Guides, Sex (Toy) Ed

Why “Body-Safe?”

I wish I didn’t have to write this. It ought to be a given that sex toys should be made out of materials that are non-toxic and non-porous. And yet, the market is absolutely flooded with toxic toys. No, the FDA doesn’t regulate sex toys; they’re not medical devices. Just about every sex toy reviewer I know has an entry just like this one that explains why we push for body-safe toys. But I chose to include an explainer on this oft-discussed subject on my own blog because there are still so many people we have to reach. There wouldn’t be toxic toys for sale if people wouldn’t buy them. So until everyone hears this message, I’m going to keep beating my body-safe drum.

Throw Out Those Jelly Toys

Listen, like so many people, my first sex toys were jelly. They looked like Jolly Ranchers but smelled like a mechanic’s shop. That petrochemical smell should have been my first clue. I thought that was what all sex toys were like. In this industry, we have no baseline to compare our sex toys. You don’t grow up with dildos laying around. Understandably, Mom’s prized body-safe silicone VixSkin Mustang wasn’t proudly displayed on the mantle when you were a kid. If she owned sex toys, they were shoved away at the back of the closet where she could pretend that part of her life didn’t exist. So when I pulled my first vibe out of its packaging and it stunk, I thought, “this is how they all are.” But friends, that’s not how they all are. Let’s learn how to discern the body-safe from the toxic.

Toxic Materials

There are sex toy materials that we avoid because they leach potentially toxic chemicals. They include:

Jelly/ PVC

You can identify jelly toys by their candy-like appearance. They’re usually very inexpensive, which makes them appealing to first-time buyers. Many other PVC toys, like most of Pipedream’s uber-popular King Cock, line have an ultra-realistic look.

PVC is a big toxic toy offender because it leaches out plasticizers (chemicals that make toys soft and pliable) over time. It’s highly unstable. They can start to degrade just sitting around. And if you store two PVC toys together, you might come back a week later to find that one has stained the other. They might feel oily in your hand. That’s because they break each other down when they touch.

When you use a jelly toy, you put potentially toxic chemicals in contact with your mucous membranes, where they can easily enter your body.

One thing that these PVC toys have in common is their mega-offensive smell. They smell like an Autozone because like car chemicals, they’re made of petrochemicals. This is called off-gassing. That means your jelly dildo is just as bad for the earth (and made from the same raw materials) as fossil fuels. But even if you don’t care about the environmental impact, the smell itself is a problem. That offensive smell is made up of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The EPA says VOCs ruin indoor air quality; irritating the eyes, nose, and throat, potentially damaging the kidneys and liver, and even contributing to cancer risk.

Cyberskin/ UR3/ Sil-A-Gel

These hybrid materials are trademarked names of from their respective manufacturers. They’re of made of a blend of plastics that often include PVC. So like other PVC products, they may leach chemicals. Cyberskin and UR3 masturbators become noticeably sticky with use as they break down and leach plasticizers. “Sil-A-Gel” is pathetic attempt at capitalizing on the increasing popularity of silicone as a sex toy material. Sil-A-Gel and similar materials that call themselves “silicone blends” should be avoided because real silicone is a material, not an ingredient in a blend of PVC and rubber. Shady.

“Skin-Safe” Rubber

Some manufacturers have started calling their materials skin-safe because they don’t contain phthalates. Phthalates are a specific type of plasticizer that has been linked to cancer and poor sperm quality. They were common in sex toys but after a push by ethical retailers and bloggers to eliminate them, they’ve been largely replaced by other plasticizers. Unfortunately, many of those other plasticizers are just as toxic. “Skin-safe” rubber is a joke.

Note: You may see someone recommend using a condom over toxic toys to make them body-safe. There are two big potential problems here: VOCs and material interactions. Putting a condom over a toy won’t stop it from off-gassing, sorry. Also, condoms and rubber or oil-based toys are made of the same materials. Like dissolves like; those two materials can react and starting breaking each other down while you’re using it.

Porous Materials

There are some sex toy materials that we avoid because they are porous. Porous materials cannot be disinfected. That means that these toys harbor bacteria and mold that can never be fully washed away. You’ll never be able to safely share these toys with a partner. And because they can’t be disinfected, you shouldn’t use them in the vagina after they’ve been used for anal play. Ever. Otherwise, you risk bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection.

TPE/ TPR/ Elastomer

This class of materials goes by at least three different names: thermoplastic elastomer (TPE), thermoplastic rubber (TPR) and elastomer. These plastics aren’t necessarily going to leach chemicals like PVC but you can never know if they’re clean enough to be safe. For truly body-safe materials, a quick dip in a bleach solution will kill the dodgy stuff but TPE/TPR has deep pores large enough for microbes to thrive undeterred.

Body-Safe Materials

These materials are considered body-safe because they’re neither porous nor do they leach toxic chemicals. Because of the advocacy of consumers, ethical retailers, and sex bloggers, these materials are becoming more common every day.

Silicone

I consider silicone to be the superhero of body-safe sex toy materials because it’s so darn versatile. You can make the loveliest, squishiest dildos around with silicone or rock-hard dongs if that’s your jam. You’ll see silicone referred to non-porous sometimes. That’s not really true. It’s just that silicone’s pores are way too small for microbes or mold to live. Rest assured that a five-minute boil or a 10% bleach bath will completely disinfect your silicone toys.

Stainless Steel

Steel toys from reputable brands are some of the most luxurious toys in my toy box. Steel can be disinfected with a bleach bath or alcohol dip. It will not leach chemicals but do note that steel often contains nickel, a common allergen. Also, be sure to buy high-quality stainless steel because knock-offs may have sharp edges or may not really be steel at all.

Other Metal Alloys

You can also find great toys of other metals like aluminum. Just be sure to buy toys from a reputable manufacturer and a trusted retailer. Again, those with metal allergies should avoid metal toys.

ABS Plastic

This hard plastic is completely non-porous. It’s often found in vibrating bullets and classic vibrators. It’s also used to make handles for a variety of vibrators.

Food-Grade Finished Wood

Wood toys are safe if they have a totally smooth finish and are professionally sealed with a food-grade coating. Nobessence put wooden sex toys on the map in 2007. They’re a must-have for any toy collector.

Borosilicate Glass

Glass toys are another gotta-have-it addition to your collection. They allow you to experiment with temperature play. Just run the dildo or plug under warm or cold water for an unforgettable experience. Beware of inexpensive glassware, though. It may not be properly annealed and that’s dangerous. Dangerously Lilly has a great post that explains how to check whether your glass is properly annealed or is high-stress, and therefore in danger of shattering.

Crystal Delights is my glass manufacturer of choice. Their gem butt plugs feature swanky genuine Swarovski crystal rhinestones to keep your ass high class.

Less Common Materials

Body-safe stone and ceramic dildos and plugs are been on the market for quite a while. The key here is buying from an ethical seller because these materials are only safe if finished properly and professionally. Do your research before you buy these items.

Where To Shop For Body-Safe Toys

Ethical Body-Safe Retailers

*EDIT May 2019: One of the shops listed below, Vibrant, is no longer in business. This is such a great loss for the community. Peepshow Toys, however, is going strong and I wholeheartedly support their store and its mission.*

Two stores that carry body-safe toys exclusively are PeepShow Toys and Vibrant. PeepShow Toys has fast shipping and excellent customer service. Vibrant is amazing because it’s a non-profit that supports Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. I ordered from both shops before I chose to affiliate with them and I’ve always been happy with my orders and their service.

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