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

22 thoughts on “Buying a Sex Toy: What You Need to Know”

  1. Lilly

    Great post!

    Just to note: The manufacturers aren’t exactly labeling things incorrectly if it’s a silicone blend product and they just say “silicone”. It’s not faulty but it IS very very misleading. Like a drink being called “strawberry juice” when actually it’s a blend and very little of it is strawberry. By the very skin-flint laws as they’re written, an item has to only contain a mere 10% silicone to be legally called “silicone”. They can leave off the rest of it. It doesn’t mean it’s fair or trustworthy or right, but unfortunately there’s no regulation. The funny thing is, I’d expect a company like CalExotics or Doc Johnson to lead me on about their “silicone” products….but a smaller one like OhMiBod or Screaming O? I wouldn’t have expected that. It’s a sad reality.

  2. Penny Post Author

    Thanks! And yea you’re right; they aren’t exactly incorrectly labeled, misleading is a better word. But it’s definitely deceptive and confusing for consumers, and it is sad that there’s no regulation.

  3. Jack and Jill

    Excellent read. We’ve done our best to steer clear of anything not explicitly labeled “phthalate-free”, though there is clearly much more that any sex-toy-aficionado should know before making a purchase. Thanks for posting this.

    1. Penny Post Author

      Thanks Jack and Jill! I’m really glad you liked this post, and I hope others will find it helpful as well!

  4. Elspeth Demina

    100% silicone isn’t ALWAYS opaque. Vixen, Vamp, and Chavez Designz (formerly Jollies) all make translucent toys embedded with a material (glitter in the case of the first two, anything that will fit in a dildo for the latter). They’re not crystal clear like jelly toys can be, but they’re definitely not opaque and many folk would call them “clear”.

    Thanks for helping get the word out about safety and sextoy materials. It’s important info to get out there!

  5. Nat

    Brilliant article. As a retailer we try really hard to make sure that all of our products are labelled correctly so that everyone knows what they’re letting themselves in for. If anyone in the future wants a quick, easy to read guide for buying a new (or their first) toy, we’ll point them to this page 🙂

  6. Julia brown

    One thing- look for the ‘E’ dropped off of silicone, some packages will say ‘silicon’ with no E. this is a brand name and is usually a silicone blend, making it less safe then pure silicone

  7. Silverdrops

    I remember when I would have balked at spending more than £25 or £30 on a sex toy. But when you consider how easy it is to spend a good chunk of money on a dinner out or a night at the movies, it doesn’t seem so ridiculous to spend £50+ on a quality toy that will bring you pleasure for night after night. Though there are still many toys that are both inexpensive and safe, for those who don’t have that money to spend. I think a cheap and cheerful plastic bullet with a wired remote is the perfect starter toy for a woman who has never used a sex toy before.

  8. Janne

    Great article. If only people would think less with their wallets and more with their brain when it comes to buying sex toys. Especially when the “entry level” toys are not even that expensive. Buying that Lelo Ella to yourself or your partner will be much better thing than some stinky phthalate filled toy that will break after few months anyway.

  9. Z

    A great article I thought it was very illuminating. I learned allot. i knew about cleaning and sterilizing but not about part silicone and porous materials.


  10. Erika Instead

    I come back to this post often as I find it’s a handy summary of what to look for in a sex toy. You keep me vigilant and mindful of what comes into contact with my body.

  11. Deoni

    Thank you so much for the information. I would have never even known their was a difference between sex toys. Thank you so much, I will certainly use this knowledge when I purchase sex toys in the future!! Please keep up the amazing work!!

  12. Vicky's Dickys

    So I was under the impression that some PVC, Jelly, and Rubber were labeled as phthalate free (lots of Doc Johnson’s products are like this). Are the manufacturers lying on their labels or is this correct? We are trying to avoid selling anything with phthalates and still carry phthalate free PVC and rubber… By the way, great article! 🙂 Perfect explanation of everything!

    1. Penny Post Author

      Since sex toys aren’t regulated, there is no way of knowing if toys labeled as phthalate free actually are, and there are other harmful chemicals in PVC/Jelly toys besides phthalates.I recommend reading more about this in my article here, checking out the Dildology website, as well as the Toxic Toys Page on the Tantus website. I hope that helps!

      1. Vicky's Dickys

        So basically, unless you are using some completely safe material such as 100 percent silicone, glass, ect, you aren’t safe… That’s unfortunate. There is no winning in this unregulated industry! 🙁 I guess all we can do in the meantime is educate and at least not put things that are obviously dangerous in our store… aka cherry scented jelly dildos.. Gross lol.

        1. Penny Post Author

          Yeah, that’s it basically, although even some toys that claim to be 100% silicone aren’t, and as I learned recently, not all glass toys are safe. I talk a little about it in this post. In my opinion, the best thing to do is to only carry toys from respected manufacturers like Tantus, Crystal Delights, Lelo, etc. But yeah, definitely no jelly.

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