I own very few sex toys.
Historically, I've found sex toys somewhat intimidating. I bought my first sex toy in my late teens — a large, cheap purple jelly vibrator from Spencer's Gifts at the mall (the only place I knew to find sex toys). I didn't really enjoy using it. The vibrations made my genitals go numb after a few minutes, and it was too big and rigid to feel good inside my vagina.
Because I had an anti-consumerist bent (and very little money), I didn't buy another sex toy for several years. They were expensive, and I had no idea what kind of sex toys would feel good for me anyway. So I just did without. Which was fine. I had some great masturbation sessions during those years. But I also had a fraught relationship to penetration, and I struggled to find ways for it to feel good. With boyfriends, penetrative sex sometimes felt good, but not reliably. More often, it felt scratchy and uncomfortable, or just kind of numb.
Then, a couple years ago, a friend offered to let me borrow a toy from his extensive selection of sex toys. I chose the least intimidating vibrator I could find — a small-ish aqua colored vibe with a butterfly clit tickler and little hearts printed on the base.
Using this vibrator was the first time I ever really felt increased pleasure from using a sex toy! It wasn't like it was immediately incredible — the vibrations were still sometimes too much for me, and I often didn't insert it all the way — but it actually felt good! And the wide bulb at the top created a pleasant sensation that I had never felt before — the feeling of something pressing against the inside of the entrance to my vagina as I pulled it out (since the difference in bulb to shaft thickness is greater than most penises' difference in head to shaft thickness). Again, it's not like this was earth-shattering pleasure, but it was really cool to feel something completely new.
I went to my local feminist sex store Good Vibrations and found the exact same vibrator (apparently it's pretty popular — my partner looked over my shoulder as I was drawing it just now and was like, "Every woman I've ever met has that vibrator" haha). It was only around $30, which isn't nothing, but in comparison to other decent sex toys it's relatively inexpensive. And it felt good to find something that I actually liked, and could afford. It felt like a moment of owning and taking charge of my pleasure.
In the couple of years since I bought the butterfly vibrator, penetrative sex has become gradually less uncomfortable and more pleasurable, to the point that it's rarely uncomfortable anymore, and can feel really good. This is partly because I've overcome a lot of anxiety that I had about sex, and I'm now more able to prioritize my pleasure with a partner (read more about that process in the article How I Started Asking *Myself* for Consent). It's also partly because I gave myself permission to explore what feels good for my body through masturbation, sampling different toys and erotica, and letting myself fantasize about absolutely anything — regardless of how messed up or embarrassing it is — in the privacy of my own mind.
For people who are new to the world of sex toys, it can be a little scary to try to pick one out of so many options. It reminds me of going to the liquor store shortly after I turned 21 — the bottles of liquor and beer and wine were all completely unfamiliar to me, and I had no idea where to start (okay, let's be honest, I still get overwhelmed at the liquor store).
I'm not saying that I necessarily think you should buy sex toys — for most people, they are not a necessity for amazing sexual pleasure, and I don't want to encourage compulsive consumerism. But I do want to encourage anyone who's reading this to push past any nervousness that might be holding you back from exploring your body and experimenting sexually in general — with or without toys. It's okay to not know what you're doing, and to not know what you like! And the process of figuring that out can be a lot of fun. :)
Now, when I get intimidated at the thought of sex toys, I remind myself: This is a household product that was made for me to use to pleasure myself — that's fun and sexy! I don't need to be a sex toy expert to be able to enjoy them.
For tips on choosing a vibrator, check out this How to Choose a Vibrator article from Good Vibes. And remember that as long as you're buying from a company that only carries body-safe toys (like most feminist sex stores), the worst case scenario is that you don't really enjoy using it — it's not like anything bad is going to happen if you choose the "wrong" toy (besides not being able to get your money back). I like to think of what a friend told me when I got overwhelmed at the liquor store and had no idea how to choose: Just pick one that you like the look of (and that's in your budget) — with all the market research these days, whichever one you're drawn to is probably targeted to you, and you'll likely like it.