6 Tips For Buying Safer Sex Toys

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

Hot off the trail of okaying public masturbation, Swedish government officials are now investigating sex toys. In several municipalities, Swedish researchers are looking into the effect of hormone-disrupting chemicals such as phthalates in vibrators and dildos. While many countries have banned phthalates in certain things — like children's toys — because of their demonstrated dangers, there's little research on how these chemicals may affect us during adult playtime.

Previous studies on the chemical reactions of sex toys are unheard of, according to Swedish newspaper The Local. "What we know about these chemicals is that they have strong reproduction inhibiting effects but it is not known how people are affected by using sex toys that contain the chemicals," Anna Löfström, a Swedish environmental inspector, told news agency TT.

In the United States, several types of phthalates — a class of chemicals often used in making plastics, inks, paints, lubricants, adhesives — are banned for use in children's toys, bottles and bedding. Health officials are mum on phthalates in everything else, however, including their use in sex toys.

There's been a push in recent years to educate Americans about choosing toys made from safe materials. Here are a few tips, courtesy of The Kinsey Institute:

1. Look for toys labeled "phthalate-free."

According to the Kinsey Institute, no safety regulations exist for the U.S. sex toy industry, which means any “phthalate-free” claims aren't necessarily verified. But it's still a good place to start.

2. Stay away from these toy materials.

Sex toys made of jelly-like rubber, vinyl or PVC usually contain phthalates. They also tend to be more porous than other toys, which gives bacteria places to hide. Check toy packaging for a list of materials. If it doesn't say, use this rule of thumb: If the toy is bendy or squishy, it's likely that plasticizers have been added to make it like that.

3. Seek out silicone or glass toys.

Sex toys made from stainless steel, medical grade silicone or Pyrex glass are non-porous and plasticizer-free. They also tend to be much firmer than your average jelly-rubber dildo and more expensive.

4. Beware "novelty" toys.

"For novelty use only" is a label manufacturers use to get around certain standards of disclosure for personal products. These products tend to be the least expensive and frequently come from foreign markets such as China (where 70 percent of the world's sex toys are made) that have less stringent environmental standards.

5. Use the smell test.

Any sort of chemical, rubbery or 'new car' smell is a bad sign.

6. Shop online.

Many sex toy websites contain detailed information about toy materials, as well as educational resources. And certain sites, such as Good Vibrations and Smitten Kitten, only sell phthalate-free toys.