How We Test Products And Services
Our testing focuses on sexual wellness products across many different categories that include sex toys, personal lubricants, software, and even adult retailer and website reviews — all in the interest of helping our readers have better (and safer) sex.
In fact, we never recommend products or services that we haven’t deeply researched, vetted, and would not use — or have not used — ourselves.
How It All Works
Our testing process is comprehensive and includes:
- Extensive Research
- Establishing Scoring Criteria
- Product Samples
- Hands-On Testing
- Reaching Consensus
- Ongoing Updates
All reviews are performed independently by members of our research and testing team.
We do not accept paid placements, guarantee positive reviews, select products based on commission amount, and all our recommendations are entirely brand-neutral.
For accuracy and thoroughness, we also have an expert from our medical review board evaluate all reviews.
In addition, we constantly evaluate new entries to the market as they become available for ongoing updates to existing reviews.
Step 1: Extensive Research (40 To 80 Hours)
Finding great sexual wellness products begins with thorough and unbiased research.
Why do people use a certain product or service? What needs does it address? What problem does it solve? What is the typical use case? What are some of the best products on the market in this category? What makes them great?
Before we begin this process, we start by outlining the most desired features and benefits within a product or service category along with any potential concerns.
This includes creating a list of safe (and acceptable) materials or ingredients a product should have, along with any other aspects that relate to the safety and/or performance of a product or category of products.
Our team then conducts in-depth and wide-ranging (dare we say exhaustive) research hunting high and low for not just the “best” and most well-known brands, but ALL relevant products from various manufacturers and trustworthy vendors.
This process includes but is not limited to: online research, crowd-sourced and aggregate reviews, industry publications, social media, podcasts, and recommendations from our medical review board and subject matter experts on our team.
All of the research is logged in detailed spreadsheets:
In addition, our researchers are required to include a complete list of every single product that was under consideration, however briefly and at any point.
This list generally includes a minimum of 400 products and often over 1,000.
It’s a lengthy process that in and of itself can take a few to several weeks, as you can imagine based on a screenshot of a partial research list on bullet vibrators below:
Aggregate scores are compiled for products that were initially rated the highest and meet our specifications for safety and testing.
We then sort them by rating and select up to the 40 best options in that particular category for potential testing by members of our team — this is where that research spreadsheet comes in handy:
Step 2: Establishing Scoring Criteria
We’re just about ready to roll up our sleeves and put these products through every conceivable test we can think of.
But what criteria should we use?
How do we uniformly test products that by their very nature are very subjective?
After all, if someone fails to have an orgasm with a particular sex toy, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad product.
To solve this dilemma, every product or service is tested by 3 or more people on our team who individually score it across dozens of criteria that directly relate to its performance using a 10-point scale for each attribute.
Those scores are weighed and averaged to form a general consensus.
Although the exact criteria we use varies based on the category, product, or service, the proprietary formula includes dozens of aspects relating to:
- Ease Of Use
- Ease Of Cleanup
- Likelihood Of Recommendation
Some criteria are ironclad and quantifiable, ie: How long does the battery last?
Others are very subjective and nuanced, ie: Did you have an orgasm? How easy was it to open the product’s packaging?
Ultimately, products are tested and scored across 25 to 30 or more criteria depending on the product type, with ratings and notes leaving a detailed accounting of each tester’s opinions:
Step 3: Product Or Service Samples
After creating a list of the best products in any particular category for hands-on testing and establishing scoring criteria we then:
- Collaborate with and choose members of our team (at least 3 people) with subject matter expertise and interest in testing a particular product category.
- Anonymously purchase products or services for testing, or submit requests for samples or service access.
No product or service is ever “just” tried by a single member of our team.
It’s a well-known fact that when it comes to sexual pleasure, opinions can vary widely and what works for one person may not work well for another.
To that end, we select no fewer than three unique testers for every product we review.
Team members are chosen based on subject matter expertise and interest in a particular product category, with no discrimination.
Additionally, all of our product testers are at least 18 years of age.
Once we’ve assembled the testing team, we either anonymously purchase products or test services on our own dime, or request samples from brands or vendors we work with.
Step 4: Hands-On Testing (1 To 2 Months)
And now the real fun begins!
During this phase and to prevent bias, no one on the testing team has access to anyone else’s score sheets or notes, and testers are not permitted to discuss their experience with anyone else until all testing has concluded.
(Think of it as keeping your eyes on your own paper — no cheating.)
For grouped product reviews, teams generally test about 10 products at a time, spending one to two months using all of them multiple times in different situations.
Our tests for the best flavored and edible lube — for example — required testers to use them for masturbation, during penetrative and oral sex, and to document how easy they were to clean up.
Likewise, when trying to determine the best clit sucking vibrators, our team was required to document how long a toy took to charge, how long that charge lasted, ease of use, if they were able to orgasm, how it performed in water, how long it took to clean, among other criteria like packaging, portability, and more.
All testing criteria use a 10-point sliding scale and notes are required for every rating — after all, we need to understand why a particular score was given:
Step 5: Reaching Consensus
When testing has finally concluded, everyone gives a round of applause, pats themselves on the back for a job well done, and takes a well-deserved nap.
Seriously, every round of testing requires a lot of focused effort by those on the review team — unlike testing a computer or desk chair, trying out sexual wellness products over and over requires a lot of dedication because the desired outcome usually is an orgasm.
It can be tough to perform under pressure!
Thankfully our wonderful team is up for the task.
Once all the results are submitted, we ensure that all scorecards have been filled out completely and verify that each tester’s scores are an accurate reflection of their experience.
The scores are tallied and weighed to place a higher emphasis on certain criteria specific to a product or service, giving an overall score for each, and they’re further discussed based on merit during a live meeting between members of the editorial and affiliate teams.
The products with the highest aggregate scores become our consensus top picks and recommendations.
It’s that simple.
In the rare event of a tie, the testing team is brought in as a group to discuss the results and any merits that might break the tie.
- What Happens If A Product Doesn’t Score Well?
Any product that is tested by our team but not selected as a recommendation may be mentioned by name in relevant articles, as we generally disclose every product our team tested.
Otherwise, we will not name it as a recommendation, nor will we present it as such.
If a product didn’t wow us, it probably won’t impress you, either.
Step 6: Ongoing Updates
Our work is never really “done.”
We constantly evaluate new entries to the market as they become available and assign additional research on product types we’ve previously tested to ensure that our review content always reflects the best of the best products currently available.
We’re always in touch with manufacturers, industry contacts, vendors, and affiliates in addition to constantly scouring newsfeeds and social media for the latest news and products that might merit further investigation.
Additional product research and testing occur at varied intervals, roughly once per quarter for each product type.
After each round of research is complete, the whole cycle starts back up again!
Testing Vibrators: How We Make Our Picks And Features We Consider
Before selecting any vibrators for personal testing, our research team ensures that they are made from body-safe materials.
After all, this stuff comes in direct content with their most delicate parts — these products HAVE to be 100% safe and our research ensures that they are!
When testing and selecting the best vibrators of any type, features we consider include:
- Body-Safe, Non-Porous Materials: The material any vibrator is made from should always be body-safe and crafted from non-toxic materials that are non-porous and easy to sterilize, like medical-grade or body-safe silicone and ABS plastic. This is the single most important factor and the one we consider first during our initial research. Additionally, we verify that the products claiming to be made from silicone are — and that they do not use inexpensive “fake silicone” (TPR blends) in their construction. (Note: Some toy types are notoriously crafted from unsafe or porous materials — such as male masturbators, which predominately use TPR/TPE blends in their construction. Our team may test these from time to time, knowingly, and only when there are few-to-no body-safe options available.)
- Quality Design And Construction: A vibrator is designed to be used against your genitals, coming into direct contact with your most intimate parts. A quality design backed by solid construction ensures your safety, along with the product’s longevity to protect your investment.
- Distance And Range Of Remote Control (When Applicable): Vibrators of this nature are controlled through a hand-held remote control whose distance of operation is typically limited to a range of 20 to 50 feet for use in intimate settings. However, those controlled through apps with internet connectivity allow a distance range that may extend to anywhere in the world. To suit the individual needs of potential users, we select and test products that provide close-range and long-distance connectivity and ideally, both, when applicable to the type (such as vibrating panties or wearables).
- Reliable And Convenient Power Supply: Many vibrators are USB rechargeable, while others require batteries — particularly in the remote controls for those that use them. We consider vibrators that offer both power options, with preference given to those that are rechargeable — especially those that allow you to charge the vibrator and its remote at the same time.
- Battery Life And Usage Time: Our team tests the battery life of our top recommendations, bringing them to a full charge before depleting the battery on low, medium, and high to obtain an average use time for each. (Note: we don’t make them USE the products during battery testing in this manner — we’d never ask someone to blast their clit with a bullet vibrator on its highest setting for an hour or more at a time!)
- Vibration Strength, Pattern, And Speed Range: Everybody responds to sexual stimuli differently — whether it’s deep, rumbling vibrations or light, buzzy sensations. Vibrators we consider offer a variety of strength, pattern, and speed settings to accommodate most people, with some offering the ability to create customizable vibrations through app connectivity when applicable.
- Sound Level: Sound level is considered with more or less emphasis depending on the product type (and how important quiet operation is — or isn’t). Our team scores each product’s perceived sound level during use, however, it also uses the NIOSH Sound Level Meter App (recommended by the CDC) to obtain an accurate decibel reading at low, medium, and high operation settings. Decibel reading tests are verified on video.
- Versatility, Size, And Fit: This includes how well a vibrator stays in place or fits when used by multiple body types for the best versatility. Additionally, this is why we feel it is important to have multiple team members testing the same product — one person’s experience won’t provide an adequate overview of how well a vibrator fits or feels during use.
- Ease Of Cleaning: For your health and safety, a vibrator should be easy to clean effectively before and after every use. Our team scores each vibrator’s ease of cleaning, noting any issues they experience (and sharing their own user-based advice when applicable).
- Water-Resistant Or Waterproof (When Reasonable): Depending on the type of vibrator being tested, this aspect may be considered with more or less emphasis. All vibrators tested in water (when applicable) are scored based on performance in the water, with testers noting any subsequent use issues or damage to the product (if any).
- Real-World Performance: Members of our team evaluate vibrators in a variety of settings, including during masturbation and partnered play (when applicable) in a variety of settings and positions, keeping track of how they worked, how loud they operated, their effectiveness and ease of use, the cleaning process, and how likely they are to recommend them to others.
We feel that a quality vibrator is safe for your body, easy to care for, long-lasting, and of course — is hella fun to use, whether alone or with a partner.
Testing Lube: How We Make Our Picks And Features We Consider
Over the years, we’ve noticed a disturbing trend among personal lubricants: potentially harmful ingredients (like glycerin or parabens) are common in most mainstream lubes — brands you’ve probably heard of before or have even used in the past.
Additionally, another top concern of ours relates specifically to water-based personal lubricants: which must have a safe pH and osmolality for the type of sexual activity during which they will be used.
When testing and selecting the best personal lubricants, features we consider include:
- Natural And/Or Safe Ingredients: It is always best to use lubes with a short list of high-quality ingredients that are completely body safe and are naturally derived (when applicable). This includes avoiding unsafe ingredients like glycerin or parabens.
- Limited Allergens: Allergic reactions (even if mild) are an important concern for your most delicate parts. Although some plant oil-based products contain potential allergens for certain people, the majority of our selections are water-based or silicone-based and generally free from allergens. If an ingredient has the potential for an allergic reaction, we note that with the product’s information.
- No Additives: Ideally, the safest lubes are those that keep their ingredient list short and sweet. Our recommendations generally do not include unsafe lube ingredients or additives like those derived from crude oil (petroleum jelly or mineral oil), capsaicin, benzocaine, lidocaine, or added dyes, as they can be irritating or toxic. There may be instances when lubricants we recommend (such as those designed to look, taste, or smell like semen) contain ingredients deemed less-than-safe when there are no other alternatives; such cases are noted in the article to explain why.
- Safe Sweeteners (When Applicable): Although not all edible lubes have flavor, those that are designed as flavored options and provide sweetness should use ingredients that are not sugar-based, particularly if you intend to use the lubricant for vaginal or anal sex. Sugar-based lube ingredients increase the risk of yeast infections.
- A Safe Formulation: This includes how the lube is developed, how the ingredients fit together, and pH and osmolality levels (when applicable and only for water-based products). We select and indicate lubricants that have a safe pH for vaginal or anal use and only test and recommend those with an osmolality that passes standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
- Texture: Lubes made from silicone or oil tend to be thicker and more slippery; water-based products are generally lightweight and feel more like natural lubrication. Depending on the product type under testing for review, we select lubricants with a variety of textures.
- FDA Approval: All of our personal lubricant recommendations have either a registered 501(k) clearance with the Food & Drug Administration as of an article’s writing or were exempt from providing one. Every product we test and later recommend is approved for sale within the U.S.
- Real-World Performance: Finally, members of our team test how each lubricant performs, evaluating all of our finalists firsthand, using them on their skin and during masturbation, oral, vaginal, or anal sex as applicable. Additionally, personal lubricants are tested with condoms or sex toys, and in water when applicable. Our team keeps track of how each one performs not only during sexual activity but also during clean-up.
Although the performance of a personal lubricant is certainly important, this consideration should always come after those given to ingredients, safety, and formulation.
Testing Retailers And Other Services: How We Make Our Picks And Features We Consider
The Women’s Health Interactive team regularly reviews retailers, apps, or services that may include:
- Adult retailers and websites
- Dating apps
- Lost connection or identity-verification services (people-finders)
- Sex education platforms
- Sex toy apps
- Period tracking apps
- Other websites, applications, or services that relate to sexual health
Reviewing these services is considerably more nuanced compared to other product types because the testing criteria changes based on the purpose of the website or service, what each platform offers, the way it’s accessed — and how it works.
Before testing begins, our team deeply researches the website, app, or service to establish a dedicated set of criteria that will be scored and consults with our medical review board if necessary.
When testing these services, features we consider generally include:
- Safety: We ensure that the website, application, or service we’re reviewing respects and adheres to major privacy laws in the jurisdictions it covers and protects user data.
- Discretion: Any website (particularly adult websites or retailers), apps, or services we recommend should be discreet in their ordering, billing, fulfillment, and delivery of their products or services.
- Sign-Up Process: Any product or service we recommend should feature an easy and pain-free signup process with no hidden fees or hoops to jump through.
- Simplified Billing (When Applicable): Retailer reviews should offer ample ways to pay for an order and be discreet. Apps or services that require a paid subscription should make this as transparent and straightforward as possible, ideally offering multiple payment methods to meet customers’ needs and an easy way to cancel.
- Navigation: Apps and websites being tested should be easy to use with intuitive navigation that enhances the user experience. Anything web-based is tested for both mobile (80% of the total testing time) and desktop (20% of the total testing time). This division of testing is based on current internet traffic trends, which skews much higher in favor of mobile vs. desktop.
- Functionality: During testing, our team notes the speed, responsiveness, error rate, and/or any loading issues encountered across at least TWO browsers and on mobile and desktop to ensure that the app or service runs well across multiple platforms.
- Real-World Performance: These criteria will vary based on the website, app, or service being tested, but focuses on the desired results expected during use — whether it’s designed to help someone find a date, buy a product, watch a video, perform background research on people, gain useful information, access sex education, use a sex toy, or track periods.
- Easy Cancellation (When Applicable): Apps and services that are subscription-based should provide an EASY way to cancel at any time and ideally, without penalties, fees, harassment, or hassle.
- Other Criteria: Individual scoring attributes will be assigned and weighed depending on the exact service or product being tested but can include: how it compares to others in its category; customer service; ease of use; price/value; aggregate reviews and customer feedback; general usefulness; and more.
If you have a question about our product and service testing guidelines, please use our contact form or reach out to support(at)womens-health(dot)com.
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