How To Avoid a Toxic Relationship ... With Your Dildo

Published: JUNE 26, 2013 | Updated: OCTOBER 9, 2015 08:27:08
Do you know what's in your sex toys?

Sex toys. So much fun, right? Well, not always. In the name of cheap, colorful and/or "realistic" toys, many manufacturers use chemicals that can be irritating to the body - or worse. That's because the sex toy industry is completely unregulated. So, while a toy might offer all the vibrating pleasure you could want, it might also be made with some pretty nasty ingredients.

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So, what’s a consumer to do? Well, I have become something of a sex toy materials snob and, in the name of safety, I’d like you to be one too. I have put together a list of the best, safest sex toy materials on the market - and the ones you need to avoid.

NSFPP (Not Safe for Private Parts!)

I don't think I need to tell you that your genitals are made of delicate tissue. This means that some materials can cause a reaction to the vulva, vagina, anus, rectum or penis. That's pretty gross, but what's even grosser is that that irritation can also make those sensitive areas more susceptible to infection. So. Not. Cool. Here are some of the worst offenders:

Phthalates

Toluene

Cyclohexanone

Tetrahydrofuran

Diethylhexyl Phthalates

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1-Methyl-2-Pyrrolidinone

Phenol

Dimethylformamide

Dimethyl phosphite

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A special shout-out to phthalates here, exposure to which has been linked to organ damage and possibly cancer, causing some manufacturers to cut them out entirely. Even so, many sex toys still use them because they make plastic more flexible and longer-lasting. They have been banned from children’s toys, but so far, they could still end up in your vibrator. (Keep in mind that they're still in a lot of other products too, such as perfume and makeup.)

Safe Sex Toys

The effects of all these chemicals aren't well-known, but it does have some people worried. If you're one of them, this list's for you. All of the materials here are non-porous. That means they will not harbor bacteria, which could potentially cause infections. They're also free of phthalates and some of the other more worrisome chemicals.


Silicone

Silicone can run the gamut from soft and squishy to firm and shiny. It's used in dildos, vibrators, butt plugs, anal beads, paddles and more. These toys are non-porous, long-lasting and easy to clean: As long as there’s no motor, you can boil your silicone toys or run them through the dishwasher (top rack please!). Some silicone toys and silicone lubes don’t play well together though. Do a spot test on an area that will not come in contact with your body to see if your lube and toy are compatible. (Find out how to get the best lube for your toy in The Ins and Outs of Sexual Lubricants.)


Stainless Steel

Stainless steel makes for incredibly effective, high-quality toys that will last a lifetime. It is primarily used in dildos and butt plugs. Steel, like silicone, can be boiled or put in the dishwasher. Just be careful - it will be HOT when you take it out (and not in a good way).

As steel has become more popular, more manufacturers have been bringing toys to the market, which can mean lower quality. Examine all potential steel toy purchases carefully for smooth edges. Also, keep in mind that steel is relatively expensive: If the price on a "stainless steel" toy seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don't take that risk.

Glass

Glass toys are usually as beautiful as they are body-safe. The glass in question is very hard and designed to be safe for use in sexual play. Glass toys are made of Pyrex, which means they're shatter proof and are safe to boil or put in the dishwasher.

Examine glass toys for chips and cracks before each use. If you notice any at all, discard the toy.

Ceramic

Ceramic is not that commonly used, but toys made from it (usually dildos) are safe and lovely. Ceramic toys are great for playing with temperature; some can even be filled with water of varying temperatures to change the sensation! I wouldn’t boil ceramic or put it in a hot dishwasher though.

As with glass, carefully examine ceramic toys for chips and/or cracks before each use.

Wood

Believe it or not, wood toys are non-porous! They have been sealed several times with a body-safe sealant, which also makes them water resistant. Even so, they aren't entirely waterproof, so they're probably best left out of the bathtub.


Hard Plastic

Hard plastic is awesome because it’s usually pretty budget-friendly. It is a common material for vibrators and has, of late, been used in a very popular line of prostate stimulators by Aneros.

While hard plastic itself is safe, additives can make it dangerous, so be on the lookout for toys that are painted or dyed crazy colors. Keep it simple or, better yet, look for FDA-approved hard plastic.

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Photo for JoEllen Notte
JoEllen Notte

JoEllen is a writer, speaker, researcher and mental health advocate whose work explores the impact of depression on sex and relationships. Since 2012 she has written about sex, mental health, and how none of us are broken on her award-winning site The Redhead Bedhead.

JoEllen's book The Monster Under the Bed: Sex, Depression & The Conversation We Aren’t Having is now available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

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