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Sex Toy Health and Safety - The Ultimate Guide

Sex toys have become increasingly mainstream in the last 10 years and why shouldn't they be? They are a great way of expressing your sexuality either solo or with a partner. Long gone are the days when sex toys could only be bought in seedy stores on the wrong side of town. With online shopping and the increase of really great brick and mortar stores, anybody can buy and enjoy a truly stunning array of sex toys.

Despite the huge rise in popularity and acceptance of sex toys, what most consumers don’t realize is that the sex toy industry is completely unregulated. There are no existing rules, laws, or even guidelines about what constitutes a safe material or design. Many manufacturers are voluntarily stepping up and making great quality sex toys and providing useful information about their safe use, but there is still an abundance of products out there made with unsafe materials and containing little to no safety information. That can have some serious consequences for your health if you don’t do your own research. 

Should you still buy sex toys? Absolutely! Here is a definitive guide on what you need to know to keep yourself safe and healthy.

1. Only buy Sex Toys from a Reputable Store

Although that massively discounted deal on Amazon or Ebay is tempting, you will want to think twice before buying. Why? There's a counterfeit problem in the sex toy industry- particularly with more expensive and popular brands like LELO or Magic Wand. There have been cases of faulty wiring, substandard materials, and breakage where customers contact the manufacturer only to learn that they have purchased a knock-off instead of the real deal.

You can never be too careful with something that will be touching your most sensitive parts and probably being inserted into your body. Stick with your local store or visit one of the reputable online retailers like BettysToyBox of course :)   Here you can learn the features of each toy, where it comes from, and know you are getting the real deal. A good store will give details about the product like the exact size, the toy’s materials, and how to care for it, plus they will have staff that can answer your questions before you buy.

2. Think about Materials

You may have fallen in love with that sparkly pink dildo you saw online but take a minute to read the product description. Sex toys can be made from an array of materials and some are much more friendly for your body than others, with silicone being the gold standard. Although cheaper materials do mean less expensive toys, the issue is not just a matter of cost. Different materials have different levels of porosity. In other words, really porous materials are pretty much impossible to keep 100% clean and disinfected. They are open to any bodily fluids, lubricants, and anything else that they come in contact with, which makes them a breeding ground for bacteria. The sex toy material hierarchy goes something like this:

Silicone:  Non-porous and easy to clean, you can even disinfect these toys by placing them in boiling water for 5 minutes (assuming they are waterproof) and they will last and last. You can also disinfect them with a bleach/water solution (1 part bleach to 10 parts water and soak for 10-15 minutes) or use a specialized antibacterial toy cleaner.

Glass, metal, and ceramic: These toys are obviously going to be extremely firm but they are also completely non-porous and easy to clean. You can pop them in the dishwasher, bleach them, or just use soap and water.

Plastic: More commonly found in bullets and some clitoral vibes, hard plastic is great because it’s phthalate free and non-porous. Clean it with soap and warm water and you’re good to go again.

TPR/TPE: This material is thermoplastic rubber/thermoplastic elastomer which is non-toxic, and wonderfully pliable. There are some great dildos made of this material and it is definitely more affordable than silicone. What you need to remember is to keep it clean because it is a porous material (unless it specifically states non-porous TPR). Use an antibacterial cleaning spray or antibacterial soap and water before and after every use. You can’t boil or bleach this material.

Cyberskin, and UR3 and other Realistic Materials: Commonly found in dildos, these materials are soft and pliable - made to resemble real flesh - with a firm inner core. Because these materials are porous, it is recommended that they are ONLY shared with a condom. Make sure you clean them thoroughly after every use.  Switching between anal and vaginal is also a huge no no. To maintain the silky texture, dust them with cornstarch and store them separately from other toys.

Jelly and PVC: Although toys with this material tend to be lower in price, jelly material is extremely porous (watch out for bacteria) and is typically found in low quality products. In addition, many jelly toys use pthlalates to soften them and this is one of the biggest problems with the non-regulation of the sex toy industry. Pthlatates often produce a strong odor, which is actually the releasing of the chemicals found in the material. Several countries have banned phthalates in food containers and baby bottles because of the potentially harmful effects. PVC is similar to jelly in that it is soft and pliable, but is comprised of fewer potentially harmful chemicals. In order to prevent your toy from becoming tacky, clean it thoroughly after every use and store it away from your other toys. 

3. Sex Toys and Safer Sex

Don’t be fooled into thinking that using sex toys rather than body to body contact means safer sex. Most reputable stores recommend that you don’t share sex toys with any level of porosity and for good reason - you can never be sure you've completely cleaned them. But using silicone, glass, plastic, or metal doesn’t necessarily constitute safer sex either. There is a real lack of research on STIs and sex toy use, although an Indiana University study did find that HPV can be found on sex toys, even after cleaning, up to 24 hours after use. Considering the porosity of many available sex toys, HPV, chlamydia, syphilis, and herpes are just some of the STIs that you can spread by sharing your sex toys. Although most STIs have an extremely short lifespan outside of the body (seconds or minutes), it is still recommended that you never share your toys unless they can be thoroughly disinfected or covered in a condom. Passing a toy between partners without a fresh condom is considered risky behavior. So if you’re sharing, keep them covered and clean.

4. Make sure it's the right fit

If you have watched any type of porn, you've seen rather massive members fitting into some rather tiny places without any kind of lead up. Unless you’re an experienced professional, real life just doesn’t work that way. The average vagina is 3-4 inches in length (from vaginal opening to the tip of the cervix) and while it can expand up to 200% when aroused, there is still the potential for harm if you’ve gotten overly-ambitious with the size of your sex toys.

Good sex toys will come with descriptions of width, length, and the all-important insertable length (how much can be inserted into your body). The average erect penis is just over 5 inches long; if that is your only experience with penetration, you may want to think twice before jumping at that 11 inch porn star replica. Tears, chafing, rawness, irritation of the cervix, and stinging are real possibilities when you are using a sex toy vaginally that is much bigger than what you are used to. If you are still determined to up the size, make sure you are extremely aroused and use LOTS of good quality lubricant to ease the process.

The same goes for anal penetration. While anal sex can feel incredibly good, keep in mind that the lining of the anus and rectum is very delicate and filled with blood vessels. Scratches, fissures, infections, and tears can happen rather easily, so starting small is the way to go. The anal sphincter is an incredibly tight muscle and while it can be relaxed, it takes time, patience, and preparation to do so. There are anal kits on the market which include a number of toys in graduating sizes so that you can work your way up. Please keep in mind that porn employs professionals... and even they use lubrication off-camera.

5. Make sure it's the right toy for your purposes

Not all sex toys are multi-purpose wonders. This is especially important to consider for anal sex. Anal stimulation feels amazing but if you’re inserting anything, be sure it has a flared base or a sturdy handle. During orgasm, the powerful rectal muscles will contract, causing them to suck in anything that is placed inside the rectum. If you’re using anything thin and straight for anal stimulation, that could be a bad scenario. Specialized butt plugs and anal vibrators are always the way to go. Their flared base prevents them from being taken in during strong muscle contractions.

And please, please please, never use a sex toy in your anus that you will be inserting into your vagina afterwards. Cover it with a condom for anal penetration and then switch to a new condom for vaginal play. The bacteria carried from the anus to the vagina can lead to any number of nasty infections.

6. Don't overdo it

If you have ever seen that infamous episode of Sex and the City, you may think the biggest risk of sex toys is getting addicted to your rabbit vibrator. The truth is that some toys do come with warning labels and it is important that you do read them before you dive in. In a Indiana University Study more than half of the women who participated had used vibrators, and about 1 in 5 had experienced some kind of numbness or pain. Wand vibrators in particular are extremely powerful and should not be used directly on the clitoris for sustained periods of time.

Another sex toy that is popular but often sold without warnings is a cock ring (penis ring, couple’s ring, love ring). Often these are stretchy rings that fit over the shaft of the penis or penis and testicles when the penis is not yet fully erect. The idea is to constrict blood flow out of the penis, leading to a longer erection. They are wonderful toys when used with caution. Although cock ring related injuries are uncommon they can be severe; so it's important to know how to properly use one. 

Most importantly, it needs to fit right while only slightly increasing the size of the erection. It should only be left on for about 20-30 minutes as well. Prolonged use can lead to blood coagulating in the penis and can cause permanent damage. It is strongly advised to stay away from cock rings if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol; you could lose track of time and what you're doing. Finally, NEVER fall asleep with a cock ring in place.