Are Sex Toys Dangerous?

Jun 1, 2012 by

Are Sex Toys Dangerous?

One of our customers opened a support ticket today with some concerns about the safety of sex toys. He wrote:

“I’ve read recently that PVC toys can leach lead and other bad stuff into your system.  As someone who’s used your toys and others over the years, this scares the hell out of me. Do you know anything, good or bad about all of this?  Thanks for your time.”

So I did some research. I spent a couple of hours looking for information on “dangerous” or “unsafe” sex toys. Most of the sites I found talked about phthalates (pronounced thal-ates, the ‘ph’ is silent). This is a chemical that was used in PVC sex toys as a softener and color fixer. It’s what made ‘jelly’ toys jelly-like: soft, flexible and with bright transparent colors.

A few years back some researchers found that laboratory mice that were exposed to large amounts of phthalates had a higher risk of developing cancer. Some “watchdog” groups, primarily Greenpeace, went on a campaign to wipe phthalates from the face of the earth.

Now as far as I know, the researchers did not use tiny dildos and butt plugs on the mice. In all the searching I’ve done I have found NO PROOF that phthalates in sex toys were harmful. In fact, one scientific study found that there was no health risk in “normal” use of sex toys.

But many manufacturers of adult novelty products felt forced to respond to the “phthalate scare”. Some of them took phthalates out of all their products; others replaced them with non-phthalate materials to produce products. As a result, sex toys aren’t as nice as they used to be. They harden over time, and the colors fade. The chemicals that the manufacturers had to use in place of phthalates don’t work as well. They’re also more expensive, so guess what? Toys cost more! (The price of sex toys has also been rising over the past few years because most of them are petroleum based products, including silicone toys. We all know what the price of oil has done in recent years!)

Still, the “evil” phthalates are far from gone. The bulk of the sex toys sold in the USA that would contain phthalates are the soft rubber dildos and butt plugs. There are still a significant number of them being produced both in the USA and China that are still being manufactured using these chemicals. What people don’t realize is that a lot of manufacturers are also touting (on their packages) that their products are “phthalate free” or “non-phthalate” when the products are made from materials that never contained any phthalates in the first place. Take the “Cyberskin” or “Fauxskin” materials for instance. This material does not now, nor has it ever, contained phthalates. Hard plastic vibrators don’t contain phthalates. But you will see “phthalate free” on the packages of these products used as a marketing ploy. This only serves to confuse the issue further.

So now you know what kind of sex toys might contain phthalates: the “rubber” dildos and plugs. So if you have any doubts, contact your reseller or go to the manufacturer’s website and see what they say about the materials they use. If the manufacturer has addressed this issue, they are sure to want you to know because it has cost them money to remove the phthalates from their formulas. If it doesn’t say “non-phthalate” then either the product is one that never contained phthalates in the first place or it probably contains phthalates.

What about other chemicals? Well, yes, plastic sex toys are made of chemicals. Lots of them. All the articles I read talked about how PVC toys “can have” or “may have” various chemicals in them, and how they “might” leach out into the body. Again, I could find NO scientific evidence that any of these chemicals are harmful when used in sex toys, or that the chemicals can be absorbed by your body. (And by the way, none of the articles mentioned “lead” as a component of sex toys.)

In fact, if you take the time to actually read the studies (and there are several), you will conclude (just as the US government did) that there is not enough of a risk posed to actually warrant the regulation of phthalates. While most US adult novelty manufacturers know that someone would have to use a sex toy for the greater part of a day every day for a significant period of time to get anywhere near the dosage of phthalates that were purposely fed into laboratory rodents, they also know that most people do not read the studies (if they can even find them) and have decided that sex toys are dangerous based on what they found on a Google search for “dangerous PVC sex toys”.

That’s exactly what I searched for. Most of the “sources” I found were bloggers repeating the same “information” with very little research or proof behind it. “May” or “might” or “can” is not the same as “will” or “does”. Speculation and theory is not the same as fact and proof. I will stress this again: I found NO scientific evidence that any materials in sex toys are harmful (aside from allergies or reactions that some individuals might have to certain materials, like latex).

This is a case of what I call “Blog Mentality”. It’s the same concept as “mob mentality” or “herd mentality”. (“Herd mentality describes how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors, follow trends, and/or purchase items.” – Wikipedia) Someone reads a study on the effects of phthalates on rats, does a bit of searching on the Internet, and finds that phthalates are used in sex toys. They blog about it. People read it, re-blog it, “friend” it, and “tweet” it. And eventually you can search for “dangerous sex toys” and find “proof” that sex toys are bad for you, and that the only safe materials are glass and silicone. (Which, by the way, has been a marketing gold mine for manufacturers of silicone toys.)

Ironically, we’re had more people tell us about having reaction to toys after the manufacturers removed the phthalates from their products. Some people report a burning sensation when using PVC toys, especially when they haven’t been used in a while. I’ve experienced this myself when I pull out an “old favorite” toy that’s been on the shelf for a while. That’s probably not a good thing, but as far as I know there’s been no scientific research on it. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s unknown whether there is any long-term risk associated with it. But it certainly detracts from the enjoyment of playing with your toys! So what do you do?

Here’s my personal (and not at all scientific) advice on PVC toys. This is based on a LOT of experience with these types of toys. As usual, your experience might be different, so use your own judgment.

First: Yes, there are different chemicals in PVC sex toys now, because the manufacturers had to remove phthalates from their formulas. Some people have reactions to these chemicals, especially when toys have been left in storage for a while. If you pick up a toy that you haven’t used for a few weeks or months and it feels slippery or sticky or has an unpleasant odor, then you should clean it well before using it. Here’s what I do, and I’ve had good results with this procedure.

I wash the toy in hot water with lots of soap. (“Hot” in this case means the temperature I would use in a shower. In fact, that’s how I clean my toys: I take them into the shower with me.) I find that dish detergent works better than hand soap. I clean the toy very thoroughly, using just my hands – no cleaning cloths or sponges. Then I leave it out to dry in the air for at least a day. If it still feels sticky or still has an odor I repeat the process.

Once the toy is in good condition and I’m ready to play with it, I coat the insertable part of the toy with a thin layer of a good silicone lubricant. (Note: this is for PVC toys only! Do not use silicone lubricants with silicone toys!) Then I use a water-based lubricant over that. That gives me an additional “layer of protection, and also makes the toy a lot slicker.

Second: We have seen much less of the “chemical issue” (none at all, really) with “flesh” and black colored toys. The pink, yellow, blue and other fancy colored toys may look pretty, but they do have more dyes and other chemicals in them. So to minimize the risk of any problems, stick with basic black and “flesh” colors.

Third: If you continue to have a bad reaction to any toy, stop using it. You can try putting a condom over the toy, but if you’re using really big toys you may not be able to find one that fits! But if the toy just really irritates your butt or pussy, then don’t use it. If you have a generally bad reaction to any PVC toy, then you may have to stick to materials like glass, metal and silicone.

I’ll continue to do more research on this, and I’ll also talk to some of the manufacturers we work with about it. If I find anything new, I’ll post it here.

(Thanks to our friends at TSX Toys for some of the information in this post!)

 And here's some more information...

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