Sex Toy Materials & Body Safety

Not all toys are created equal. Here's what you need to know before buying.


A major factor you should consider before buying a sex accessory is wether or not it’s "body safe", which means what it sounds like. Is this thing safe to put on or inside my body? Well, in most cases, if you’re buying a sex toy the answer is yes. However, it depends on the materials the toy is made of, which could be all sorts of bad.

At this point, you may be thinking, "Why would anyone make an object designed for bodily insertion out of materials that are not safe inside a body?" The answer is quite simple: it’s cheaper. Medical grade silicone is a modern miracle of chemistry made specifically for safely putting inside people, but it’s also super expensive. Instead, the same object could be produced with cheap phthalate-laden PVC for half the cost.

The sex toy industry is also not regulated in the way you may expect it to be. Manufacturers can pretty much say whatever they want about their products and what they're made of without any verification at all. Frankly, we think that's bullshit. We thoroughly research our products, and will never knowingly sell you something harmful. However, trusting us and our judgement isn't enough. You should be equipped with the knowledge to make decisions for yourself about what to use in the bedroom. That's why we wrote this.

This article is about the various dangers related to the materials toys are made of, and which types of toys are the safest and most dangerous.

Phthalates

The molecular structure of the phthalate family. R and R' are placeholders.

A phthalate is a type of chemical (esters of phthalic acid) that's typically added to plastics to produce a new material that is softer and more flexible. They're in a lot of different products that we use every day, like garden hoses, waterproof outerwear, cable coating, and even pool floaties. There's pretty good evidence, though, that some phthalates can be carcinogens and endocrine disruptors with enough exposure. Don't think that means you're giving yourself cancer every time you water your garden. Coming into contact with phthalates in those types of products is no problem. The issue is twofold: sensitive people (children) and sensitive areas (genitals).

Because of the soft and flexible properties of things produced with phthalates, they were popular in children's toys. After a while, some research showed that they can harm reproductive organs in young children, especially boys. Children are particularly succeptible to harm because their bodies are not fully developed and the younger kids often put their toys in their mouths. Both The United States and European Union have now banned children's toys that contain more than 0.1% phthalates.

Even though you're an adult with a matured immune system, your body still has vulnerabilities that can help phthalates get absorbed. Your mouth, anus, and genitalia are great places for your body to soak up any nasty chemicals, and they also happen to be perfect candidates for sex toy use. Continued use of toys that contain phthalates is just the ticket to get all those nasty side effects like cancer and organ damage.

While many people are getting wise to the dangers of phthalates, and the number of sex toys containing phthalates are decreasing, they're still on the market. Materials such as Jelly, Rubber, PVC, Vinyl, Cyberskin, UR3, and any other realistic stuff all potentially contain phthalates. However, there's no real way to know for sure since the manufacturer can tell you whatever they want. Phthalates have a tendency to produce a distinct rubbery and chemically smell, which makes for about the best detection method short of chemical testing.

Further Reading: Phthalate on Wikipedia, Phthalates in Sex Toys on About.com

Porous Materials

Porous latex glove material zoomed in to 50µm
An electron microscope view of a porous latex glove, scaled to 50 micrometers

A toy doesn't need to be made with bad stuff to be considered toxic. If it's porous, meaning it's got tiny cracks and holes along its surface, it can grow some nasty stuff after use. Don't just think you can clean your porous toy and everything will be right as rain happily ever after, though. The kind of cracks and holes we're talking about are too small for that. They're the perfect size for bacteria, mildew, and other fungi to creep into and make a home, but small enough that applying toy cleaner to the surface can't really get them out. Realistically, once a toy is infected, that's it; there's no getting it back to sterile. Would you knowingly risk putting something in or on your genitals after bacteria has seeped into its pores and incubated? This is just a warning of the worst case scenario, however. As Dangerous Lilly explains, "All toxic toys are porous, but not vice versa." Higher quality porous toys that are well taken care of can last a long time without becoming dangerous at all. Porosity merely introduces this risk that non-porous materials don't have, making it less likely to be body safe.

Further Reading: Dangerous Lilly on Porous Toys

Material Choices

Based on the possibility of pthalates and the porosity, we've divided a list of common sex toy materials into three groups.

Body safe:

These materials are all non-porous and phthalate free. You've got nothing to fear here.

Probably not body safe:

These materials are porous, and some may contain phthalates. Be wary, and don't buy unless you know what you're getting into.

Safety grey area:

These materials are a little porous, and may be completely body safe if taken care of properly. Tread lightly.

  • Elastomers
  • Thermoplastic elastomers

Unfortunately there's no hard and fast rule to clarify which toys are 100% body safe. You'll need to balance what you learned from this articles and others with your preferences to decide on the toy that's best for you.