I am widowed, not young, but am interested in a vibrator or something to satisfy sexual needs. I've not been sexually active for some time. I would appreciate your advice and suggestions.
I think it's great that you are recognizing your sexual needs and thinking about ways to satisfy them. It's important for us to remain sexually active if we want to keep desire and the ability to have an orgasm alive. If sex with a partner is not available, masturbation is a good way to relive tension, give yourself a treat, and keep your body's sexual systems in good repair. Unfortunately, many housing programs for seniors have policies that interfere with their residents' sex lives. This can make it difficult to arrange enough privacy to have sex with a partner or masturbate. Some doctors don't understand that sex is a part of our entire lifespan, so he or she may be reluctant to ask an older patient about their sex life. Some post-menopausal women need hormonal adjustments to maintain libido and orgasmic functioning. A tiny dose of testosterone can sometimes help, but some doctors are reluctant to prescribe a supposedly "male hormone" to their female patients. Some are even prudish about letting a postmenopausal woman have a prescription for an estrogen cream that can relive vaginal dryness.
You don't need a vibrator (or a doctor, for that matter) to be able to make yourself come, of course. You might want to consider getting some lubricant or some erotica to make self-stimulation with your fingers more fun. But it can be hard to get your hands to provide simultaneous stimulation of the clitoris and vagina. If penetration was an enjoyable part of lovemaking for you, you can pick the right size, shape, or color dildo out of literally dozens of choices. I usually advise first-time dildo buyers to pick a toy that is smaller than the one they imagine they can accommodate. A small toy will fit without discomfort. Once you are sure you want a little more pressure or expansion, you can "trade up" for a slightly bigger model. Some dildos vibrate; others don't. If a phallic-shaped toy does vibrate, there's no reason why you can't use it on your clitoris as well as for penetration. Some women find that the gentle pulse of a long, slim, battery-operated vibrator is all they need to produce excitement and satisfaction.
There are also several toys that were made specifically for clitoral stimulation. The wand-style vibrators such as the Hitachi Magic Wand are very popular. The vibrating head is an orb that can be used to put gentle, humming pressure on the entire vulva. Then there are hand-held devices like the Conair vibrator, which has several different attachments you can change, depending on what shape touches you best. Most of these vibrators give you a choice of "high" or "low" speed, and you may even find brands that have a rheostat, so you can make finer adjustments in the vibrations. Many women find these plug-in vibrators to be just right, but others find them far too powerful to allow anywhere near their clits. For a more gentle approach you might look at a battery operated vibe with variable speed.
If you buy a vibrator and it seems too strong, you can use it over your underwear or put a towel between you and the toy. Some women find that continuous use of a vibrator can make their clits go numb, so they use it for brief periods of time, then turn it off, fantasize, perhaps stimulate themselves with a finger, and then turn the vibrator back on. If holding a vibrator makes your hand tired or causes you pain, you can position it on the bed on a pillow, and lay down on top of it with the toy between your legs.
Women-owned sex shops like Venus Envy are really important resources because the staff members are friendly, well-informed, and ready to answer your questions. Mail order is a discreet option for those of us who can't make it to such a shop, but visiting in person is often a fun expedition. You may wind up with a lot more good information about the merchandise than you would get from a catalogue. Either way, I hope you'll consider steering your business toward a shop that was set up with women's needs in mind, rather than a traditional porn shop, where there's a more sex-negative, male-oriented mindset. (I know, that sounds weird. If you'd expect any place to be pro-sex, wouldn't it be an adult bookstore? But this is often not the case. These places cater for the most part to male customers, and can be rather unfriendly or intimidating to women shoppers.)