I sometimes like to say I make consumer mistakes, so other people don’t have to. While that’s tongue in cheek, I’ve used enough toys over the last nearly two decades to have a few tips for people who are shopping. Specifically, I want to help people like you who are shopping online. Without so many options but none that you can hold in your hands, shopping online for sex toys can be intimidating. Fortunately, the tips below can help you minimize the risk of winding up with an expensive paperweight.

Beware Marketplaces

While it’s tempting to buy sex toys from Amazon, Walmart, Alibaba, or even Wish because of their convenience and low prices, doing so poses more risk than a reputable sex toy store.

First, sellers on these sites are notorious for stealing product images and information and sending buyers inferior items, so there’s no telling whether you’re getting what you see. Even if the product looks like the listing, it could be a cheap knockoff that uses the same design but inferior materials or doesn’t perform well. A vibrator that breaks after a few uses is frustrating. But when it comes to something you use in or on your body, you want to know exactly what it’s made from. You could wind up with an infection or reaction from a toy claiming to be made from hypoallergenic materials or lube that has different ingredients from those on the list.

Sometimes vendors resell items, and no one wants to open a new sex toy to realize it’s been used before, especially if it’s not properly cleaned!

Unfortunately, Amazon and other marketplaces simply cannot keep up with bad actors that might purposely mislead shoppers. They can ban accounts that break the rules, but vendors only need to sign up with another name to continue selling on these sites. Instead, a dedicated toy seller that’s trusted by shoppers or the manufacturer’s site is a better option.

Understand Size

I have bitten off more–and less–than I can chew more times than I can recall off the top of my head. I’ve been the owner of dildos that were large enough that I couldn't realistically use them and small enough that they prompted the question, “Is it in yet?” Perhaps you’ve got excellent spatial skills. But if you’re like me, it’s a smart idea to get a good feel for size before checking out.

When it comes to insertables, you’ll see the circumference or diameter listed in the product description. The circumference is the length around the shaft, while the diameter is the width of the shaft (imagine a line from one side to the other, going through the center). You can convert diameter to circumference by multiplying by 3.14 (yep, that’s pi!) or convert circumference to diameter by dividing by 3.14–or use this  handy calculator. Keep in mind that many toys are not perfectly cylindrical or may be wider at some points than others.

I can reach into my dresser and pull-out toys of various sizes to compare to any I’m considering online. If you’re new to sex toys, you could compare them to your own penis or a partner’s. Otherwise, grab a ruler or measuring tape to get an idea of the size of a vibrator, dildo, or butt toy. A fabric measuring tape is useful, but you can also wrap a piece of string or strip of paper around an object, mark it, and measure it against a ruler if you don’t have a flexible measuring tape.

If you have nothing to measure with or compare to the toy you’re considering, the following general guidelines for vaginal toys can be helpful.

Small: around 1” or less (slightly larger than the base of a taper candle or a quarter); see the First Time power Vibe

Medium: around 1.5” (the length of AirPods and sewing pins and the width of many watch faces) like Sportsheets Galaxie dildo

Large: 2” or more (the size of a large paperclip or the short end of a credit card), similar to the Sensa Feel 7" Fat Boy Dong

Of course, size isn’t just about girth. Length matters, too. Keep in mind that a toy’s overall and insertable lengths are often different because the handle, controls, or base aren’t inserted. You might want to choose shorter toys if you have a sensitive cervix or short arms, but you can always buy a longer toy and only insert it partway if the width is ideal.

Another consideration is the distance between the shaft and clitoral stimulator on dual stimulators. If you know your clitoris is a little further away from your vaginal opening, look for toys with longer clitoral arms or that cover more space. A long clitoral stimulator that doesn’t sit close to the body might miss if your clitoris is closer to your vaginal entrance, however.

A final note about size. Toys that are rigid, including glass, ceramic, metal, ABS plastic and wood, can feel larger than they are because there’s no give. A toy made from soft silicone or skin-like materials, on the other hand, might feel a little smaller because it’s squishier. I personally like hard toys to be a little thinner and shorter than softer ones.

Read Reviews

Real customer reviews can help you avoid an expensive mistake, especially if you can find someone who is trustworthy and has similar preferences as you. Sex toy stores, giant retailers, and manufacturer sites usually allow customer reviews, and sex toys have become such a big business that even sites like Vice offer reviews.

Don’t forget about bloggers who write in-depth reviews that are typically longer, more transparent, and more thoughtful than reviews on retailer sites. Trusted reviewers include Epiphora, Rachael Rose, and Super Smash Cache, just to name a few. You can also stop by myown blog, although I focus more on book reviews these days.

Be careful with reviews on Amazon, however. Vendors might purchase fake reviews, even though it violates the terms of service. Shady sellers will also sometimes use an existing page for a new product to make it look highly reviewed, but you can easily see when the reviews don’t match with the product that’s currently on the listing.

Social media ads can also be deceiving because some companies pay for fake reviews or delete low reviews. Similarly, influencer promotions should be taken with a grain of salt. They’re usually closer to commercials than reviews. Video reviews or unboxings can be helpful for understanding the size and shape of a toy, however. Even if the presenter isn’t the best reviewer, you can use their hands or other items on-screen for size comparisons.

These practices make it important to read actual reviews. Check out the highest and lowest ratings and ensure they’re talking about the right product. Look for pros or cons that are mentioned by multiple people who have spent a little time with the product. The best reviews are detailed and show that the customer has become familiar with the item instead of just giving you their first impression. s. They discuss the item and not just the experience. Articulate reviewers will tell you why something didn’t work for them in a way that should help you understand if it might still work for you–and vice versa.

Word to the wise: stores sometimes rename toys to make them seem exclusive, which may make it difficult to find reviews or compare prices. You may find the same toy under a different name to get more information by using a reverse image search

Unfortunately, not everyone provides in-depth reviews for sex toys and accessories, so you might have to take a chance if a product looks appealing but has no (useful) reviews. Unless you’re interested in an incredibly unique toy, you can probably find something similar with reviews.

Consider Price

Price alone isn’t usually a good indicator of how well a toy will work for you. More expensive doesn’t necessarily mean more effective or better fitting for your body, and quality toys have become more affordable over the years. Plus, there’s always the risk that a toy works fine, but you just don’t like it. However, a cheap toy might be just that: cheap.

For those who are brand-new to sex toys, an inexpensive basic vibrator such as the Skinny G or Lip Service or a dildo like the Cici is a great way to dip a toe in the water. They won’t break the bank if you don’t like them, but shoppers highly rate them.

If you find a toy that works well for you and have worn it out or want to upgrade, consider moving to a rechargeable toy, one with more features, or one made from materials that are longer lasting. You might realize you need more power or something with deeper vibrations if your first dive into sex toys was a little weak or on the buzzier side. This is where reviews are helpful, again, especially comparison reviews.

As you get comfortable with insertable sex toys, you might want to try something larger, which might mean you spend a little more. It’s totally normal if that’s not the case, however! But starting with a large or expensive toy before you know what you like might leave you regretful.

Not everyone wants to add to their toybox, either. For some people, a dungeon full of sexy gear is the goal, while others are fine with “old reliable,” and that might be their very first toy!

While I can’t guarantee that you’ll love every sex toy you buy even if you follow these tips, I’m confident that my advice will get you closer to a satisfying purchase than if you just wing it. Now, it’s up to you to goshopping!