I do a lot of writing about safe vs. unsafe toys, touting my favorite materials as “body safe” and decrying all others as toxic, dangerous, and to be avoided. What I’ve realized though, is that much of the time I talk about these things as if it’s something you already know. As if you, my reader, are as entrenched in the sex industry as I am. And because it is something that has started to sound like a broken record in the circles I frequent, I sometimes overlook the basics. The things that, problematically, are not as common knowledge as they should be. So today, we’re going back to basics, and I’ve got some bad news.
The sex toy industry is a totally unregulated industry.
Lets let that sink in for a bit. We regulate our food, medicine, children’s toys, pet’s toys, automobiles, pet food, portable electronics, and cosmetics, the list goes on and on. The government will regulate pretty much anything they can get their hands on. Except for your dildos.
What does this mean for you the consumer? It means that the companies manufacturing your toys can make them from whatever is the cheapest material on hand, and the packaging can say that it is made from literally anything else. The box could tell you that it is made from rainbows, sunshine, and pixie dust and no one would stop them from selling it. Unfortunately no one would buy it either, so instead they say it is made of other things, which may be more cleverly disguised but are just as far fetched.
They use complicated sounding made up words and phrases to convince you that what they’re selling is safe. Things like “hygenically superior TPR”, “sil-a-gel”, “cyberskin” and others are plastered on packages- or they just flat out lie and tell you it’s silicone.1 Pretty much all it takes is some PR guy somewhere to look at it and determine that “Yea, that sounds legit” and that toy is showing up on walls of your local shop or worse, in someone’s vag.
Often, when reading up on these types of things you’ll hear the words “toxic” and “porous” used interchangeably, and although they can often overlap, they do not mean exactly the same thing.
Porous toys are made from materials that are, you guessed it, porous. This means that they can harbor bacteria in the body of the toy despite how much you clean it, because it is impossible to clean out those microscopic holes. Each time you use that toy the bacteria are re-introduced into your body, often causing new or repeat vaginal infections. That’s not the only thing that will live in those little pores though, beads of liquid (from all that washing you tried to do) will continue to live inside and facilitate the growth of mold within your toy. Sexy.
From what we know, it is plausible (although not, to my knowledge, scientifically researched) that condoms can protect you from the dangers of porous toys. They are barriers designed to protect against bodily fluids so, theoretically, you wouldn’t have to worry about natural bacteria from your body breeding in your toy. My concern is any other type of mold or bacteria from the environment that might grow in the toy which the condom is not designed to protect against, so it may or may not be effective. What a condom definitely will not protect you against however, is a toxic toy.
While almost all toxic toys are porous, not all porous toys are toxic. The distinction lies in what chemicals are used to manufacture the materials the toy is made from. Frequently you will hear the term phthalates used in the conversation about toxic toys, as they are one of the dangerous chemicals found commonly in toys. Phthalates are designed to soften plastics so you find them in many realistic and “jelly” toys, but they also mimic estrogen in the body have been tentatively linked to some reproductive health issues and even cancers. These aren’t the only concerning chemicals that have been found in toys, there have been a number of other plasticizers and heavy metals that have been detected in the few tests that have been done but that’s hardly enough.
Toys with these chemicals are not actually chemically stable which means they are constantly “off gassing” or releasing their toxic chemicals into the air (or mucus membranes) around it as the toy slowly breaks itself down. This is why they often smell strongly and develop that thin greasy film over the surface of the toy when left to their own devices. This is also why many people are taught not to store their toys in a way such that they can come in contact with other toys, the unstable compounds will attempt to bond with each other to stabilize and you will be left with a sticky amorphous sex toy blob.
When you’re picking out a new toy one of the first things you should look at is the specs to see what material is listed. If it’s a material you’ve never heard of, chances are you don’t want it in or near your body. “Jelly” toys are by far the worst offenders, followed closely by anything that calls itself “cyber skin”, “real feel”, or otherwise claims to be skin-like. TPR and TPE are really two acronyms for a very similar material, a softened plastic, that is always porous and often toxic so should be at the very least treated with caution.
The materials you should be looking for are: silicone, stainless steel, aluminum, wood, glass2, rigid plastics, and occasionally ceramic or stone.
Unfortunately many companies will try to disguise a toxic toy by calling it by the name of a truly body safe material. In many cases they will call it silicone (as it’s pretty hard to pass off a soft rubbery toy as glass) but metal toys can also be made of materials other than stainless steel and wooden toys may not be using a safe chemical as a sealant (which may make it toxic, porous, or both). Even glass, ceramic, or ABS plastic toys can harbor dangerous chemicals in the paint used on them.
That’s when you have to put on your detective hat and look at what you know of the manufacturer who produced the toy as well as the retailer that you are purchasing from. Are these companies you can trust or are they just looking to make a quick buck? Then take a quick look at the toy itself, is it giving off any warning signs that you can’t trust it?
Since there is no governing body regulating the safety of our toys it is our responsibility to do that regulation for ourselves. We need to be educated consumers to protect ourselves and hope that if there is no longer a market for these unsafe materials more companies will begin to regulate themselves.