Much like your favorite band, your favorite food, or your favorite Sex and the City, your favorite sex toy is very likely something you decided on 20 years ago. But while your passion for Smashing Pumpkins or telling people that Miranda Hobbes is deeply misunderstood probably hasn’t changed, your vagina may have. Many people in peri/menopause experience changes to the vagina, like dryness or lack of flexibility, that can make some kinds of sex (and sex toys) painful — a situation that just might decimate your sex toy drawer.
So what should you do if your Old Reliable sex toy isn’t getting the job done like it once did? According to Kate Moyle, UK Sex Expert at LELO, and author of The Science of Sex : Every Question About Your Sex Life Answered, “pushing on with something that is causing pain and discomfort is not productive or pleasurable — and is likely to have a demotivating impact on how you feel” about sex, “which is meant to make you feel good.” But that doesn’t mean you have to completely re-think your toy routine, or (shudder) drop it completely. You just might have to make some tweaks, like “adapting how you have previously used toys, or focusing more on clitoral stimulation or shallow penetration." The more comfortable you can make your toy time, the more confident — and horny — you’ll feel.
Lube it up
if you’re having trouble with the penetrative sex toys that you once loved, the first step is to make sure you’re using a high-quality lube with no scents, flavors, or sensations (like “warming” or “tingle”), which can all irritate skin. Make sure it’s also free of glycerin, which can irritate and even harm sensitive or inflamed vaginal tissue.
Try something smaller
If lube isn’t quite enough, it might be time to consider a smaller toy. “As vaginal atrophy can make the walls of the vagina less elastic, using a thinner toy that will stretch the vagina less may also be helpful,” says Moyle. She recommends Lelo's Liv 2, which is just over an inch in diameter, or Intimina's Raya toy. “Using a sex toy like this means that you can initially focus on vulval and clitoral stimulation to encourage arousal, and then, when you feel ready, move to using the same toy for penetrative pleasure.”
It might also feel good to take things slower than you might have in the past, beginning with shallower penetration “before moving into deeper sensations and movements.”
Make sure you're working with the right materials
Many people in peri/menopause are prone to UTIs and other infections, due to thinner, more delicate vaginal skin and other factors. So it’s essential to make sure that you’re using toys that don’t harbor bacteria. “It's important that sex toy materials are non-porous, as when they are made with porous material, they can take on bacteria from the body, which can then risk potential infection,” says Moyle. “Body-safe silicone is high quality and non-porous, as are toys made from stainless steel or borosilicate glass.” It’s also key to remember to clean your toys, either with soap and water or a sex toy cleaner, depending on the toy’s materials and instructions.
Get a (looser) grip
Vaginal atrophy isn’t the only reason you might be considering a sex toy glow-up. Many smaller vibrators require the user to keep a tight grip — something that can be difficult if you’re dealing with muscle soreness, arthritis, or anything else that makes holding on tightly uncomfortable.
Moyle notes that there are a variety of options that don’t require as tight a grip, including larger all-over body massagers like Lelo's Smart Wand, or toys with a circular shape like the Ora. Alternately, a remote-controlled toy could remove the need for applying intense pressure from the hand. Even something as simple as lying face-down to use your body weight to hold the toy in place, or propping your body into position using pillows, might do the trick.
And what if, instead of trying to trade up to a new toy, you’re looking to try out sex toys for the first time in midlife? Moyle says that it’s best to start simple and smaller — so even if your heart wants to immediately go for the biggest toy on the shelf, try out a smaller one first, to make sure that you know what’s comfortable and what your physical limits are. “It's also good to think about the type of pleasure or product that you are looking for” Moyle notes. Do you just want to stimulate your clitoris? Your g-spot? All of the above?
And if you’re curious but not really sure where to begin, Moyle recommends “a simple handheld vibrator like Lelo's Lily 3, Nea or Mia or Intimina's Kiri — this way, you can easily hold the product and trail it all over the body, not just using it on the genitals, which can be great for familiarizing yourself with different settings and working out what you like (it also plays a part in building up arousal).”
No matter what you decide, make sure to pay attention to what feels right to you, rather than what it seems like you “should” like. Remember, you’ve learned a lot about yourself over the past few decades! Let your vagina be the lucky recipient of that knowledge.