Hi! I’m still working hard at the CSPH and am updating less frequently until January, when I’ll be back with a vengeance and working on fun new projects. I wanted to take some time out from CSPH work to talk about sex toy safety and some fantastic toys I’ve discovered!
At CatalystCon in September, I attended tons of panels on a wide variety of sex- and sexuality-related subjects. One of the panels that gave me a host of practical information was a discussion on sex toy safety that took place between Ducky Doolittle (sex educator and so much more), Metis Black (founder and president of Tantus inc., a company that makes only high-quality body-safe sex toys) and Jennifer Pritchett (founder of the Smitten Kitten sex toy store in Minneapolis, which is dedicated to selling body-safe products).
Like most people, I don’t ever remember spending time in the past wondering if sex toys I saw in person or online were safe to put in/around human bodies: If anyone had asked me, I would have said that I assumed that the must be safe because people make them and sell them. This assumption, I learned from the panel, is completely false. Only recently (with much credit owed to the women on the panel) has there been any movement to investigate the chemicals and materials used to make vibrators, diodes, cock rings, butt plugs, etc.
Turns out that many sex toys are mass-produced overseas (no surprises there) and they come into the U.S. unregulated for safety/quality. There are no federal guidelines for sex toy safety, so even products manufactured in the U.S. aren’t necessarily safe. Remember the big thing about BPA in plastic food containers/water bottles/children’s toys? Many sex toys, which are overwhelmingly made from plastic, hold the same type of danger for those who use them.
I learned about phthalates, which are used in many plastic sex toys to make them more flexible, and how they are probably carcinogenic and linked to problems with fetal development, among other things. I learned that any toy that gives off a smell of any kind is not safe to put in/around your body, because it means that chemicals are leaching out from it– even putting a condom on a jelly rubber dildo won’t guarantee protection. Materials like the aforementioned jelly rubber should be avoided. For a very comprehensive exposé of toxic toys (and more pictures like the one above) go to badvibes.org, a site that Jennifer Pritchett started.
The safest sex toys are ones that are made by brands that can prove by their materials that their products are body-safe (there are manufacturers who slap that label on their toys but still don’t list materials– those aren’t to be trusted). To make sure you’re getting a toy that is healthy for your body, it’s prudent to look for toys that say “100% silicone”, “body-safe silicone” or get metal or glass toys instead.
I’ve been lucky enough to review/accrue some great and body-safe toys recently! I’ve totally fallen in love with Toyfriend vibrators, which come in all different sizes/shapes/really fun colors and great packaging. I’ve mentioned Crystal Delights before when I talked about butt plugs, and I highly recommend checking out their stuff. Tantus, Metis Black’s company, manufactures its own type of very pure, safe silicone. Aneros makes safe prostate massagers, and I just got some kegel exercise balls by JeJoue that are silicone and safe. There are tons of other companies that are now making toys that are guaranteed to be safe: let me know in the comments if I missed something that needs to be highlighted!
When we talk about sex toys we often forget to acknowledge that safe and good-quality toys are expensive, often prohibitively. Websites such as the Smitten Kitten and Good Vibrations have the option of sorting products by price, which is a welcome feature. In addition, putting condoms on less-expensive toys can be a good way to make them safer, because jelly rubber toys, even if they don’t have phthalates, can be much harder to clean than other materials because their plastic is porous and can host bacteria. Sadly, the pattern in this country is that people with more money have much better access to things that keep them healthy and safe, and sex toys are not an exception to this rule. If anyone reading has suggestions/reading/advocacy recommendations about how to make inexpensive toys safer, I welcome your comments! I’m going to keep exploring on the internet and talking to people about safe sex toys and accessibility in general in the sex world, so I’ll be getting more information on my own, too, and sharing it as I do.
If you have toys, check them out and make sure that they are safe! If you’re curious to learn more about how to spot unsafe toys, take a few minutes to watch this video in which Jennifer Pritchett tells the story of “her discovery and exploration of toxic sex toys”.
[UPDATE 10/28: hard plastic and wood toys are also safe materials (with proper cleaning, of course)]
Catalyst Con Panel with Ducky Doolittle, Metis Black and Jennifer Pritchett
Psychology Today: Dangerous Sex Toys: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shameless-woman/201108/dangerous-sex-toys-what-you-need-know-now-about-phthalates