The “Dildo Wars”- Dildology, Doc Johnson, and Sex Toy Testing

A week ago, Dildology posted the results of lab testing of the composition of the James Deen Realistic Cock, which found that the dildo was composed of 39% PVC and 61% Bis(2-ethylhexylhexahydrophthalate.) This is problematic, considering that Doc Johnson claims the James Deen Realistic Cock is made of “Non-Phthalate PVC with Antibacterial Sil-A-Gel” and Dildology’s test results seem to show that it is actually made of 61% phthalates.

So what is the big deal? The big deal is that phthalates, chemicals used to soften plastics, have been linked to negative health effects that range from burning and irritation upon contact to more serious problems like organ damage and cancer. While the true extent to which phthalates are harmful is unknown, the concerns have been enough to have them banned in children’s toys in the US since 2009 and restricted in children’s toys by the European Union since 1999.

Since more people have become educated about the negative effects of phthalates, which have been commonly used in jelly sex toys, some sex toy companies have responded to consumer demands by phasing them out of their product lines, or even better, by only producing toys made of safe, non-porous materials like 100% silicone, glass, and metal. But the problem is that there is absolutely no regulation of sex toys. So just because a toy package says a toy is phthalate-free or silicone doesn’t mean it really is.

This has been a known fact to people in the sex toy community, but up until recently no one had a solution for tackling the issue. This is where Dildology came in. The organization formed with the mission of verifying sex toy materials by sending sex toys that they get from retailers to accredited labs to be tested and then posting the results to their Wiki page.

The method in which Dildology tests sex toys is essential because it allows an unbiased sample of the product to be tested. If manufacturers sent Dildology toys directly to be tested, they could essentially make sure the product will pass ahead of time, and testing random toys from retailers prevents this. For the past few months, many bloggers (including myself), sex educators like Violet Blue, and some sex toy retailers have been helping raise awareness and funds for Dildology so they can begin testing products.

The James Deen Realistic Cock wasn’t the first toy tested (the Jimmy Jane Hello Touch was found to be 100% silicone as claimed), but since it was the first to fail, it’s caught wider attention. On Tuesday Lux Alptraum, CEO and Editor of Fleshbot, published “Sex, Lies, and Phthalates,” which discusses the results, phthalates in sex toys, and calls for petitioning government regulation of sex toys. Yesterday, Doc Johnson published their response to Dildology’s claims on their blog, in which they claim that Dildology’s findings are false and that they “deliberately incited public outcry by posting erroneous information without further research or attempting any contact with the manufacturer (Doc Johnson) beforehand.”

Now a lot of us don’t know what to think. Upon reading Doc Johnson’s response, Epiphora, one of the most respected sex bloggers in the US, tweeted,I dunno what to think. I do not know science.” Dildology has since updated the James Deen results page to also show Doc Johnson’s full response, and Lux Alptraum has added a link to it in her original article.

Doc Johnson claims that the Dildology lab test “lacks depth and sophistication.” Specifically they say that:

“The Dildology website is in error.  It is a common mistake made by non-scientists who do not have a working knowledge of polymer chemistry. The ECA testing lab used by the website found bis(2-ethylhexylhexahydrophthalate) which could, to the layman, appear to be DEHP. This misinterpretation and lack of deeper analysis speaks to the competency of the laboratory used.”

But what does this really mean? Hell if I know. I can’t even tell if they are claiming their product doesn’t have any bis(2-ethylhexylhexahydrophthalate, or if they’re claiming bis(2-ethylhexylhexahydrophthalate is in fact not DEHP (phthalate.) Either way, the plasticizers they claim they use in their toys earlier in the article (1,4-benzenedicarboxylic acid, di(2-ethylhexyl) ester and/or 1,2-Cyclohexane dicarboxlic acid, diisononyl ester) don’t match, so I’m confused to say the least. If I were a chemist myself, I feel like I would be able to interpret Dildology’s findings as well as Doc Johnson’s response more accurately. But since I’m not, I don’t know what they’re talking about.

Doc Johnson also says that they use three different third party labs to test their products and that they passed as phthalate free. But can we really trust results of a company’s products that are done by the company itself? I know that I for one don’t want material verification to take place solely at a company’s lab or on their terms, I want a non-affiliated organization to do testing on random products actually sold at retail stores. I want unbiased results. I want the truth.

By accepting a company’s (unregulated) product claims, we are assuming that they are having testing done on the products that we buy in retail stores, but how do we know that we’re getting the same products that were tested? Whether the testing is done in their own lab or the product is sent to be tested, it’s obviously in their interest to use a product that will pass the tests, regardless of whether or not it’s the same thing they actually use in their product line.

So who is right, and where do we go from here? In discussion about these “dildo wars” as Tristan Toarmino put it on Twitter, Lux Alptraum calls for government regulation of sex toys so it’s not a “he said, she said” issue. While I’m not opposed to government regulation of sex toys, it doesn’t seem like that will happen anytime soon. In the meantime, what do we do? Who do we believe?

For one, we can try to educate the public more about sex toys and advocate safer products made of silicone, glass, and metal, so that plasticizers/phthalates and whether or not they are included in toys won’t be so much of any issue. Many bloggers such as Violet Blue, Dangerous Lilly, Epiphora (and myself) are working towards this already. But even that can be problematic since there isn’t regulation and companies can essentially label toys as silicone even if they aren’t, though from experience handling many different products bloggers trust certain companies (like Tantus and Lelo) more than others.

Another thing we must do is think critically. I may not be a chemist or know much about the specifics of material testing, but I do know that I don’t automatically trust product claims from testing done by the company itself such as those done by Doc Johnson.

If Dildology’s findings are false, I can understand why Doc Johnson is angry, although I don’t think Dildology purposefully posted misinformation or tried to harm Doc Johnson’s reputation since they simply posted the test results they received from a lab without any commentary. And it doesn’t mean that we need third party testing of sex toy materials any less. If anything, it means we need more funding and support for third party testing in multiple labs to ensure accurate results.

And if Dildology’s findings are accurate, Doc Johnson obviously has a lot to gain from trying to discredit and stop Dildology’s mission.

Like many others, I’m confused by the “dildo wars” and the claimed results from Dildology and Doc Johnson. I plan to stay updated with the issue until further information comes to light. In the meantime, I still support the promotion of safe, non-porous sex toy materials as well as believe that we need sex toy material verification from third party organizations like Dildology that are unaffiliated with sex toy manufacturers.

6 thoughts on “The “Dildo Wars”- Dildology, Doc Johnson, and Sex Toy Testing”

  1. Megan

    I don’t have a working knowledge of polymer chemistry either… but I disagree with your argument that Dildology “simply posted the test results they received from a lab without any commentary”. Isn’t putting a big red label that says “FAILED” on it, the exact definition of “commentary”? They specifically claim that Doc Johnson’s claim of being phthalate-free is false, when the lab results don’t explicitly say that. It is their interpretation of the results that leads them to believe it is not phthalate-free. I don’t know for sure if their interpretation is correct or not (Doc Johnson says it isn’t, but who knows) but it IS an interpretation, not just a statement of the results. I think you at least have to acknowledge that fact.

    Although I do agree that there needs to be more regulation in general.

    Non-Phthalate,

  2. Epiphora

    Right, this is all very confusing. I feel like Doc would need to explain why bis(2-ethylhexylhexahydrophthalate) is not a phthalate, since they claim to use non-phthalate plasticizers. Or why the test showed that when in fact it is a different plasticizer. But is that even possible?

  3. Sarah

    Wow, I’ve been having issues with Doc Johnson brand dildos and toys on and off for years.sues with Doc Johnson brand dildos My first ever dildo was a DJ brand (marked 100% silicone), and it burned like the fire of a thousand suns. I thought I was going to die. If you asked me at the time, I probably would have said that was preferable. After the third time my cooter was in flames, I made the solemn vow to never touch another one again. This also meant not using anyone elses play toys when going on playdates. That sucks.

  4. Rayne Millaray

    I don’t know science, either, but I do know from D.A.R.E. and high school chemistry that it’s rare for a chemical to show up as one thing when it is, in fact, another.

    Do all those plasticizers they claim they use test similarly to DEHP? Who knows? But I would think a lab meant specifically for testing chemicals would know what to look for. Plus, what the hell does that lab care if DJ sells bunk toys?

  5. dv8

    I find the Dildology test results hard to believe. 31% PVC and 61% phthalate would mean the toy would be a goopy mess. The fact that the numbers show that the amount of phthalate is not only on the order of the amount of PVC but greater than it indicates that the lab results are horribly wrong.

  6. tyred

    Phtalates are used to “plasticize” molded parts and to help them release from the mold, when they are made. Before the health scares, just about everyone molding parts, and wanting parts to retain flexibility used phtalates…

    There may be a higher concentration of phtalates near the surface of the molded part – over the concentration inside the part – if a mold release is used in aid manufacturing.

    I agree that 61% phtalates (as reported) is very high.

    But I do not believe the Doc Johnson response that the analysis was not sophisticated enough….. Testing for the composition of rubbers and plastics has been around for years and years; it is a reasonably standard test.

    I believe the lab that phtalates were present. Whether phtalates were present in the concentration reported – is up for debate.

    And it would be reasonably easy to test additional parts.
    And it would be easy for Doc Johnson to change their materials spec and get rid of the phtalates, live many others have done.

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