Not everyone’s comfortable talking about their sex life, but knowing what goes on in other people’s bedrooms can help us all feel more inspired, curious, and validated in our own experiences. In HG’s monthly column Sex IRL, we’ll talk to real people about their sexual adventures and get as frank as possible.
I was 26 when I had strap-on sex for the first time. Thanks to watching some unrealistic porn and thinking that it would mimic the sex I’d had with cisgender men, I went into my strap-on sex debut armed with assumptions. And while there may have been some technical difficulties and awkwardness, it ended up being a moment filled with good communication and more care than when I was having penetrative sex with men. Plus, there’s a lot to be said for being able to shop for a strap-on with a partner and choose one that was the right fit for both of our bodies.
For the uninitiated, strap-on sex typically involves a dildo that is secured to a harness and used to penetrate someone vaginally, anally, or orally; there are also double-ended dildos that don’t require the use of a harness. Strap-ons have long been used by queer folks with vulvas to penetrate partners who also have vulvas and who are into penetration. Strap-on sex is a customizable experience that allows people to expand the ways in which they engage in penetrative sex, to explore and defy gender and power dynamics, and to reimagine pleasure.
There are some folks who enjoy wearing the strap-on and penetrating their partner(s), those who enjoy receiving penetration, and those who enjoy doing both. But there’s more to having great strap-on sex than just the sex itself.
I still consider myself a newbie, but I can confidently say that I love strap-on sex, so I wanted to ask other queer people what they love about it, what advice they’d give to beginners, and some common misconceptions about strap-on sex. Here are their answers, below.
"I’ve had my most pleasurable and fun moments during our foreplay sessions right before it was time to really get busy."
“Personally, strap-on sex allowed me to be a bit closer with my partner. She’s learning my body, and I’m enjoying the fact that she has to pay attention to me more in order to know if I’m pleased or not.
“As the submissive one in our relationship, I don’t even put the strap on. That’s not her cup of tea, but I’m learning a lot about trust. I’m learning that there’s power in opening up to her, which was always hard for me in the past. It’s about communication with us, and that’s where the fun comes in. I’ve had my most pleasurable and fun moments during our foreplay sessions right before it was time to really get busy. It’s the anticipation that I enjoy. The fact that there’s no rush, just us engaging in something together, and that’s what allows it to be more meaningful for me. I feel like this is something we both have a say in. It’s optional, but most times it’s something that I want because, you know, it’s her.
"As far as misconception goes, I would’ve thought that the basic 'why not have a real penis' comments would subside, especially in 2020, but alas, we’re still here. I think people don’t understand that it’s not about the form the toy takes, it’s the fact that it’s inserted by someone you actually like. I’d also like to address [that] those masculine women who wear strap-ons are definitely still women, regardless of what others may say. They’re not women trying to be men; they’re women who are living in their skin and pleasing their partners how they see fit, whether it’s [with] a finger, a bullet, a tongue, or, in this case, a strap-on. People who engage in strap-on sex are not trying to mimic hetero sex.”
— Samirah D.M., 25, Philadelphia
"I also love that as the receiver, it doesn’t feel like I’m getting fucked with a silicone toy."
“I love how close it makes me feel to my partner, both physically and emotionally, whether I’m giving or receiving. It’s fun to try different toys, harnesses, vibrators, etc. to find what feels best for everyone involved and the variety of sensations those things can create. I also love that as the receiver, it doesn’t feel like I’m getting fucked with a silicone toy; it feels like I’m getting fucked by my partner’s dick (or whatever word they want that body part referred to as—and it’s usually a good idea to ask what people like their bits referred to as!).
“A lot of the tips I’d give for other types of sex also apply to strap-on sex. Ask your partner what they like and what feels good to them. Go slow and use plenty of lube—and make sure that the lube you use is compatible with the toys and any barriers that you’re using. Clean your toys before using them, and if you have multiple toys and don’t have any particular feelings about which dildo you use, let the person receiving pick what toy you’re using on them. It’s also helpful to make sure you can adjust your harness to fit you properly or to find one that fits you right if it’s not adjustable so that you have the control you want.
“I think a lot of people think that strap-on sex doesn't feel physically good for the person giving because they aren’t able to feel the penetration, but it actually does. The stimulation might vary depending on the harness, your anatomy, the base of the toy, and the position you're in, but using a strap can often stimulate different parts of your vulva and can feel great for everyone involved. There are even some toys that have a base designed with the giver in mind.”
— Rachel Rose, 32, Philadelphia
"It's easier to be forehead to forehead when using a strap-on than it is when I'm using my fingers."
“I like that it brings me physically closer to my partner and it's another toy to add. It's easier to be forehead to forehead when using a strap-on than it is when I'm using my fingers.
“I think people are wrong about how fast you can pick it up. A strap-on sounds great as a concept, and it *is*, but after the first few times. It's learning to operate a new 'feature' that you can't feel, which I found challenging in the beginning.
“If you’re a beginner, I'd say wear it around for a little bit, get used to the feel of it, its weight and length. If you're planning to use it with someone you're more than comfortable with, mess around together while you're wearing it so you get used to moving your body with something that you can't actually feel. Also, don't hesitate on the lube and stroking yourself, because a dildo can be pretty cold, and it might be more comfortable for your pal if it's warmer. Lastly, do research on harnesses, [and] choose one that makes you feel sexy but will also be suited to your needs.”
— Quinn, 21, Edinburgh, Scotland
"I love the look of pleasure on my partner's face and knowing that I did that."
“I love the look of pleasure on my partner's face and knowing that I did that. I love scratching an itch I otherwise couldn't.
“If you’re a newbie, use more lube than you think you will need. If you are using an internal strap-on, get comfortable with the weight and motion before any attempts with a partner. If you are using a belt (harness), make sure it can be adjusted and is washable. Communication and check-ins are key and will ensure everyone is enjoying themselves. Relax! Sex is fun, so if your bodies make weird noises, it's okay to laugh.
“I think folks disregard strap-on sex because they don't realize [how] anyone can have fun with it, regardless of how their body or their partner(s) body is configured.”
— E., 32, Minneapolis
"There’s a lot of trust put into the decisions of having sex with a strap for the first time with your partner."
“I love the intimacy that comes with strap-on sex. From my experience, there’s a lot of trust put into the decisions of having sex with a strap for the first time with your partner.
"I’m big on vibes and passion. There’s something super passionate about being connected with your partner and making them feel comfortable at that moment. It’s deep (pun intended).
“I think people associate using a strap with mimicking heterosexuality/masculinity. Desiring penetration has nothing to do with sexuality or gender. It’s about pleasure.”
— Keli, 31, Philadelphia
"Although I enjoy sex, and particularly strap-on sex, very much, it is not something I share with any and everyone."
"What I love most about strap-on sex is the trust and vulnerability. Although I enjoy sex, and particularly strap-on sex, very much, it is not something I share with any and everyone. I acknowledge that some masculine-presenting women are reluctant to share their desire to be pleased, too. I understand that some women have boundaries according to their comfort level. However, I also am very aware that our community shames the thought of a 'stud' or 'aggressive' being pleased by her 'woman.' As if she ain't a woman?
“So when I have an experience with a woman and we are engaged, eyes locked, her temperature rising and body opening up to me as we share that type of tender, intimate moment—I do not take it for granted. I ensure I am pleasing her. I love pleasing. I love paying attention.
“There are a couple of things I think people get wrong about strap-on sex. One, it is not a tool of control or dominance. Too often, especially in relationships where one has more submissive energy than the other, the experience becomes about conquering and controlling the other by the dominant person—not just in the act but [in] the ego of the individual who uses it, and that to me is a misuse of trust and intimacy. I also feel that, unfortunately, we have aligned who wears the strap with gender roles, mimicking the most toxic traits of heteronormative relationships. Strap-on sex is simply about how one likes to be pleased, not this desire to replicate straight folks, no matter how someone presents themselves.”
— Patricia Fox, 33, Philadelphia