Better safe than sore – overview of sex toy materials

When shopping for a sex toy people usually take into consideration price, size shape and overall look. Not everybody wonders what that toy is made of and whether the material is safe to use. In this post we’ll try to shed some light on this matter.

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Let’s start with the most important thing that we need to warn you about: phthalates.

Have you ever felt uncomfortable burning sensation while using a sex toy? Many women who experience that tends to blame their body – they think they have an infection or that they rushed the penetration. I know I did. However, if this burning sensation occurs while using the toy or afterwards it might be caused by phthalates. What exactly are phthalates? They are substances that are added to hard PCV to soften it. The problem is that this mixture is not a stable one. Phthalates start leeching from the toy making it smell bad, covering it in an oily film that irritates and dries out skin. What makes matters worse is that doctors aren’t aware of the toxic toys problem and therefore can’t properly diagnose irritation caused by phthalates.

How can we avoid unhygienic and unsafe toys?

We need to chose wisely, picking toys made of safe materials. Below you will find a list of most frequently used sex toy materials.

Rubbers, jellies, etc.

Most of the toys are simply made of rubber. Some kinds of rubber are safer than others. The best way to tell the difference is to smell the toy. It shouldn’t have much of a smell. If you feel a rubbery smell that means that the toy is most probably unsafe. Better safe than sore. The problem is that in brick and mortar sex shops toys are displayed in packages so we have to ask to check them. Moreover, toys are left in an airy room lose the smell. Other troubling signs are: changes in color (e.g. yellowing) and shape, leeching paints on other toys, being covered in an oily film, appearance of bubbles of gas. Those toys are a hazard not only to your genitals but also to everything they stay in contact with. They can decompose in a drawer or a bag, covering it and everything in it with toxic, stinky goo.

TPR/TPE

Thermoplastic rubber and thermoplastic elastomer are examples of non-toxic rubber (as long as the toy is really made of them and not only labeled as such on the packaging – a common practice). It can be cleaned with soap and water or sprayed with a toy cleaner. However, because toys made of rubber are porous, even branded toy cleaner won’t be able to remove all microorganisms. Using more effective methods of killing bacteria and viruses is either impossible (like boiling) or inadvisable (like alcohol or bleach solutions). Therefore if you plan to share between partners or orifices cover them with a condom. This is especially important if you plan to use the item anally as well as vaginally – a condom will always be safer than a thorough washing. Only water-based lubes are compatible with those toys.

Latex

Latex is most often associated with condoms and snug fetish clothing. Sometimes it is also used to make dildos, vibrators or plugs. It’s porous and therefore hard to sanitize. It is best cleaned with toy cleaners and lubricated with water-based lubes. Because frequent exposure to latex increases the risk of developing latex allergy that worsens over time, we recommend using latex-free alternatives whenever possible, especially if you already started developing a sensitivity.

Elastomed

Medical grade elastomer is another kind of rubber but this time non-porous and easy to clean. Despite it’s advantages there aren’t many toys made of it. Manufacturers we trust that use it are: Sin Five, Naomi Tang and Fun Factory (only in their Laya Spot and first model of Smartballs). As above soap and water or toy cleaner for cleaning and water-based lube for reducing friction.

Skin-like

Under this category we placed toys made of branded materials such as Cyberskin as well as those cast with whatever was left in the factory. We can’t be more specific since full composition of those toys is not publicly known. Some of them were tested and pronounced phthalates-free but the vast majority wasn’t, so we have no way of knowing. But what is known, is that even high-priced branded materials as Cyberskin are porous and prone to mechanical damage. If you want realism it’s safer to pick dual layer silicone dildos, particularly those made by Vixen Creations (their silicone blend is called VixSkin).

The problem lies with toys for penises called sleeves or strokers. High end ones are made of Cyberskin or TPR because this material is very soft and comfortable. Silicone sleeves are rare. Although the risk of acquiring an infection by putting the penis into a toy is less than when putting a toy in the vagina, keeping sleeves clean is still important. They should be rinsed right after use, before body fluids dry up on them. Some of the toys can’t handle even gentle soap so it’s important to read care instructions from the manual. CAUTION! Use only water-based lubricants with skin-like materials.

Silicone

Silicone is a non-porous material that can be sanitized with alcohol or bleach and boiled. However, going to such extremes is most often unnecessary as for our intents and purposes it’s non-porous. Simple mechanical cleaning with soap and water is all you’ll need, unless you plan to use the toy vaginally after putting it in the ass and wish to be extra safe. If it doesn’t have a motor, boil it (just don’t let the water boil out or the toy will get burned!). Dishonest manufacturers sell toys made of cheaper materials as 100 % silicone. Some of those products can’t withstand boiling. It’s for us to decide whether we want to use a toy that probably isn’t silicone and therefore has pores that may harbor bacteria or to risk boiling. True silicone won’t be harmed by boiling. As it happens toys made of pure silicone are very durable and unless we throw them into flames or leave them in the mercy of our pets they will serve us as long as we want, all the while looking and working just as good as they did when we purchased them.
We can use water or oil-based lubes with silicone toys. Silicone-based lubes should be avoided in this case since they can damage the toy making it gummy. If we really want to use a silicone-base lube we can do a spot-test on the base of the toy. A few of quality silicone lubricants are fine to use with silicone toys.
It is worth remembering that sometimes condoms come pre-lubricated with silicone-based lubes. So if we want to use one we should either buy the ones without lube or those where the lube is marked as water-based.

The best course of action is to buy from trusted manufacturers. This gives us certainty that what we get is 100 % medical grade silicone. At the end of this post we compiled a list of manufacturers we trust.

Flame test

Flame test is quite popular with reviewers. It’s results can be hard to interpret, especially to those with limited experience as there are no clear-cut guides. It consists of putting a flaming match or lighter to the silicone. If the toy isn’t silicone it can melt. If it’s silicone it can burn, leaving a layer of light gray ash and soot that can be easily removed. The material damage to silicone toys is minimal unless we let them burn for too long.

(We plan on flame-testing a few of our toys and putting the video here)

That’s all for the soft materials, but we have a few others that are safe and fun:

Metal, Glass and Ceramic

All of the above are non-porous and can be cleaned well with soap and water. If we let body fluids get dry on them a bit of dish soap goes a long way. All three can be sanitized with alcohol and covered in all kinds of lubricants. However not all glass and metal toys are created equal. For example, beloved by reviewers, dildos and plugs by N-Joy are practically indestructible as they are made of high quality stainless steel. I wouldn’t say the same of their knock-offs despite the fact that they look just as good in official photos. Ceramic toys shouldn’t be boiled, metal and some kinds of glass can be, but we can’t see a reason to do so apart from piece of mind.

Glass toys!? Really?

Yes, really. Some people can be surprised but glass toys are a thing. Borosilicate glass that is used for high quality glass toys is very durable. It’s the same glass that is used by Pyrex brand for their cookware. But even if we buy lower quality glass there is no reason to fear that the toy would break during use. More care is required during washing since that’s when it’s easier to scratch the surface with rings or drop the soapy toy.

It is safer to store glass toys in separate padded pouches since they keep toys from taking a chip off each other. We should also be careful with extreme temperature differences, especially if the toy isn’t made of borosilicate glass. Instruction manuals usually warn against putting toys in the freezer or microwave.

Wood

Quality and safety of a wooden toy is determined by the finish that has been applied. Wooden toys made by top companies like Nobessence have long-lasting, body-safe and non-porous finish. However most of the wooden toys are made by small companies that only cover them in a few layers of washable waxes that leave them porous. Best way to determine whether the toy will keep it’s shine (and stay microbiologically safe) is to check what kind of sealant the company uses by visiting their website. Specific are instructions are usually provided with the toy.

Hard plastic

Hard plastic is another safe material (unless it’s been covered with a toxic finish or paint). Pores in it are small enough not to encourage bacterial growth. However, plastic toys are often covered with polyurethane (substance used to make non-latex condoms) to get satiny, matte finish. Those toys are marked with “PU coated”, “love cote”, “velvet cote” etc . As this material is easily stained we have our doubts whether it is non-porous. We recommend covering with a condom when sharing between orifices or non-fluid-bonded partners.

Plastic can be sanitized with alcohol or toy cleaners. It can’t be boiled as it will become brittle. We can use all kinds of lubes with it unless it’s covered with PU – then it’s best to stick to water-based.

Another problem with plastic toys is that they are sometimes covered in a layer of paint that chips off during use. If you don’t want flecks of probably not tested paint in your genitals better steer clear of vibes that look like they are made of metal but are actually plastic.

Leather and its imitations

We included those because of BDSM gear and harnesses they are used for. Both are impossible to disinfect so they are best suited for fluid-bonded partners. Other solution is to assign toys to people who are likely to leave their body fluids on them – e.g. a whip to the person who gets hit with it or a harness to the party who wears it.

Trusted companies

Below you’ll find a list of companies that don’t lie when they claim that their product is 100% silicone.

Tantus
Happy Valley
Babes-n-Horny
PleasureWorks
Standard Innovations/We-Vibe
New York Toy Collective
Bad Dragon
Aneros
Marc Dorcel,
Nomi Tang
Vibe therapy
Vixen Creations
LELO
Fun Factory,
BS is Nice
rocks off
Je Joue
Nexus
Bswish
Evolved Novelties
Toyfriend
Minna Life
Laid
Mae B

Ignorance is not feminist

I was meant to write about butt plugs. Instead I got my hands on Inga Muscio’s Cunt. So you get a pre-review rant.

There is nothing that turns me off feminist, sex-positive works like anti-science, irrational and ignorant statements. I just can’t stomach the woo-woo shit. It’s harmful and it’s insulting. Every time someone puts down “western” medicine as man-made they imply that critical thinking is something beyond a woman’s brain.

I can’t stand the naivety of people who promote Big Supplement and Big Quack while throwing stones at Big Pharma. I despair at women who poo-poo highly effective and safe methods of contraception and fail to mention that the alternatives they propose are only suitable to people for whom unplanned pregnancy wouldn’t be a problem. I feel sick whenever somebody praises the wonders of menstrual extraction or herbal abortions. If they were so wonderful then why fight for abortions in clinics? And I absolutely abhor the “birth is so medicalized” crowd.

I’ll grant you that the woo-woo is seductive in its simplicity. You just have to close your eyes and wish and it’s gonna be all right. It’s comforting. But the comfort it brings is just an illusion. I have once fallen for the homebirth agenda. I’ve watched the Orgasmic Birth and the Business of Being Born. I’ve seen how lay midwifes use the anti-patriarchal sentiments to sell the fantasy of female empowerment through natural and unmedicated birth. But the bubble bursts when you look at perinatal mortality rates (that homebirth midwifes are always very reluctant to release).

Medicine, when practiced properly, is based on evidence of efficacy. It is based on knowing the pros the cons and weighing them against each other. One of the reasons why woo-woo wins over people is that it doesn’t require knowledge. It doesn’t require critical thinking. It’s easier to “listen to your body” than analyse results and methodology of a clinical trial. It’s easier to invent a “wholistic approach” than to spend 5+ years studying how organs in the human body really interact and how to properly diagnose an illness based on it’s symptoms.

That’s all for now – I plan on posting a review of the book in the beginning of 2014. Till then please keep a level head and don’t let seductively easy ideas fool you.

Keep an open mind – but not so open that your brain falls out

most often attributed to Richard Feynman

Why we do what we do?

The answer may seem obvious to you: “who wouldn’t want to get free sex toys?”. After all it’s not like those products are cheap. In comparison with other goods produced on a similar scale, with comparable material costs and electronic sophistication they are usually really, really expensive. Just think about any simple electronic appliance that has one basic motor, a switch with a few options and is connected to a source of power (battery or wall socket). How much do you expect to pay for it? And now try to find a good sex toy in this range.

I won’t lie: the shame tax on sex toys makes them expensive enough that it would be difficult for us to buy everything we own by ourselves. And yet… it’s just a tiny part of the answer. If you factor in our monetary investments in the website, hours and effort we spend on writing and advertising (not to mention testing toys we don’t like) and compare it with the value of the goods we have so far received – it would make a better sense business wise to get a second job.

The real answer is we care about  sex and pleasure education. Every time someone ends up literally burned by a sex toy, every time a woman thinks she’s broken because she can’t get off the Hollywood way, every time someone ends up in the ER with a slimline vibrator stuck up their rectum there is suffering that could be so easily prevented. I remember how during our never ending talks Caramel asked me why I wrote my Polish website on female masturbation. I couldn’t find the right words to express what I was feeling. I talked a bit about the safety advice but felt there was something huge missing. Then she told me: “you simply can’t stand a woman being unable to ever come”.  She got it! Granted – it was a simplification – an orgasm isn’t the most important thing about sexual pleasure, but so frequently the lack of it is a symptom of sexual misinformation and disconnect.

I review because toys can be fantastic and life-changing. They can also be disappointing and  harmful. And sometimes it takes just one bad experience for someone to give up on them. I’m a sex toy geek. I want to know which product is stronger, which is squishier, which has more settings even if it’s something I don’t have the anatomy to enjoy. I’d like to think I have the knowledge. However,I don’t think others should have to be like me. People deserve great toys even when they don’t want to spend hours researching.

So I’m either on a selfless mission for sex education or want to make you come as hard as I can while still saying monogamous with my girlfriend.