By Kendall McKenzie
Not all sex toys are created equal, and the most important things to consider when shopping for pleasure playthings are whether you'll like it (that's a personal decision, so you're on your own there), and what it's made out of. Non-porous materials — 100% silicone, stainless steel, glass, and some hard plastics — are non-absorbent, and have no nooks and crannies for germs to hide in. They’re fabulous because they’re easy to clean and disinfect.
On the other hand, porous toys are absorbent — they can’t be fully cleaned and may collect bacteria, which can cause infections. Using a condom with these toys keeps them as clean as possible.
Porous materials include elastomer, thermoplastic rubber (TPR), CyberSkin, SoftSkin, silicone blends (such as Sil-a-gel), jelly-rubber, PVC, vinyl, and other rubbery plastics. Porous toys tend to be some of the least expensive, so they’re appealing to shoppers on a budget, or those looking to try something new without a costly commitment — just don’t forget the condoms.
Unfortunately, sex toys aren’t regulated, and manufactures aren’t required to honestly list what they’re made of. A toy labeled “silicone,” for example, can legally contain as little as 10% silicone. (Silicone is the gold star of sex toy materials, so companies are eager to take advantage of consumer demand.) Buying toys from a reputable shop or website with transparent, detailed information about their products can help you make an educated purchase and care for your toy properly. Good Vibes, The Pleasure Chest, and Babeland are some of the most trusted resources out there.
With non-porous toys, a thorough washing with soap and water keeps them clean. 100 percent silicone, stainless steal, and Pyrex (borosilicate glass) can also be boiled for 10 minutes or placed in the dishwasher for extra disinfecting (do not boil plastics, silicone blends, or non-Pyrex glass, or put them in a dishwasher). If you’re planning on using a toy anally, it’s best to go with one you can disinfect.
Porous toys should also be washed with soap and water. However, it’s really best to use porous toys with condoms — whether or not you’re sharing them. CyberSkin and other realistic “skin”-like materials can be lightly powdered with cornstarch after washing to keep them from getting sticky, but be sure to wash the cornstarch off before the next use.
Battery-operated or electrical toys (like vibrators) require a little more caution. Use a soapy washcloth to wipe them down, carefully keeping water away from the electrical components. Water-resistant and fully waterproof vibrators can be washed normally with soap under running water, but never boil a motorized toy or put it in the dishwasher.
You can store your toys in plastic or cloth bags to keep them clean between uses, but avoid mold and mildew by making sure your toy is totally dry before you put it away. If your vibrating toys have removable batteries, taking them out between uses keeps the batteries from corroding and ruining your toy. Glass toys are generally very strong, but 86 them if they show signs of cracking or chipping.
Water-based lubes can be used with all sex toys, but never use silicone lube with any silicone toy (unless you put a condom on it) — silicone lube reacts with solid silicone and breaks it down.
Bottom line: Always follow the instructions you get with your toy or at the store (good sex toy shops will provide thorough directions). And, when in doubt, condoms are the best way to keep your toys as clean as possible.
The only thing you want to get from a sex toy is an orgasm. However, anytime semen, vaginal secretions, or fluids from STI sores are transferred to someone else’s body — via vaginas, penises, fingers, and yes, sex toys — STIs can be spread. The simplest way to stay STI-free is to throw a condom on any toys that may be shared (even if they’re not shaped like a penis), and swap the condoms before they touch someone else’s body.
Obviously, if you’re the only one using your sex toys, you don’t have to sweat the STI thing. But, if you’re more of the sharing type, make sure you protect those sex toys just like you’d protect your own genitals.
Sex toys can be used in a variety of orifices, which is great — yay for versatility! But, there are certain precautions you should take if you plan on using toys to explore multiple locations.
Always employ lots of lube for any kind of anal penetration to keep it safe and comfortable. Also, butt germs should be kept away from vulvas and vaginas, as they can cause vaginal infections and UTIs. Don’t go from anus to vulva/vagina (whether it’s your own, or someone else’s) without a thorough cleaning (non-porous toys), or switching out condoms (non-porous or porous toys).
Last but certainly not least, never put anything in your butt that doesn’t have a flared (wider) base or a failsafe way to retrieve it. While you can’t lose objects in your vagina because it has a definite end, anuses are a different story and can suck a toy right up, to infinity and beyond. I’d imagine that’s one ER trip you’d rather avoid.
RELATED: Everything You Need To Know About STIs
Beyond serving as a go-to source for vital reproductive care, the folks at Planned Parenthood— a team of knowledgeable experts in medicine, sexual health, and law — are passionate, informed advocates for knowing your own body. Planned Parenthood is here to tackle the big issues.