Buying a sex toy can be overwhelming. Like, really overwhelming. But when you're thinking about what size and shape and texture and features you want, a lot of people overlook a really important aspect of the sex toy they choose: the material it's made of. However, when you consider that most sex toys are applied to or inserted into some very sensitive and membranous parts of our bodies, you might start to realize just how important those materials become. Potential health effects from chemical-laden plastics and jelly rubbers are a consideration. So are chemical burns.
The bottom line? You can do better.
Here we'll take a look at sex toy materials, what to watch out for and how to stay safe.
Porous Vs. Non-Porous Sex Toy Materials
Sex toy materials fall into two major categories: porous and non-porous.
Porous products are generally soft. Although this group can contain some hard plastics, it’s good to assume that if a product doesn’t use ABS hard plastic, it’s porous. The problem with these toys is that they can trap dirt and bacteria that can never be removed. What that means is that porous sex toys, if used without a condom, can re-infect you with a previous bacterial or yeast infection, cause an outbreak in a pre-existing STI and - if shared without a condom or other barrier - can even spread STIs, bacterial infections and yeast infections between partners. They can be kept cleaner for a longer period of time with the use of a condom, but the inability to truly sterilize them is a major drawback.
The next thing you need to be aware of? Phthalates. All materials that include phthalates fall under the porous category as well. Phthalates are a chemical agent used in plastics to bind them together and make them flexible. They are also known to be endocrine disruptors, and could even cause cancer. As a result, they were banned from use in children's toy's way back in 2008. But, because the sex toy industry is unregulated, keeping them out of sex toys is mostly up to manufacturers.
Although not all porous materials have phthalates in them there’s a high possibility they do. These chemicals are potentially very harmful to your health, and many people experience allergic reactions and chemical reactions when they come in contact with them. Exposure to phthalates can therefore be unpleasant - and may even pose more serious health consequences.
Non-porous materials are generally of a higher quality and also generally more expensive. However, because they’re not porous, they don’t harbor dirt and bacteria and are completely sterilizable. Most non-porous materials are harder, and include glass, metal and specially treated wood. You might be surprised to learn that silicone is non-porous too, but unlike the materials listed above, it can also be very soft, which makes it an awesome material for those who want to stay safe and clean but aren’t as big a fan of hard toys.
Sex Toy Materials: A Breakdown
So which material's best? That's actually pretty personal, as they all deliver a different feel, and have different benefits and drawbacks. Let's take a look at the key materials used in sex toys, and some of the best manufacturers using them.
Silicone Sex Toys
Silicone is the soft, silky side of non-porous materials, although it does range from very soft to very firm depending on how it’s formulated. Silicone holds body temperature well, transfers vibrations without being buzzy, and can be boiled to be sterilized (as long as the toy doesn't contain a motor). A good silicone product will last a lifetime with proper use and care. Keep in mind that many companies will claim to use silicone when their toys are really made out of a mix of elastomer and thermoplastic rubber (TPR ). This means they may still be somewhat porous, although far less so than your typical jelly toy. These silicone-like toys are safer than some materials, but still can't be completely sterilized. The best way to ensure your toy is silicone, is to choose toys from a high-quality manufacturer you trust. Blush Novelties recently made a commitment to having each and every product in their line tested for material safety. Here's to hoping more manufacturers follow suit!
Sex Toys Made of Hard (ABS) Plastic
ABS is a non-porous hard plastic used by a lot of middle-of-the-road and high-end sex toy manufacturers. It’s easy to clean and generally smooth (although some lower quality sex toys will have seams), but it can be a little buzzy when transferring vibrations. Even so, some people like the intense way vibrations translate through these toys and they are body safe and typically inexpensive.
Glass Sex Toys
Glass is hard, smooth, heavy and often very beautiful. It makes for fantastic products that can be easily cleaned and hold temperature well; you can even dip them in warm or cool water for easy temperature play. (Never extreme hot or cold; this can damage glass and also potentially harm your delicate tissues. Eek!)
Glass toys are usually made of borosilicate (Pyrex) or soda lime. Both are safe to use.
Metal Sex Toys
Metal toys are hard, smooth and tend to have a nice weight to them. Like glass, they can also be cleaned easily and used for temperature play. Most of these toys are made of stainless steel or aluminum, but there are a few luxury toys made of gold and silver as well.
Wood and Stone Sex Toys
Less commonly, you can find sex toys in other non-porous materials, including specially treated wood and even stone. These toys are beautiful and unique in addition to being body safe.
Is this sex toy toxic?
As we mentioned before, it's hard to know. But there are a few tells.
Greasy Residue or Smell
Toxic toys tend to offgass, which means they may have a greasy residue or a shower curtain smell. Although real silicone may have a bit of a manufacturing odor when you unwrap it, it should be virtually odorless once it's aired out. If a toy stinks, it probably isn't safe.
Low Price Point
There is an increasing number of manufacturers selling high quality toys at a reasonable price point, but if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Check out our list of Top Low-Cost, Luxury Vibrators for some tips on which brands have reasonable prices - and body-safe toys.
Companies that care about their products - and consumer safety - stand by what they make. Find a sex toy manufacturer that has a presence online and in stores, is independently reviewed, and that is up front about how consumers can reach them. Anyone can say their toys are silicone. The companies that stand behind those claims are the ones to buy from.
Just as good manufacturers stand behind their products, so do good retailers. They stock top-quality products and are available to help when things go wrong. The best retailers are also committed to stocking products from manufacturers they trust both for safety and quality. This is also why we typically recommend against buying on Amazon. You don't know where those toys are really coming from, or whether they are safe to use.
The Bottom Line on Avoiding Toxic Toys
Sex toy safety has improved tremendously over the past few years, but it's still up to consumers to do their research and ensure that what they're buying is safe. The upshot is that safe, high quality toys tend to work better and last longer. Not only can you avoid the risk of potential health effects, you can also have more orgasms. Win-win!