Though the term hints at a lack of depth, there's no shortage of deep, lasting pleasure to be found with shallowing. And while the sexual penetration technique implies something entering the vagina (if ever so slightly), that something could be anything you might otherwise use for sexual penetration—not just the tip of the penis of a sex partner, but also, a finger, tongue, or toy, says sex educator Cindy Luquin, MA, CSE, founder of sexual-health education platform Pleasure to People.
Because shallowing with a toy would require keeping the toy positioned just inside the vagina, that might be difficult with a typical wand—which is why Playboy Pleasure recently released a toy with a shorter tip designed to make shallowing while solo that much easier: the Ring My Bell vibrator ($80). Below, you'll find expert intel on all things shallowing, plus advice for trying it out yourself, including my first-hand review of the Ring My Bell. (Spoiler alert: It rang all of mine.)
What, exactly, is shallowing when it comes to penetration?
“Shallowing is penetrative touch right at the entrance of the vagina,” says Luquin. “It's not external, but it's not going deep inside, either,” she clarifies. The benefit of keeping penetration just inside the vagina has to do with the anatomy of the vaginal entrance—which allows for some out-of-this-world sensations.
“Shallowing is when you play with the nerve endings [at the vaginal entrance] to find the depth at which you most enjoy the penetration.” —Marla Renee Stewart, sexologist
“The entrance to the vagina is one of the most sensitive spots on the body,” says sexologist Marla Renee Stewart, sexpert for sexual-wellness brand and retailer Lovers. “Shallowing is when you play with those nerve endings [at the vaginal entrance] to find the depth at which you most enjoy the penetration,” she adds. “This can aid in helping you feel pleasure and get acclimated with your genitals.”
Who would benefit from the penetration technique of shallowing?
According to sexuality and relationship therapist Chanta Blue, LCSW, there are two major groups of people who might enjoy experimenting with shallowing: “vulva owners and those who enjoy pleasing [people who have] vulvas,” she says.
And, per Luquin, if you fall in the former group, you can seriously increase your pleasure by shallowing. “A 2021 study [with almost 3,000 participants] found that women who used shallowing during foreplay found deeper penetrative sex more stimulating and had 25-percent stronger orgasms,” Luquin says.
What to know about shallowing before trying it
“Folks should know that shallowing is staying pretty shallow in the vagina,” says Stewart, adding that you don’t want to go more than one inch inside the vagina to get the maximum return from this penetration technique.
When initially trying shallowing, Stewart says it's important to give yourself the license to explore for as long as you might need or want. “I don't recommend rushing while you are shallowing, as the technique [when done slowly] can be a great way to get more in touch with your nerve endings and how they pertain to your pleasure in your body,” she says.
Blue echoes that sentiment, noting that this is a great technique to build arousal. (Read: It’s not a quick hitter; it’s a slow burn.) “The anticipation that comes along with this method can increase excitement for both the vulva owner and the partner if used during partnered play,” says Blue. Shallowing is also a keeper for the less generously endowed—it's a position that works well with a partner who has a smaller penis. “It's also great to use when deeper penetration isn't pleasurable, comfortable, or possible,” she adds.
How to try shallowing, according to sexologists
As is the case with most sex acts and techniques—like, for instance, BDSM or anal fingering or temperature play—when it comes to starting a shallowing practice, it's a good idea to move slowly, at least initially. After all, you can always do more, but you can't take back what you've already done.
Another key tip: Make sure the vaginal area is wet enough (before you begin) to make shallowing pleasurable. “Whenever penetrating the genitals, it's important to first ensure there is enough lubrication to reduce friction and avoid irritation,” says Blue. “Then, you can place the toy, finger, lips, penis tip, or tongue just at the opening of the vagina, taking care not to penetrate deeper into the canal.”
For the record, Stewart suggests a hands-on approach. “I would recommend starting off with some vulva and vaginal exploration with your hands,” she says. “Start in small circles with the pads of your fingers, and use those pads to explore the [entrance], experimenting with the angles, pressure, and depth of what you like.” Reserving all your stimulation to the entrance of the vagina can then build up arousal and pleasure over time.
My experience with the Playboy Pleasure Ring My Bell vibrator designed for shallowing
As a sensory person, I like things that look, sound, smell, taste, and feel nice. Ring My Bell is a lot of those things. From the packaging to the toy itself and its various pleasure settings, it checks a lot of my boxes. The medical-grade silicone is almost slippery (in a good way), and the toy has a built-in feature to focus on the clitoris. Let’s just say I really enjoyed that. Plus, at just four inches long and one inch wide, it makes a great travel buddy.
To date, I own and have tried more than 30 sex toys. This one, however, is the first one that was specifically designed with shallowing in mind. For me, Ring My Bell provides just the right amount of penetration.
Insertable length: 1 inch
Material: Body-safe silicone
Settings: 10 speeds and functions, 10 pulsing rhythms, two buttons
Power source: Rechargeable
Available colors: Black
- Chic, iridescent packaging
- Ergonomic and stylish design
- Just the right amount of penetration
- Magnetic charging can be tricky to keep connected
- Not compatible with oil-based lubes
While I've enjoyed vibrators of all shapes, sizes, and power types, as a kid (lady???) born in the ‘90s, my power source of choice will always be a plug-in adapter; there’s just something reassuring about it. Ring My Bell, however, uses newer technology: a magnetic rechargeable USB.
Plenty of modern sex toys charge this way, but I often find it hard to balance the toy well enough to ensure a charge. However, the magnet on the Ring My Bell is pretty strong, so even that isn’t really an issue. Which is all to say, if you're looking to deep-dive into shallowing, this is totally the toy for you.
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