One of my biggest passions in the sex industry is knowledge about sex toy safety. The sex toy industry is unregulated, and there are so many companies pumping out materials that can literally damage your health. Like many others, my first sex toy was made out of materials that gave me perpetual yeast infections, and I’m very lucky the damage wasn’t worse!
The undisputed expert on sex toy toxicity and safety is Dangerous Lilly, and much of my knowledge is sourced from her hard work. For something more in-depth, definitely spend some time on her site! This page is meant to be an extremely basic look at sex toy safety for quick reference.
Toxic & porous materials
Do you remember a few years ago when phthalates were banned from children’s toys because they were proven to have harmful effects? Well, don’t worry, they’re still allowed in sex toys! Phthalates are a kind of plastic softener, often used to make toys squishy. But they’re far from the only toxic material in sex toys! Jelly toys are literally full of chemicals that can cause allergic reactions, or even chemical poisoning. Keep in mind: most sex toys are going to come into contact with mucous membranes, which are very thin and delicate and excellent at absorbing things. Some of these materials will even break down over time, or if exposed to heat, or interacting with one another. Even putting on a condom won’t help because the leeching oils will damage the condom.
But even toys marked “body safe” are not always. First, there is literally nothing stopping a company from mislabeling their toys, so that’s fun. But more importantly, even toys that aren’t necessarily made with harsh chemicals can be porous. A toy made of softened plastic or certain kinds of rubber (TPR and TPE are popular “body-safe” choices) will contain microscopic pores in the surface, and those are a great place for bacteria and mold to survive. Most of these toys can’t be boiled because they’ll melt, and a bleach cleaning might damage them or simply may not reach into the pores. So, bacteria and mold will just persist and grow. And then you’ll introduce that bacteria or mold into some very delicate regions. Do you see where I’m going with this?
Some popular bad materials include softened PVC, PU, “jelly,” or most of those “proprietary” material blends like Doc Johnson’s ULTRASKYN and Sil-a-Gel. To be on the safe side, here’s a list of soft materials that are actually body-safe and non-porous:
That’s it. Silicone is non-porous (or, rather, it’s hydrophobic, so what pores it does have cannot harbor bacteria), is chemically stable and will not melt (contrary to popular myth), and is available in a number of densities, so you can get the soft, squishy toy of your dreams without compromising your innards.
Pretty much any hard item will be fine. ABS plastic, steel, glass, even the hard PVC of a Hitachi wand? Totally fine. (Wood needs to be lacquered with body-safe materials. It isn’t body-safe in its natural form. Also, splinters.)
These rules of course apply to things like dildos, vibrators, and butt plugs. A gag with, say, a silicone bit and a polyurethane strap isn’t usually going to be a problem unless you’re trying to shove the strap somewhere uncomfortable. Also, toys for penises can get away with less safe materials because the skin of the penis isn’t as delicate as a mucous membrane, but I’m gonna go ahead and say it still isn’t ideal.
Also, apparently you need to watch for peeling paint.
Is this toy really silicone?
Toy manufacturers and distributors do sometimes lie about the material their products are made from. They know people want to buy silicone as more and more buyers become aware of safe sex toys, so their solution, sometimes, is to just slap the word “silicone” on their Amazon listing and hope no one knows how to Google things. So how do you know your toy is real silicone?
First, buy from a reliable distributor. SheVibe, Good Vibrations, Babeland, Betty’s Toybox, Early to Bed—these sites are pretty careful about what they carry, and if they do carry something questionable for one reason or another, they will warn you about it. And many small sex toy creators, including Tantus, Geeky Sex Toys, and Lust Arts, work exclusively in silicone, so you’re safe with anything they’ve made.
Second, learn the properties of silicone. It cannot be crystal clear, so a lot of toys are ruled out right away from looking at the online listing. Silicone is also pretty neutral in scent. If you purchase a toy and it smells like a new shower curtain, it may be bad news bears. If it smells like strawberries or chocolate, throw it out—many manufacturers introduce artificial smells to try to cover up gross chemical scents. (Silicone can sometimes hold onto smells from manufacturing, but they’ll go away if you wash them.)
Third, if all else fails, try the flame test. If you put a lighter to, say, the base of a squishy dildo, and it bursts into flame, it is NOT a safe toy. (Also please have your fire extinguisher handy.) If it melts, it’s not a safe toy. Silicone produces gray or white ash.
Butt toy safety
Butts! Butts are fun. They have a lot of nerve endings, and some of them even have prostates. Perhaps this is why so many people end up in the ER with cucumbers, shampoo bottles, or—yes—vibrators all up in their business, and have to get the item extracted from their business. The butt does a neat trick where, sometimes, it’ll pull things in further than you intended to put it. And technically speaking, your anus doesn’t have an end. It just turns into intestines. So there’s nothing stopping it from just…staying there.
Do you know what doesn’t end in an ER visit? A toy with a reliable flared base. If it doesn’t have a flared base, don’t put it in your butt. That cute, tiny bullet vibe that looks so nice and non-intimidating? No. That straight dildo that consists of just a shaft and head? No.
Butt plugs will usually have a decent flared base—something that extends past the ‘head’ of the toy—but even some of those are a little questionable. A silicone plug with a “loop” for a base can occasionally experience a sort of crumpling of the base and still end up getting pulled in—it’s not extremely common, but it does happen, so if you’re really into a toy like that, loop a finger through it and do not let go. Loops on metal or glass toys are usually reliable, but because Pipedreams is a shit company, there are several stories of the neck of a plug breaking, and the loop no longer being connected to the base. (Steel is not likely to break unless you’re Superman. Clark Kent, if you’re reading this: be careful.) Submissive Feminist has also mentioned that many princess plugs may not be safe, because the base may not be big enough. So be advised and read reviews!
As for dildos or vibrators: if it’s a realistic dildo with balls, you’re probably fine. If it has a huge base, you’re fine. If it has a slightly smaller but still substantial base…guess what? You’re still probably fine.
Be sensible. If you’re not sure if it should go in your butt, then don’t put it in your butt.