Toxic sex toys: How to protect yourself from a lack of regulation

By Jessica O’Neill

It’s amazing how careful we can be about the ingredients that we allow in our bodies. A lot of people meticulously check food labels for gluten, chemical additives, trans fats, and GMOs, and they wouldn’t dare dream of buying certain cosmetics and shampoos that include parabens. I will admit to being a bit of a stickler when it comes to my skincare, and I know I am not alone in seeking out high-quality ingredients. So why don’t more of us worry about the ingredients in our sex toys?

Heads up: sex toy regulation barely exists

A few years ago, it seemed like everyone was up in arms about BPA water bottles and their potentially toxic effects – but many of those same chemicals can be found in dildos, butt plugs, vibrators and other insertable sex toys.

But surely they’re regulated like other products on the market, right?



Sex toy regulation (or rather, lack thereof) is incredibly frustrating because it barely exists at all. In fact, getting information about the actual chemical composition of the average sex toy is a real pain – and not in a good way. So, what do you need to know about sex toy regulation, and how can you protect yourself from toxic toys? We have you covered.

Why worry about what’s in sex toys? 

As with anything you apply to your skin or ingest in your mouth, the chemicals and ingredients in sex toys can leech their properties directly into your body. While this is of concern when it comes to your diet and your skincare, it should be even more of a concern with anything that comes into contact with your genitals. The membranes inside the vagina, rectum, around the penis and inside the mouth are all incredibly porous and can absorb toxins and chemicals far more easily than the rest of your body. 

If you’re careful about what you put in your mouth, you should be even more careful about what you insert down below. 

What is a phthalate?

If you don’t know what a phthalate is, don’t worry – neither did I (until recently, that is). Now that I do know, you better believe that there is no way that toys containing phthalates are getting anywhere near my vulva.

Phthalates are a classification of plastic chemicals, usually blended with other plastics in order to make them softer and improve flexibility. Think about all of those jelly toys you see in the clear plastic clamshells at the sex shop – they often contain phthalates to give them their wobbly look and feel. 

While they appear rather harmless, it’s come to light that phthalates could have serious side effects when they come into contact with your skin. Recent medical studies have shown that they are endocrine disruptors that can cause a whole host of problems. These could include kidney issues, hormonal imbalances, birth defects and lower sperm counts.

sex toy regulation

PVC and chlorine sensitivity 

Many of the sex toys that include phthalates also include PVC. Polyvinyl Chloride is a known skin irritant; one of the most common health complaints about sex toys is that they have ‘burned’ or abraded the skin. This is a negative side effect of the chlorine in PVC. Many people think that they have a yeast infection or BV after using PVC sex toys because the chemical can often cause burning and itching. It can get even worse, with some women reporting extreme discomfort and chronic pain as a result.

Sex toy researcher and academic Amanda Morgan tested 32 different sex toys to assess their chemical composition, and the results were disheartening. The toys she tested contained an average of 30-35% chlorine.

Safe sex toys = happier bits

After all of this negative information, you might be wondering about how you can protect yourself and only buy safe sex toys. Well, it’s not as easy as you might hope. In the USA, the FDA refuses to regulate the industry because “the agency does not regulate devices meant purely for sexual pleasure.” Here in Canada, things are the same – no government body regulates their health and safety.

So what can you do to ensure that you are not harming your genitals and inserting toxic chemicals directly into your body? Think about materials and ingredients and buy smart.

Be on the lookout for non-porous materials such as glass, pure silicone, stainless steel and hard plastic. That said, sex toy companies are not under any obligation to accurately label their products. If you’re in doubt, give it a big deep sniff. If you smell your sex toy and it smells like harsh chemicals, it is likely loaded with PVC. 

Where can you buy these safe sex toys? 

Let’s face it – healthier sex toys cost more money than the toxic options, but it is so worth the extra money. While you may be tempted by cheap sex toys from the sex shop on the corner, it pays to do some research and seek out a reputable local store to do your shopping.

Tantus founder Metis Black has some sound advice. “Support the businesses that make safe toys a priority, that use their resources to educate, that take a stand and advocate for consumers.” The more you support these businesses, the more impetus the bigger brands and companies have to follow their lead and focus on safety. After all, money talks. 

Some fantastic companies hawking safe sex toys include Vancouver’s Womyn’s Ware, Toronto’s Come As You Are, and online shops such as Good Vibes and Babeland. You should be on the lookout for brands such as Tantus, Jimmyjane, Funkit Toys, We-Vibe, Fun Factory, and Vixen Creations.

Want honest and reliable sex toy advice and reviews? Check out online communities and respected blogs such as Formidable Femme, Epiphora, and Dangerous Lilly. Finally, if you feel passionately about this topic, keep questioning, keep agitating for regulation - and keep voting with your wallet by buying safer sex toys.

Image source: Pinterest

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