(Rosie Struve)
(Rosie Struve)

As a sex educator, my house is overflowing with sex toys to the point that it's become a storage issue. I've even stolen the idea from another educator and repurposed an over-the-door shoe holder to house vibrators and dildos.

So from my happy sex toy bubble, sometimes it's hard to remember that only between 25 and 50 percent of people have tried using sex toys, depending on which study you want to believe.

It's a shame, because sex toys are amazing. Like any other tool, they're specially made to get a particular job done. There are vibrators for internal or external use, dildos, butt plugs, masturbation sleeves and more. In fact, there are so many toys available that sometimes it's hard to know where to start.

First, why might you want to use sex toys? Sex toys can be great to use alone to explore all the ways your body can experience pleasure. If you're interested in internal stimulation, like G-spot or prostate play, those areas can be hard to reach on our own body. But toys made for those exact purposes do a wonderful job, and save you the carpal tunnel of trying to reach them with your fingers.

Some people need intense stimulation to get aroused or reach orgasm. This may just be due to how they're built, or it may be influenced by medications, surgeries or other body changes over time. In these cases, sometimes toys are the only way to get the kind of stimulation needed.

Whatever the reason for using them, toys can bring a whole new dimension to solo or partnered sex, and are well worth giving a try. But despite their utility, there's still a stigma surrounding them. There are pervasive beliefs that using toys somehow spoils you for partnered sex, or that only people who are disappointed in their partners want to use toys. None of these ideas hold water.

Anything that helps you get in touch with the pleasure your body can experience actually help enhance partnered play—with or without toys. And although self-reporting studies about sex are notoriously flawed, evidence suggests that couples who use sex toys together report higher satisfaction with their sex lives.

Having toys in your toolbox means having even more options to choose from when you're deciding what kind of sex you want to have. Not only that, but toys can save the day when you want to do something logistically complicated, or to help take the pressure off of bodies performing on demand. Interested in double penetration? Coordinating erections might be harder than you realize. But using a toy or two makes this fantasy a lot easier to achieve.

So how do you broach the subject with your partner? If you don't already have toys, shopping together can make for a fun and sexy date— I love sending my clients to She Bop after they've left a session with me. You can simply go together or you can make a game of it by each going on your own, and then comparing notes later about what caught your eye. This can also be a great chance to talk about interests or fantasies you haven't yet discussed with a partner.

There are even a few supplies that can enhance your sex life. Do you already have body-safe lube on the nightstand? Lube makes a huge difference in all kinds of sex acts, but not all lube is created equal. I suggest a simple water-based lube, like Sliquid, with minimal ingredients, and nothing that could irritate your body.

It's important to read the ingredients, because there are a lot you'll want to avoid—including glycerine, glucose and their derivatives, which can cause yeast infections. More ingredients to avoid include parabens, petroleum or petroleum-derived ingredients, propylene glycol and chlorhexidine.

A few more lube caveats: Oil degrades latex, so you can't use oil-based lube, including coconut oil, if you're going to use condoms or barriers in your sex. Also, silicone lube degrades silicone sex toys, so if you're using silicone toys or dildos be sure to use water-based lube.

Another non-toy purchase is a Liberator sex wedge. This does the job of placing a pillow or two under your rear, but doesn't flatten down, which makes a variety of positions more comfortable or more sustainable.

While there are toys specifically made for couples, in my experience those usually aren't the best ones to start with. They often have tricky ways meant to attach to one person's body or the other, and they have a higher learning curve to make them successful. The best bet is to stick with something simple at first, and as you develop more of an idea of what you and your partner enjoy, you can use that information to add to your bag of tricks.

A vibrator is a great place to start. A simple wand-style vibe can add lots of pleasure to different body types and genital configurations. And wands with long handles are easy to pass between bodies during partnered sex, if that's what you're into.

If you're curious about anal play, a smaller, starter butt plug is also a great addition. Countless people end up in the ER every year with household objects lost up their ass because they didn't know the golden rule of butt toys: they've got to have a flared base! Unlike the vaginal canal, the anal cavity isn't a dead end. Yes, there's a sphincter between the rectum and the colon, but it's not going to keep you from losing carrots and remote controls in your intestines and as silly as that sounds, foreign objects cause severe medical problems.

I really love the Aneros toys for prostate play, which work on all bodies (Did you know you can stimulate the G-spot through anal penetration?!?). They get my vote for beginner butt stuff, but as long as you choose a body-safe, sanitizable material, and something with a flared base, you're good to go.

I send people to She Bop because everything you can buy there is body safe, and the staff are all friendly and knowledgeable. But Spartacus and Fantasy are also good options—you just need to know more about what you're looking for, because you'll have to dodge jelly toys and other unsafe materials while looking for the good stuff. The benefit of Spartacus is it has a wide variety of kink toys, including some advanced stainless-steel options, and both stores offer apparel, too, in case you need a new outfit to go with your new toys.

Finding the right toy might take a bit of experimentation, but once you find something that works for you, or for you and your partner, it can take your sex to the next level.

Stella Harris is a certified sex coach. Have you got a burning question of your own? We're listening! Email askhumptown@wweek.com and keep your eye out for an answer in an upcoming column!