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Cock rings can be a super fun toy and great for anyone with a penis — but they also come with some serious stigma despite how useful they are.

Sex toys in the bedroom are the norm now, and a cock ring is just another option — and shouldn’t be any more shameful than using a vibrator or any other sex toy (which is to say, not at all).

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Illustration by Dana Davenport

The purpose of a cock ring is to prevent the backflow of the blood, which keeps the penis hard for longer than it otherwise would, says Laurie Mintz, PhD, author of Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters—and How to Get It.

When a penis isn’t aroused, the blood flows in and out easily. During an erection, the blood stays in the erectile tissue until the man ejaculates, and then the blood flows freely again.

This means cock rings have been used as an aid for erectile dysfunction long before Viagra was a thing, but they can also help you enjoy yourself in the moment and remove stress about staying up.

Research is mixed on effectiveness, though. One study showed that cock rings can significantly improve erectile dysfunction when combined with medication. Another older study showed little effect on premature ejaculation.

Anecdotal evidence may help you decide if they’re right for you. “When used recreationally, many men report that it makes their penis more sensitive and that when they finally do ejaculate, the sensation is more intense,” Mintz says.

“It also makes erections last longer, which many men like not just for the longer erection itself, but also for the psychological bonus of not worrying about losing one’s erection or lasting ‘long enough.'”

Vibrating cock rings can offer clitoral stimulation, which makes them great for a partner, whether you’re using them on a penis or a strap-on — talk about a win/win.

But for a sex toy that pretty much acts as a mini-vibe, the stigma surrounding them can make people feel reluctant to try them out. But why are folks so intimidated by this harmless-looking sex toy?

“There is so much pressure on men to last long and thrust hard to be a ‘real man,'” Mintz says. “Anything associated with making this happen is fraught with pressure.”

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Sexual pleasure comes from a lot more than plain ol’ P-in-V action (or elsewhere for those without a P or a V), Mintz says, noting that there are many alternative methods to get intimate. Just think of a cock ring as another fun way to experiment with your sex life.

If you’re curious about trying one with your partner, have an honest, open discussion and explain why you think it’d be fun to try it, suggests Mintz. Keep in mind, however, that sex is a two-way street — if your partner isn’t into the idea of using a cock ring, don’t force it.

Like all sex toys on the market, cock rings come in different shapes, colors, and sizes, and are made in a variety of materials, including glass, metal, and silicone.

If you’re trying one for the first time, Mintz suggests using a silicone cock ring that’s stretchy and easily adjustable.

Shop for silicone cock rings.

Here are some best practices for putting a ring on it:

  • Start with a stretchy silicone ring (or an adjustable ring for a custom fit).
  • Don’t be afraid to use lube to help it slide down more easily.
  • Place it on a semi-hard penis and position it at the base (there are some that can go elsewhere, like around the testicles, but we’re starting with the basics).
  • Make sure it feels snug, but not to the point where it’s pinching.
  • Remove it immediately once you finish — keep it on for no longer than 30 minutes for safety reasons.
  • As with all sex toys, clean it after each use.

Mintz says that if used correctly, cock rings are a safe toy, but in very rare cases, they can damage the erectile tissue of the penis. Using it too long will cause the blood to coagulate and give you an erection for a long time, Mintz says.

As with any new sex trick, you should use caution. “The general recommendation is to use it for no longer than 30 minutes and to remove immediately if your penis begins to swell a great deal, hurts, feels numb, or feels hot or cold,” Mintz says.

Also, never wear a cock ring while you sleep or use one under the influence of drugs and alcohol. When in doubt, go without.

If you’re someone with a penis and a penchant to last a bit longer than usual, a cock ring might be just the thing to add to your playtime routine.

Keep in mind that the length of a session is no indicator of the level of fun, so don’t stress about it too much. Focus on your pleasure and the pleasure of your partner(s). If a cock ring adds to that fun, then you’re on the right track.

Bianca Mendez is a writer in New York covering health, sex, relationships, and beauty. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.