Sex Toys

Introduction to Sex Toys

The term “sex toys” refers to objects or devices used for  sexual stimulation and enhancement, especially those that are commercially manufactured and distributed.  Sex toys are used by sexual health professionals to encourage sexual exploration in relationship therapy and to treat sexual dysfunction and post-traumatic stress.

Sex Toy Safety

Sex Toys Are Not Regulated

It is important to know that currently, neither concrete safety regulations nor any designated regulatory body exists for the sex toy industry; this is why sex toys are often labeled “sold as a novelty only.” The manufacturers are therefore not responsible for the  negative consequences of any “unintended” (i.e. sexual, internal) use of their products. This also means that manufacturers are not obligated to report the chemicals and materials used in a product to any higher regulatory body, and that they may report them inaccurately on their packaging without consequence. This is why it is important to be knowledgeable and informed about the  materials and chemicals used to make sex toys today.

Sex toy websites that are advocacy-oriented with consumer-driven communities are often good resources for determining the true  material composition of a toy, along with any other points of health-related interest.

Phthalates

Some toys are made with chemicals that may not be safe for your body, and can cause itching, burning, rash and tissue damage. Phthalates (“thal-ates”) are a class of chemical plasticizers that are frequently added to the plastics used in sex toys (particularly PVC) to increase their flexibility, resulting in a softer, “squishier” feel to the toy material. The EPA has designated phthalates as “possible human carcinogens,”  and they have also been linked to neurological and reproductive issues. Toys with phthalates in them are often linked with side effects such as itching, burning, rash and minor tissue damage.

Phthalates are a controversial topic among regulation agencies around the world and are banned in several countries (including  children’s toys the U.S.), and research is continually being done to determine exactly what dangers they may pose to humans. No safety regulations currently exist for the sex toy industry, which means that any “phthalate-free” claims that adorn sex toy packaging are unverified and may be false.

Toy Care, Cleaning, and Maintenance

Different toy materials follow different instructions for proper cleaning and maintenance. Non-waterproof vibrators must be washed with care to ensure that water does not damage the componentry—it is easiest to simply wipe down these toys with an antibacterial toy cleaner. Antibacterial soaps and cleansers should be allowed to sit on toys a few minutes before washing in order to take full effect.

Here are some general guidelines:

Sterilizing your toys: Some toys may be sterilized, such as in boiling water or in a dishwasher. This is a preferable option for those with sensitivities to fragrances or antibacterial soaps and toy cleaners. Sterilizing your toys is especially important if they are being shared between partners or used anally. The sterilizability of a toy depends upon its materials and construction, and manufacturer guidelines should be followed when attempting to sterilize a toy. Toys made from porous materials cannot be sterilized (see “Porosity” under Toy Materials for more information).

Condoms: Always using a fresh condom on your toys is the easiest way to keep them clean and ensure their longevity. This is especially important with porous toys, whose surfaces absorb dust, oils and other particles that they come into contact with. As with a live partner, fresh condoms should be applied before each use, and used condoms should be removed and disposed of immediately. Always replace condoms before changing orifices to reduce risk of urinary tract or bacterial infections.

Lubricant: Another way to promote a long life for your toy is to use lubricant on your toys during use. Water-based lubricant can be used with any sex toy. Silicone lubricant should NOT be used with toys made of silicone or realistic skin-like materials. The silicone polymers in the lubricant will bind with those in the toy, damaging or “melting” the material of the toy.  While this is not necessarily true for toys and lubricants made from higher grade silicones, most packaging does not denote the grade of the silicone used, making experimentation risky.

  • Silicone: May be washed with antibacterial soap and water or an antibacterial toy cleaner. Some silicone toys without  electronic componentry may be boiled in water for 3-5 minutes or run through the dishwasher to sterilize (see manufacturer’s instructions). Allow to air dry.
  • Glass/Stainless steel /ABS plastic: May be washed with antibacterial soap and warm water or with an antibacterial toy  cleaner. To sterilize, wipe down the toy with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol and then rinse thoroughly. Allow to air dry. Most Pyrex glass and stainless steel toys can be boiled in water for 3-5 minutes or run through the dishwasher to sterilize (see manufacturer instructions). Allow to air dry.
  • TPR/TPE/Elastomer: May be washed with antibacterial soap and warm water or an antibacterial toy cleaner. Allow to air dry.
  • PVC: May be washed with antibacterial soap and warm water or an antibacterial toy cleaner. Allow to air dry.
  • Jelly rubber: Condoms are strongly suggested for use with these highly porous materials. Jelly rubber toys may be washed thoroughly with antibacterial soap and rinsed well with warm water. Allow to air dry. Please note that while the use of soap will lend to the degradation of the toy, antibacterial toy cleaner is not the most hygienic option for cleaning jelly rubber toys due to the highly porous nature of the material.
  • Realistic skin-like materials: (e.g. CyberSkin, Real Skin, Soft Touch, etc.) Condoms are strongly suggested for use with these highly porous materials. Refer to manufacturer’s instructions; some may be washed thoroughly with antibacterial soap and warm water, some may only be cleaned with antibacterial toy cleaner. Allow to air dry completely, then sprinkle with corn starch or the restorative powder included with the toy to maintain the toy’s soft, skin-like feel and prevent the development of a sticky or “gummy” texture to the surface (note: do not use talcum or baby powder on realistic skin-like toys).
  • Silicone composites (e.g. Sil-a gel): May be washed with antibacterial soap and cold or lukewarm water or an antibacterial toy cleaner. Allow to air dry. Note: The scent in scented Sil-a-gel toys is permanent and cannot be washed out; repeatedly attempting to do so will only damage the toy.

Toy Materials

Introduction

Commercially manufactured sex toys are made from a wide variety of materials, with varying levels of price, quality, hygiene and  safety. Common sex toy materials include jelly rubber, PVC and silicone. Cheaper materials, such as jelly rubber, PVC, and realistic skin-like materials tend to be more porous, cannot be sterilized, and have a diminished lifespan. Many also contain chemical plasticizers that can cause harm to the body (see “Phthalates” under Sex Toy Safety). Non-porous materials, such as silicone,  VixSkin, and borosilicate glass tend to be more expensive, but boast superior hygiene, a longer lifespan, and the ability to be sterilized.

Porosity

“Porosity” describes how porous or absorbent the material of a sex toy is. The more porous the material is, the more nooks and crannies there are for bacteria and the like to hide in—like a sponge. There, in the surface of a porous toy, bacteria can thrive and reproduce. Because they cannot be sterilized, porous toys should always be used with a condom, especially for anal use or when sharing of toys between partners.

A non-porous toy has a smooth, impermeable surface, like stainless steel, and does not retain and harbor bacteria in its surface. Many non-porous toys can be sterilized by boiling them in water or running them through the dishwasher (see manufacturer’s instructions). Regardless of porosity, it is always important to properly clean and maintain your toys (see Toy Care, Cleaning, and Maintenance section).

Materials

  • Silicone: Silicone is a man-made material known for its tight molecular structure and excellent heat retention. While the  rigidity of a silicone toy may vary between manufacturers, silicone is always smooth and rubbery to the touch, extremely durable and 100% non-porous. Due to the high industrial cost of silicone, silicone toys tend to be higher in price than cheaper, more porous materials. However, silicone is hypoallergenic, non-porous, easy to clean, and can be sterilized (see manufacturer’s instructions). It is recommended that silicone lubricant is NOT used with silicone toys, as the silicone in the lubricant can damage or destroy the silicone in the toy.
  • Borosilicate glass: Frequently sold as Pyrex glass, borosilicate glass is shatter-proof. Glass toys are extremely hard and rigid in structure and boast excellent temperature retention. These non-porous toys have excellent longevity, are hypoallergenic and easy to clean, and can be sterilized (see manufacturer’s instructions).
  • Stainless steel: Stainless steel is an alloy, giving it its extremely hard and rigid structure, as well as its excellent temperature conductivity. Stainless steel is hypoallergenic, and smooth, shiny, and cool to the touch. Stainless steel toys are non-porous, easy to clean, have unparalleled longevity and can be sterilized (see manufacturer’s instructions).
  • ABS plastic: Also known as “hard” plastic, ABS is a non-porous, rigid material that is cheap to produce and used frequently in sex toys. ABS plastic can have either a smooth or textured surface. ABS plastic is the cheapest of the non-porous materials used to make sex toys.
  • TPR/TPE: Thermoplastic elastomer or rubber is a rubber polymer blend. It has excellent flexibility and can be soft to the touch. It is less porous than jelly rubber, but more so than silicone. TPR/TPE toys tend to fall in the medium price-range
  • Elastomer: Thermal plastic elastomer is a highly elastic and “squishy” material. Although medical grade elastomer is  hypoallergenic, it is porous (although less so than jelly rubber) and cannot be sterilized. Elastomer toys fall in the medium price-range.
  • Silicone composites (e.g. Sil-a gel): Often composed mainly of Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), silicone composite toys are soft, “squishy” and smooth to the touch. Containing less than 10% silicone, silicone composite toys are dramatically lower in price than their 100% silicone counterparts, and significantly more porous. Sil-a-gel in particular is an anti-bacterial material, free of latex and cadmium.
  • Realistic skin-like materials: Various companies have patented their own realistic skin-like material blends, including RealSkin, CyberSkin, Pure Skin, SoftTouch, and many others. Often in packages bearing the words, “Touch Me,” these toys have a baby skin-soft, powdery surface that must be carefully cleaned and maintained in order to prevent sticky or “gummy” buildup from forming. These materials are very porous and cannot be sterilized; clean thoroughly after each use and use condoms with these toys whenever possible.
  • PVC: PVC, or Polyvinyl chloride, is a very rigid, hard material. Any soft, “squishy” or flexible PVC toys are likely to contain phthalates, which are potentially harmful plasticizers used to soften the material (see “Phthalates” under Sex Toy Safety). PVC toys are cheap to produce, durable, and low-maintenance, making PVC one of the most commonly used sex toy materials today. PVC has a smooth, rubbery surface texture. PVC is quite porous and cannot be sterilized; clean thoroughly after each use and use condoms with these toys whenever possible.
  • Jelly rubber: Composed of PVC, jelly rubber is also frequently treated with phthalates to promote flexibility and softness in the material. Jelly rubber has a “squishy,” rubbery feel and a soft but sticky surface texture. Jelly rubber is a very popular material among sex toy manufacturers because of its soft, “squishy” feel, low price and wide range of bright colors. Jelly rubber is highly porous and cannot be sterilized; clean thoroughly after each use and use condoms with these toys whenever possible.
  • Others: Many companies have patented their own unique material formulas. These materials, such as VixSkin, IntraMed and Sil-a-gel, are unique in composition and have varying levels of porosity.

For a fuller list of material descriptions and safety ratings, please see the EdenFantasys Guide to Materials.