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Buying a Sex Toy: What You Need to Know

The Story of my 1st “Sex Toy”

I shudder in horror when I remember my first real sex toy. Now that I know more about toys, I realize the first one I used internally possibly leaked phthalates and poisonous chemicals into my body. I was 18, I knew nothing about sex toys, and my boyfriend said he wanted to buy me a toy that was less than $50. I honestly can’t remember why we chose the ugly blue Ultimate Beaver.  I didn’t see or smell the toy before I purchased it, and the girl at the register gave me no opinion on my choice. Even if she knew it was gross, I don’t think she was allowed to say anything to me about the quality of the toy since this was way before the Sex Toy Ban in Texas was lifted (meaning sex toys were still only sold for “educational” purposes and were not acknowledged as actual sex toys.)

Luckily, I only used the toy once since I didn’t like how it felt and was grossed out by the material, and I ended up throwing it away. Afterwards, I stuck with my trusty plug-in “back massager” and was turned off of internal sex toys for a very long time. I eventually got a job at a lingerie/sex toy store, and for the past 3 years I’ve done my best to help people choose sex toys that will work for them and are safe to use, hoping to help others avoid my negative experience.  Fortunately there are many more safe toys on the market today than when I bought my first sex toy, but the Ultimate Beaver, as well as countless other potentially unsafe jelly toys, are still sold on the internet and in some adult shops.

Since there are various types of sex toy materials (glass, silicone, rubber, etc.) as well as numerous sub-types within each category (jelly rubber, thermoplastic rubber, “realistic” rubber etc.) learning about toy materials can be confusing at first. To simplify, I’ll begin by explaining the best options for safe, hygienic sex toy materials.

Non-porous Toys

I strongly recommend choosing a sex toy material that is non-porous, such as pure silicone, glass, metal, ceramic, or hard plastic, especially if it is for internal use or for use with multiple partners. If a toy material is non-porous, that means it is easy to clean and sterilize, and it doesn’t have tiny pores in the material that can retain bacteria and possibly cause or transfer infections. Non-porous toys can be cleaned with unscented antibacterial soap and water or a 10% bleach 90% water solution. After cleaning the toy, rinse it well with water or a wet cloth to remove all cleaning solution. Some non-porous toys such as pure silicone can also be sterilized by boiling for 2-3 minutes or by running them in the dishwasher (on the top shelf, with no soap.) For more specifics on sex toy care and maintenance, check out this article.

If you decide to invest in a high quality nonporous sex toy, you’ll want to make sure that you are in fact buying what you really want—a high quality nonporous toy. Often sex toy companies label toys as silicone when they aren’t pure silicone and are actually something else, such as a silicone-elastomer (porous) blend. To avoid purchasing a misleadingly labeled “silicone” toy, buy a silicone toy from a trustworthy manufacturer and keep in mind that pure silicone toys should always be opaque and odor-free.  If you aren’t sure if your toy is pure silicone, you can find out by performing a flame test. To view some examples of mislabeled silicone toys and to learn how to do a flame test, check out this article.

Stay Away from Phthalates

If you purchase a toy material that is porous (anything besides pure silicone, glass, metal, wood, ceramic, or hard plastic), the most important factor to consider is whether or not it contains harmful chemicals and or phthalates. Phthalates are esters of phthalic acid used to soften plastics and are commonly found in jelly, PVC, rubber, and latex sex toys. Toy materials that contain phthalates have a horrible odor, are often oily, and can potentially damage organs and cause cancer. To learn specifics about the harmful chemicals and phthalates in toys, read Dangerous Lilly’s Dangers of Jelly Sex Toys and Phthalates in Sex Toys. I strongly recommend avoiding these types of toys, but if you do use one, put a condom over it.

Porous Toys: Phthalate Free Materials

While non-porous toys are the most hygienic option, there are also some porous materials that are more durable than jelly/rubber toys and usually have little or no gross chemical smell. TPR, TPE, Elastomer, and silicone/TPR/TPE blends are porous but usually phthalate free. There are also some versions of TPR and TPE that are “medical grade” and non-porous, but if you aren’t sure, assume they’re porous. While these toys are safer than jelly toys, they can’t be sterilized and shouldn’t be shared with multiple partners. If you want to use a toy with one of these materials but are concerned about the porous aspect, use a condom or toy cover to help prevent bacteria build-up and infection.

Note: This is meant to be a general guide when considering what material to choose for your sex toy purchase; it is not an all inclusive detailed description of every possible material on the market. Within each material category (silicone, glass, rubber, realistic etc.), there are many different types of varying quality, and I recommend looking into/asking questions about your specific toy if you have any doubts about its safety or quality.

Roundup of Helpful Sex Toy Materials Links:

Dangerous Lilly:

Sex Toy Care and Maintenance
Dangers of Jelly Sex Toys
Phthalates in Sex Toys
Silicone Sex Toy Facts
Glass Sex Toy Facts
Flame Testing Silicone Sex Toys

Violet Blue:

Unsafe Sex Products and Toys – Consumer Beware