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Phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) are chemicals that are added to some plastics to increase their flexibility and softness. Although the Food and Drug Administration is still researching the effects of these chemicals, prolonged exposure to phthalates is suspected to cause a number of health problems including a possible increased risk of breast cancer and birth defects.
Because of these risks, phthalates are now being banned from many products including children's toys. However, since sex toys are considered to be novelty items, they are not regulated and many of them still contain these dangerous chemicals. Sex toys that can contain phthalates include dildos, vibrators, cock rings, and pocket pussies.
Anyone who uses sex toys regularly should consider trying to avoid phthalates as much as possible. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Many sex toys don't list all of the chemicals used to make them. In general, you should be safe from these chemicals if you choose sex toys that are labeled as phthalate free. Glass, hard plastic, metal, and silicone are also usually safe.
Aside from the labeling issue, the other issue around phthalates is cost. While just about every sex educator would push towards toys that are free of these chemicals, you get what you pay for. There can be a significant price difference for high-end toys.