A Guide to Sex Toy Safety
July 21st, 2019 ★ Lauren McMullen; U.S News & World Report
“Sexual pleasure is your birthright. It’s a vital life source, and it deserves to be accepted, understood, cherished and nurtured.” That’s how Claire Cavanah, cofounder of Babeland, a sex toy retailer with locations in Seattle and New York, defines the attitude behind “sexual positivity.” This movement is partially about recognizing that sex is a “very big part of a healthy, happy life,” she says. And what better way to spread happiness than with toys? Toys that vibrate! Toys that strap on! Toys that look and feel like flesh, and toys that look like sleek, James Bond gadgets! Options abound these days.
Whether you consider yourself the FAO Schwarz of sex toys or can’t whisper the word “dildo” without turning the electric pink of some vibrators, we could all use a little refresher on the ins and outs (sorry!) of sex toy safety:
Know your toys. There’s no government regulation for sex toys and their safety, so do your homework on which materials are safe, and which are not. For example, safety concerns have emerged over phthalates – chemicals found in sex toys and other products to soften plastic and increase flexibility. Some research suggests a lifetime exposure to these chemicals may potentially cause cancer and harm reproductive systems, testes, and liver, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. While no agency is verifying “phthalate-free” claims on sex toy packaging, Cavanah and Oakland, Calif.-based sex and relationship coach Charlie Glickman say this indication is a good place to start. While examining the package, also look for materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), vinyl and jelly rubber, which often contain phthalates, according to a Kinsey Confidential article. And remember, phthalates soften plastic, so bendable toys with a jelly-like feel are suspect. Most Naughty Cocktail Parties products are phthalate-free and made from a premium silicone material. Be sure to check for these and other important icons in our catalog.
Speaking of soft toys, consider porosity. The squishiness of a toy doesn’t always indicate the presence of phthalates, but it does mean the toy can harbor bacteria in its pores. “The concern with porous toys is that you can’t get them 100 percent clean,” says Glickman, who is also the co-author of “The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure.” But don’t worry: Assuming you go for a phthalate-free toy, there’s no need to skip on porous pleasures. There’s a workaround to ensure good, clean fun with these types of toys: “If you cover the toy with a condom, you know you will have a nice, clean surface every time you use it,” Glickman says.
Glickman points out that soft, jelly-like toys are often less expensive than those made of silicone – the nonporous, sanitizable favorite. So if you’re new to The World of Vibrators and Dildos and feel uneasy investing in a silicone toy, save money by trying a plastic toy with a condom first. “If you decide it really isn’t for you, then you’ve only spent $30 instead of $80,” he says. “If you decide you really like it, you have the option of purchasing a body-safe silicone product later.”
Buy from a trusted company. Given the lack of regulation, hazy marketing terms and the fact that these items will likely, you know, go inside you, it’s important to buy from retailers that are “thoroughly interested in your pleasure and your health,” says Cavanah, who is also co-author of “Sex Toys 101” and “Moregasm: Babeland’s Guide to Mind-Blowing Sex.” Stores such as Babeland and San Francisco-based Good Vibrations are “missionary” in their intent, she says. “We want people to not only enjoy their sex lives but also get rid of every inhibition they may have,” she says, “including, ‘What is this toy going to do to me?'”
A quality vendor will have researched and vetted the products for you, says Glickman, who adds She Bop and Sugar-based in Portland and Baltimore, respectively – to the list of reputable shops. One way to spot trustworthy sellers is by perusing their websites. “If you go to their site, they will tell you everything you need to know because they want you to be happy with the toy,” Glickman says, citing cleaning and care instructions. “That’s the difference between shopping at those companies versus shopping at Amazon, where you don’t get any information.”
Share with care. “Toys are not just for the lonely – that’s a common misconception,” Cavanah says. “Couples are using them all the time to have orgasms for the first time, or to have more orgasms or bigger, harder, wilder ones, and there’s nothing wrong with bringing toys into your relationship and bedroom.” But even with harder, wilder orgasms at stake, it’s important to use some caution. Know the sexually transmitted disease status of the partner you’re sharing with, advises Debby Herbenick, co-director of Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion. Cover toys with a condom before one person uses it, and then remove or replace the condom if a partner uses the toy, too.
Condoms are also important while using the same toy both anally and vaginally. Ideally, you’d have a dedicated toy for each part, but if not, “put a condom on a toy, and then when you take it out of one part – the anus or vagina – put a new condom on before going into the other part,” Herbenick says. “You don’t want to transfer bacteria from anus to vagina.”
Wash toys after every use. “If you think about where this toy is going, it’s good to keep it clean,” Glickman says, adding that any antibacterial soap, like dishwashing soap, works well for porous toys. “Wash your toy for 15 to 30 seconds with soap and hot water, and let it air dry before you put it away,” he says, explaining that doing so will help prevent mold. For silicone toys that aren’t vibrators, you can wash and disinfect them by putting them in boiling water or the top rack of the dishwasher, Glickman says. “Just make sure you’re the one to empty the dishwasher, because that could lead to an awkward conversation.”
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