Overview of Sexual Aids

The purpose of sexual aids, also called sex toys, adult toys, or intimacy aids, is to improve sexual pleasure. Sexual aids are used by many sexually mature men and women of all ages and sexual orientations (e.g., heterosexuals, homosexuals), including people who have sexual partners and people who are not in a sexual relationship.

There are many types of sexual aids. Some are designed to increase relaxation, some are designed to produce sexual arousal (excitement) by providing stimulation to the genitals or other areas of the body (erogenous zones; e.g., nipples, anus), and some are designed to be used in sexual play or sexual fantasy. Many sexual aids are designed to simulate sexual intercourse, either by accepting the penis or being inserted into the vagina or anus.

Some types of intimacy aids are available in a variety of different flavors and are edible, and some can be warmed or chilled prior to use. People who incorporate bondage and discipline, domination and submission, and/or sadism and masochism (BDSM) into their sexual behavior often use sexual aids. Sexual activity, even behavior that includes using sex toys and BDSM, should never involve coercion, pain, or fear that is beyond an acceptable level for either sexual partner.

Due to improvements in overall health and advances in medical treatments for conditions such as erectile dysfunction (e.g., Viagra®, Levitra®, Cialis®) and female sexual dysfunction, older adults often remain sexually active later in life than in the past. Many of these older adults benefit from using intimacy aids to improve their sex lives. Sexual aids also may help improve sexual pleasure in men and women who have recently undergone cancer treatment (e.g., chemotherapy, radiation) and in women who have recently given birth or are nursing.

Sexual aids often are packaged discreetly and are available in tasteful packaging. In the United States, some states (e.g., Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia) have laws prohibiting the sale of adult toys that are designed to provide direct genital stimulation.

Safer sex is an important aspect of any healthy sexual activity, including sexual behavior that involves the use of sexual aids. To reduce the risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), sex toys should never be shared and should be cleaned thoroughly after each use.

Condoms and/or dental dams (i.e., thin, latex squares that prevent direct contact during oral stimulation) should be worn whenever toys that come in contact with the genitals, anus, or mouth are used. Water-based lubricants should be used with condoms and dental dams because oil-based products can damage latex.

Many people enjoy using sexual aids, alone and/or with a sexual partner. As long as partners are comfortable with their use, sexual aids can help improve intimacy and can enhance sexual relationships.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 06 Dec 2008

Last Modified: 07 Sep 2011