So you want to buy a sex toy for someone you're having sex with? Here's how.
Ask What They Like
Let's face it: if you're buying a sex toy for an existing partner, you should hopefully have a broad idea of what they already like. But because no one can feel what another person feels directly, it never hurts to ask about it. If you want to be subtle, you don't need to say, "I'd like to buy you a sex toy and so I'd like to know what you're into" (though you can). Instead, the next time a vibrator or other sex toy comes out during sex, notice how your partner uses it. Do they favor one type of sensation in one spot? Are they frustrated that their internal-only vibrator isn't also good for external stimulation, or vice-versa? Does the battery die too quickly? Do they keep trying to turn it up past the highest setting only to have the toy cycle back to the lowest? How do they feel about the size and shape?
You can also ask about your partner's experience. During sex, saying, "I want you to describe exactly how that feels in your body" can be a way to ground you both in the present moment and identify what another toy might be able to do. Outside of sex, something like "I was reading this article about sex toys and was wondering, what do you like about yours?" or "What do you wish were different about yours?" can be a productive starting place.
Go Shopping Together
Sex toys are non-returnable, so if you want to make absolutely sure that your partner will be into trying out their gift, consider going shopping together. Grab your laptops and a glass of something and make a date night of it. Remember that, no matter how open you are with each other, you likely don't know the whole landscape of your partner's sexuality, and so keep an open and curious mind and any surprised comments to yourself. There's a saying to "not yuck someone else's yum," and that's never more important than when the someone else is a partner you want to buy a sex toy for.
For instance, let's say you, for your own body, are not excited about plugs, but your partner can't stop looking at one. Don't say something like: "Ew," or, "Why would you want that," "You don't need that when you have me," or, "I would never use that but if you want to go ahead." Instead, try something like, "That looks like it'd be fun – what do you find hot about it?," "Should I see if I can find some reviews of that for you?," "I wonder what lube would feel good with that," or "Thanks for trusting me with this exploration."
How Do You Know If A Sex Toy Is "Good"?
Whether or not a sex toy is "good" is part subjective and part empirical. Unless you've spent a lot of time exploring sex toys, you probably can't guess how something might feel to another person. But when it comes to whether or not a sex toy is even a contender, there are a few things to look for. Waterproof or splash-proof toys usually work for a wider range of people, even if they won't get used in the shower, because they're easier to clean and to manage around lots of lube and bodily fluids. Rechargeable or plug-in toys are usually more powerful than their AA- or AAA-powered counterparts, and are usually more sustainable, too. Finally, look at what the toy is made of: 100% silicone is always a safe bet.
Remember That A Gifted Sex Toy Is Not About You
If you're buying a sex toy together to use together, it makes sense that you'd expect to... use it together. But if you're buying your partner a sex toy as a gift for your partner, be open to the fact that they might or might not want to use it with you, and that's okay. Whether you're a straight dude looking at a partner's vibrator unboxing and suddenly wondering if you're about to be replaced (it's just a sex toy); a lesbian concerned that a strap-on "means something" about your or your partner's gender or sexuality (it doesn't, it's just a sex toy, but you should probably unpack some of that bi- and transphobia); or anyone else feeling any feeling besides excitement that you got your partner a cool new sex toy (again, it's just a sex toy), it's important to remember what a sex toy actually is: a toy, for sex. It's not an indictment of your relationship, your performance, your sex life, or you personally. It's just a sex toy. Your partner might need to use one if they want to have an orgasm, and by using one they are simply taking their orgasm into their own hands, which is how it should be. (Orgasms aren't the entire point of sex anyway, so if that's what you're focusing on, you're doing it wrong.)