Along with providing a different type of pleasure than your own hands can offer, if used with a partner, sex toys can open up a whole new world of adventure that can bring you and your partner(s) closer together. After all, who doesn't want to experience more effortless and varied orgasms? I bet you do!

Perhaps you've experimented with other sex toys and now you'd like to try a dildo. They can definitely be pretty awesome, but shopping for a dildo can also be a little overwhelming. There are tons of colors, and a huge selection of materials, shapes and sizes. Where to begin? Follow these eight steps.

Realistic or Not?

The biggest consideration when purchasing a dildo is whether you want it to look like a real penis. Some people love the idea of a life-like visual, but others aren't so fond of it. If you're shopping for your first toy and are hoping to use it with a male partner around, it might be best to choose a non-phallic toy unless you have a discussion with your partner first. In some cases, a phallic toy may cause unnecessary jealousy between partners. Dildos are available in fun, vibrant, non-realistic colors such as pink, purple, yellow, and more. They also are available in realistic shapes in a variety of skin tone colors.

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Figure Out a Shape

Once you've decided how much realism you want, you should decide on the shape you'd like. Do you want your dildo to have a slightly curved tip, to hit the g-spot or p-spot? Do you want a design that tapers from a larger base to a slimmer tip? Do you want the shaft to be curved or entirely straight? Figuring out what you want your dildo to accomplish will help you decide the kind of shape you should choose. If you want something for anal sex, a tapered design will help with penetration. For g-spot sensation, a curved tip is going to work best. (Learn more in The Top 4 Anal Toys for Beginners.)

Material Concerns

Dildos are made from a variety of materials. If you're worried about phthalates, you're going to want to seek out a phthalate-free toy. (Especially if you want to use a dildo without a condom). If you plan to sterilize your toy (this is particularly important if you're using it with multiple people) you're going to want a non-porous material such as silicone, glass, wood, or stainless steel. If you want a dildo that requires very little external lubricant, you should look for a dildo made of plastic, stainless steel, glass, or wood. If you want something more plushy that will bend perfectly with your body, check out dildos made of PVC, silicone, TPR/TPE, or others. (The nJoy Pure Wand is a very highly regarded dildo made of stainless steel. Read the review.)

Pick a Size

An average dildo has a diameter of approximately 1.5" and a length of 7". However, you might want to go for something larger or smaller, depending on your preferences. Some dildos have a diameter of around 0.75" - and some have diamaters of over 3". Length can vary widely too. Some dildos are only 4" in length, whereas on the longer end of double-ended dildos, some toys have a length of over 15"! If hiding your toy is going to be an issue, I suggest choosing a sex toy that's more average in size, to make it easier to keep out of sight.

Think about the Base

While it may not seem important, the base of your dildo affects the way you can use it. If your toy doesn't have a flared base, you won't be able to use it for anal penetration or with a strap-on harness. Many dildo lovers also swear by a flared base because it offers a good hand-hold for harder thrusting. Some dildos have a base that provides special features as well - such as one that doubles as a suction cup for hands-free pleasure. If you plan on using your dildo for anal penetration or with a strap-on harness, though, it's important that you choose a toy that has a flared base.

What About Texture?

Some dildos are completely smooth, and they'll be easy for penetration and won't require much external lubricant. However, some women swear by the pleasure that a textured dildo can provide. This texture can be extremely enjoyable. Textures include ripples, swirls, bumps, ridges, veins, and more. If you think your experience might be improved by a bit of extra texture, it's worth looking at the options.

Special Add-on Features

Some dildos have special features that might enhance your experience. Do you hate cleaning up after using your toy? Some toys are designed with less nooks and crannies, or with material that's safe to boil, for easy cleaning. (Read more in Keeping it Clean: Top Tips for Sex Toy Sanitation). Would you like to use your dildo hands-free? Check out a dildo that's equipped with a suction cup. Craving some additional vibrations? Look for a dildo that's designed with optional vibration settings that you can turn on when you want them.

Package Considerations

Sometimes the packaging of a sex toy can double as a storage aid. Some dildos come in boxes suitable and sturdy enough for long-term storage. Many toys, however, come in see-through, plastic boxes that may end up breaking over the long-term. In case you're caught deciding between two toys, consider the packaging to help you in your decision.

Now you have a general idea about the types of dildos out there, and all the features available to you. You might need to narrow down your top picks - or hey, you can get a whole variety and figure out, first-hand, what's best for you!