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Strap-on sex for all

A strap-on is like lube in the sense that it can make anyone’s sex life better, regardless of their gender or sexuality.

Suitable for vaginal sex, anal sex, blow jobs, manual sex, and masturbation, strap-ons may be worn or received by both people with penises and people with vaginas, as well as everyone in between.

Even if strap-ons sound completely out of your domain, they’re still worth learning more about — they can really add a lot of fun and flexibility to your sex life.

“People often associate harness play with particular gender roles, sexualities, and identities, but these associations end up being harmful rather than helpful. Specific sexual acts do not define your identity if you don’t want them to,” says Amy Boyajian, co-founder and CEO of Wild Flower, an online sex toy boutique that recently released the first-ever gender-free vibrator, Enby.

Ready to learn more about strap-ons and how all bodies can enjoy harness play? Keep reading.

Strap-on play can be pleasurable for everyone

Now sure how someone with a penis can enjoy harness play? Here’s a little more detail on how wearing or using a strap-on on during sex can be pleasurable even for folks who already have their own phallus.

“Wearing a strap-on harnesses can allow folks with penises who have erectile dysfunction or who have had their prostates removed to have sex with and please their partner in the way they are used to,” explains sex and relationships educator Sarah Sloane, who’s been teaching strap-on classes at Good Vibrations and Pleasure Chest since 2001.

It’s also a way for folks to experiment with double penetration, she says. The possibilities — and pleasure — are endless!

If a person with a penis has a partner with a vulva, the harness can be worn by their partner to achieve anal penetration.

Sometimes called pegging, this form of anal penetration can be incredibly physically pleasurable for people with penises, says Boyajian. “The prostate is located just a few inches inside the anus, toward the belly. For some, stimulating the prostate can produce pleasurable sensations and better orgasms.”

Plus, pegging may provide an opportunity to explore power and pleasure dynamics that may not already be a part of your play.

An important note on pegging If anal play is new to your sexual wheelhouse, don’t start with pegging. “You want to explore anal play with tongues, fingers, smaller toys like butt plugs, and during masturbation before you go right to pegging,” says clinical sexologist Megan Stubbs, Ed.D. This helps prep the sphincter, or the ring of muscle at the end of the rectum that keeps the anus constricted — unless stuff needs to pass through it.

Pegging play usually involves a toy that’s larger than a finger or butt plug, so you’ll want to work up in size and adjust to the sensation of being penetrated and avoid pain or discomfort.

Harness play can also be incredibly enjoyable for vulva owners during sex. Depending on the shape of your body and where you position the harness for best thrusting, wearing a harness may lead to a clitoral or vaginal orgasm — or even a blended one.

For many folks, a huge part of the enjoyment from wearing a harness is watching your partner enjoying the sensation of being penetrated, Stubbs says. “There’s a lot of intimacy in being able to penetrate partner and be close to them. You can have your body right against theirs and use your hands and mouths to kiss and stroke.”

There’s also an element of gender play that can be exciting for some. “If you’re queer, strap-on sex lets you subvert heterosexual sex. You’re taking something that’s thought of as straight, and queering the heck out of it,” says Sloane.

Further, “some folks who are masculine off-center, genderqueer, or who otherwise identify with having a cock, may find that having or wearing a [strap-on] feels really right for their gender identity and incredibly validating.” Simulated oral sex play with a strap-on can also be hot for this reason.

On the receiving end, folks with vulvas can enjoy vaginal or anal penetration with a strap-on.

“Vaginal penetration can be pleasurable for some, thanks to the G-spot, the A-spot, the feeling of fullness, and the power dynamics it may invoke,” says Sloane.

The A-spot, or anterior fornix erogenous zone, is a sensitive area of tissue at the end of the vaginal canal. “When stimulated, this can heighten arousal, activate vaginal lubrication, and spark an orgasm,” explains Boyajian.

Anal play can also be enjoyable for people with vaginas. “The anus has thousands of sensitive nerve endings concentrated around the opening and the outer part of the rectum,” mentions Boyajian. “Stimulating this part of the body, paired with the excitement of doing something ‘taboo’ can allow those with vaginas to orgasm fully.”

Ready to buy a strap-on? Consider the below your comprehensive strap-on buying guide.

Picking out a harness

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With tons of harness options on the market, figuring out what material, style, and price point you want may take some savvy.

To start, whether or not you have a partner you’re planning to use the strap-on with may make a difference. “If you have a partner in mind, make sure the purchase is a joint effort. You’re both going to be using it, so you should both have a say in the particulars,” says California-based sex-expert Jill McDevitt, CalExotics’ resident sexologist.

If you’re buying solo, think about your own needs and plans for use before buying. Here are some helpful considerations.

Questions to ask when shopping for a harness

  • How is this product going to be used? For what sex acts?
  • Who is going to be using this product and what are the body shapes of the users?
  • Is it important is it that it’s machine-washable?
  • How much am I willing to spend?

Choosing the right style

When it comes to pegging and penetrative sex, there are two main styles of harnesses: underwear and strap-on.

  • Underwear-style harnesses look like a pair of underwear — from boxers and briefs to boy shorts and thongs, there’s a variety of styles.
  • Strap-on style harnesses are called that thanks to its adjustable straps.

Sloane recommends strap-on styles, because she says they’re easier to fit snugly to the body and usually have a longer shelf life.

“You want your harness to fit you like a pair of jeans you’d wear to the club when you want someone to really check you out: It needs to be snug” says Sloane. “The more firmly attached the harness is to your body, the better the dildo will be able to move with your body.”

If it’s too loose or doesn’t fit, you may feel disjointed or out of sync from the dildo.

There are a few iterations of the strap-on harness, but the thong style and the jockstrap style are the most common.

  • The thong style is typically more comfortable for folks with vulvas due to the thong strap that goes between the legs.
  • The jockstrap style will look like a classic jockstrap with straps around each of the butt cheeks and the waist.

While both are equally effective, if a person with a penis is going to be wearing it, sex educator Mayla Green, owner of TheAdultToyShop.com suggests a jockstrap style, which will be more comfortable because there’s a place for the testicles.

Strap-on harness recommendations

  • If you’re new to strap-on play, Stubbs recommends the Vac-U-Lock — a machine-washable, very adjustable neoprene harness that contains two rings sizes that are easy to swap out.
  • If you’re looking for a unisex harness that has an optional vibration feature, Stubbs says the Body Extension harness is a great pick. “It has adjustable straps and a slimmer dildo profile that make it good for someone new to anal play.”
  • If you have a penis and are looking for a harness, Sloane recommends the Deuce by SpareParts. “This harness has two cock rings, one to hold the penis, and one that holds the base of the dildo.”
  • If you’re looking for a harness that can be worn by partners of many body shapes, try the Joque by SpareParts, suggests Sloane. It’s adjustable, machine-washable, and due to its jock-style straps, can be worn by any partner. “This is my favorite one to recommend to folks who are bigger bodied,” she says.
  • If you’re looking for a cheap but effective harness, Sloane recommends the jock-style Uprize Harness. “At $22 and with 4-way adjustability, it’s a great starter harness.”
  • If you’re looking for a super-sturdy thong-style harness, try the Cherry Bombin’ Roadster Harness, suggests Sloane.

If you prefer the look of an underwear-style harness, as many folks who are new to strap-on sex are, be sure to take careful measurements of your thighs and waist before shopping to make sure you’re getting the right size.

Underwear harness recommendations

  • If you’re new to harness play and want something that’s easy to use and stable, Sloane suggests says the Tomboi Harness by SpareParts, which costs $90.
  • If you’re looking for something that feels like you’re just wearing underwear, McDevitt suggests the Calexotics Scandal Panty Set, which looks like a sexy pair of panties but comes with a dildo.
  • If you’re looking for underwear that comes in a variety of styles that you can use with your own dildo, try the ones from Rodeoh. “The benefit of these is you can throw them right in the laundry when you’re done like any regular pair of underwear,” says Sloane.

If you’re on a budget — underwear harnesses can get a little pricey — or you already own a strap-on harness and don’t want to buy a second one, you can wear the strap-on style harness over a pair of underwear to get the underwear look and feel with the strap-on stability.

Think about the harness material

Now that you know which style you want, keep harness material in mind. Harnesses come in a variety of materials including rope, leather, neoprene, nylon, spandex, polyester, or a mix of these. Again, the harness can have a dildo built in but usually comes separately so you can attach one.

You want something you can clean pretty easily, especially if you’re going to be using it with multiple partners.

“Something machine-washable means you can wash it and not have to worry about germs or bacteria transmission,” says Sloane. This will make getting lube out easier too.

While you should double-check the product instructions to confirm if a product is machine-washable, Sloane says, all harness materials that aren’t leather or rubber should be.

A few other things to keep in mind when purchasing a harness

Some strap-on harnesses, like the Velvet Vibrating Harness by Tantus, have a built-in pocket for a bullet vibrator, which is convenient if you’re looking for clitoral stimulation.

Other strap-on harnesses also come in a package with a vibrating cock ring. “Adding a vibrating cock ring to the dildo is a great way to add vibration without trying a vibrating dildo,” Sloane says. But you can usually find a vibrating cock ring for less than $5, which is usually cheaper than buying a fancy combo pack.

Finally, some harnesses will have rings that can be changed, while others have rings permanently in place. In the case of the latter, make sure the ring will fit the dildo you own or plan to purchase.

Now, you need to pick out a dildo

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As with the harness, the size, style, and material of the dildo are all important. Let’s start with material.

Sex toys are considered novelty items, which means they aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That means you have to figure out if the material of the toy is body-safe or porous.

“You’re going to want a nonporous material, especially if the toy is going to be inserted into the anus where there’s a lot of bacteria,” says Stubbs.

Porous material may trap bacteria inside the toy, making it harder to clean and not optimal for use in and around your genitals.

Nonporous dildo materials include:

  • silicone
  • stainless steel
  • glass
  • Pyrex
  • ABS plastics

For first-time strap-on sex, Stubbs suggests a silicone toy. These are typically less heavy and easier to control than glass stainless steel. Plus, it has more give so it’ll likely be more comfortable for the receiving partner.

Keep in mind: If you’re going to be using the strap-on for penetration as opposed to masturbation or oral play, you don’t want a silicone toy that’s too soft, such as Cyberskin or Ultra Skin.

“It’ll be challenging to insert them without needing to handle the shaft with your hand the entire time,” Stubbs says. Your best bet is to hold the toy in your hand and test how much it jiggles. Think about what that might feel like inside your, or somebody else’s, body.

Materials to avoid include:

  • thermoplastic rubber (TPR)
  • thermoplastic elastomer (TPE)
  • polyvinyl chloride (PVC)

“If you do purchase a porous dildo, you’ll have to use a condom with it every time and clean it tremendously carefully,” says Sloane.

If you aren’t sure what a dildo is made of, try reading the product information or ask a salesperson for help if you’re shopping at an adult toy store.

Picking the right dildo shape and size

Your dildo should align with your needs and desires for harness play. To reiterate, if you have a partner who you’re planning to use the dildo on or with, take them to the store if you.

“Everyone has different desires, so talk explicitly with your partner about their size and girth preferences,” says Sloane. If they’re going to be penetrated, you may even have them pick out the dildo.

Questions to ask before buying a dildo

  • How am I going to be using this dildo?
  • Do I want a dildo that looks like a penis or has balls?
  • Do I want it to be the color of my or my partner’s skin or do I prefer another color?
  • What length and thickness is optimal for how I’m going to be using the dildo?
  • Do I want a smooth or textured dildo?
  • Do I want the dildo to double as a packer (worn under clothes to create the illusion of a penis)?

“You’re probably going to get the most use out of a dildo that is 5 to 6 inches long and 1.5 to 1.75 inches in diameter,” says Sloane. That may be too big for your partner, especially if they’re new to pegging or penetration.

A good tip is to size down, especially if you’re a beginner. “You might be looking at it and think, That’s so small! But if you’ve never tried anal or penetration before, definitely start off smaller than you think,” she says. Basically, don’t go big, go home, and then realize that it’s too big.

It’s also important to consider the dildo’s texture. “For some partners, the texture can become irritating,” says Sloane. That said, if the partner being penetrated has used and enjoyed textured butt plugs, dildos (not attached to a harness), or G-spot toys, there’s reason to believe that they’ll enjoy a textured strap-on experience.

Think about whether or not you want to be able to wear the dildo out and about — also known as packing. From power dynamics to gender play and affirmation, this can be really appealing for some people. If a dildo can be bended or tucked down, or can double as a packer, it’ll typically say so on the product description.

Some dildo recommendations

  • If you and your partner are new to strap-on sex, try the Tantus Silk Small, which comes in large or medium. “If your partner is nervous about being penetrated, the simpler, the better. This is smooth and looks almost like a finger,” says Sloane.
  • If you’re new and looking for a semi-realistic toy, Sloane suggests the Spur VixSkin by Vixen. With 5.75 inches of insertable length and 1.12 inches in diameter, it’s a great size for strap-on novices.
  • If you’re looking for a very realistic dildo, try New York Toy Collective. “They have realistic shapes in realistic colors — and non-realistic colors if you prefer that,” says Sloane. The Shilo is their most popular with a prominent head that makes it great for G-spot stimulation. Plus, it’s flexible enough to be tucked.
  • If you’re looking for a dildo designed specifically for bigger bodies, try the NYTC’s Mason. It’s longer, making it easier to use, without added girth.

Make sure your dildo and strap-on are compatible

Some harnesses can be used with a variety of dildo sizes, while others can only be used with certain sizes. “You want to make sure that the base or ring of the harness is a size that will hold the dildo,” says Sloane.

Again, stability is key for control. If you’re at a sex shop and you can, try the two together. If that’s not possible, make a loop with your fingers the size of the ring. Then, try to pull the dildo through. “If the dildo base is so flimsy that it pulls through, you may need a smaller ring,” says Sloane.

Buy (and use!) lube — lots!

No matter how you’re planning to use your strap-on, you’re going to want lube.

“The anus does not self-lubricate, so lube is an absolute must for anal play,” says Boyajian. “No matter how turned on you may be, there is nothing to prevent unwanted friction unless you add lube. Not only does this help to prevent painful microtears, but it will make anal sex way more pleasurable,” they say.

While the vagina is self-lubricating, it usually only lubricates for at most 30 minutes of penetration, Sloane says. It’s the difference between something feeling good and not feeling good, so make sure to use and continually reapply lube during sex.

While there are many different lube options on the market, keep in mind: Silicone-based lubes can’t be used with a silicone-based dildo because the toy will degrade. As Sloane says, “Nothing is sadder than putting a silicone-based lube on your new dildo and then seeing it begin to get a melty look.” Fair point.

When you’re using the toy, apply lube both to the tip of the dildo and the hole that’s going to be penetrated. This will help the dildo slide in more easily.

Getting used to your harness

Now that you have your toys, the next step is to get used to using them!

“I suggest folks take some time to play with it on their own,” says Sloane. Put it on, figure out where you need the dildo to sit to feel in control, masturbate with it, build confidence with how your body moves and operates with the toy.

“More than half of enjoying strap-on sex is feeling confident in the strap-on, so I recommend that folks reach a level of confidence before using it with a partner,” she says.

If you have a larger body, Sloane offers the following suggestion: “If you’re planning on doing penetrative sex with your partner, try putting the harness on the most plush part of your tummy, about half the distance between pubic mound and belly button and see how that feels” She goes on: “This will give you a lot of control without losing inches of the dildo through skin and body.”

Be patient — and enjoy

“Your exploration with harness play may not be as linear or as straightforward as other types of sexual play,” says Boyajian. “It may take some time to figure out what toys feel good to you, what positions are the most comfortable, how you like to be penetrated.”

So, be patient with the process, listen to your body, and enjoy this new add-on.


Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tried the Whole30 challenge, and eaten, drank, brushed with, scrubbed with, and bathed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.