The bare minimum for a sex toy that doesn’t suck: materials and safety

Many consumers buy mystery material jelly dildos and vibrators because they’re cheap, without stopping to think about what jelly is, or its effects on delicate, internal mucus membranes.

You read food labels and make sure your ingestibles are safe. Why should you inspect your insertable sex toys any less carefully? Sex toys, unlike food, have no regulation in the market. As a result, they’re commonly made of cheap and toxic materials with neither the environment, nor the consumer’s safety in mind.

“Jelly” is an umbrella term for mixes of polyvinyl chloride plastic and rubber, with the addition of phthalates used to soften the PVC. Another way to understand phthalates is to think of them as dissolving the PVC, the way you can soften nail polish with acetone-based nail polish remover.

According to Tantus Inc., a manufacturer of silicone toys, a PVC sex toy is typically composed of 35-75% phthalates. If there is no plasticizing/softening agent, the PVC is a very hard plastic.

When you soften nail polish with acetone, the nail polish remover evaporates, right? Jelly toys do the something similar, but more slowly– over the span of weeks or months. If a sex toy has a vinyl “shower curtain” smell, it’s off-gassing and leeching the phthalates and other toxic chemicals into the environment. This can melt other jelly/PVC toys near it. Exhibit A: Smitten Kitten MN’s toxic toy jars.

Body-safe toys, including silicone, don’t do that when you store them together because they’re made to be chemically stable and inert. However, because there is no regulation, some manufacturers intentionally mislabel toxic toys as “phthalate-free” or “body-safe” because they know that these are buzzwords that consumers are looking for.

In the long run, phthalates are a suspected human carcinogen and endocrine disrupter, linked to infertility, cancer, kidney damage, and developmental abnormalities (in the case of, say, a pregnant woman masturbating, or a baby playing with a PVC teething ring). You don’t have to take just my word for it. The U.S. government recognizes phthalate-infused PVC as unsafe for use in children’s toys.

Other substances you might find in jelly toys include: cadmium, toluene, cyclohexanone, tetrahydrofuran, 1-Methyl-2-pyrrolidinone, phenol, dimethylformamide, dimethyl phosphite, and other chemicals with documented detrimental health effects. Because “jelly” is a vague term, and information about the ingredients isn’t required in toy packaging, you really don’t know what you’re getting.

Yes, it’s true that long names for chemicals might make them sound more scary than they really are. Some of these compounds are commonly used in organic chemistry laboratories, but only with the usual safety precautions of wearing gloves, long sleeves, pants, and closed shoes. They are not compounds meant to be inserted in your orifices.

Additionally, toxic toys are also unhygienic and impossible to sanitize because bacteria and fungi can live in the pores of the material. Even if you’re the only one using the toy. Even if you’re using it only in one hole. It is a cesspool of microbes that can multiply and can disrupt your natural balance. Even if you, say, soak them in bleach, all that really does is house bleach that can’t get totally be removed from the pores, but is gradually released as the material degrades, making the toy even more toxic.

So what do I do now?

If you feel you absolutely must buy a jelly toy, whether because of the price tag, or the feel of it, at least use a condom with it. But even that isn’t guaranteed to do much in terms of shielding you from these chemicals. Nobody is saying you WILL get infected or that you WILL get cancer if you use jelly on your genitals, but that you’re increasing your risk the more you expose yourself to it. Do your research when it comes to your health.

There are many body-safe materials to use, like glass, properly finished wood, ABS plastic, and steel. However, if you’re looking for a non-rigid toy, silicone is the only soft material that is both body-safe and non-porous. The only way to know you’re getting 100% silicone is to buy from a company you can trust to label their products accurately and/or do a flame test when in doubt. Bear in mind that big companies like California Exotics and Doc Johnson do sell both toxic toys and silicone, so while you can get quality, body-safe toys from them, it’s often a “buyer beware” situation.

Even the price argument doesn’t hold up very well in my mind. You can get brand name glass and silicone toys at a discount on Amazon, though it’s safer to buy from a direct manufacturer or a reputable store like, say, SheVibe or Smitten Kitten and know who you’re supporting. If you’re not particular about color, you can also get discounted silicone toys from directly Tantus via their grab bags. Often, you can take an even deeper discount off the already-low prices with coupon codes.

There are many, many options for affordable and safe toys, but suffice to say that, below a certain price point, you get what you pay for. The health of your internal organs isn’t something to be taken lightly– safety and quality are an investment.


A list of silicone toy makers you can trust

Tantus, Lelo, Vixen Creations, Fun Factory, Hole Punch Toys, Je Joue, JimmyJane, BSwish, Njoy, Nobessence, Papaya Toys, Crystal Delights, Swan, Jopen, Toyfriend, Minna Life, Laid, Bad Dragon, Damn Average, Fuze, Fucking Sculptures, BS is Nice, PleasureWorks, Standard Innovations/We-Vibe, Vamp Silicone.

This list is by no means comprehensive.

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