If you’ve met me in person and talked about sex toys, it’s incredibly likely that I’ve ranted about “toxic” toys at length. The only reason I haven’t yet written a blog post about it is that I felt Dangerous Lilly, Badvibes and Epiphora had already done such comprehensive work on the subject that I didn’t feel I had much to add. Sex positive toy stores like Spectrum, Shevibe and Wildflower Sex are now stocking accessibly priced bodysafe toys so it’s looking like the industry itself is starting to self-regulate.
“They can cause chemical burns, blisters, numbing, extreme pain, UTI’s, infections, headaches, nausea, swelling”
However, the more I start speaking to the general public about toxic toys (yes I’m doing presentations and workshops now!) the more I’m realizing that we have a long way to go. Especially here in New Zealand where our retail options are increasingly limited and there’s absolutely no official regulation on the market. Last week I worked in a local store (let’s call it Adult Fun Land) for three days before quitting, partly due to the fact that they only had one true silicone dildo in the entire store. They also stocked a range directly from Aliexpress.
What’s so bad about Toxic Toys?
Why is that outrageous enough to make me quit a lucrative retail position at Adult Fun Land? Because these toys are dangerous. They can cause chemical burns, blisters, numbing, extreme pain, UTI’s, infections, headaches, nausea, swelling and possibly even cancer – the same phthalates that are banned in childrens toys are still sometimes found in sex toys. See Ephiphora’s article for case stories.
So now that I’ve got you good and concerned about toxic toys, how can you tell if you come across one in the wild? I’ve had four years of retail, much reading of reviews and research articles, but I still can’t tell with 100% certainty if a toy is made of a bad material without looking it up.
Best policy is to buy trusted brands from trusted retailers – if you can’t find a review of it, it may not be worth the price tag (which btw is extra spensy here in NZ due to everything being imported! Expect to pay more than $50 for a decent toy.)
It’s also easier if I just give you a list of things to avoid. I thought it would be helpful if I illustrated it too. So here you go, a visual guide to toxic toys:
Despite the cute name reminiscent of jellyfish and the worlds most excellent footwear, toys made of this material are NOT cute. They are universally dangerous and should not be put anywhere near a mucus membrane or other sensitive areas (i.e. genitals). Jelly toys can often contain Phthalates, but even if they’re branded as phthalate free and that turns out to be true, there are many other dangerous chemicals that can be present in these cheap, nasty toys.
Thermo Plastic Rubber and Thermoplastic Elastomers are everywhere in the adult toy world. This is problematic as they are often unstable materials and break down over time. Many toys are labelled TPR Silicone blend – beware of this, as it’s not actually a thing (Thanks Lilly!) http://dangerouslilly.com/2014/08/tpr-silicone-is-a-myth/
If a toy is labelled “Silicone” but is somehow crystal clear, smells weird and is reeeally stretchy, its probably a silicone blend and not safe. Remember, many toy manufacturers are LYING LIARS WHO LIE. Do not believe it’s safe just because it’s silicone either: there are many types and grades of silicone, the only 100% bodysafe kind is called platinum cure silicone. This is sometimes listed as food/medical grade, but even if a toy says this on the box it’s worth checking some independent reviews out.
If you can see through it, avoid it. Water-clear toys are pretty much always bad materials, yes especially your beloved pearl rabbit vibrator. If the pearl chamber is filling up with liquid, guess where that liquid is coming from – not you. Read this excellent article and interview with Kenton from Funkit (the raddest baddest indie dildo maker imo) about cloudy clear vs water clear.
A good rule of thumb is that if it looks and feels really close to human skin, it’s probably not bodysafe. Especially if it’s cheap! These mystery materials with special trademarked names are often just silicone or TPR blends softened with mineral oils. This makes the toy especially unstable, prone to melting (YES MELTING! LOOK AT SOME JARS OF MELTED SEX TOYS) and off-gassing/releasing those mineral oils and chemicals.
I saw these femme fun “Silicone” dildos at Adult Fun Land and the manger training me said they “sweated” in summer. Yeaaah, I’m gonna pass on having that toxic dildo sweat inside my delicate lady garden, thx.
NOTE: Most male masturbation sleeves (fleshlight type dealios) are made of some kind of very softenedTPE/TPR. A lot of them will start to break down over time. I’m not as concerned about their effect on penises as it’s not quite as vulnerable to infections & reactions, but if you DO experience negative effects from using one, stop! I also stress that they should be kept in a separate storage box to other toys, cornstarched to an inch of their life and that lifespan is only about ten to twelve months.
Even if your toy is not made of actively toxic materials, it can still be dangerous to use. Porous toys can harbour bacteria deep inside the toy where you can’t clean it, no matter how much toy cleaner you wipe on it. Mould and mildew spores can even grow inside your toy, leading to odd coloured spots that you can’t remove through washing and might cause mould related toxicity if put inside you. This is why you want non-porous materials for your sex toys, particularly your insertables.
If we can’t trust retailers to tell us what toys are toxic, how can we tell?
Well, you can trust *some* retailers. In New Zealand, my former employers D.VICE no longer have a physical storefront but still sell high quality, body safe toys online. Reddit/r/sextoys has a list of reputable toymakers worldwide. Buying off amazon or Ali Express is almost always a terrible idea. Buying from an actual store also offers perks like warranties and loyalty programs. There’s nothing quite like earning more toys through persistent masturbation.
If you are in area where buying online or from a trusted brick and mortar store isn’t an option, Epiphora’s amazingly thorough toxic toy article has a section on how to investigate a toy visually, by touch and smell and what to look for. By doing a bit of reading you can learn what to look out for and become your own toxic toy expert.
So what CAN I stick in my body?
All of this can make it hard to tell if the toys you currently own are actually bodysafe, especially if you don’t have the box or can’t remember where it’s from. If in doubt, chuck it out. Even if you aren’t currently experiencing a severe reaction, there’s always a chance the long term effects have yet to be become apparent.
In my mind the best policy is to stick to buying toys that are definitely bodysafe. Epiphora recommends thinking of it like kitchen utensils, which I find helpful. To make it absolutely clear, here’s another handy list.
BODYSAFE TOY MATERIALS:
Platinum Cure Silicone
Glass (you want borosilicate or soda-lime and annealed for safety)
Ceramic (must be glazed and fired)
Wood – must have medical grade coating
Natural stone – not all stones are bodysafe. I have spoken with a gemologist who confirmed that some crystals are fragile and more prone to chipping under stress, not ideal for for internal use (hence my consternation over Jade Eggs). Chakrubs is the only company I know of that asserts their crystal dildos are 100% bodysafe.
If this is such a big deal, why does nobody know about it?
This is actually a question that comes up pretty often. The answer is complicated, but is partly due to our general cultural aversion to sex stuff. If we aren’t supposed to talk about it, it’s pretty hard to regulate it. Very few people are comparing notes. The adult industry has cleaned up a lot in recent years, but it still feels like the wild west in some areas, especially when it comes to toy safety.
“Their reasoning seems to be that consumers want cheap toys, and they don’t care if it’s bad for them.”
Without any governing body, oversight or even public scrutiny, the industry is left to decide for itself what is most important. For a lot of companies this has ended up being the almighty dollar. Their reasoning is that consumers want cheap toys, and they don’t care if it’s bad for them. While I support everyone’s right to mess up their own body, most consumers don’t know the risks involved and that there are increasingly cheap alternatives available.
I also can’t help but feel there’s an element of patriarchal disinterest involved (of course I do) as the majority of people being penetrated are women. As much as I don’t personally believe being penetrated is inherently feminine, there’s a lot of old guys in charge that do think that way, and these are the same guys who don’t care very much about women’s health.
We’re becoming increasingly aware that women’s pain, especially sexual pain, is often downplayed or outright ignored by their health care professionals – called “health-care gaslighting”. If this pain is even reported in the first place, those reports may have never been recorded. Given the shame and stigma still associated with men enjoying being penetrated, it seems unlikely they’d report adverse affects from a toxic buttplug either.
“Ask your friends what their toys are made of, better yet; take them shopping! Friends don’t let friends use toxic toys.”
It’s my dream to see toxic toys banned in New Zealand. We need to start acknowledging sex is a major part of the human experience and assign more appropriate value to how we care for ourselves sexually. Your genitals are as valuable as any other part of your body, they are not inherently shameful or dirty. They deserve to enjoy pleasure safely and so do you.
Until we get these materials outlawed, we can continue to increase awareness by writing articles like this, sharing them and TALKING ABOUT IT. Ask your friends what their toys are made of, better yet; take them shopping! Friends don’t let friends use toxic toys.
If you haven’t clicked any links in this article so far, you may not have noticed that I have heavily relied on Dangerous Lilly and Epiphora as my sources. They seem to have the most evidence based, scientific approach to this subject and have been hugely influential to me. If you only read two other articles about this, read those ones!