How to Buy a Vibrator

The first vibrators I used weren’t vibrators at all but actually various household objects that happened to vibrate. When I got old enough to actually go to a sex shop for the first time (a trashy one that had more of a novelty vibe than a sex-positive vibe) I barely looked around, bought a terrible vibrator that was a weird faded peach color, buzzy as hell, ate AAs like candy and was too small for the penetration I didn’t know I liked yet but definitely thought I hated for ages afterwards. A few years later, I discovered that Come As You Are, the only sex shop I knew of, shipped to me, threw the peach thing in the trash, and bought a Water Dancer pocket rocket-style vibrator and never looked back.

Here’s what I wish I’d known much earlier.

How Do You Actually Buy A Vibrator?

If you have a queer feminist sex shop near you, like Pleasure Chest, Babeland, Good Vibrations, or Venus Envy, the very best way to buy a vibrator is to go play with it in person first. If you’ve never walked into a sex shop before, remember that it’s totally okay to feel intimidated or embarrassed, or to feel intimidated or embarrassed about how you feel intimidated or embarrassed, but try to let that go. When you’re in there, it’s okay to look up from your phone and actually look at some sex toys. Ask questions. Be curious. Touch stuff. Especially if you don’t have a lot of other points of comparison, or even if you do, you’ll have a way better understanding of whether or not you’ll actually like something if you hold it in your hands as well as read about it on the internet. Wrap your fingers around it. Hold it against the sensitive inside of your wrist. Play with the buttons. Try all the settings. Then do the same with every other vibrator you’re interested in on display.

If you don’t have a sex shop you can get to, read as many reviews as you can find. If you already know what one specific toy or company is like and what you feel about that, look for comparisons between the type of toy you know and the type of toy you want. Do your research.

Here are some things to look out for.

Rumbly vs. Buzzy

The vibrations are the most important part of a vibrator, and people usually talk about them in two categories: buzzy and rumbly. Buzzy vibrators create lighter, surface vibrations, while rumbly vibrators create heavier, penetrating vibrations. Rumblier vibrations engage with more tissue, so they often lead to more satisfying orgasms, while buzzier vibrations can leave some people numb and orgasmless and tormented and not in a hot way. If you have a clit, whatever your anatomy, rumblier vibrations can hit more of the length of it instead of just the surface. If you’re also a trans woman, rumblier vibrations are more likely to reach your prostate or your penile dorsal nerve.

So how do you tell the difference between rumbly and buzzy? In her breakdown of rumbly versus buzzy vibrators, noted sex reviewer Epiphora talked to Jeff Spitzer, an engineer who used to work in aerospace and now works in sex toys, and reports: “He recommends turning a toy on its highest constant speed setting and holding it gently — allowing for the highest pitch of the sound — then using your other hand to slow the vibe to its lowest pitch. If the difference between the two pitches is significant, it will feel more rumbly than a vibrator with very little difference.”

Types of Vibrators

Where you want the vibrator to go and what you want it to do while it’s there is the next thing to think about. Do you want vaginal penetration? Anal penetration? Both? Some clit action? Something to slip under your strap-on harness? A new way of masturbating while you lay on your stomach? Something that can be used with a partner without getting in the way? Something that can unironically double as a literal back massager? The shape, size and design of your vibrator will impact which of these activities a vibrator is the best fit for. You may want different options for different uses; it may be easier to find a few toys that do what they do very well than look for a Swiss Army knife of vibrators that does everything okay. Here are some common categories of vibrator for you to choose from:

Bullet Vibrators

1. Waouhhh! Bullet ($14) | 2. Jimmyjane Iconic Bullet ($16) | 3. Crave Rechargeable Bullet ($60) | 4. We-Vibe Tango ($80) | 5. Crave Vesper ($69)

Bullet vibrators are tiny vibrators shaped like bullets. They range from the very cheap to the moderately expensive, are usually not very powerful, and are usually buzzier than rumblier. They sometimes comes in handy, especially if you’re looking for something to slip into the end of a hollow dildo or double-ended dildo, or into the vibrator pocket of a strap-on harness, but traditionally they’re not anything special, especially if they run on watch batteries. They are very easy to store discreetly and to travel with — they can fit in a purse or even a pocket! — but the tradeoff in intensity is real.

If you don’t even conceptually know whether vibrators feel right to you, are looking for the most affordable option for right now even if it dies in ten minutes, actually like tiny buzzy toys, or need something to fit into the base of a dildo without even trying, a basic watch-battery-powered bullet like the Waouhhh! Bullet or the Jimmyjane Iconic Bullet is the way to go. But there are solid, rechargeable, and pretty bullets that will go a lot further and feel a lot better: try the solid Crave Rechargeable Bullet, the super rumbly and incredible We-Vibe Tango (read Autostraddle’s review), or the discreet and wearable Crave Vesper.

Other Small External Vibrators

1. Water Dancer ($20) | 2. We-Vibe Wish ($130) | 3. Iroha Ume Anzu ($25) | 4. Mini Marvels Massager ($55) | 5. Matryoshka ($104) | 6. Jimmyjane Form 2 ($145) | 7. Fun Factory Laya II Black Line ($110) | 8. We-Vibe Touch Plus ($100) | 9. Minna Limon ($120)

Not quite bullets and not yet dildos, smallish external vibes seem to come in the biggest range of shapes and categories. For whatever reason, companies seem to have the most “fun” with these vibrators, asking questions that have plagued humanity since the dawn of time, like what if a vibrator but also the eggplant emoji? What if a vibrator but also a snowwoman? What if a vibrator but also a gold diamond for some reason? Generally these vibrators cover a little more surface area than bullets, are more likely to be rechargeable, and have more power. And they’re still small enough to slip between bodies during sex. Plus, because they’re focused on external sensations, it can be easier to find an option that meshes with whatever combination of gender and presentation and anatomy you’re rocking. The ideal texture and shape will differ from person to person, so it’s great to check these out in real life if possible — what feels like a great pinpointed sensation to one person might feel like an uncomfortably pointy angle to someone else.

The Water Dancer pocket rocket is a waterproof, AA-battery powered vibrator that’s a price-accessible entry point to vibrators and surprisingly rumbly. The We-Vibe Wish is a squishy silicone option that fits in the palm of your hand. The Minna Limon is a similarly squishy toy that vibrates harder the more you squeeze it. (Read Autostraddle’s review.) The Iroha Ume Anzu is a very tiny, very cute AAA-powered waterproof mini-vibe. (Read Autostraddle’s review.) The orange Mini Marvels Massager has different surfaces and angles for both pinpoint and wider sensations, plus ten settings. Matryoshka is shaped like a nesting doll, works for shallow vaginal or anal penetration, and is very quiet. The Jimmyjane Form 2 has two ears with their own separate motors. The Fun Factory Laya II Black Line is especially easy to hold. And the We-Vibe Touch Plus has a motor similar to the rumbly Tango, but with more surface area and angles to play with.

G-Spot Vibrators

1. Toyfriend Starlet ($50) | 2. We-Vibe Rave ($120) | 3. L’Amourose Prism V ($120) | 4. Lelo Mona 2 ($180) | 5. Fun Factory Stronic Drei ($190)

If you have a g-spot and like it touched, a g-spot vibrator can feel great: it’s meant for penetration, and with an angle to help get you there. If you have a prostate and like it touched, g-spot vibrators can often get you there, too — just make sure the vibrator base has a flare that’s bigger than the widest insertable part of the toy, and if it doesn’t, use a stabilizer ring (or check out a butt-specific vibrator below). You can also use g-spot vibrators externally, which can make them a dependable part of your sex toy library in general.

When you’re picking out your toy, think about how you usually like your g-spot touched. If you like a fist or larger-headed dildo against it, you might be more into a flatter head, like the Toyfriend Starlet; if you like fingers over fists, you might be more into the Mona 2. The We-Vibe Rave is broad, gently curved, and app-controlled. L’Amourose Prism V is similar but slightly smaller, with a slightly more defined curve. And Fun Factory’s Stronic Drei, which pulsates and thrusts in addition to vibrating, has ridges and a flare at the base, which means it gives you a full feeling and is safe for anal. (Read Autostraddle’s review.)

Rabbit Vibrators

1. Silicone Jack Rabbit ($82) | 2. Fun Factory Miss Bi ($150) | 3. Jopen Lust L17 ($84) | 4. Lelo Ina 2 ($205) | 5. Toyfriend Ruby Rabbit ($43)

Rabbit vibrators combine penetration and clit stimulation, usually by looking like a dildo with a smaller dildo growing out of it. The thing about rabbits is that they work really well for some bodies, and really poorly for others, and it’s really hard to tell how any given toy will work for you until you try it out. Maybe the arm will be in the wrong place, or hit your clit in the wrong way at the wrong angle, or be in exactly the right place but only until you try to aim the dildo part at your g-spot, or work perfectly until right before you’re about to come when you clench and then suddenly nothing is in the right place and you wind up with a very frustrating evening. The dildo’s angle and length and size and the arm’s position and angle and length and size and texture and flexibility both mean that a lot of things can go wrong — but if the stars and angles align, a lot of things can go really right. If that’s not a risk you’re willing to take, I’d recommend getting a separate dildo and external vibrator so everything can be in the right place at the right time.

Otherwise, the Silicone Jack Rabbit is a modern silicone take on what is perhaps the most classic rabbit vibrator, complete with LED heart lights, rotating pearl chamber, washed neon pink tones, a finger shaped like a literal rabbit including the ears, and a selection of rotating speeds and vibrating patterns. The Fun Factory Miss Bi is a less representative rabbit, with two motors and a looped, easy-to-grip handle. The Jopen Lust L17 has two flared, blunt heads, which on the dildo can be good for broader g-spot targeting and on the finger might make it easier to hit your clit. Lelo loyalists will appreciate the Ina 2. And, if you’re looking for a battery-powered option, the Toyfriend Ruby Rabbit takes four AAA batteries and can be a good option if you always lose chargers.

Wand Vibrators

1. Vibratex Mystic Wand ($70) | 2. Lelo Smart Wand ($170) | 3. Magic Wand Rechargeable ($125) | 4. Le Wand ($170) | 5. Doxy Die Cast Wand ($190)

Wand vibrators are, nearly without exception, the most powerful vibrators out there. They tend to be rumbly, with vibrations that go deeper and cover a larger area. They tend to have heads that vibrate independently while the shafts don’t, which can make them easier to hold and use, despite their size. (If you can’t hold the wand in the right place for whatever reason, Liberator makes sex furniture that will do it for you.) Some plug into the wall; for those that don’t, the shape of the shaft gives a lot more room for a bigger motor and battery than smaller toys. The tradeoff is the noise, which is louder than smaller vibrators, and the size, which can make them hard to travel with.

The Vibratex Mystic Wand is a smaller, lightweight option if portability is a concern. The Lelo Smart Wand is pretty as hell. The Magic Wand Rechargeable is the newer, rechargeable version of the classic Magic Wand — it’s rumbly and powerful, and you can run it while it charges. (Read Autostraddle’s review on the Magic Wand for vulvas, and read Zinnia Jones’s review at Hey Epiphora on the Magic Wand for trans women.) Le Wand, which is prettier and has more settings than the Magic Wand, has also been called a great option for trans women. And the Doxy Die Cast Wand, which plugs into the wall, is perfect for a really, really rumbly and powerful experience.

Clit-Sucking Vibrators

1. Womanizer Plus ($170) | 2. Womanizer 2GO ($170) | 3. Lelo Sona ($70) | 4. Satisfyer Penguin Pro ($60)

These vibrators can be held over clits (or nipples) and use suction instead of (or in addition to) vibration in a way that is weirdly good if you have a clit, enjoy direct sensation or sucking sensations, and are patient with sometimes eccentric aesthetics or names (cough, Womanizer, cough). If you have a clit and receiving oral sex, especially having your clit sucked on, is a favorite of yours then these toys might be a game changer — the people who love them often really love them.

The Womanizer Plus is an updated version of the first Womanizer (read Autostraddle’s review), which was the first toy of its kind. The Womanizer 2GO is a smaller, more portable version shaped like an oversized lipstick. The Lelo Sona “uses sonic waves and pulses” and is slightly more powerful with a hard suction cup instead of a soft one. And the Satisfyer Penguin Pro looks like a dapper penguin, what’s not to like?

Vibrating Butt Plugs

1. We-Vibe Ditto ($130) | 2. B-Vibe Novice Plug ($130) | 3. Fun Factory Moody ($140) | 4. Tantus Perfect Plug Plus ($45) | 5. Lelo Bruno ($170)

Vibrating butt plugs combine all there is to love about a vibrator and all there is to love about anal play in one. In considering a butt plug, look at the size (if you don’t know what your body likes, it’s better to go small and outgrow it than go too big too soon and think you just hate butt stuff), the shape (plugs with more dramatic curved ends can hit your prostate if you have one) and the base (which should be significantly bigger than the largest insertable part of the butt plug). Since we’re talking about vibrators, also consider how you like to interact with your butt and how the user interface lines up with that — if you like a lot of different sensations, a remote- or app-controlled vibrator might be a better fit and worth the accompanying price tag, while if you want to set and forget it or just don’t care, having the controls in the base of the plug might be a better option.

The We-Vibe Ditto is perhaps the perfect small vibrating butt plug, with We-Vibe’s rumbly motor and an easy shape that’s satisfying but not big enough to be intimidating if it’s the first butt plug you’ve ever tried. The B-Vibe Novice Plug and the Tantus Perfect Plug Plus are also easy plugs to start with. The Fun Factory Moody is more substantial, made of softer silicone, and has very fun ridges. And the Lelo Bruno is curved specifically to hit your prostate if you have one and has two motors.

Wearable Vibrators

1. We-Vibe Jive ($120) | 2. We-Vibe Unite ($100) | 3. Lelo Tiani 3 ($170) | 4. Eva 2 ($135)

These vibrators aim to give you a hands-free experience during penetrative sex or just going about your life, either through penetration or through nestling into your labia. But if rabbits require some research and investigation, these vibrators require even more. They’ve gotten a lot better since the first few versions of the We-Vibe couple’s vibrator, with more flexibility, better shapes, and better user interfaces, but they can still be very hit or miss depending on what your body likes.

The We-Vibe Jive is meant for hands-free g-spot stimulation and controlled by an app, with an arm that barely brushes your clit. The We-Vibe Unite is the most affordable version of We-Vibe’s couple’s toy, and combines clit and g-spot vibrations in a way that’s compatible with penetrative sex. Lelo’s Tiani 3 is similar, and has dual motors. The Eva 2 does not involve toy-related penetration, but nestles into the wearer’s labia majora to stay in place.

Other Factors

Noise level (do you have roommates?), power source (do you have enough outlets for a plug-in toy, is it going to annoy you to buy batteries?), water resistance (do you want to use this in the bath or shower?), user interface (how much and in what ways are you or a partner up for fiddling with controls while using?), button- or remote- or app-controlled, color, texture, size, shape, dimension, price, charge time, use time, how easy it is to clean, whether or not it has a travel lock (you only need to have a vibrator turn on in the airport once to remember it forever), whether or not it has vibration patterns and how you feel about those, whether or not it has a warning light for the battery or dies without warning in the middle of everything (ugh), whether or not the manual is actually very ableist, whether you want to use it during partnered sex or alone or both, and what position you masturbate in (or want to try masturbating in!) are all factors you can also consider. Do your research — read customer reviews and pay special attention to those reviewers that seem to be having the kind of sex or masturbation that you have or are interested in having. Go mess around in a queer feminist sex shop or a friend’s living room or your girlfriend’s toy box and see what you like. If you can’t do that, at least try looking for video reviews so you can get as close a sense as possible of what the toy is actually like in your hands. But ultimately, what it comes down to is a feeling. Does your future vibrator feel sexy to you? Did the sensations described turn you on a little to read about? Go with that. Let us know how it goes in the comments.

Lesbian Sex 101 is Autostraddle’s series on how to have lesbian sex for queer women and anyone who finds this information applicable to their bodies or sexual activities.

Sex ed almost never includes queer women or our experiences, so we’re exploring pleasure, safety, relationships and more to make that information more accessible. A lot of the language in these posts is intended to make them easy to find on search engines.

Some of the body parts we talk about will be yours or your partners’ and some won’t. Some of the pronouns will be yours or your partners’ and some won’t. Some of the sexualities will be yours or your partners’ and some won’t. Some of the language will be yours or your partners’ and some won’t. Take what you want and what applies to you or what you can make apply to you and your partners and your experiences, and leave the rest!


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Carolyn Yates is the NSFW Editor and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com. Her writing has appeared in Bitch, Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Xtra!, Jezebel, and elsewhere. She recently moved to Los Angeles from Montreal. Find her on twitter.

Carolyn has written 837 articles for us.

13 Comments

  1. I haaate that you can’t try vibrators on your actual genitals before you commit to them.
    I mean I get why that’s the rule.
    But I bought a fancy name brand vibrator that turned out to be slightly wrong for me. And although I value my sexual pleasure, I’m not about to drop a hundred dollars on a toy again without knowing that it works with my anatomy.
    And when I read sex toy blog reviews I can’t help but think that had it not been sent for free the blogger wouldn’t have bought it either.

    Should I just drop my other hobbies and start a toy review blog myself so that I can get free vibrators in the mail?

    • I know lovehoney has a 1 year returns policy for any reason! Might be worth checking them out if they deliver in your area (if you’re in the UK they also do a student discount)

    • This has been my challenge for many years. It’s hard to learn what you like when any decent vibe is rarely under $100 and you’re on a limited income. Throw in my short arms and arthritis/bursitis in my arms and shoulders, requiring something with a little reach, and it gets even more frustrating. I didn’t even get my first rumble vibe – which it turns out is 1000x better for me than a buzzy kind – until about 2 years ago (I’m 42).

      I wish there were better ways to safely test out different times, and more options that were of a decent quality without a premium price tag.

  2. This is so affirming. Autostraddle continues to help me feel seen and understood. I don’t have many opportunities to hang with girlfriends, but when we do the topic of sex toys usually comes up. I’ve always felt left out as everyone sat in the living room passing the buzzy/rumblies around trying not to drop them — or talking about how great they feel for their clits. It’s hard to feel included and valid when your sexual or pleasure needs are being overlooked. Sending you many hugs, Carolyn. Thank you for today’s happy ray of sunshine ^_^

  3. Joining the chorus: from my own experience it can actually be more daunting and difficult for a trans woman to experience actual inclusion among our women-loving cis half sisters than dealing with the ‘ trans woman while walking’ experience. I think I am not the only one who prefers to act as if I was devoid of any desire … So, yet again: all praise St Carolyn the Joyful!

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