Guide to traveling with sex toys

Hustling sex toys through airport security, onto a plane, and eventually to your destination can be a tricky and worrisome process. The good news is, sex toys are becoming more expected at the airport. Last July, we wrote about a news story making the rounds in which the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) admitted that sex toys did not bother them very much.

However, it’s their job to look for electronic devices, explosives, and potential weapons — and sex toys can still be mistaken as harmful, so precautions are necessary.

The first thing you should do, if you’re traveling within the United States, is read up on current TSA policies. If you’re traveling internationally, look up country-specific travel information. Especially do your research before jetting off to a foreign country (or Alabama) with your toys, as some places forbid sex toys and/or porn. It may even be worthwhile to consider alternative transportation methods, such as train or bus. The following tips are for air travel.

Checked vs. carry-on

If you decide to take your toys with you, your first choice will be whether to pack them in your carry-on or checked luggage. There are pros and cons to each. Carry-ons don’t run the risk of getting lost, but they are subject to more public scrutiny. Checked luggage isn’t searched in front of everyone, but a few travelers have reported that toys were removed from their checked bags — never to be seen again.

When it comes to searching checked bags, the TSA may simply be confused; if they don’t know what something is, it’s easier for them to deem it dangerous and confiscate it. Since you won’t be there to give them an explanation of the item, put it in a plastic bag with an identifying label (“dildo,” “vibrator,” or even just “sex toy” — something easily understood). Never put your toys in something the TSA can’t open, as they’d have the authority to break into it anyway.

If you put your toys in carry-ons, the plastic bag tip still applies — mostly because you don’t want the TSA getting their grubby hands on your personal items if they do decide to pull them out for inspection. Where you pack the sex toys is up to you. If you put them on top of everything, they’ll be easier to access if the TSA asks about them. On the other hand, if you stick them between layers of clothing, that could buy you some time to explain yourself and ask that your bag be searched in private.

Be sure to leave yourself some extra time at the airport if you pack your toys in a carry-on, just in case your experience at the security terminal takes longer than usual.

Avoid the buzz

The last thing you want is for anyone to think your bag contains a bomb, so always take the batteries out of battery-operated toys — don’t just flip them around or assume the switch will stay in the “off” position. A TSA agent has explained that, under the security scanner, vibrators with batteries inside can resemble the barrel of a loaded gun!

Many high-end rechargeable vibrators, like those from LELO and Jimmyjane, have travel lock functions. Read about them in your toy’s manual and be sure to employ them correctly. If your rechargeable toy doesn’t have a travel lock, drain its battery completely before travel.

If you’re worried about the shape of your toy raising eyebrows, opt for an inconspicuous vibe such as the Lipstick Vibe or Mia (which just happens to pass completely as a USB flashdrive).

Tools — er, dildos

According to the TSA, “tools” less than 7 inches in length are allowed in carry-on luggage. However, if the item is “club-like” or can be mistaken as a weapon, don’t pack it in a carry-on. Try to imagine your dildo or butt plug under the security scanner — will it look sinister somehow?

Since even belt buckles set off the metal detectors at security, there’s no way a metal dildo or butt plug will get through unnoticed in a carry-on. Same goes for strap-on harnesses with metal buckles, rings, or fixtures. Consider packing a fabric harness instead, and put your metal toys in your checked luggage.

As with any fragile item, pack a glass or ceramic dildo by wrapping it up thoroughly in soft cloth.

Follow 3-1-1 with lube

Lube is, of course, a liquid, so for carry-ons, you must follow the 3-1-1 rule with it (and other liquids such as massage oil). Liquids must be in 3.4 ounce or less sized bottles, then placed into a single quart, clear, plastic ziplock bag. Even a half-empty container of lube is not acceptable if the container exceeds 3.4 ounces, which most do. So try purchasing a small plastic container and filling it with your favorite lube. Or pack lube samples, which are all less than 3.4 ounces.

To avoid this rule, stick your lubes in your checked luggage (but keep them secured in a ziplock bag so they won’t leak all over everything!).

BDSM toys

There are conflicting reports about the TSA’s response to BDSM toys such as restraints, whips, floggers, leashes, etc. in carry-ons. Since BDSM toys can be even more stigmatized and misunderstood than the average sex toy, we suggest erring on the side of caution. If your toy could be considered a weapon (handcuffs, anything sharp… really, a lot of BDSM toys), put it in checked baggage.

Attitude is everything

Ultimately, the most important part of traveling with sex toys is staying calm. Owning sex toys and wanting to bring them on trips is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of! But security may ask you to open your bag if they are concerned about anything, or you may be picked for a random search. If this happens, don’t panic. Tell the agent simply, “that’s my butt plug.” Don’t dance around the truth, and definitely don’t become argumentative. The more matter-of-fact you are, the better it makes you look.

More often than not, the TSA agent will be surprised by your candor and send you on your way. It is entirely possible that the agent may be more embarrassed than you are. Travelers have reported TSA agents giggling, smiling, and pointing things out on the screen to their co-workers. If a TSA agent harasses or tries to humiliate you, file a formal complaint with the TSA.

But overall, confidence can make a world of difference. Take it from a guy who had to deal with TSA agents making a big deal about a whip, but handled it with finesse:

I look at all the people around me and feel like the whole airport — passengers, ticket agents, security guards — are giving me the benefit of the doubt on this one, at least in part because I’m refusing to have it any other way. My lack of embarrassment, my lack of apology, is defining the moment and telling everyone how to respond. I feel exceptionally powerful. It is the liberation of one more level of coming out, of refusing to be made wrong for being different, for being sexually different.

Or better yet, remember these words from Ethan Imboden, founder of Jimmyjane:

Take comfort in the fact that these guys have seen it all. If the TSA agent shakes their head as you pass through, it might simply be to express their disappointment that you’re only bringing one vibrator, whereas you’ve packed 7 pairs of shoes.

We want to hear your stories!

Have you had experience traveling with your sex toys? Run-ins with the TSA? We want to hear all about it! Comment below with your story. The writer of our favorite story will win a locally-made Appetite travel bag! We’ll also compile the answers into a post.

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  • Natassia

    The first and last time I ever took a vibrator with me on a trip was to Japan. I had no trouble getting it into the country, but after about 3 days or staying with my grandmother at her brother and sister-in-law’s house, my vibrator was anything but discreet. I had gone for a walk around their town outside of Tokyo, and returned to see my grandmother sitting on their floor pillows with my vibrator on her neck. She said she found it when she was putting my clean laundry back into my suitcase and it was just perfect for between her upper back and neck. I was speechless. Luckily it was clean and no one in the house knew what it was.

  • Megan

    Several years ago I was traveling through PDX with only carry-on baggage. I was heading to California for a hot weekend date and I was ready! I was a little nervous about going through TSA security due to several large dildos and a harness in my bag, but did a good job of playing it cool and reminding myself that they have seen it all, I mean, my little world can’t be that exciting for them, can it?

    After I placed my bag on the conveyor I watched the agent look at the X-Ray of my bag, then turn her head in that “Dog knows there’s a treat in your hand” sort of way. I swear I could see her floppy ear twitch with curiosity. I noticed my increasing discomfort and an anxious laugh escapes my lips. I see her call over another TSA agent and point at the screen, discuss, and look again. While I know this only took 30 seconds, it felt like AN HOUR of fidgeting for me. Yep, next thing you know I’m called to the side by a male agent asking to look through my bag. As we walk to a table and he is asking permission to go through my belongings, I say to him in a firm but quiet voice, “I have some very personal items in my bag and would appreciate discretion.” I gave him the eye and nodded towards a family with four middle age children near by. My comment made his slight grin increase, but he caught my drift and moved us to a curtained area, then proceded to very quickly pull out a VERY LARGE black dildo, at which point he said to me, “We thought it was either that or a big ol’ sausage! We just had to check.” We both had an awkward chuckle and I went on down the terminal. That dildo earned the name Hillshire from that day on.

  • Lisa

    Traveling from California to Texas many years ago. I had 3 different type of vibrators in my carry on. As it passed through the security belt some how one of them turned on and they would not just let me walk to the restroom to privately turn it off… so my whole bag is buzzing and going through this cycle of buuuuuzzzzzz… buzz… buzz… buuuuuzzzz and I had to open my bag… search for it and turn it offf… I wanted to die…

  • Teagan Shepard

    We traveled from Gulfport to Chicago. I had the batteries out of my vibes & had a big jelly (yes, I know better now!) dildo & tiny lube/lotions all neatly packed in my Sugar Sak. We checked our luggage, so I didn’t know it was investigated. When we got to our hotel, I went to change clothes. My suitcase had been essentially ransacked. TSA completely unpacked my Sugar Sak, took the lubes out of the plastic baggies, apparently opened them, and put it all back down in the Sak. The lube dripped & ruined a vibe & the dildo. They did leave one of those “we looked at the contents of your bag” cards, but that didn’t keep me from being upset @ the lack of decency to put things back the way they found them!

  • My story is about walking, not flying, but it is still technically traveling, so.

    I had the Turbo Glider vibrator in my purse, because I had recently bought it and was kind of in love with it, so I guess I was carrying it everywhere with me? I don’t really remember why I had it on me, but I did.

    I was walking to a restaurant with my boyfriend for dinner, and I suddenly had the sensation that there was some construction going on near us. It felt like someone was doing some drilling nearby and the ground was shaking.

    Then I realized that it wasn’t the ground that was vibrating, it was my bag. Because the Turbo Glider had turned on inside it.

    That’s when I knew the TG was definitely a keeper, at least in terms of strength!

  • Joni

    Oh my gosh, these embarrassing moments can be the worst!! The worst one that ever happened to me was one time when I was going for an overnight for a friends wedding and bachelorette party. I wanted to pack light so I just had one large carryon and my purse. Along with my dresses, heels, and cameras I had a whole plethora of naughty gifts for the bride to be. There were at least 4 different vibrators and a huge back of AAA batteries. All of those electronic devices of course set off the sensors and the old man who went through my bags kept winking at me like I was some kind of huge pervert!! Also I have red hair and pale skin so I blush really REALLY EASILY! So I was tomato red in front of everyone and holding up the whole line. Wow. Probably my most embarrassing moment EVER! 

  • Cindy

    I travel a lot to attend kinky conferences and BDSM events. Initially, I was pretty nervous about traveling with a bag full of rope, bandage shears (bondage is my main kink) and a few choice dildos/vibrators I can’t go anywhere without. After doing a fair bit of research I decided to just take the experience head on. I packed a carry-on bag with my rope, making sure to lay the dildos right on top. I figured, why not? I have nothing to be ashamed of and if it really became an issue I’d be willing to check my bag and be done with it. I elected to purchase a pair of shears at the venue since they’re cheap and easy to come by and definitely fall into the ‘sharp and dangerous’ category. Walking up to that first security line, I was totally convinced that some TSA agent would be reaching into my bag, pulling out the big glitter cock and asking what it was. I’d have no choice but to be honest, responding, “Why that’s my strap-on dick, of course!” right there in front of everyone. Surprisingly, no one raised an eyebrow as the bag full of rope and cocks went through the x-ray, either coming or going and they still haven’t, all these years later.

  • A few months ago I went to London and part of the trip there included a visit and tour around the sextoysuk headquarters. And of course leaving there with a goodie bag full of toys is always a treat. Along with that silly amount of toys and fun stuff I also won some other stuff and I even managed to stuff it all in my carry on (I was traveling with my carry on only).

    My carry on was stuffed with toys that almost took up about half the room in my carry on. Walking up to the security check point I was just hoping for them to open my carry on. I placed it on the conveyer and just waited. And yes, they picked up my bag and wanted me to open it.

    While opening it I said it was probably the sex toys and the security lady searched through the bag and when she was satisfied she asked me if it was alright if she put it through the X-Ray machine again so she could educate the guy behind the machine on how sex toys look! At this point I was giggling and said that it was okay and I was just staring at the guy behind the machine as he was educated. He obviously was a little embarrassed, especially when he looked at me and saw me giggle.

    So yeah, traveling with toys is fun for me, and I make it a sport to make sure they open my carry on!

  • Cristal

    Going through Thailand, it seems some object was causing concern in my suitcase and I was afraid it was my vibrator. It turned out it was some mosquito spray can that was the problem. But when my suitcase opened, my vibrator rolled right out and onto the inspection table for all to see. I just put it back in and no one said a word.

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She Bop is a women-owned sex toy boutique specializing in body safe products and education. Our mission is to promote healthy and safe sexuality by offering quality products and educational workshops in a fun and comfortable environment. She Bop welcomes people of all genders and sexual orientations.
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