Awkward: What do you do if you find a roommate’s sex toy?

By Lauren Leazenby, News Editor

Savanna Steffens

It is hard to miss: There is a dildo on the coffee table and it is your roommate’s. You do not have a problem with sex toys as a concept, but you do think it is a little gross to find someone else’s out in the open like that.

What do you do when you find something you know you probably were not meant to see? Some experts weigh in:

“We can be pro-sex toy and anti-sex toy on the table,” said Alexandra Solomon, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University. “We can be sex-positive and desirous of boundaries.”

Leaving any kind of sex toy on the table, whether it be a dildo or a leather whip, is a boundary violation, Solomon said. The shock of finding your roommate’s private items in a common area might feel disrespectful to you, she said, but when you talk to them about it, it is important not to shame them.

Solomon said to “go meta first,” by having a high-level conversation about the issue rather than diving straight into the specific problem. She recommends asking your roommate if they are available to receive feedback, and then framing your complaint as an “X-Y-Z” statement: “When you did ‘X’ in situation ‘Y,’ I felt ‘Z.’” Then, Solomon said she suggests setting up a policy or rule that personal items should remain in each roommate’s personal space.

A loose sex toy in a common area implies that it was also used in a common area. A roommate using the shared couch for sex or masturbation may represent a crossed boundary. But, Kendra Knight, an assistant professor of communication studies at DePaul University, said it’s better to talk about the toy rather than the sex.

She said it might be best to treat found sex toys like they are any other personal hygiene item like a retainer or a toothbrush. This takes the “sex” part out of the equation when having a discussion.

It’s not going to go well if someone feels “like you’re policing their sexuality,” Knight said. “Instead of a conflict about an object, it becomes a conflict about identity.”

Chances are your roommate is already embarrassed that you found their sex toy, Knight said, so all they may need is a gentle reminder that personal items should remain personal.

“A lot of these awkward moments derive from the same principle [of] things that I study and teach. … [They are] efforts to balance mutual influence and respect each other’s autonomy,” Knight said. “Even if a situation has an idiosyncrasy—like, it’s a dildo—you can resolve it by getting back to those core principles: How do I show respect to another person and ask others to respect me?”