Ceramic vase or vibrator?
Photo: Courtesy of Maude
“The Everlane of vibrators” is too good a premise to pass up. So a few months back, when an acquaintance told me about an early Everlane employee who’d left and was starting Maude, a new sex-toy company, I made a mental bookmark. Not long after, Maude launched with three understated direct-to-consumer products (a vibrator, lube, condoms) and a highly SFW gray-and-forest-green website that looks more like a place to buy linen goods or silk button-downs than supplies for sex. The cool, placid design makes a deliberate point: Carnal pleasure doesn’t need to be raunchy, gendered, or silly. It can just be nice. Or vigorous, or lustful, or relaxing — or really just however you want it to be.
Maude isn’t the only company selling this idea: It’s the latest in a string of new businesses — such as Dame, Unbound, and Crave — making vibrators that look less like penises (or rabbits), and more like abstract paperweights. Most of these devices can be left out on a nightstand without catching a second glance. And in a change for the industry, a lot of them are designed and marketed by women. A Times feature from last summer pointed out that when women get into sex tech, “many are adopting less pornographic sales approaches than older brands used.” Indeed, these new vibrators could not look more different from what’s been available up until this point, which Lisa Finn, brand manager at Babeland, calls “a lot of large, pink, sparkly, phallic machines. And that was because you had these folks ‘innovating’ — I’m using air quotes there — on what they thought bodies wanted, instead of doing the research.”
There have already been fairly successful attempts to rethink what sex toys look like. Take early aughts brand Jimmyjane, for instance. Curious about how this newest class of vibrators might work, I asked Finn and sex blogger Amy Boyajian about what to look out for. Check the materials, they said, and know that medical-grade or body-safe silicone is more hygienic and feels more sensual against your skin. As best as you can, have a sense of whether your anatomy responds to strong motor power or prefers a softer buzzing sensation, as this is what will most determine how much pleasure you get out of whatever you buy. And pay attention to how a device charges — women have surprisingly strong opinions about USB cords versus magnetic ports. Finn and Boyajian also suggested that we try products from already-established companies like We-Vibe and Lelo, both of which get consistently high marks from those who review sex toys.
So we did. Five women tried vibrators from Maude, Dame, Unbound, and Crave, as well as from We-Vibe, Lelo, and Je Joue, as a control group. At least two women used each vibrator. They had a couple of weeks to do so. We didn’t include any internal toys, rabbit-style vibrators, Ben Wa balls, straight-up dildos, or teledildonics — the vibe-sphere is simply too vast and varied to compare those to these pebble-shaped, Noguchi-esque ones. For now, we simply wanted to check out all the new vibrators that don’t actually look much like vibrators at all, and try to answer the only question that really matters: Can any of them get you to orgasm?
The best-in-show vibrator
Two women started Maude: Éva Goicochea, who was one of Everlane’s first hires in 2012, and Dina Epstein, a former industrial designer at sex-toy behemoth Doc Johnson. Maude is the obvious love child of their past jobs: The Vibe is so streamlined and modern, it’s practically the Day Heel of vibrators. Also, it’s unisex in color and form, and can be bought with condoms and a lubricant that come in packaging as pretty as Aesop’s. We tested the Vibe, a slim teardrop that tapers into a round point.
We think: “This one was amazing — it worked so fast that I was like, Whoa, not even ready for it,” said Tester A, who’s owned several vibrators and prefers higher-powered ones. “And I didn’t think it would work because it looks like a Muji mister.” Tester B — who’s had little success with vibrators in the past and likes a buzz that’s medium in intensity — had the same reaction. “I got it out without expecting much, purely because the company is so new and we live in a world where the Hitachi Magic Wand from the 1970s is still a huge hit. The best way to describe this was that an orgasm just zipped out of me. I was caught totally by surprise. The motor in this thing is nuts.” Tester B adds that her boyfriend liked this one best, of all the vibrators she (and he) tried. “It’s easy to hold one end, and use the other end on myself, and he can feel the vibrations even without any direct contact. He’s now asked more than once during sex for ‘that cone thing.’” Both Tester A and B used the smaller end of the Maude Vibe externally, although its shape means it could easily be used internally.
Buy if: You want an almost guaranteed orgasm in under two minutes. Or if you want a no-frills, high-powered device that is, at least aesthetically, a blank slate. The pale-gray, non-shape shape means the Maude Vibe doesn’t come with many preset notions. It works equally great for solo use or with another person.
Has three speeds controlled via one button, comes in a small canvas zip pouch, and charges with a USB.
The best starter vibrator
Like the phallic, bright-pink devices that Finn mentions, Unbound’s products are also extremely pink. But the goal, founder Polly Rodriguez says, was to make something minimalist in looks. “We hear a lot that it looks like a BeautyBlender,” she says of Squish, Unbound’s first in-house vibrator (the web shop sells a smattering of toys from companies). Squish is about the size of an egg and has a neat user interface: The harder you squeeze it, the more intense the vibrations become. And if you squeeze a pattern (like Morse code — quick, quick, long) the Squish repeats that pattern back to you.
We think: Our testers liked the Unbound, especially for foreplay. “Sometimes with vibrators, it feels like this thing that’s doing everything for you — it is mechanical and it is a machine, and it can feel passionless. But the act of being able to manipulate this as I got aroused and have some control was cool,” says Tester C, who is physically very sensitive to vibrations (and who hasn’t used vibrators in a while after trying a few cheaper ones that “felt like they were burning my clit off.”) Because the Squish is soft and small, Tester C says it was the one she used most with her partner. Tester D — who owns a menagerie of sex toys and prefers intense devices — said something similar: “This is a good pre-sex tool.”
Buy if: You’re on the sensitive side, or you want something for long-distance couple’s play. To the first point, Squish is made from silicone, but unlike some other vibrators in this roundup, its structure has some give (“It’s literally squishy,” D says), which makes it less intense. To the latter point, because Squish is programmable, it’s personal in a tactile way — like an extension of your sex partner instead of a third-party appendage.
Has five modes (besides the programmable custom ones) and sits in a magnetic charging cradle that plugs in with a USB cord. Tester D’s designer boyfriend especially likes the charging tray: “He is currently presenting this at his home, on his table, because he thinks it’s so cute.”
The best vibrator for sensitive bodies
Dame makes the two most unusual-looking vibrators on this list. The Fin is shaped like a smooth gemstone with grooves on both sides, so you can hold it between your fingers (imagine holding a cigarette), plus a removable tether. The egg-shaped Eva has two thin “wings” that fit underneath the labia for hands-free clitoral stimulation. These were designed by two women: one studied clinical psychology, the other is a mechanical engineer who went to MIT. (They’ve done the research, as Finn would say.) Their philosophy: Vibrators should blend in with human sex in a way that feels natural. “With these, we’re always aiming to not be the second or third person in the room,” says Janet Lieberman, one of the founders. “It’s not like people want to have sex with robots. They want to have sex with people, but they’re using the robots to feel like they have more of an authentic connection.”
We think: Dame’s vibrators are by far the softest our group tried. The silicone feels like expensive silk. The colors — like navy, seafoam green, and “quartz” pink — are also genuinely beautiful. Of the two, our reviewers had more success with the Fin — neither had luck with getting the Eva to stay put during sex. But the Fin is more versatile: Tester D, who admittedly likes a rumbly, stronger motor, didn’t get off with it herself but said, “If you did long strokes with a little pressure, I think I could get close.”
Buy if: You’re physically sensitive. The velvety finish and a relatively low-powered motor mean that neither product would overwhelm delicate clitoral nerve endings. We’d also recommend buying either the Fin or the Eva if you want vibrations while you have sex with another person, but can’t or don’t like the idea of gripping a device while you’re actually mid-coitus. Dame’s products are incredibly thoughtful in this regard. As for the Eva: All vaginas are made differently, so the fact that our reviewers had trouble with it doesn’t mean everyone will. Plus, Dame offers easy returns within 60 days.
Has two sensations that can be set at three speeds, comes with a satin pouch, and charges via a USB cable.
Has three speeds and a charging dock that plugs in with a USB. And wings!
The techiest vibrator
If you know Crave, it’s likely because of the Vesper — a long, bullet-shaped vibrator that’s worn on a chain and comes in silver, gold, and rose gold. The necklace was the idea of Ti Chang, the head industrial designer at Crave, who makes vibrators for a certain kind of modern, working, ballsy woman. Of the fact that Crave’s devices all charge by plugging directly into a USB outlet, Chang says, “We have women going on business trips saying, ‘Oh, I grabbed the wrong charger for my vibrator.’ But all of that goes away when you have USB rechargeability.”
We think: Two of our testers tried the Crave Duet, a sleek, rectangle-bodied vibrator with a two-pronged silicone end. The design and the tech is top-notch, and the Duet feels slightly heavy in an expensive way. But neither reviewer had much luck with using the dual ends. “I tried pinching my clitoris — that was terrible, just as a heads-up,” Tester D says. “But I have never had success with anything shaped like this. This just feels more tickly instead of giving good pressure.”
Buy if: You’ve used another dual-end vibrator before and liked it. This one is impeccably made, has a solid vibrational rumble, and the USB plug-in feature is great. Or better yet, buy the Vesper — there’s nothing else out there like it. Tester D bought hers over a year ago: “The Vesper is a very low-powered motor, but it’s not about the motor — it’s a sexy object. I love wearing it. Sometimes my partner will pull it out of the bedside table by the chain, and it’s just sexy.”
Has four vibration patterns that can each be set at four power modes, and plugs directly into a USB outlet.
Wearing the Vesper is a power move.
The most inconspicuous vibrator
Je Joue as a company is not a part of this new cohort. But it does make some luxury vibrators that could also get lost among some ceramics. Specifically, Je Joue’s pebble-shaped Mimi appears often on best-of lists. Along with the Maude Vibe, this is by far the most discreet vibrator we tried — especially if you buy the black one.
We think: Tester D, who prefers deeper motor power (and who’s primary vibrator is a literal back massager), loved the Mimi. “I used the Mimi after I was using another one that I didn’t like, and it was like ‘clunk!’” (That “clunk” was an orgasm, if you couldn’t tell.) “Also the Mimi, so soft,” Tester D added. Tester B said the Mimi was similar to the Maude Vibe — noncontroversial looks, fits in easily with sex with another person — but because of the oval shape, it delivers broader pressure to the whole area around the clitoris, and therefore worked much more slowly. But it did work.
Buy if: You want a good, middle-of-the-road vibrator that is slightly more mellow in motor power than some others on this list (Maude, Lelo), and that has a greater variety of vibration rhythms. You really can’t go wrong with this one, whether for solo use or partner use.
The unassuming Mimi has five speeds and seven patterns, all operated via three buttons: a plus button, a minus button, and one for mixing up the rhythm.
And now, some tried-and-true vibrators
If you’ve ever shopped for a vibrator, then you likely know Lelo. Sex bloggers love the company, and the Gigi (a flat-tipped G-spot vibrator that Finn recommended to us a while back) and the rabbit-style Ina are best sellers. We decided to try out the Gigi 2 and the Sona (review below), a clitoral stimulator that uses suction and is shaped like a curved computer mouse.
We think: Everyone seems to like the Gigi (“It’s the yacht rock of vibrators,” says Tester A, who already owned one ahead of this vibrator-testing bonanza), and everyone seems to use it slightly differently. Tester A uses it internally and then pulls it out to use on her clitoris, if she’s trying to take her time. Tester E says, “It’s very friendly — I could also imagine using it on a dude who likes butt stuff.” And Tester D actually held up a notebook with a list of the vibrators she tried, with “YES” written next to the Gigi.
Buy if: You want a good workhorse of a vibrator, for either internal or external stimulation, and if you don’t mind that the pink-and-white body of the Gigi outs it for what it is. (“It’s very 1990s porn star to me,” Tester C says.) This one doesn’t fall under the “leave it out on your mantel” category that some others here do.
Comes with a black satin satchel and charges with a USB cord.
The Sona is where things get a little weird. These suction toys belong to a growing category of vibrator (the Womanizer came out with the idea first), and they concentrate vibrations and pulses in a small, round cup that fits around the clitoris.
We think: “When I opened it, the first thing I thought was, This is like a little animal that’s going to suckle my nipple,” says Tester E of the shape. Tester C, on the other hand, loves the design: “It felt so good in my hand, and the black-and-gold packaging was just like, Bring it on tonight; I am a strong, empowered woman. And I like that, instead of something pink. I don’t find my sexual activity to be cutesy. It’s a lot of things, but not that.”
Buy if: “The Sona is kind of fucking crazy. I had to use it on the lowest setting, and then I would come so fast, and then I was just kind of spent,” said Tester C, the most delicate tester from this panel. Tester B (who prefers medium- to high-powered motors) says the Sona consistently led to intense orgasms, partly because it has a bigger menu of vibration levels and patterns, and the curved shape of the Sona makes it easy to keep your thumb on the buttons and change the sensations as you go.
You can’t see from this angle, but the other side of the Sona is plated with gold metal.
We-Vibe has been around for a while and is best known for its eponymous vibrator: a U-shaped tadpole that’s supposed to work for a woman internally and externally, simultaneously, during sex. The company has expanded into other toy shapes and sizes, and both Finn and Boyajian called it out as a go-to for well-made, well-powered devices. Our reviewers tried two of We-Vibe’s somewhat amorphous clitoral vibrators: the Wish and Touch.
We think: “The We-Vibes are very pleasant,” Tester E says. “The Wish, the circular one that looks more like a pretty stone, I loved that one. I loved the way it felt in my hand. This one feels like it’s less for solo play, and more designed for someone to use on you,” probably because of its simple, rounder shape. The Touch is more contoured to fit in both your hand and around your anatomy, and has deeper rumble power. Tester C liked them both: “They were very intuitive and simple and easy to get around. I don’t know if I would leave these next to my bedside — if they came in an earth tone or a black, then it would be less conspicuous — but these were great for every day. I traveled with them. And I didn’t notice fatigue like I often do — I didn’t feel like my vagina was just spent afterward.”
Buy if: You’re looking for an introductory vibrator or a first catchall clitoral vibrator. Also buy if you like to use vibrators facedown — these are softer and more pliable than some others. “About 35 percent of people who masturbate are facing their bed, grinding up against something,” Boyajian says. “The We-Vibe Wish is covered in this super-squishy, soft silicone, and having that helps.” (This would be true for the Unbound Squish, as well.)
Eight vibration modes that range from a “low” buzz to a “cha-cha” tempo; comes with a magnetic charger that plugs into a USB.
Comes with ten vibration modes, and has a companion app where you can program your own.
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