Sex Toys 101: A Guide to Body-Safe Materials
If you’re putting a toy onto or into your body, you want to make sure those toys are made from high-quality, body-safe materials, right? The problem is, researching sex toys isn’t always a straightforward task, and manufacturers don’t always clearly disclose important information on their packages. (More on that later). Not to mention, there’s a wide variety of materials that can be used to make toys, from silicone to rubber to metal to even glass. So, you may be left wondering, why is material safety important when it comes to sex toys, what materials are safe, and how do I even begin to sort through all the clutter?
Here, we’ve helped to demystify the different types of materials commonly used in sex toys, and we’ll dive in deeper to explain why it’s essential to purchase high-quality, body-safe toys.
Why is Material Safety Important When It Comes to Sex Toys?
Unlike the food production industry or medical device industry, the sex toy industry isn’t currently regulated by a governing body. Because it’s an area that’s unregulated and therefore doesn’t adhere to specific guidelines, sex toy companies are essentially responsible for holding up to the honor system when it comes to their products. They need to trust their suppliers and what’s being put into their products, and consumers need to be able to trust the toy company. This includes companies being very transparent and upfront about what’s in their products.
The problem with an unregulated industry means that even while some materials have been proven to be harmful, or are highly suspected to be harmful, they may still wind up in your sex toys as a way to keep costs down. And because nobody is forcing brands to disclose their material information, bad things could be hiding in their products. This isparticularly important when it comes to sex toys because of where you’re naturally putting them—i.e., your genitals, mouth, anus, etc. These areas of your body are made up of mucous membranes which are more permeable than the rest of your skin.
Translation: they can absorb liquids and harmful chemicals.
Now, let’s talk about those chemicals. Perhaps one of the most important additives within a toy you will want to avoid is something called phthalates. Phthalates are a type of plasticizer, which is an additive that makes solid materials more malleable. In other words, plasticizers give toys their flexibility. (Note: while phthalates are plasticizers, not all plasticizers are phthalates.)
The problem with phthalates in particular, though, is that they can leach out chemicals pretty easily. Considering this toy is coming into contact with your most sensitive bits, leaching is very bad, especially since some phthalates are thought to be carcinogenic (i.e., cancer-causing) or harmful to reproduction.
The most reputable brands make their toys without the use of phthalates, so, for the most part, you can rest assured in this area. Just make sure their description clearly labels their products as “phthalate-free” or “made without phthalates.” If ever in doubt, assume phthalates are used and find another brand. Your sexual health and wellness is just too important.
So, What Materials in Sex Toys Are Body-Safe?
Now that we’ve covered the dangers of phthalates, let’s move onto common materials. To better understand the materials of toys, and therefore their safety, it’s important to first talk about two main properties of sex toys: porosity and inertness.
Sex toys are either porous or non-porous. When you think of something as porous, a sponge is probably the first thing that comes to mind. While a kitchen sponge is ideal for soaking up water, it can also soak up and harbor other things like bits of food and germs. Similar to a sponge, a porous sex toy can harbor bacteria which can, in turn, create or spread infections. When purchasing a toy, you want to choose something that is non-porous and can easily be cleaned after each use.
“Inertness” is the property of a material being non-reactive, meaning that it doesn't change over time. Inert materials won’t leach chemicals onto your skin and won’t harbor bacteria (as long as you’re washing and caring for your toys properly).
Non-porous + inertness = a quality sex toy.
Common Materials for Sex Toys
If you’ve started to research sex toys, you might have noticed that many toys are made from silicone. Silicone rubber is an elastomer largely comprised of silica, which is an inert material. Silicone is also used in food-grade items since it’s important that chemicals aren’t leaching into our foods from our kitchenware. Silicone is also used often in medical devices. When silicone is used in medical devices and inserted into the body, it’s made into a special type of silicone, classified specifically as “medical-grade” silicone.
While silicone is generally safe for use in sex toys, it’s important to know that not all silicones are automatically non-porous and medical-grade. They need to be made that way on purpose. Furthermore, companies can insert additives or coloring into a product that makes a toy no longer inert, which is why it’s essential to purchase from reputable brands. Many brands are now opting to use medical-grade silicone in their products as it is the only type of silicone that has actually been tested to interact with human bodies. This type of silicone is more expensive, so it’s typically reflected in the price.
Like everything, just do a little bit of research beforehand to make sure you understand what type of silicone you’re buying. At TheVibed, our motto for our toys is "non-porous silicone and phthalate free; That's what I like inside of me!"
Consider these non-porous, phthalate-free silicone toys: Avant D10 Ergo Mini 6.5" Silicone Suction Cup Dildo or Ruse Juicy Silicone Dildo by Blush
Glass is both inert, non-porous, and easy to clean, which makes it a safe material for sex. You’ll just want to make sure the toy is sturdy enough and that you’re cleaning it properly after each use. As an additional fun benefit, glass toys also hold temperature well, so they can easily be heated or cooled to heighten sensations during play.
Looking to explore play with glass? Try this elegant and handcrafted glass toy: Icicles No. 57 by Pipedream.
ABS is a type of non-porous hard plastic. These types of toys are body-safe, easy-to-clean and generally smooth in nature. Silicone toys tend to feel more luxurious than ABS toys, but ABS is typically much less expensive than silicone. Most plastics don’t contain phthalates so you’re good to go there, but always check with the manufacturer if you aren’t sure.
Explore these Noje Pleasure Wands by Blush made from body-safe ABS.
Stainless steel and aluminum are common metal toys that are typically sleek, smooth and carry a bit of weight to them. These are also inert, non-porous materials, although metals can come in different grades. If a toy shows even the slightest sign of potential rust, it shouldn’t be used.
Like glass, metals are great for temperature play and can also be cleaned easily.
Go deep with this Master Series Metal Anal Plug from XR brands.
Wood & Stone
While less common than the others, you can actually purchase non-porous toys made from natural materials such as wood and stone. These toys are sometimes treated to make them non-porous and are often shaped into a sleek and beautiful design. Wood and stone toys are more likely to be high-quality (and expensive) novelty toys as opposed to your common everyday toys.
TPR, TPE and PVC
That’s a lot of acronyms, right? Let’s break these down.
Thermoplastic rubber (TPR), thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are materials typically found in porous toys. Jelly-like rubber is also another material that fits into the porous category (and one that commonly contains phthalates). The porous nature of these products means that microscopic holes can trap dirt and bacteria, even after it’s been washed. This bacterium can lead to infections once they’re introduced to those delicate mucous membranes we mentioned earlier.
It’s best to avoid toys that include these materials, but if you have a toy you really enjoy and insist on using, protect yourself by placing a condom over the toy.
Quick Tips for Toy Safety and Sexual Wellness
Consider the following as warning signs when it comes to your toys:
- If you notice any discoloration or changes in the material of your toy, this could be a sign of a chemical reaction occurring
- If your toy starts to smell (even if you cleaning are it), the toy could be harboring something funky and shouldn’t be used. Do note, however, that high-grade silicone may have a bit of manufacturing smell when first opened but this should go away soon after.
- If your toy suddenly develops a slick film, this could be a sign of the plasticizers breaking down, signifying that your toy isn’t inert and you shouldn’t be putting it on your nether regions.
- If a toy comes at a low price point, it may be a sign that it’s made with less than ideal materials. Medical-grade silicone is expensive to manufacture and often comes at a high price point.
- If you can find little information on a particular product or the manufacturer, steer clear. Reputable, high-quality companies stand by their products and list their materials with an easy-to-find and easy-to-understand approach. High-quality brands such as We-Vibe, Dame and Womanizer are a great place to start.
Whether you’re introducing a toy to the bedroom for the first time or perhaps even questioning some of your previous purchases, it’s essential to use toys that are safe for your body. Toys should be made from non-porous and inert materials and should be cleaned and cared for properly.
Remember, sexual wellness is just as important as other aspects of your health (if not more!), and you should always purchase from a reputable manufacturer. When in doubt, ask questions—it’s your health after all.