What to Know About Dildos

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on April 23, 2024
7 min read

Dildos are sex toys that you can put into the mouth, anus, or vagina. While they are sometimes meant to feel like a penis, they don’t have to look like one. They come in different materials, shapes, and sizes. Some dildos are curved in order to stimulate the prostate or G-spot.

There are many kinds of dildos. You can find ones that are:

  • Made to look like a penis with testicles
  • Made to be strapped on with a harness
  • Meant for two partners to use at once, called double-sided or double-penetration dildos
  • Vibrating dildos
  • Made with a suction base to adhere to a surface
  • Glass or metal dildos

Dildos in history

Dildos have been around for centuries. Archeologists believe that the oldest one, unearthed in the Hohle Fels cave in Germany back in 2005, dates back more than 28,000 years. Ever since, dildos have been used in societies throughout history. 

In ancient Greece, people made stuffed dildos out of leather, which men often gifted to their wives when they left to go to war. Meanwhile, during the Renaissance, members of the upper class had dildos custom-made from materials like silver and ivory.

Around the 17th century, dildos were a source of controversy. England passed laws that prevented women from making them, and later, America banned the sale of rubber dilators (medical devices that help stretch the vagina), leading to the creation of an underground sex toy market. 

It wasn’t until the sexual revolution in the 1960s that dildos were, once again, widely accepted as tools for pleasure and sexual liberation.

Dildos are popular with people of all genders and sexualities. 

Sometimes they can have a medical purpose. Some sexual medicine experts recommend them as part of therapy for vaginismus, or pelvic floor muscle spasms. Stretching the tissue in your vagina can make it more flexible and strengthen the pelvic floor, making penetration easier. 

Dildos can provide internal stimulation to the G-spot (a sexually sensitive area in the vagina), prostate, or other parts of the vagina or anus. If you’re sexually aroused, your body releases the feel-good hormones dopamine and oxytocin. Masturbation, whether on your own or with a partner, can help you feel less stressed, sleep better, improve your focus, put you in a better mood, and even prevent anxiety.

Dildos can also play a psychological role in arousal and sex play. For couples, that might mean trying out new sensations or dynamics in the bedroom. 

Dildos and vibrators are both sex toys, and there’s a fair amount of overlap between their functions. The biggest difference is that not all dildos can vibrate, though some do.

Some vibrators are designed to be used externally during solo or partner play, and others are made to be put into the vagina or anus.

A common myth is that dildos are only for single people. But you can use them solo or with a partner. 

Some people worry when their partner wants to use a dildo. They fear that it means their partner is sexually dissatisfied or that the dildo will replace them sexually.

But studies on the use of sex toys have found that they can aid sexual relationships between committed couples. In relationships marked by open communication, sex toys may enhance sexual experiences and intimacy. 

If you’re choosing and using your first dildo, there are a few things to keep in mind so you can have a safe and comfortable experience:

  • Choose a dildo made with non-porous materials such as body-safe silicone, glass, or metal. Keep in mind that the FDA doesn't regulate most products sold as sex toys, so pay attention to the advertising and online reviews, or get recommendations from an adult store. Something sold as "for novelty use only" may not be as body-safe and could contain plastics or chemicals you want to avoid.
  • Unless you know you prefer a wide girth, start small and work your way up.
  • Use plenty of lubricant, especially during anal play. Your anus doesn’t create its own lubrication, so using a dry dildo could cause the tissue to tear. This can be painful and raise your chances of getting an infection.
  • Be sure the lubricant you're using is right for your toy – water-based lubricants work well with most dildos, but silicone-based lubricants can actually break down sex toys made out of silicone.
  • If you’re using a dildo with multiple partners, you should put a new condom on it each time. Sex toys can pass on STDs, and condoms help protect you from getting them. Putting a condom on a dildo is similar to putting one on a penis: Place it on the top of the toy and unroll it so that it covers the entire base. If you’re using a dildo made from porous material, like PVC or rubber, it’s also a good idea to use condoms, since these toys absorb bacteria more easily and can spread infections. 
  • Wash your dildo after each use and between using it on different parts of your body.

If you feel any discomfort while using a dildo, stop. You may need more lubricant or a smaller size.

Glass dildos

Glass dildos are nontoxic, durable, and easy to clean. They’re made to be more resistant to breakage, which means they’re perfectly safe to use. Some people dislike glass dildos because they don’t flex the same as other materials, like silicone, which could make inserting them less comfortable. But since glass is temperature-sensitive, you have the option to warm it up or cool it down, which can create new sensations. 

Silicone dildos

Silicone’s diversity as a material has made it one of the most popular choices for dildos: It's body-safe, smooth, it can be soft or firm, and it's easy to clean. If you have a silicone toy, you should avoid using silicone lubricant, since it can cause the material to break down and make it more difficult to sanitize. It’s also common for silicone dildos to contain a mix of other non-body-safe materials, so always try to choose one made with medical-grade silicone. 

Metal dildos

Metal dildos made from stainless steel are also body-safe and easy to clean. They tend to be heavier than dildos made from other materials, which makes them a better choice if you enjoy more intense stimulation. Similar to glass, metal dildos don't flex, so they might be less comfortable for some people. But, they are temperature sensitive and can be used with all types of lubricant. 

How best to clean your dildo depends on what material it’s made from and whether it has electronic parts that can’t get wet. 

  • You can put some glass, steel, and silicone dildos in the dishwasher, as long as they’re not battery-operated or rechargeable.
  • Stainless steel dildos can soak in a 10% bleach/water solution for up to 10 minutes.
  • For silicone dildos without a vibrating function, you can put them in boiling water for 5-10 minutes.
  • Dildos made of hard plastic shouldn't be boiled, but you can wash them with antibacterial soap and water.

Almost all sex toys can be cleaned by hand with soap and warm water. For the best results, follow the dildo maker's instructions on the best way to clean it.

How to store it

After cleaning and drying your dildo, place it in its individual storage container or bag. It’s best to keep dildos and other sex toys in a cool, dry place. Toys made from porous materials should especially be kept away from heat, humidity, and sunlight.

Dildos are made for all sorts of tastes and needs, including sexual exploration, pleasure, and therapeutic purposes. When selecting a dildo that’s best for you, you should consider the material, shape, and size. Proper care and usage are important for a safe and enjoyable experience. 

What materials are dildos made of?

Body-safe dildos are made from glass, stainless steel, or medical-grade silicone. Dildos can also be made from plastic, rubber, leather or vinyl, but these materials can contain chemicals you don't want in your body and are usually harder to clean properly. 

How long do dildos last?

How long your dildo will last depends on what it's made of, how often you use it, and how you take care of it. High-quality sex toys made from more durable materials, like silicone or glass, can last a lifetime with proper care. If you see signs of wear and tear, it's best to replace your dildo to avoid the risk of infection. 

Do I need a specific size? 

If you’ve never tried a dildo, start with a smaller size and work your way up to larger ones from there. In a study published in 2015 on dildos and vibrators sold by sex toy makers, the typical size sold was between 4 and 6 inches in length and between 4 and 5 inches in circumference. Always choose a dildo that feels comfortable for you.