Is Your Sex Toy Bad for You? What You Need to Know About Toxic Materials When Buying and Using Sex Toys

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Toxic materials to look out for when you’re looking for sex toys.

Written in partnership with Désirables

Before purchasing a sex toy, there are several factors to consider. For example, what type of stimulation do you want, how will it be used, what type of maintenance are you looking for, how much can you spend, etc. Being an informed consumer will help keep you safe and allow you to get the most out of your purchase.

Generally, there are 5 styles of vibrators—external, internal, dual stimulation, anal, and penis-focused. These products come into contact with your genitals and/or other parts of your body that can become irritated or infected. Toxic sex toy awareness has recently increased but it is also recent that more silicone sex toys are being produced, which is one of the safest sex toy materials.

It’s important to understand that there is a lot of gray area when it comes to this topic because the sex toy industry is not regulated for quality and safety by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), so while manufacturers advertise using terminology like “medical-grade silicone” or “phthalate-free,” there really isn’t a 100% way of knowing for sure. Many companies, not just sex toy companies, slap these labels on their products because they’re aware that consumers are responding to them. But that doesn’t mean that they’re taking out ALL of the toxic ingredients/materials from their products.

The truth is that most sex toys are being made by a third-party plant in China, because it’s affordable, so unless the brand is at the plant supervising, there’s no way of knowing if the requested materials to be used were actually used.

Buying sex toys. Let’s cover the basics:

Buying your sex toys from trusted brands is the main way to go. Also, avoid any toy labeled “for novelty use only.”

Materials to look out for:

Sex toy materials are mainly divided into two categories: porous and non-porous. Porous materials can harbor bacteria, fungus, etc. and never be truly cleaned. Think of it like your skin—skin has pores, and when not properly washed, you can get congested pores that can later lead to acne. But even then, you can’t always wash everything out of every single little pore. That is similar to how porous sex toys work. Porous materials include jelly, rubber, PVC, Vinyl, cyberskin, UR3, and elastomer.

Materials to seek out:

Non-porous materials are the opposite—they don’t contain pores that will harbor bacteria that can later lead to an infectious mess, and when you clean the toys, you’re truly washing away the bacteria.

Non-porous materials include 100% pure medical-grade silicone, ABS (hard) plastic, borosilicate glass, metal (medical-grade stainless steel), wood, glazed or kiln-fired ceramic, porcelain, and most natural stone.

How do I know if my sex toy is truly “body-safe”?

Since it’s difficult to conclude if a toy is body-safe or not, there are a few things you can do at home that can serve as litmus tests:

  1. Flame test—if the area that you placed the flame on easily catches fire, completely melts or deforms, or even doesn’t catch fire instantly but deforms later, it’s most likely not silicone. Usually, silicone materials leave a dark or gray sooty mark that can be rubbed off easily fully or mostly, but doesn’t deform.
  2. Taste test—if you lick a part of the toy and your tongue goes numb or lips tingle, it most likely contains harmful materials you don’t want anywhere near your genitals.
  3. Smell test—if the toy has a strong smell, even after removing it from the packaging, it’s most likely made out of low-quality, cheap materials.

The significance of toxic materials

Isabelle Deslauriers, President of sexual wellness brand Desirábles, talked to us about the importance of sticking to products that don’t contain problematic materials and how their company is joining in the fight for more ethical sex toy products. “For the past decade, we have been more and more informed about the dangers of various plastic additives in either cosmetics, toys, or food. Various legislative instances have put laws in place to protect the consumers from ill-intention manufacturers that are more interested in quick profits than the long-term health of their users. But those legislative instances don’t want to take a closer look at the adult industry, and it couldn’t be more dangerous.

For most of the already controlled products, your skin can protect you from 80% of the toxic and carcinogenic additives, but for internally used sex toys you don’t have that kind of protection; your blood system is directly in contact with those problematic materials. Let me be clear, there is no law, no guidelines that protect sex toy consumers from bad quality materials. Those materials don’t just cause a rash; they can lead to infertility, cancers, and those plastic particles can be transferred to the fetus.

Bio compatible and easy to sanitize materials are a must for any sex toys. We decided to choose porcelain for our products because this a material that is always body-safe, easy to clean and can be combined with any kind of lubricant. It is so safe that some of our customers are cancer survivors that react to almost anything on the market but not our toys.”

If my sex toy is toxic, can I just use a condom over it?

In moments where the options are a toxic sex toy over nothing, a good rule of thumb is to use a condom over it (polyurethane or nitrile on porous toys). This isn’t to say that the toxic chemicals in the porous toy won’t seep through, but it will reduce the amount of contact. Opting for non-latex condoms with sex toys is also a good idea because non-latex condoms are compatible with all lubricants and have a less noticeable odor, which can be a turn-off for some folks when using regular condoms. 

The more you opt for body-safe sex toys, the less you have to spend on condoms to use on your toys and with a partner (though you will still want to use condoms with sex toys if you are playing with a partner or multiple partners).

The bottom line of sex toy safety

As more sex toy companies are investing in producing sex toys that are both body-safe and affordable, there are more retailers and options for you to choose from. When possible, stick to non-porous materials to protect your body when enjoying your investment. You don’t need toxic relationships in your life and you certainly don’t need toxic sex toys.

Take this knowledge with you as you make purchasing decisions and explore your pleasure!

In the market for stunning, non-toxic sex toys and wellness products? Check out Désirables and use code TABU15 for 15% off your purchase!

IN PARTNERSHIP WITH

Irma

Irma

Irma is a certified sex educator in Texas and client services manager at Jane’s Due Process, where she helps Texas minors exercise their reproductive rights to an abortion. Prior to joining the JDP team, she was an abortion counselor at a local Austin clinic, as well as a birth doula. Now as the sexpert on staff, her focus is to connect the harm of sex-negative anti-abortion rhetoric into a wider sex-positive reproductive justice framework where marginalized people are shamed and robbed of their autonomy. She believes that when Black, Indigenous, and other people of color experience pleasure on their own terms, it’s an act of protest, but most importantly–self-care. You can find Irma on our IG series Sexuali-tea and ask her your questions with Ask Irma!

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