Sex Toys and STBBIs: How to Play Safely

In recent years, discussions on sexuality have been increasingly finding their way to our social media feeds. In the course of masturbation and the wonderful messiness of squirting, we shouldn’t lose sight of what can make our crotches vibrate with pleasure: sex toys.

These small (or big) tools are kind of like the icing on the cake when it comes to sex. Naughty sweetness. Whether solo or with a partner, their use is increasingly common (Döring, 2021), and we can guess why!

In this article, we tell you how to make the most of sex toys while also making sure you don’t contract the clam along the way.

The benefits

There are many benefits to using sex toys. First and foremost, they increase pleasure, orgasm intensity and frequency, and satisfaction with a given sexual encounter (Döring, 2021; Reece et al. 2010; Wood et al., 2017). They can also add a sense of empowerment relative to one’s sexual pleasure.

Using sex toys during solo masturbation can help us better discover our bodies and what gives us pleasure. Sex toy use also tends to increase people’s overall sexual satisfaction, given that they increase familiarity with one’s body, desires, and boundaries.

Another great way to use sex toys is with sexual partners; they can spice up our sex lives, make things more fun in the sack, allow us to experience new sensations, and help us discover more about our bodies and those of our partners. What more could we ask for?

The risks

It’s one thing to tout the positive impacts that sex toys can have on our sex lives, but quite another to know how to use them safely. Sharing these accessories without protection can have several consequences on our health and can lead to bacterial vaginosis, vaginitis, or urinary tract infections or to the transmission of STBBIs (e.g., HIV, HPV, chlamydia, syphilis, etc.; Anderson et al., 2014; Herbenick et al., 2009; Rice et al., 2016; Satinsky et al., 2011).

The good news is that there are ways to reduce these risks with a sound hygiene protocol. So, put on your condoms and secure your strap-ons, because this is where you learn how to safely use sex toys with your partners!

The pre-sex talk

A pre-sex discussion is essential whether or not one intends to use sex toys. It’s by communicating with your partners that you’ll be able to inform each other about your preferences, boundaries, sexual health, and STBBI statuses, in addition to establishing safewords. During this discussion, it’s also a good idea to talk about the use or non-use of sex toys and about the type of protection to use.

That said, the purpose of disclosing an STBBI status is not to judge each other. Rather, the goal is to identify and agree on adequate protection methods. According to a Canadian study conducted by Wood and colleagues (2017), this pre-sex conversation is a must and a good tool for reducing the risk of transmitting infections. It’s all the more important when the STBBI status of one (or more) partner(s) is unknown.

Cleaning your toys

One of the first things to know when buying sex toys is how to properly clean them, whether or not STBBIs are involved. First, it’s essential to clean your toys before and after use, between each use, partner, and body part, because they can carry and spread bacteria and cause infections (Anderson et al., 2014; Wood et al., 2017; Workowski et al., 2011). Remember that STBBIs can be asymptomatic, and therefore, that it’s possible to have one without even knowing it. Cleaning sex toys is therefore all the more important.

To clean your toys, you can use water and a mild soap (perfume, oil, and detergent free) or a cleanser specifically designed for sex toys.

Cleaning is done in four steps: rinse with water, apply the cleanser and gently rub, rinse to remove the product, and let dry.

In general, cleansers sold in sex shops, such as those from Adorable or Swiss Navy, are safe, affordable, and effective. Cleansers from the brands Satisfyer, Dame, Lelo and Fresh and Clean are also great.

If you prefer, cleaning wipes (rather than liquid cleansers) are another option, such as those marketed by Rosebud. Regardless of the format, the most important thing when it comes to sex toy cleansers is to avoid those that contain dyes, perfumes, alcohol, and bleach.

You can also sterilize your toys by boiling them in tap water, if this method is compatible with the toys’ materials. For example, it’s safe to boil toys made of silicone and metal, but not those that are made of glass, wood, plastic, and thermoplastic elastomer (TPE; note that this list is not exhaustive).

There is no universal technique for cleaning sex toys due to the vast range of materials they are made from. At the end of this article, you will find some resources that can help you familiarize yourself with different cleaning methods.

According to several references, it is recommended to wait a period of 24 hours after cleaning to reuse a sex toy but, while this greatly helps, cleaning is not always enough to prevent STBBI transmission. According to a study by Anderson and colleagues (2014), it’s still possible to find traces of STBBIs on sex toys 24 hours after they are cleaned. You should therefore consider combining cleaning and other protection methods when sharing sex toys with partners.


You can put condoms, dental dams, and latex gloves in your toolbox right away. As we just mentioned, it’s not 100% safe to solely rely on cleaning your toys to protect yourself and your partners. Several studies recommend combining cleaning and covering, using a condom or a dental dam, to ensure ultimate protection (Anderson et al., 2014; Döring, 2021; Ministry of Health and Social Services, 2019; Wood et al., 2017).

Also, since not only sex toys can get contaminated, it’s advisable to wear disposable gloves during sex if you or your partners have an STBBI. You should also remember to throw the gloves away after having stimulated a body part that’s potentially infected with an STBBI (Ministry of Health and Social Services, 2019).

Then, in order to preserve your toys (because they’re expensive, hun!), we suggest that you use condoms and dams that are not pre-lubricated.

The lubricants used by condom and dental dam companies are often ill-suited for sex toys. We strongly recommend that you use your own lube to make things slippery and pleasurable, and that you choose a water-based one if you are using silicone sex toys, as silicone-based lubes can degrade silicone toys. Speaking of, my colleague Justin has written a wonderfully informative article on the different types of lubricants, which I highly recommend.

While all of this may seem awkward and inconvenient, it is possible to incorporate these safer sex practices in a sensual way during sex. For instance, you can spice them up by combining them with, for example, dirty talk, caressing, kissing… Plus, it can be really exciting to know that your partner values your health and vice versa (Wood et al., 2017). Leave room for your imagination and your sexual preferences to make this moment of protection caliente.

Solo sex… together

A good way to reduce the risk of STBBI transmission is to use toys alone, but together! This way, while it allows you and your partner to experience a moment of intimacy, connection, and pleasure together, toys and fluids are not shared.

Mutual masturbation for the win, hennies!

This practice is actually already popular among people living with HIV who have a detectable viral load, as it reduces the risk of transmission (Marrazzo et al., 2011; Satinsky et al., 2011; Workowski et al., 2015). It’s also a good practice for people who live with herpes: since its symptoms are often weak or nonexistent, its transmissibility is greater than that of other STBBIs. Moreover, having herpes increases the risk of contracting HIV, which makes it all the more important to protect yourself adequately (CATIE, 2016).

Getting tested regularly

Although cleaning and covering are important and effective strategies, the ultimate sexual health strategy is regular STBBI testing. This good habit allows you to know if you have an STBBI and, if that’s the case, to start the appropriate treatment. It is recommended to get tested with each new sexual partner (whether or not protection is used), when you have unprotected sex, when you experience symptoms, and when your partners’ STBBI status is unknown. Basically, how often you should get tested varies depending on your sexual behaviour, but it’s recommended to get tested one to four times a year.

Now that your toolbox is full, go have fun!

  • Anderson, T. A., Schick, V., Herbenick, D., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2014). A study of human papillomavirus on vaginally inserted sex toys, before and after cleaning, among women who have sex with women and men. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 90(7), 529–531. 

    Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE). (2016). Genital Herpes. 

    Döring, N. (2021). Sex toys. In A. D. Lykins (Ed.) Encyclopedia of sexuality and gender (pp. 1–10). Springer.

    Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Sanders, S., Dodge, B., Ghassemi, A., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2009). Prevalence and characteristics of vibrator use by women in the United States: results from a nationally representative study. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6(7), 1857–1866.

    Marrazzo, J. M., Thomas, K. K., & Ringwood, K. (2011). A behavioural intervention to reduce persistence of bacterial vaginosis among women who report sex with women: Results of a randomised trial. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 87(5), 399–405. 

    Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services. (2019). Guide québécois de dépistage des infections transmissibles sexuellement et par le sang [Quebec screening guide for sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections]. Government of Quebec.

    Reece, M.,  Herbenick, D., Dodge, B., Sanders, S. A., Ghassemi, A. & Fortenberry, J. D. (2010). Vibrator use among heterosexual men varies by partnership status: results from a nationally representative study in the United States. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 36(5), 389–407.

    Rice, C. E., Lanza, S. T., Maierhofer, C., Turner, A. N., Fields, K. S., & Ervin, M. (2016). Beyond anal sex: Sexual practices of men who have sex with men and associations with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 13(3), 374–382.

    Satinsky, S., Rosenberger, J. G., Schick, V., Novak, D. S., & Reece, M. (2011). USA study of sex toy use by HIV-positive men who have sex with other men: Implications for sexual health. International Journal of STD and AIDS, 22(8), 442–448.

    Wood, J., Crann, S., Cunningham, S., Money, D., & O’Doherty, K. (2017). A cross-sectional survey of sex toy use, characteristics of sex toy use hygiene behaviours, and vulvovaginal health outcomes in Canada. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 3(26), 196–204. 

    Workowski, K. A., Bolan, G. A., & Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2015. MMWR. Recommendations and reports: Morbidity and mortality weekly report. Recommendations and Reports, 64(RR-03), 1–137.