more information about phthalates, please see our article "Is Your Toy Made of a Safe Material?"

To pick the dildo that’s right for you, consider the following questions. You don’t have to know all the answers, but the clearer you are about what you’re hoping for, the easier your choice will be.

1. How many fingers do you like having inside of you when you’re aroused? (This tells you what width you enjoy most.)

For most people, the dildo’s width is more sexually important than its length, because you can choose to insert the dildo to whatever depth you find comfortable, but you can’t change the toy’s width. If you’re in the store, compare the width of your fingers to the demos on our shelves. If you’re shopping online, you’ll notice that we provide a finger-width equivalent as well as exact measurements in each description.

2. Which length will work best for you?

If you’re in doubt about which length might be right, consider getting one a bit on the longer side—if it’s too long, you can always choose not to insert it fully. Plus, a longer dildo can be easier to hold onto during use.

3. Do you want thrusting, filling, or internal massage?

If you enjoy vigorous thrusting, you’ll need a dildo with a moderate to firm consistency. Some dildos are soft and squishy, making them comfortable for filling and slow movements, but they might bend too much with quick thrusting. Other dildos, such as those made of glass, lucite, metal, and wood, are inflexible, making them suitable for filling, slow movements and massage, but not vigorous thrusting.

4. Will it be used vaginally, anally, or both?

If you are using a toy anally, make sure that it has a flared base to keep it from getting lost in the colon. If you want a toy for anal penetration that involves thrusting, look for something smooth and straight—a toy with ridges or a large curve can harm the sphincter with vigorous thrusting. If you plan to use a toy both anally and vaginally, be sure to cover it with a condom (an unlubricated condom for silicone toys) each time to avoid transferring bacteria from the rectum to the vagina. For more information, see our Anal Toy brochure.

5. Do you want your vaginal opening and walls stimulated a lot (lots of friction), or not (little friction)?

If you want a lot of stimulation, consider a dildo with ridges or swirls along the shaft. Some silicone designs provide strong sensations at the opening of the vagina when moved in and out, as do some of the other deeply ridged options. If you prefer less friction or have trouble with too much sensitivity at the vaginal opening, consider a dildo with a straighter shape, and/or a lower-friction material, such as lucite, glass, or stainless steel.

6. Do you want pelvic plexus arousal?

If so, choose a dildo with a slight curve designed to hit those sensitive spots. If you don’t like pelvic plexus stimulation, choose a dildo with very little curve. 

7. Do you want prostate stimulation?

If so, keep in mind that the rectum curves about 3-5 inches into the body, so you’ll want a dildo that’s either curved or flexible enough to bend around the curve in the rectum. Another option would be the firm plastic Aneros toys, which are specifically designed to massage the prostate, but are not harness compatible. Make sure you choose a toy with a flared base so that it does not get lost in the colon.

8. Will it be hand-held or used in a harness?

A hand can control the depth of penetration pretty well; a harness makes it more difficult to gauge how deeply you are penetrating your partner. Women and men who dislike deep penetration might want to use a shorter dildo. Keep in mind, though, that if you use the dildo in a harness, you will lose about half an inch of the dildo’s length, so size accordingly. We recommend using the dildo in your hand first, so you get a good sense of how deeply you and/or your partner like to be penetrated. The person being penetrated should communicate their desires and comfort level with depth of penetration and amount of thrusting.

P.S. This is your toy! Don’t be too concerned about what anyone else will think if you buy a particular color, shape, or size. It’s your toy and your pleasure—choose what you like!