I work at a small sex toy shop (although if you ask certain members of my family I simply work at a “boutique” downtown) which means that every time I leave work I’m leaving with a brand new collection of interactions with customers that range from the charming to the bewildering. Recently I helped a customer who came in to buy a vibrator, their second after purchasing one that didn’t do much for them. As I was going through my usual series of questions and answers to help figure out what the customer was looking for they mentioned that they’d purchased their first vibrator after using the nose test, the not so fancy name for holding a vibrator against the tip of your nose to see how it might feel against your genitals. Now I love and stand by the nose test but the way that this customer used it to buy their original toy meant that that it was utterly ineffective and was probably the main reason why that toy didn’t work out for them. “My friend said to hold the toy to my nose,” they told me, “And that if I could feel the vibration that toy would work for me.”
OK, so let’s talk about this.
While the nose test is something that I use and recommend for customers if you’re going to use it the way this customer did then it won’t really do much for you.
If you haven’t bought a vibrator (or have bought one without encountering the nose test) then you might be wondering why you would want to hold a toy meant for your genitals against you nose. As Erika Moen explained in the comic that was my introduction for the nose test, “[y]our nose is a fleshy and sensitive organ, perfect for testing out potential toys in the store.” Since it’s both taboo and unhygienic to drop your underwear in a store to test out a vibrator we use the nose as a really decent stand in for the clitoris, penis head or anus (or anywhere else you like vibrations although because of their nerve clusters these three are probably the most likely you’re using a vibrator on.) So the advice that my customer had been given was somewhat sound but also not so sound.
Here’s where the advice gets shaky: If I can feel the vibration on my nose then that means it’ll rock my genitals. Unless you have nerve damage or other limited sensation in your nerve endings you’re probably going to feel the vibrations of every toy that you pick up and touch to your nose. Just feeling the vibrations doesn’t really tell you much about how your genitals will respond. You may feel a toy and go “WOAH TOO STRONG DON’T WANT THAT ON MY GENITALS,” but other than that the nose test really doesn’t work for first time buyers.
Where I find in the nose test particularly helpful is when you’re going for that second (or third, or fourth, or fifth…) vibrator. You know what you like and what you dislike about your first vibrator and you might have a better idea of what you’re looking for. When you hold a potential vibrator to your nose you can say, “Oh this has a similar pattern as my first vibrator and I like that the vibration feels more rumbly in the my nerve endings.” Because you can’t take a vibrator for a full test drive and because you’re probably not going to be able to return a vibrator after purchase (thank heavens!) the nose gives you an “almost” test drive to compare to earlier experiences. Don’t forget that your nose may not be erotically stimulated by vibrations so if you’re looking for that “UMPH” feeling that you get when you put the vibe on your other erogenous areas I’d recommend trying to frame your test as a chance to experience this isolated from the, um, distractions of being aroused and really focus on the vibrations from a more “clinical” view.
If you’re shopping in person I hope you feel comfortable engaging with the shop’s employees. Most of us (at least I hope…) care about our jobs and care about helping you find the toy that you want. Feeling awkward asking questions? Remember that your question has been asked before and will definitely be asked again. So ask us questions and play with a range of toys and touch them to your nose and do whatever else you need to do to make sure that you’re leaving with a toy you’ll love.