Since we use sex toys on intimate body parts, ensuring the safety of such products should be a top priority. Presently, there is no government regulation of adult toys. This allows some manufacturers to use the least expensive materials available, which may not be the safest choice. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular materials used to make sex toys.
- Silicone is a very high-quality, non-toxic, durable material. Vibes made from 100% medical or food grade silicone are non-porous, so there’s not anywhere for germs and bacteria to “hide” on the toy surface, and they can be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. These toys have a soft, silky-smooth texture. Silicone is inert, so that means it’s hypoallergenic. This is also a very sturdy material, so while these toys might cost a little more, with proper use and care they will hold up very well over time. One must use caution, however, and read the packaging carefully. Due to lack of regulation, some sex toy manufacturers will mix silicone with lower-quality materials and still advertise the toy as being silicone. High-quality sex toy companies will state that their product is made from 100% silicone. There shouldn’t be any kind of plastic-like, chemical smell from silicone toys.
- Jelly rubber toys are at the other end of the spectrum. These products are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) treated with softeners called phthalates. There is some concern over the safety of these toys as phthalates are potentially harmful toxic chemicals. While phthalates soften the plastic, they are not chemically bound to it. This means that sex toys made from such materials break down easily. Typically very inexpensive and marketed as “novelty” adult products, jelly vibes have a very soft, pliable texture. These toys are very porous, difficult to clean, and often give off a strong chemical odor from the phthalates off-gassing.
- Soft Vinyl lasts longer than jelly rubber, but it’s not as durable as silicone.
- Latex is very inexpensive and versatile but potentially allergenic. Toys made from latex are usually stiff with a soft outer feel. They are typically hard to clean due to the porous nature of the material, usually have a rubber-like smell, and tend to wear out quickly.
- Hard plastic is an inexpensive and very common material used to make sex toys. These vibrators are typically used externally because they are very rigid and produce more intense vibrations, but they can be used internally as long as the surface is smooth and free of any rough seams. A big advantage of hard plastic toys is that they are non-porous, so they’re easy to clean and can be sterilized.
- Glass (Pyrex) is another very safe material because it’s non-toxic, non-porous, and can be sanitized. These sex toys are usually artistic and beautiful. Since they’re made out of glass, they can be heated or cooled before using. They also require some skill to make, so glass toys tend to be a little more expensive. Colored glass sex toys are completely safe as long as the color is on the inside of the glass. Some lesser-quality manufacturers paint the outside of the toy, which poses a risk of chemical exposure. Many people find they require less lube when using glass toys since they’re naturally slick and don’t absorb anything.
- Metal toys are usually made from high-grade surgical or stainless steel or a lighter metal such as aeronautic-grade aluminum. Like glass, metal sex toys are non-porous, easy to clean, and can be sterilized, heated or cooled.
- Elastomers start off very soft but become hardened by processing without any residual harmful chemicals or solvents. The end result is a safe, phthalate-free material. Toys made from elastomer are slightly porous, so while they’re easy to clean, they can’t be sanitized.
- TPR/TPE stands for Thermoplastic Resin/Thermoplastic Elastomer. This material is phthalate-free, yet supple and pliable. While not entirely non-porous, so they can’t be sterilized, toys made from TPR/TPE are still easy to clean.
- Mock-skin materials (trademark/brand names: CyberSkin, Futurotic, Ultra-Realistic, Soft Skin) have a texture very close to real skin, especially since they warm to body temperature with use. These toys are more durable than those made from latex but still require special care to avoid discoloration and tearing. They’re also very porous and can be tricky to clean. This material may or may not contain phthalates, depending on the manufacturer.
For more information on phthalates and the safety of using adult products containing them, here are some websites that cover the topic more comprehensively.
- Phthalates and Human Health: http://reason.org/news/show/127519.html
- Body Burden Case Study: http://www.chemicalbodyburden.org/cs_phthalate.htm
- Danish EPA study:http://www.holisticwisdom.com/epa-study.pdf
- Sex Toys Materials chart http://www.holisticwisdom.com/sex-toy-material-guide.htm
- The Coalition Against Toxic Toys http://badvibes.org/
Basically, the best way avoid exposure to phthalates is to choose sex toys made out of silicone, stainless/surgical steel, acrylic, glass/pyrex, or hard plastic.