The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Titillating Toys To Turn On Your Valentine's Day (NSFW)

By Lisa White in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 14, 2014 5:30PM

A healthy and happy sex life is important 365 days a year, but having a holiday dedicated culturally to love and romance is the perfect excuse to treat yourself to some new toys. The adult entertainment industry is huge, so rather than showcase the newest trend or toss out a list of random items, I thought we'd suggest our tried and true staff favorites and chat with local experts, the fine folks at Early to Bed, to offer up some quality items and tips to make your Valentine's Day (and any day) extra special.

I stopped by Early to Bed this week to snap some photos of the wide array of products they have for purchase online and in-store and chat about all sorts of awesome sex topics. Full disclosure, I'm a huge Early to Bed fan. After going there in college, it's been my go-to store for all things below the belt, whether it be shopping, advice or education. The store is staffed with some of the most knowledgable, friendly and sex positive people in Chicago. They carefully choose everything in the store and refuse to sell anything they don't deem a quality item. I've sent countless friends there over the years and have made it my home base for all my sexual needs, both solo and with a partner. Chicagoist likes to showcase great local businesses that give back to our city, and Early to Bed is a prime example of this.

In the photos above, you can see the range of items sold at Early to Bed. When talking about sex toys, I consider lube, condoms and videos a part of that as well. Which leads to our first tip; always have lube. A great lube is essential in any anal play but it is also a wonderful way to change motion and texture when using a dildo or vibrator alone or with a partner. For those with a vagina, if things are feeling a bit dry or rough, a great lube can be a deal breaker in that moment. If you don't own a bottle of lube, buy one now. There are some more staff suggestions below but Early to Bed (and myself) highly suggest Slippery Stuff gel. It's a great all purpose lube with a wonderful consistency and no harsh smells or chemicals.

Second, practice safe sex. And not just safe with a partner. If you are using a toy both vaginally and anally, make sure to put a condom on it. Vaginas are tough but also delicate so wrap up any toy just to keep your parts safe and clean. Safe sex is more than just condoms, as Early to Bed points out. If you are using any devices with locks, such as chastity belts, make sure all parties involved have access to a key. Same goes with being able to signal to get out of restraints. Once again, communication is key when it comes to safe sex. Make sure all toys are working properly and are not hurting your partner (in a way they do not want to be hurt) and establish your best form of communication before things get started.

There is a lot of great porn being made, so I asked Early to Bed to suggest a mix of some of their favorites for your viewing pleasure. For variety, they suggested any of the DVDs by Erika Lust. Lust uses a variety of partners, same and opposite sex, ages and races in a more sensual and romantic setting. It's a great option for those who find some porn to be too campy or stereotypical. For videos with more focus on same sex partners, Early to Bed suggested Damon and Hunter by Comstock films which features intimate interviews with men about their relationships intertwined with realistic sex. For ladies they suggest the always amazing Courtney Trouble, specifically her movie Lesbian Curves, which showcases all types of bodies as well. They also suggest Trans Grrrls by Trouble, which showcases some of the most beautiful trans porn stars in the indie porn community. If you want body and gender positive porn, Courtney Trouble, who both performs and directs, is a great name to seek out.

The main thing to remember, and it is echoed on the walls of Early to Bed, is communication is sexy, no matter what day of the year it is. Always communicate with your partner and yourself. If you aren't enjoying something and your body tells you that, let your partner know. Or buy yourself something you'll enjoy on your own instead of having a mediocre orgasm. Life is too short to waste time on bad sex. Check out some of our staff's personal favorite products below for inspiration or a handy shopping list on your way home tonight.

Ultra Tee, $34
This vibrator is specifically designed to stimulate the prostate and is just the right size for those wanting to open the door (the back one in this case) into exploring anal play. That said, it is still a fun toy to have even if it eventually isn’t the size you prefer because it has seven different vibration functions, ranging from constant varying speeds to different pulsation modes. It has a remote but the cord isn’t super long so it might be difficult for some with solo play but it is truly fun to hand over to your partner and wait to be surprised with what setting they land on. Although the toy is made for anal play, the vibrations and firm structure is also great for direct clitorial stimulation. Just make sure to not mix anal and vaginal toys (this is not safe at all for vaginas), so either buy two toys or use a condom. And always make sure to have plenty of lube handy!

Boy Butter, $21
Despite the name, this lube isn’t just for boys (though it’s really, really good for them). It’s a hybrid of silicone and coconut oil, and it’s NOT LATEX SAFE, so be careful with toys and condoms. That being said, by yourself or with a trusted partner, it’s just about the best thing ever. Make sure to get the squeezable version - the type in a tub is impossible to use and looks just a little bit too much like a tub of Country Crock for our taste.

Under the Bed Restraint System, $58
Sometimes you just want to get tied up, OK? But maybe you don’t want expensive and hard-to-install bondage gear, and your upholstered headboard is really pretty and just doesn’t work with cuffs. Enter the under-the-mattress restraints. These 60-inch straps stretch underneath your mattress, allowing for sexy-fun times restraining your wrists and ankles with Velcro cuffs, but they neatly tuck back underneath the mattress. The Velcro is tough enough that you won’t be able to break free until your partner says so, but there’s no awkward “where’s the key?” moment. It’s easy to explore bondage and restraint without the pressure to tie your best sailor’s knots. Slip these restraints under the mattress, and have fun with all the different positions you can get into with two straps, four cuffs and a connector.

Fleshlight, $50-80 (depending on style)
Every seedy sex store and catalog has, for years, sold zillions of variations on the “stick it in to fake rubber genitals” toy. They all suck. They’re pointless, they fall apart and they feel like a rubbery mess. Enter Fleshlight, the company that decided finally, once and for all, to get it right. People mock their odd capped case, but whatever, haters gonna hate. You can customize everything from color to, well, orifice and, for the gays who aren’t comfortable with the idea that heterosexuals exist, there’s another variety; the “Fleshjack” with it’s own website. Secret hint, boys: it’s the exact same thing. While we find the models of various porn stars bits to be a tiny big creepy (sticking it into a fake hole can be fun; sticking it into a model of an actual person’s hole seems desperate/stalkery), the rest is cool, user-friendly and amazingly not sketchy. Don’t expect it to be cheap, though.

Trojan Condom Pure Ecstasy, $11.99
Condoms are a necessary evil since there is nothing worse than a poorly made condom; that stiff material that restricts almost all pleasure. But they are absolutely necessary for protection against contraception and infectious disease. It can be a true battle between body and mind, protection versus pleasure. I’ve found that Trojan Pure Ecstasy condoms are the best. They’re thin - really thin, but not dangerously so. It almost feels like human flesh rather than rubber, yet they’re durable enough to take a beating. The shape is different, rather than the extended top, it has a loose end that’s less restricting. The excess material is noticeable but it doesn’t feel too baggy because the condom tapers securely at the base. While expensive, it’s definitely a huge improvement on your average rubber. I suggest purchasing online, as they are $15.99 in drugstores, to get the best deal.

Vibrating Corsette Harness, $69 (of course!)
When it comes to strap-on harnesses, one size does not fit all. Excess length on adjustment straps are a nuisance and no matter how you tailor the harness, something is poking or pulling in the wrong way. Then of course, there are the actual attachments: there’s nothing like a beginner’s wide-eyed look of terror when the only attachable dildo looks like a 2x4. Enter the vibrating corsette harness from GoodVibes. Comfortable and stylish, this harness features straps that can fit anywhere from a 20” to a 60” waist. The fabric is both soft and attractive, with a swirled embossed pattern. The straps are easy to trim and they frame your butt perfectly. It also comes with two interchangeable O-rings to fit any number of attachments. The best part is a small front pocket that fits a vibrating bullet, providing the wearer with excellent clitoral stimulation. There is one shortfall, however: the harness does not allow the wearer to experience vaginal penetration. Still, it is a fantastic harness for exploring both vaginal and anal penetration.

Soft Coeur Massage Bar from Lush, $8.95
Touch is important. There’s a myriad of studies that talk about good touch and how it can improve a relationship. And let’s face it, we don’t need to read them to know just how good touch can be. So here’s something that makes touch even better. The beauty of massage bars is that they’re infinitely more travel-friendly and less messy than their oily counterparts. Simply warm it up in your hands and it will begin to smell amazing (need we bring up aromatherapy here?) and...well...slicken. Then, you saucy devil you, simply apply the fruits of your labor to your favorite person. All over. The beautiful thing about LUSH’s products is that they’re full of awesome botanicals, with some even being vegan, so they’re wonderful for skin. In the case of this honey and chocolate dream, they’re even lickable. This should be a no-brainer. It’s an inexpensive way to pamper someone, it encourages exploration and if, after the thorough rubdown you give your love, you haven’t moved on to other activities, it should be pretty easy to convince them to give it a go. So shoo! Off to the internet (or your local Lush store) to go find an excuse to get naked and take it slow.