Article By Mark Hay
What should you do if your vibrator goes off at security or TSA thinks your dildo looks like a weapon?
~ DECEMBER 2021 ~ For some, holiday travel is a nightmare of logistical snarls and social minefields that leaves them stressed out and desperate for a little release. For others, it’s an escape from the grind of the rest of the year, which may give their libido a little boost. In either case, sex toys can offer some assistance. Natasha Marie of the sex tech company MysteryVibe refers to them as “a lifeline to sanity” over the sometimes tense festive season, or “extra holiday spice” for either solo or partnered sex.
But the prospect of taking a toy on a flight can feel daunting at the best of times, thanks to popular horror stories about airport security agents pulling them out in front of a crowd during a search, or freaking out when a vibrator accidentally goes off inside a bag. Staying with family or friends over the holidays can add an extra layer of concern about discretion: What if someone you don’t want privy to your intimate life finds your favorite toy in a shared space — or hears you using it?
These concerns are all valid. But a dozen sex toy makers and retailers and sex educators, told Mashable they’re all easy to mitigate or avoid — if you keep a few basic tips and tricks in mind. We’ve compiled all of their advice into a quick and dirty guide to holiday travel with toys in tow.
Of Toys and TSA Agents
Here’s the good news: In theory, U.S. airport security and airlines allow all kinds of sex toys in both carry-on and checked bags. (Most nations are similarly permissive. But it’s worth noting that sex toys are illegal in a few countries. So, always check local laws before you fly abroad.)
However, in practice there’s one big caveat on this general allowance: If a security official thinks you could use a toy as a weapon, then they won’t let you take it onboard in a carry-on bag.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to say what kinds of toys will trigger this kind of scrutiny with certainty. A big dildo made of metal, for example, might make it through one security screening without issue, but get flagged as a potentially dangerous cudgel on another. Much of this comes down to the perception and discretion of individual TSA agents, who Carol Queen, staff sexologist of the toy retail chain Good Vibrations, notes are often overworked and may be unfamiliar with the full spectrum of toys. But she and others have found that BDSM gear tends to trip security’s danger senses more often than other items. “Ropes, cuffs, impact toys — especially solid ones like wooden bats or high density plastic paddles could ring bells for a screener,” explains Queen.
Given these inconsistencies, Queen and others advise erring on the side of caution and checking any toys that you worry an uninitiated eye could view as a weapon — or shipping them ahead.
However, you might still get stopped and screened in airport security even if you haven’t packed anything that looks remotely dangerous in your carry-on, either because you seem anxious, you end up on the wrong end of a random bag check, or the agent reviewing your bag is confused by something they see or hear. “If screeners see something they don’t recognize in your luggage, they may want to inspect it,” Queen notes. “If your toy has batteries in it or, heaven forbid, has switched itself on and is vibrating, they’ll probably want to figure out what it is, as well.”
“If it’s in your carry-on, they might hold it up in front of a very crowded room full of people going through security,” Queen adds.
Amy Boyajian of the sex toy retailer Wild Flower recalls that a close friend had to deal with a bomb squad after their Magic Wand went off in their luggage.”
If the thought of such a public airing of your private items mortifies you for any reason, then sex therapist Dulcinea Pitagora recommends just checking all of your sex toys, even if they are in theory carry-on friendly, just to play it safe. “Checked bags can still sometimes get searched, but at least in that case there wouldn’t be a public aspect to the search,” she pointed out.
However, checked bags sometimes get lost. And travelers occasionally report toys going missing from checked bags in transit. “Losing a sex toy in a checked piece of luggage would be quite sad!” noted Jenni Skyler, a sexologist who works with the major toy retail chain Adam & Eve.
If for whatever reason you can’t check a bag, or don’t want to risk a loss, then experts suggest packing a small, discreet toy that could pass for something else to avoid potential embarrassment during a potential public search. “There are small vibrators that look like lipstick cases that can be tucked into your makeup bag, as well as vibrators created to be worn as beautiful necklace pendants, that can be packed with your jewelry,” says sex therapist Sari Cooper. Small items have the added bonus of freeing up luggage space and keeping your carry-on lightweight.
Folks who don’t give two figs about people seeing their sex toys in public and pack explicitly erotic items do occasionally report getting hassled by sex-negative airport staff, Pitagora notes. Having a showdown about sexual biases and/or bigotry at a security checkpoint may not go over well. So, Queen suggests that, “if you get slut-shamed, you should take people’s names and badge numbers, get on your flight, and report them later.”
If you pack your sexual paraphernalia in a carry-on bag, then remember that any lube you bring is subject to TSA liquid rules. You can find travel-sized lube bottles. Or, MysteryVibe’s Marie notes, if you’re worried about people seeing that you’ve packed lube during a public check, “use an unmarked travel container” to store your lube — multiple containers if you want to bring lots.
Kim Airs, a sex educator and toy seller, adds that when she’s traveled with masturbation sleeves made of TPR or TPE materials, she’s found that they sometimes “show up on TSA X-rays as large bags of water, which is of course a no-no.” To avoid trouble you may need to leave those behind.
Regardless of whether or not you check your toys, the experts Mashable spoke to all noted that if your toy uses batteries, you ought to take them out to avoid accidental activation that could lead to a security scare, or just overheating in your bag. (Some airlines have specific rules about if and how you should pack batteries, so you’ll need to check your carrier’s regulations.) If your electric toy uses a charger rather than batteries, consider running down its charge before you travel. (Just don’t forget your charger!) Some modern, high-tech toys also include travel lock features that allow you to skip this onerous process and travel without fear of a buzzing disaster.
Put all of your toys in a clear plastic bag as well, suggests Boyajian, so that if security personnel take them out of a checked or carry-on bag for a quick exam they’ll be visible but remain clean and sanitary. Label your toys as well, they added, so that security officials know what they’re looking at. “This can be especially helpful for sex toys and tools that look more abstract or artsy than your classic dildo or bullet,” they noted.
“If you still have the original packaging,” it may be useful to pack some or all of that as well, says Julia Lopez of the sex toy brand Dame. “I find that the TSA rarely opens a box that has print reading ‘vibrator.'” A product description and image next to a loose item in a Ziplock bag will also likely allay any concerns or confusion that an agent might have about a given item.
And of course, if your toy is delicate — like a porcelain or glass toy — make sure that you pack it in a secure travel container. Or at least wrap it in clothes. You don’t want it to shatter in transit.
Home for the Holidays
“Some people might not have any issues with others knowing they use sex toys or seeing their sex toys,” says Pitagora. “But others might prefer to keep that part of their life private.” Yet privacy may be hard to come by when you share a house with friends or family for the holidays.
If you’re mainly worried about people hearing you using a toy while in a packed house, you can always use a toy that doesn’t make any noise, like an analog dildo, says Skyler, then muffling your own vocalizations. However, many people prefer — or need — toys with a motor.
Companies do make toys with quiet settings and whisper motors, Skyler noted. But if you don’t already own and enjoy one of these, sex therapist Rosara Torrisi cautions against buying a new one just for travel. “It would be deeply disappointing to get to your destination, whip out your new toy, and find that you’re not as in love with it as you’d hoped,” she says. “Cue sad music.”
She suggests just checking the volume of your tried-and-true toys by turning them on, then stepping into another room and closing the door. If you can hear it whirring or buzzing, experiment with putting it under the covers, putting a rolled towel by the bottom of the door, or putting it in the bathroom while the shower’s on to see if that sufficiently muffles the sound. (Bathrooms are a good choice for privacy in a shared space, and showers give you cover for extended usage. But don’t use a toy in the shower unless it specifically notes that it’s fully waterproof.) You may also consider hanging back while other people head out of the house for optimal toy usage privacy. But Cooper notes that this makes many people feel awkward and self-conscious.
Discreetly storing your toys may be tricky, as you will likely have less control over the space you’re staying in, and fewer storage options, than you would at home. In theory, just keeping your toys in your luggage, perhaps wrapped in clothes or stashed in a toiletry bag, should be sufficient for keeping your private items away from prying eyes. “Most folks travel with a toiletry bag, and your hosts won’t think twice about seeing it” in the open, argues Boyajian.
However, presumptive relatives could snoop through your bags and belongings. Young kids especially may get curious and grabby, Cooper notes, and may bring “your dildo into the living room where your family is hanging out.”
If you’re particularly concerned about discretion and security, Queen notes that you can find a few slim and lightweight storage boxes with locks on them. Boyajian cautions that these lock boxes can eat up space, and may actually “catch the eyes of intrusive folks” themselves, though, inviting scrutiny and questions. Likewise, packing a toy that doesn’t look like a toy may solve discretion issues in some cases, but may invite so what’s that thing type questions from nosy folks that you don’t want to deal with. So, you’ll need to weigh some pros and cons against your particular concerns and circumstances when deciding on an ideal low-key storage approach.
Also, consider that trying to keep your toy out of view from others may limit your ability to plug it in for a recharge. Skyler suggests considering a battery-powered toy, and bringing spare batteries, to avoid any potential charging issues. Johanna Rief of the toy brands Womanizer and We-Vibe notes that you could also just invest in a portable charging block, which you can use in optimally private spaces. If you recharge that in public, you can just say it’s for your laptop.
Likewise, if you don’t want to tote your toy around a shared space — and you don’t want to or can’t use it in the bathroom — then you may need to find “some way to clean your toys that doesn’t include bringing them to a sink,” Airs says. She recommends investing in “a small packet of baby wipes… that do a very effective cleaning job and are easy to toss into the trash.”
Mix and Match
Rief points out that a number of companies make specifically travel-friendly products, which work well with most or all of this advice. But it’s worth keeping in mind that a travel-perfect toy may not actually be perfect for your body, or sexual wants and needs at any given moment. If that’s the case, then buy or bring the toy that’s right for you. Then mix and match bits and pieces of advice from this guide, as well as your own commonsense, to work with your own toy, travel concerns, and wider circumstances.
And even if you buy a perfectly discreet toy and follow all of the advice in this guide to a tee, there’s always still a chance that a nosy security official or family member is going to get their hands on your toy and ask you some questions about it, possibly in front of other people. That’s why Queen believes that, “if someone travels with toys, they should be prepared to speak up about them. At the very least, practice saying, ‘it’s a personal care item’ while looking a person in the eyes, as though there’s nothing to be ashamed about. Because there isn’t!”