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As we make shifts toward a healthy lifestyle, we become more mindful of the food we eat and the products we bring into our homes. And we talk about it. We bid our dirty cleaning products farewell on Facebook. We share our lunch choices on Instagram. And we tag our friends on new clean skin care products, so they can know about them too.
But how many of us are talking about our sex toys? I’m certainly not.
Well, maybe with a couple of friends in private, but I’m definitely not posting my new finds to social media. The thing is, while new technologies are something to get excited about, we do have to pay attention to what our sex toys are made from and what they may be coated with.
Obviously, vibrators, sex rings, and other sex toys are designed to directly and actively rub against our (and our partner’s) most sensitive skin. Yet, like so many of our body care products, the manufacturing and labeling of sex toys are barely regulated… though so many are made from materials that we shouldn’t put in our bodies.
Body safe sex toys
Even if you’re not usually sensitive to chemicals or plastics in other products you use, the thin skin around your genitals may be a different story. Play around with the wrong product and you can end up with a less than pleasurable experience with uncomfortable itching, burning, and yeast infections.
As with everything we put into and onto our bodies, there are certain materials and ingredients we can (and should) avoid, and healthier alternatives to choose in their place. In this case, you’ll find that most materials on the “avoid” list below are found in cheap novelty sex toys.
That said, price isn’t the only indicator of quality. Just because a toy is more expensive, doesn’t mean the brand has thoughtfully manufactured its products. With that in mind, always check the package or website to see what the toy is made from, no matter what it costs.
Healthier sex toy materials
Obviously, a body-safe sex toy is made from materials that don’t leach toxins. We’ll cover those in a moment. But there is one other VERY important characteristic to consider: it should also be non-porous.
Sex toys that are porous have tiny spaces within the material that can harbor bacteria. These minuscule holes make the toy more difficult to sterilize and provide a friendly environment for unhealthy bacteria.
By contrast, sex toys that are non-porous have a completely smooth surface. This makes them water-resistant, easy to clean, quick to dry, and less habitable for bacteria.
Still, non-porous toys need to be cleaned properly to wash away any bacteria that have come into contact with it during use. And if the toy is insertable and/or will be used by multiple partners, it is always a good idea to use a condom for added hygiene.
Sex toy materials that are non-porous and hypoallergenic include high-quality medical-grade silicone, borosilicate glass, and stainless steel. Let’s take a look.
Silicone sex toys (medical grade)
Silicone makes sex toys softer, more flexible and more realistic. Pure medical-grade silicone is more expensive than food-grade silicone. However, it is worth the premium, because this is the only type of silicone that is deemed safe to use inside the human body.
Be careful not to fall for “fake silicone”. Thermoplastics (TPR and TPE), phthalate-leaching vinyl (PVC), and “jelly silicone” are often referred to as just “silicone” on the label. If the toy is cheap and the label does not specifically say it is “medical-grade silicone”, you can assume it is one of these chemical alternatives masquerading as the real thing.
A quick note on Lucite
Lucite is widely considered a safe, non-leaching material for sex toys. And it’s likely that it is. However, I’m including it in the “avoid” section, because Lucite is a hard, durable plastic… and I’m just not a fan of plastic. So, this is 100% my personal bias.
Lucite is often mistaken for glass, but Lucite is not glass. It is polymethyl methacrylate. Common/recognized names for Lucite include acrylic, acrylic glass, and Plexiglas. The non-plastic (and yes, more expensive) alternative to Lucite is borosilicate glass.
Made primarily from boron trioxide and silica (the main component of sand, not to be confused with silicone), borosilicate glass is highly durable and resistant to changes in extreme temperature. This means you can easily sterilize it in boiling water without worrying it will crack.
Borosilicate glass is hypoallergenic and lead-free. It is also safe to use with any type of lubricant and is often quite beautiful in design.
Like glass, stainless steel is durable, easy to clean, and does well with temperature changes. It can be a great choice for a sex toy, but there is at least one important exception.
While stainless steel is considered hypoallergenic, those with acute nickel sensitivities may disagree. Nickel is what gives stainless steel its shiny gloss. So if the sex toy has a matte finish, it likely does not contain much (if any) nickel.
To be sure, look at the numbers that describe the type of steel used, such as “18/8 stainless steel” or “18/0 stainless steel”. These numbers indicate the percentage of chromium and nickel, respectively. So 18/8 has 18% chromium and 8% nickel, while 18/0 is nickel-free. Well, almost nickel-free, as there may be some trace amount.
While pots and pans may be scratched by metal utensils or harsh scrubs (potentially causing them to leach some nickel), it is less common to scratch a sex toy. That said, those with acute nickel sensitivities should choose a different material to avoid the risk.
Sex toy materials to avoid
Cheap novelty sex toys are usually not made from medical-grade silicone. While the front of the label may say “silicone”, a deeper look at the packaging or website will often reveal the ingredients to be: jelly rubber, synthetic latex rubber, polyvinyl chloride (you may see this shortened as PVC or vinyl), or a low-grade silicone (which usually contains chemical additives).
Other scary ingredients you might find (or not, if the brand isn’t forthcoming) include cadmium, phthalates, and some less recognizable names such as the highly toxic trimethyltin chloride, toluene (the toxic smell associated with gasoline and paint thinner), and carbon disulphide (industrial solvent), to name a few.
Note that it’s not uncommon for sex toy packages to read “phthalate-free” or “paraben-free” yet still contain other harmful materials. Again, always read the label or the brand’s website to make sure the materials and ingredients are safe. If the brand is not completely transparent about what goes into their toys, shop elsewhere.
Natural Personal Lubricants (With Sex Toys or Without)
Tell your friends
While you may not feel comfortable posting this article to social media, you may want to email it to friends — and your partner. Hopefully, in the future, there will be better regulation and increased transparency across consumer products… including sex toys. For now, it’s up to each of us to choose safer materials, to find brands we can trust, and to share the helpful information we find with those we love.