No one is searching for eco-friendly vibrators. No one is searching for “green vibrators,” “eco sex toys,” “non-toxic dildos” or any of it. Women’s magazines and websites love to cover this sort of thing — I was slated to write about clean sex toys today myself — but apparently the base of Google-happy, environmentally-concerned, phthalates-fearing and prolific sex toy users is woefully small.
So this is not a post about what’s in your sex toys, at least not exclusively so. Instead let’s focus on a range of things that women (and the men that love them) should keep in mind when thinking about, buying, using and cleaning sex toys to keep your lady parts happy, healthy and safe.
1. “For novelty use only” probably doesn’t mean what you think it does. You’ll see a lot of sex toys marked “for novelty use only.” Most people assume this has something to do with American prudery and ‘blue laws‘ that prevent marketing sex toys as sex toys. But the term is actually a way for sex toy manufacturers to dodge liability for what’s in their products.
“For novelty use only means that if you sue the company for any adverse reactions you got from a toy, it likely won’t hold up in a court of law because the toys are not meant for sexual or medical purposes,” explains queer sex educator Garnet Joyce at “My Sex Professor.”
Products that say “for novelty use only” often (though not exclusively) come from China, where selling sex toys is illegal (and ingredients are unregulated). But U.S. toy manufacturers also use the distinction. Regardless of origin, it means a product doesn’t have to say what ingredients are in it and doesn’t have to stand up to any particular safety regulations.
2. Jelly rubber toys are the worst. When people caution about phthalates in sex toys, they’re mostly talking about toys made from jelly rubber. Soft, flexible and cheap, jelly rubber is a standard sex toy material — and a powerhouse of toxic chemicals, including high concentrations of phthalates that can leach out with us.
It’s also dirty (not in the good way). Because jelly rubber is porous bacteria can lurk deep within the toy no matter how well you clean it, triggering yeast and other vaginal or sexually transmitted infections. As a rule, it’s safest to avoid jelly rubber and other porous sex toy materials, such as “cyberskin,” “realskin,” silagel, PVC and rubber-silicone blends.
3. Hard plastic is okay. Plastic gets a bad rap in the sex toy world because of the softeners (like phthalates) that are often used in conjunction. But it’s soft plastic we should be worried about — jelly rubber, rubber blends, etc. Hard plastic toys are phthalate-free and generally non-porous, so they’re easy to clean and won’t leach toxins into you.
4. Silicone is also safe — and works well for sensitive skin. Silicone is hypoallergenic, making it a good choice for people who are sensitive to chemical allergens. The folks at Babeland recommend silicone toys “to anyone who is concerned about having a reaction to rubber and vinyl materials or scents, or for people who don’t want to use condoms on their sex toys.”
Silicone is also long-lasting. “If you buy a non-vibrating silicone dildo now, with proper care it can last you the rest of your life—no foolin’!” says Searah Deysach, owner of sex toy shop Early to Bed.
5. A lot of dildos are made from “mystery meat.” There’s an abundance of cheap sex toys on the market that don’t list what they’re made from. Deysach calls “mystery meat.” Who knows what’s in them — toxins, chemical allergens, fragrance — or the conditions where they were made. Best to stay away.
6. Lube can be scary. A lot of lubricants are made from cheap, synthetic ingredients and contain fragrances, colors or preservatives that can be super irritating to men and women with sensitive skin. (Guys: Do you hear this? Do not ever assume a girl wants to be lubed up! It might give her a rash instead of the hots for you). Sex expert and author Violet Blue cautions in general against lubes with sugar (including glycerin/glycerol), coloring or flavors in them: “Sugar feeds yeast: think about it. Nine times out of ten when I worked in sex toy retail this was the cause of most women’s irritation.”
7. Lube isn’t vegan. Not all of it anyway. Some lubricants, such as Luvena, contain the dairy-derived enzyme lactoperoxidase, and K-Y Warming Liquid contains honey (and parabens, and sugar). For natural and vegan lube, try Good Clean Love, Intimate Organic or Hathor Aphrodisia.
8. Sex toys can rip. Sometimes the rips or tears are unnoticeable, but they can sill a) allow bacteria to hide out in the toy and b) cause tears in the membrane of you vagina (that also allow bacteria to get in). That’s why proper storage and cleaning are important, as well as regularly examining toys for tears or cracks
9. Men aren’t intimidated or grossed out by women with sex toys. In a 2011 survey from the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, 75% of women and 80% of men (ages 18 to 60) said they believe vibrators are “a healthy part of many women’s sex lives.” Only 10% said vibrators “make women too dependent on them for pleasure” or are “intimidating to women’s partners.”
10. Hygiene is key. Well, duh, I know. This seems like an obvious one, but just as a reminder: Improperly cleaned or stored toys can build up bacteria that can cause vaginal infections or transmit infections between partners. Nearly all sex toys (including stainless steel, glass and silicone toys) can be cleaned effectively with regular soap and warm water (avoid “toy cleaners,” which tend to contain things like Nonoxynol-9, a detergent also found in some lube and condoms that can cause cervical abrasions and strip away rectal lining). Hard plastic, leather and vegan leather toys can be disinfected with isopropyl rubbing alcohol. Non-electric or battery-operated glass, stainless steel and Pyrex toys can also be boiled for a short time or run through the dishwasher.