Bad Vibes: The Buzz On Not-So-Safe Sex Toys

We're way past the point where sex toys are taboo — these days, it seems as though everyone from teenagers to grandmothers is in on the Rabbit Habit. For all the good they can do for a healthy sex life, though, these "pleasure enhancers" aren't always, well, healthy. A class of chemicals called phthalates, commonly used in vibrators and other sex toys, are potentially hazardous to our health.
Phthalates are frequently used to make plastic toys more flexible and durable. Unfortunately, they can leach into the body, and they're associated with endocrine disorders, birth defects, and sperm damage — and even cancer. (Yep, they're the same baddies in cosmetics that may lead to early menopause, too.) More and more research is piling up on the negative effects of phthalates, and both the European Union and the United States are beginning to restrict their use. In the meantime, though, these chemicals continue to be used.
To be clear, not all sex toys have phthalates. Ethan Imboden is the founder and chief creative officer of sex-toy company Jimmyjane, whose toys are all phthalate- and paraben-free. "At the time that I started Jimmyjane, the prevalence of unsafe materials was staggering," he recalls. "Even from a distance you could smell the chemicals off-gassing from the products, and it was clear that they could also leach into the body during use."
While Jimmyjane relies on third-party testing to ensure the safety of its toys, many other companies do not — so how can you find a nontoxic sex toy among a sea of faux phalli? First, if the product has a "new car smell" odor, it almost certainly has phthalates, so skip it. And, if the box says "for novelty use only," that's a big red flag; this wording is frequently a loophole to protect manufacturers' liability.
In addition, avoid jelly-textured and PVC toys, which usually contain phthalates. Instead, look for rigid materials such as polycarbonate or pure silicone. When shopping, experts at sex-positive stores such as Babeland and Good Vibrations can highlight phthalate-free toys. And, as a last resort, you can always protect yourself by wrapping a toy in a condom. Here's to a healthier sex life.
Photo: Courtesy of Jimmyjane
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