Things to keep in mind when choosing a harness

Hi! I'm a transmasculine person, and my partners and I got a strap-on recently. It's been really helpful in having gender-affirming sex, but we've also had some technical difficulties, namely that it keeps falling out of the harness. I think it's actually because the harness is a little too big for me––I am a small boi, and one of my partners who's bigger than me hasn't had the same problem. (It's a universal size.) Do you have any recommendations for affordable smaller harnesses? Or other ideas about what the issue might be?

—Petite Polycule

Post guest-authored by Killian Ruck

Size is actually pretty important when it comes to harnesses. If it’s too large for your body everything slides around (or even falls out!) and it’s hard to have the kind of minute control over motion and direction that you really want to have when you’re strapping on a dildo. And if the harness is too small the straps or waistband can dig into the skin very uncomfortably. What you want is something snug but comfortable. Get your tape measure ready.

There are two overarching types of strap-on harness: strappy style or underwear style. They both have advantages and disadvantages. Strappy harnesses are adjustable, which means that if you and a partner are taking turns wearing the harness it can adjust to the right size for each of you; or if your own body changes size or shape (I just started testosterone, so I’m expecting some of that to happen soon), the same harness will continue to work for you through these changes. The downside of this is that you will have to adjust it to your exact specifications EVERY time you put the harness on, which is an extra fiddly step that can be kind of frustrating or even mood-breaking in the heat of the moment. Strappy harnesses are often made of leather, which is kind of the classic strap-on harness look. I, however, would recommend that beginners go for a fabric harness. Leather is a very long-lasting material, but it is not waterproof so it’s very hard to keep clean. Leather is also a little bit porous, so it can trap bacteria, making it less than ideal if you plan to use the harness with more than one partner, or trade off wearing the harness with any partner you aren’t fluid-bonded to. Strappy fabric styles are often machine washable, making cleanup a breeze.

Underwear style harnesses have the ease and convenience of just being able to pull them on and go, but you do need to make sure these fit your body exactly right. I would not recommend sharing an underwear harness with a partner unless you are the exact same size, and it is really hard to buy one of these harnesses online because of the sizing issue. Good Vibrations’ policy is to let customers into the bathroom to try harnesses on over their underwear (like you would with a swimsuit), so if going to a physical location is feasible for you I would at least go there to find your size, even if you make your final purchase online. The other thing to keep in mind with underwear-style harnesses is that they prevent direct access to the genitals of the wearer (because you are, essentially, having sex with your underwear on). Underwear styles are usually machine washable too.

Keep in mind also the size of the o-ring! Underwear-style harnesses have stretchy o-rings, while strappy styles sometimes have stretchy o-rings but sometimes have a snap-in system that allows you to change between different ring sizes. The o-ring is what holds your dildo in place against your body and keeps it from sliding around, so it should fit the dildo as snugly as your harness fits you. If the dildo you have is at the upper limits of what your o-ring can stretch to accommodate, there is a trick you can do to help ease the dildo into the ring. Put a plastic bag over the dildo before you slide it in. This will reduce the friction, allowing it to slide in with ease, then you can pull or cut the bag off once the dildo is firmly situated.

Other things to be aware of: choosing a dildo could be a whole other post, but some dildos have comfier bases than others. This will be the part that’s against your body, so it is often a good idea to look for a harness that has fabric behind the o-ring so the dildo doesn’t chafe the skin. On the other hand, if you’re using a double-ended dildo (or “strapless strap on,” as they are sometimes called, though I recommend using a harness with these anyway), you want to avoid harnesses with fabric behind the o-ring, as that will get in the way of inserting the wearer’s end of the dildo. The compromise that many harnesses make to get around this is to put two overlapping bits of fabric behind the o-ring, so that, much like the fly on a lot of mens underwear, it covers the area but can be parted if needed. Also, if your dildo is too small for your o-ring and is sliding around a lot, there are stabilizer bases available: cushy bits of foam that serve as an extra, larger base for the dildo, holding it in place.

Product recs:

Strappy, low-cost: Lush Strap On by Sportsheets (called Plush Peek-a-Boo harness on Good Vibrations’ website) - $36-$42

            This is a no-frills strappy style fabric harness that still manages to be comfortable, cute, and easy to clean. Comes with 3 sizes of interchangeable o-rings. Available in 2 sizes, both highly adjustable.

Strappy, high-quality: Joque by Spareparts - $125

            The Joque is made of a nylon blend that is moisture-wicking, durable, and long-lasting. It has the stretchiest o-ring I’ve ever seen and I have yet to meet a dildo it can’t accommodate. It adjusts on the waistband and the legs for a perfect fit every time, and it has a pocket above the dildo AND a pocket below for small bullet vibrators. Available in 2 sizes, both highly adjustable.

Underwear, low-cost: RodeoH, multiple styles - $50-$55

            RodeoH makes their harnesses out of double-layered cotton. It holds up a dildo well and is machine washable, but it won’t last forever. The styles they have available are ADORABLE though, and many of their boxers make my gender do a happy dance, so check them out.

Underwear, high-quality: Tomboi by Spareparts - $90

            The Tomboi (or the Tomboii--2 letters i--if you want the more expensive boxer style with 2 o-rings) is made of the same nylon blend as the Joque, so it is moisture wicking and has better longevity than RodeoH’s styles.

Honorable mention: if you have a biological penis but want to strap on a dildo and use that for penetration instead, I recommend the Deuce harness by Spareparts ($140-$145), which has extra room below the o-ring as well as a second smaller, less stretchy ring that can function as a cock ring. The marketing for this product is unfortunately very much geared towards cis men, but that’s really a shame because the product itself is great for all genders.

Is orgasm equality something that should be emphasized or important in all sexual relationships, irrespective of partners' gender?

Orgasm equality is discussed in the context of heterosexual relationships and gender justice (for straight cis women) a lot, and I see its value in that context. Is orgasm equality something that should be emphasized or important in all sexual relationships, irrespective of partners' gender?

AA: We are so glad you asked! I do want to start by naming my identities as a straight cis woman, which, of course, impacts how I think about this. Yes, orgasm equality is often discussed in that context, and may matter in any relational or sexual context if the partner(s) involved feel that it does. That being said, in any context, it’s important to separate the ideas of orgasm and pleasure, and that’s where we will spend our time this week.

LM: Oftentimes, we think of orgasm as the “end goal” of any sexual activity, and we believe that there can be no sexual pleasure without orgasm. In our discussion here, we want to clarify that it is possible for some people to have pleasure without orgasm, and also orgasm without pleasure. A starting point is understanding what you hope to get out of the interaction—is it to bring you pleasure, your partner(s) pleasure, or both? If it is to bring you pleasure, does that pleasure include orgasm?

AA: It’s really important to note that not everyone experiences orgasm in the same way, or to the same degree. Not everyone orgasms in every sexual experience and when, with whom, how, why, etc... Whether or not a person orgasms can be impacted by context, physiological factors, psychological factors, and many other elements. If it doesn’t bother you, not experiencing an orgasm is normal and okay, and does not preclude having a positive sexual experience. Emily Nagoski, a sex researcher and author, has developed some worksheets that can help a person think through some of the factors that may impact their sexual interactions—they might be worth checking out!

LM: Once you have a clearer understanding of your hopes for a sexual experience, it can be helpful to check in with your partner(s) about them. Because we might have different expectations or understandings of each partner’s hopes and needs in an interaction, and these might change throughout the interaction, open communication can help the interaction to be mutual.

AA: Another important thing to name is that power dynamics can impact the entire experience of an interaction, and the process of communicating with your partner(s). It may not be possible to safely communicate your needs, or your partner(s) may not be responsive. If this sounds like something you’ve experienced, know that you can always reach out to OSAPR (24-hour hotline: 617-495-9100).

LM: Thanks again for your question; orgasms, pleasure, and orgasm equality are complex and important topics and we’re glad to be able to discuss them here.

I’m interested in purchasing my first sex toy(s), but there are so many options! Where and how should I get started?

LM: Great question! When you first start looking at sex toys, the variety can be overwhelming. There are sex toys out there for pretty much every conceivable purpose, so one starting point might be thinking about what you (and/or your partner(s)) are looking for in your sex toys. Do you want a penetrative toy? A vibrating toy? Something that is made for two people to use at once? (Also, remember that how a sex toy is advertised isn’t necessarily the only way you can use it—feel free to be creative!)

AA: It’s great to begin thinking about these different questions before you decide to buy one (or more) particular toys. If you decide that you’d like to use a toy with a partner(s) it can be good to involve them early on in the conversation regarding which is the best toy for you to purchase. This will depend on how it might be used, what are both of your wants, needs, and non-negotiables and where those overlap for you both or where they do not overlap. Finding the answers will help determine which is the best to for you (and/or your partner(s)).

LM: Once you have an idea of what general type of toy(s) you’re interested in purchasing, the next step is to narrow it down to a specific product. A couple of factors may come into play at this point: price, quality, material, aesthetic, and color are just a few things you may want to consider. You can get high-quality sex toys at a range of price points, but it’s important to remember that with sex toys, in some cases low price may mean low quality, which can sometimes be unsafe. For instance, some toys on the lower end of the price range may be made of porous materials, which can harbor bacteria even after washing. However, if you’re not ready to spring for a slightly higher-end sex toy, it is possible to use condoms on your sex toys.

AA: Sex toys can come in many materials including silicone, plastic, metal, glass, rubber, and others. It’s important to think about these materials when deciding which to buy. In addition, a great option to add to a sex toy is lube! It can enhance the experience and pleasure for you and/or your partner(s). The type of lube you’ll want to use depends on the material of your sex toy: If you decide to purchase a silicone sex toy it is not recommended to use silicone lubricant as this type of lubricant can break down degrade your silicone sex toy. If you are using condoms on any sex toy it is important to make sure not to use oil-based lube as this type of lubricant will degrade the latex condom.

LM: This can be a lot to keep in your mind as you’re making your purchase. It can sometimes be helpful to go to an actual store when shopping for sex toys, where the employees will be able to help you balance all of these factors when you’re choosing your sex toys. We highly recommend Good Vibrations, a store with locations in Harvard Square and Brookline; the employees are friendly and highly knowledgeable (they’ve gone through a comprehensive training). If you’d rather not go to a physical store, you can also order from Good Vibrations online. Another great thing about Good Vibrations is that they explicitly do not gender their products and are inclusive of all identities. There are also many other places to order sex toys on the internet, including Amazon; whatever you choose, make sure to read the reviews and do your research about materials and safety.

AA: Once you’ve purchased your sex toy, have fun trying it out and getting familiar with it. If you are choosing to use the toy with a partner(s) make sure to talk with them about use before you jump into the experience. It’s always important to continually check in with your partner(s) while using your sex toy even if it’s not both of your first times using this toy. Communication is key to ensure you and your partner(s) are both continually enjoying your fun-sexy-play-time. Again as we have mentioned there are many choices to make when purchasing a sex toy. If the first toy you purchase is not working out for you it may take time and trial and error to find the right toy for you and/or your partner(s).