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Sex Toy Material Safety: Or, My Journey to Silicone Guest Post by Miss Ruby Reviews.

I was first introduced to sex toys when, as a young adult, I stumbled into a woman-friendly “romance” store. Before that point, it never occurred to me that I’d ever want a sex toy. I’d never been educated about sex toys, nor had I seen those iconic Sex and the City episodes that launched the Rabbit Vibrator’s popularity. I had no idea what I was doing rifling through those store shelves, picking up my first vibrator. I wasn’t even totally sure if it was legal for me to own one, let alone how to hide it from my nosy parents.

I bought it anyway. I bought two, actually. I remember them really clearly. The first was a classic pink vaginal vibrator. The second was a dark purple rabbit vibrator that rotated. They weren’t cheap. Both were soft. Not knowing any better, I thought they were awesome. When I opened up the packages and held them in my hands at home, I felt a stirring sense of empowerment and accomplishment.

But I also smelled something weird, a slick chemical scent that clung to my new toys. My toys smelled of industry, of factories, of gooey chemicals. No matter how many times I washed them, the smell didn’t go away. For a while, I wondered if they’d be safe to use. Then I shrugged off this fear, telling myself that of course they were safe! They were sold to me. They were meant to be used inside of my body. I figured they had to be at least as safe as tampons or food or anything else you stick in your body. I was wrong, of course. When I finally used my new toys, they caused a horrible burning sensation that, at the time, I couldn’t explain or understand.

The realization

Years later, I realized that the toys I had bought were made from jelly, a porous material that was softened by cheap chemical plasticizers called “phthalates”. Phthalates allow plastics to become soft, giving them a squishy (often translucent) flexibility. The problem with them is that phthalates don’t just stay in the material: they can have the potential to leech out into your skin. These chemicals caused the burning I felt when I used my first sex toys. I shudder now to think about it, because phthalates have been linked to cancer and reproductive issues. They’re banned in the US for use in children’s toys. In other words, they’re probably not safe to hang around in your vagina.

The reason that phthalates are found in sex toys is that sex toys aren’t regulated in the same way that our food is. Manufacturers aren’t actually responsible for any consequences of the use of their toys, nor are they obligated to truthfully report what chemicals they used during production. If they want to use phthalates in their jelly and rubber toys, they can do so without fear of any repercussions.

Phthalates aren’t the only thing to worry about.  Porous sex toy materials like TPE and TPR run the risk of growing bacteria in their micro-pores over time, rendering them very unhygienic for use without a condom. But, unlike phthalates, the negative effects of porous toys can be minimized by careful cleaning, careful storage, and the use of condoms.

So what’s a sex toy consumer to do?

First, porous toys are often unavoidable. Most male sleeves are made from porous materials, but certain brands like Tenga are well-known for having high safety standards. If you’re going to buy a porous sex toy, make sure it’s made by a reputable company because then there’s a low chance that your toy will contain phthalates.

Secondly, support sex toy stores that are committed to their customers beyond the cash sale. In my interactions with Betty’s Toy Box, I’ve noticed that they’re honestly and genuinely committed to customer safety and – as a sex toy reviewer – this is awesome and much too rare. It’s these companies that I want to see grow so that customers are more likely to come across body-safe sex toys.

And third, if you’d like to bypass all worries about phthalates or porosity, buy sex toys made from nonporous materials such as glass, stainless steel, and silicone. For example, pure silicone toys like Tantus’ dildos can be completely sterilized. With proper care and cleaning, a silicone toy will be hygienic for years, even when shared between partners or used anally. Lastly, it helps to follow a good materials guide, like this one.

Using sex toys should always be a fun, consensual, and safe experience. Years ago, I could have stopped using sex toys altogether when I realized that my jelly toys were harming me. Fortunately, I made the switch towards safer alternatives like silicone and glass. I realized that a few bad materials shouldn’t spoil all sex toys for me, and that I’d rather use, discuss, and promote safer alternatives than run away from all sex toys. Nowadays, I only purchase, use, or review sex toys that I know are safe for my body. Thanks to this switch, I’ve enjoyed hours (and hours and hours) of body-safe sex toy play.

Miss Ruby is a sex toy reviewer and blogger at missrubyreviews.com. She offers honest sex-positive reviews so that you're better equipped to find a toy that suits your needs and your body.