Feb 092012
 

Silicone sex toys are heralded as the most superior sex toy material to many people. Silicone dildos can vary through a range of densities and silicone vibrators can feel plush without the potential for harm (like jelly or rubber). I picked the brain of Metis Black1, the fabulous woman behind Tantus Inc, makers of some very awesome silicone sex toys. She is one of very few sex toy manufacturers that I fully trust to tell me the truth. Get your sex geek on and find out some myths and facts about silicone sex toys!

Myth or Fact: Silicone sex toys will “melt” or degrade if they touch each other while in storage

I own a lot of silicone. Scratch that; I own a lot of quality, true silicone. And I’m not diligent about storage. So if there’s anybody who can say that this is a myth, it’s me. And Metis. I asked her about this and she said:

I think this came from so many toys that were TPR or TPE that were (and continue to be) mislabeled silicone. Thermoplastic materials melt because they are unstable (they have free electrons that try to bond to other materials). As these electrons leave the toy, the toy disintegrates. No silicone is going to melt. At 600 degrees F it turns ashy. A silicone toy like the O2, with extra soft silicone, may burn off some of the dimethicone – flaming a little and becoming sooty- but still not melting.

So in other words if your silicone sex toy has any issues in your toybox, then it’s either not truly silicone or some rogue silicone lube from another toy got on it.

Myth or Fact: Silicone lube should never, ever be used with a silicone sex toy!

99% of the time you will be told that you shouldn’t use silicone lube with a silicone sex toy. I’ve parroted that info as well because it’s all I know. However a couple of manufacturers, Fun Factory for one, used to2 advertise that you could use silicone lubes with their silicone sex toys. 

The Metis quick-n-dirty science geek answer:

The only thing that links silicone molecules is silicone so that’s why you may need to avoid lubes. The quality of the silicones in the lubricant and in the toy make a lot of difference.

Let’s say you really like your silicone sex toys and you really like using them in the bath or shower. Water-based lubes will fail you here. Are you out of luck? Not quite. A higher quality silicone lubricant won’t mess up a silicone sex toy - usually (Metis recommends Sliquid and Pjur brands)

Even with these brands we recommend you do a patch test (just like you’re supposed to with hair dye): on the base of the toy put a dab of lube and see if the lube gets gummy (it doesn’t ever melt). If it does get gummy it will happen pretty quickly and with only a small patch, you can clean it off with your finger nail.

So if it’s possible that yes, the two CAN meet, why the drumbeat of “Use only water based lubes!”? Litigation.

It became a liability issue when someone claimed it “melted” the toy as they were playing with it and so the customer went to the hospital. The companies who made the lubricant and the dildo paid that hospital bill and made a settlement; they also started publicizing that their materials were not compatible.

If you purchase both high-quality lubes and sex toys3 then you should be safe to mix, but test it first. I can tell you that the Fun Factory Body Fluid was smeared all over a Fun Factory and 2 Tantus silicone items with absolutely zero reaction that damaged the toy. There was a little bit of a “machine shop” odor though (see really-long-footnote #2 if you haven’t already).

Silicone is perfect, it is non-porous and the ultimate in safety! Right?

A few weeks ago I pulled out some travel bottles called Go  Toobs that are a soft, silicone body and plastic flip cap. They boast as being really great for travel. What they don’t tell you is that they’re using a lesser grade of silicone. It’s food-safe grade, which is still pretty good quality, but everything in my travel tubes dried up. I thought, how is this possible? And the woman from the company tells me that silicone is porous. Wait, what? This went against everything I’ve been told and have told others about silicone sex toys. They’re non-porous! Body safe! Yes, they are. For the most part.

Technically silicone has very tiny pores and is virtually non-porous. The pores are smaller than virus’ and bacterias- but some smells can be absorbed4. With time those smells will go away- you can try putting lemon juice on it (though I haven’t tried it) and see if that helps.

Ok so they can still be sanitized. They’re not going to hold onto larger-spored things like mildew, viruses or bacteria. This is the important stuff. An odor can be gotten rid of. Just keep an eye on your anal toys consider 10% bleach washes more often on those.

ETA:Super-soft silicones, like the outer layer on the Tantus O2 dildos, can absorb small amounts of dye depending on the situation. A few years ago it was reported that ForYourNymphomation sex toy cases had a lining with a dye that could transfer to certain toys. The more solid silicones will not take on any dyes but really soft types can. They’re still medically non-porous, however.

Myth or fact: If you see a clear (or stretchy, i.e. a cock ring) “jelly-like” sex toy that claims to be silicone, it really isn’t

This is fact.

Contact Lenses can be made from silicone so yes it can be ultra clear- however silicone that clear is really hard, brittle and about 10 times as expensive for raw materials. It’s beautiful but I’ve never been able to figure out an application in toys where I could justify charging that much. If it’s clear and super stretchy- there is no way it’s silicone. Tantus is shortly introducing the first super soft c-rings- they are nicely stretchy. Every buyer who’s seen them has been really excited- they are coming out later this month, in about a week. As you’ll see however, these rings aren’t clear.

Which leads me to the next question…..

How can the consumer tell if their sex toy is truly pure silicone, and not a blend?

Really it’s still a buyer beware situation. After we burned “silicone” in Australia a few years back, another vendor friend said his stuff was silicone- I told him it wasn’t. I saw this friend’s website recently telling me and you that all their crystal clear super stretchy cock rings were silicone. They aren’t. China told them they were though, and they seem to be sticking to China’s authority. Remember most “manufacturers” don’t manufacture anything but package design and sales strategies. Sometimes they do some engineering but often they don’t even do that. This allows companies to rapidly enter the market- all they need is a warehouse for storing boxes.

Now, Metis isn’t recommending that we all turn into pyromaniacs, but the infamous “lighter test” will work to melt TPR, Sil-a-gel, silicone blends and other silicone-look-a-like materials. I’ve recently added a post all about the flame test for silicone sex toys which includes video so that you can see exactly what happens with true silicone products vs silicone blend products (which are marketed as merely “silicone”) when you light them on fire (or try to).

What do all these words mean, isn’t silicone silicone? What makes Japanese silicone better than medical grade and what is platinum? Why do they have to confuse us??

Because they’re salesmen? Platinum isn’t just a word used for high-selling albums and expensive wedding bands. Metis said first to me, in part replying about the lube compatibility issue that “It’s about different chemistry, some lesser grades of materials bonding. Originally it was a Tin not a Platinum silicone (this refers to chemicals that are in the silicone which make the two liquids into a solid– vulcanize it).” But of course you’ll never see Tin used to describe a sex toy.

The refining process of making silicone was originally created by GE back in the 50’s and they sold the patent to Dow. Then GE apparently figured out the value of it, and created a totally separate method of processing it. There are several other raw processors who make the base materials from sand, ‘silica’. One is a German company Wacker, another a Japanese company Shin Etsu. The only reason to reassure people that it’s Japanese or German is because there is inherent quality believed by consumers to belong to products coming from those two countries.

So apparently the general public has been heavily swayed by cars. Awesome. Also? “Wacker”. *snickers* Yes, I’m 12.

But on the other side of the naming coin is the trickery used by lesser quality manufacturers to make us think that something is silicone. You may see things called TPR-Silicone, Silicone-Elastomer Blend, SEBS, Cyber-Silicone. These are all terms meant to confuse you, and are likely not real. What would be the point in adding in some (much more expensive) silicone to a cheap and porous material? It won’t suddenly make it non-porous. It won’t actually provide any benefit. Sex toy companies started to learn that many people want silicone, so they started to come up with clever ways to make it seem like they’re giving you something special, when they’re not. This material categorization is like cafeteria mystery meat, and hopefully Dildology.org will soon figure out the true nature. It should also be noted that sex toy retailers copy from each other, and that they don’t quickly update their information – so if a manufacturer was once using the false “blend” term, and then stopped, the retailer likely won’t change. I have seen a lot of sex toys on EdenFantasys labeled as “TPR Silicone” and when you look at the manufacturer’s site, they usually refer to it as “TPR”..

Is there a difference between the shiny silicone, the matte silicone, the stuff they stretch over vibrators, etc?

Yes and no. I started off comparing things like the shiny and hard Feeldoe to the matte texture of the soft-exterior Cush O2. Metis said:

Matte silicone just has a different finish on the master or the mold. Molds on the Feeldoe, for example, are highly polished. The difference with the Cush is that the super soft silicone has a different chemistry- it has more of the silicones that are in lube, making it a little less stable (with silicone lubes). 

Ok but what about the silicone that gets stretched over mechanical vibrators?

The silicone on a Lelo, or a WeVibe, etc, is an injection material that needs heat in order to cure. You can make dildos with this material too but it’s a process that is much more effective with thin small amounts than with larger amounts.  You can tell a silicone toy that is injected like this because the molds have parting lines with small tolerances. Most of Fun Factories designs are made this way. Vixen and Tantus’ products mostly aren’t. The silicone again for both processes is very safe and stable.

I’ve also recently (after writing this post) read about Lelo’s silicone process. They coat their items with something called SST (Silicone Soft Touch) which aids in lending that powdery-silky feel. I know that a lot of other luxury silicone toy companies use this product (it’s basically a liquid silicone that is also body-safe) and so when you flame-test these toys you’ll get a different result than when you flame test the shiny/sticky silicone products. You can see in my video of flame testing that items coated with SST will show a scorch mark that rubs off whereas other non-coated silicone products develop a pale ash, from the dimethicone burning.

Myth: Silicone doesn’t feel as “realistic” though as Cyberskin/Jelly! Silicone isn’t as fun/sparkly! Silicone is expensive!

I hear too many people trying to defend lesser quality materials with arguments like these. Silicone doesn’t mimic a realistic feel or look? Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Mentioned before, the Tantus O2 line is a dual-density that has a really firm core with a layer of plushy silicone over top. Vixen Creations also makes some very realistic dildos. Two things though that these manufacturers won’t have in the “realism” department that a gross rubber/cyberskin dildo will have: multiple colors for a realistic skin look (i.e. painted-on veins and a pink cock head) and/or fake pubic hair. I mean, if you really have a burning need for that dildo to fool you into thinking it is a magical, dismembered human penis then I can’t stop you. But that fake pubic hair will trap all kinds of gross shit and the painted-on realistic features? That will wear off after awhile. Where is it going???? Think about that one. Silicone might not be clear and gem-like, but they can certainly add glitter to it. I’ve seen both Tantus and the almost-defunct Jollies LLC do it.

People will also complain that silicone toys are too expensive. I know, they can be. Some manufacturers exploit the whole “luxury sex toy” angle. But there is a valid reason why silicone sex toys cost 2-4 times the prices of jelly, rubber or TPR. And frankly if after reading this whole post you don’t understand why……then I give up! But if you are on a super-strict budget, just watch for sales or keep an eye on the closeout bin at Tantus.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So have you learned a lot or are you more confused? For me this reinforced my thoughts that when you’re buying silicone sex toys (which you always should, in lieu of jelly, rubber, cyberskin or PVC/vinyl) you should be purchasing them from a reputable company who isn’t just going to trust what China is telling them. Is China bad? Sometimes. Not all the time. It’s more on the manufacturer to do their quality checks. And, by the way, Tantus isn’t made in China. They’re made in the US, in their own shop and Metis knows everything that goes on. They are never in the hands of an unknown mass production company. Thankfully Tantus is not the only sex toy manufacturer that is knee-deep is quality checks, but sadly they’re still in the minority.

  1. I picked it so much that she might need a few days to re-generate; I really came close to being annoying. I might make a good reporter!
  2. While the site has changed and they no longer recommend that, they don’t forbid it, either. Manuals on the site will say that using a silicone lube might cause an unpleasant smell when the two collide. However, I found the packet of Body Fluid, FF’s silicone lube, and it came with my Ellove vibrator. The packet lists only two ingredients: dimethicone and dimenthiconol. Currently EF lists the ingredients of Body Fluid as dimethicone and Dimethiconol Cyclomethicone. Is there a difference? I opened my packet of Body Fluid and put it on the Ellove Vibrator, a Tantus dildo that is 5 years old and a Tantus dildo that is 2 years old. Nothing happened. Other brands of silicone lube include other types of silicone in with the dimethicone, so that could be why they will react with a silicone toy since like is touching like. End longest footnote ever.
  3. a high-quality silicone sex toy will be labeled as “platinum” and/or “medical grade”
  4. Kitty Stryker had mentioned to me on Twitter that she had an anal plug that has started to retain an odor
  • http://curvaceousdee.com/ Curvaceous Dee

    Utterly awesome article – extremely informative! I’ll be bookmarking this and referring back to it a lot, methinks :)

    xx Dee

  • http://www.kiraskink.com Kira

    This is so informative! Lots of good things cleared up here. I’ve been scared to flame test in the past, but I think if I have a question in my mind I will going forward. Thanks for taking the time to put this together.

    ~ Just do it at the base, but keep in mind that it WILL catch a flame for a second. Both of my Tantus test/showcase dildos did, but the TPE SinFive one never did, it just melted. The Tantus ones turned to a light grey ashy soot in the spot I burned, which just brushed off. I can’t even tell now where it was that I did that on my Tantus Silk.

  • http://selflovinggirl.blogspot.com WildOrchid

    Great article! Thanks for clearing up the smell retention question. I’ve been wondering about it when some people on menstrual cup comm complained about that.

    Would you do a video of a flame test? I think it might say more than a 1000 words ;)

    ~ I’m sure the menstrual cup is medical-grade silicone but perhaps because it’s so supple and bendy it’s more susceptible to smells? I know that those soft, pliable food-grade Go Toobs retained the odor of the bathroom products kept in them. (I didn’t bother to try and remove the odor I just tossed the Toobs). Either way, I think that if the cup is retaining odor then they’re not washing it often enough. The video of the flame test would be more telling if I actually had an item that claimed to be silicone but wasn’t! I don’t think I buy anything that cheap, though. But I will look into this!

  • http://www.blacksilk.wordpress.com Blacksilk

    This is just one of the finest things I’ve read in a long time. Thank you so much to you and also Metis and Tantus. Wonderful stuff. So informative and you answered several questions I had. I’d heard conflicting things about storing silicone with silicone and I’d recently been curious what makes silicone matte or smooth and tried to research it but got nowhere with it!

    I wondered actually if I could ask a sneaky question you might know the answer to. I’ve been told by one or two people to be careful storing even silicone toys in fabric bags because they can pick up the colour of the material. Does this have any truth to it?

    I can’t imagine it being true but I don’t want to ruin my lovely Tantus toys (or Jollet for that matter) because of it!

    ~ I actually asked Metis as part of the “is there a test” question if true silicone would pick up dyes, and she said that no it doesn’t. I’ve stored mine in fabric bags. Now, I will admit that I’ve heard that some old ForYourNymphomation cases have stained sex toys and I don’t think those ladies had rubber dildos so I’ll have to look into it a little more.

  • Metis

    The pigment within a silicone toy is totally encased by the silicone, so the pigment will never fade and it is impossible for it to pick up dyes. I’m not sure what toys were stained from the cases, but they were probably TPR.

  • Metis

    Apparently I’m wrong- it was an O2 product and the dye snuck into the soft silicone.

    I apologize- and it just goes to show I’m not the ultimate in “know it alls”.

  • http://curvaceousdee.com/ Curvaceous Dee

    @WildOrchid about menstrual cup smell retention. I know my DivaCup instructions state to boil it for considerably longer than my other silicone products (20 minutes rather than 5 or 10). I have followed this recommendation for the last two years, and I haven’t had any problems with my cup retaining odour – it still smells quite neutral.

    I also keep it in a fabric bag, and it’s not picked up any dye. Just my 2c.

    xx Dee

  • http://www.shevibe.com Sandra

    I learned alot and I think I’m going to be getting rid of quite a few items from our site. Tantus rules!

  • http://ruffledsheets.com Andy

    This is such a brilliant post.

    I’ve found myself reading it over and over so I know exactly what to advise people, should they ever ask me about silicone. Thanks so much for taking the time to write it (And to Metis for taking the time to be interviewed). It’s probably the most useful post I’ve read for a year or so.

    It’s interesting to hear about clear silicone. Chavez Dezignz, the company who now make Jollies silicone toys, claim that they are the only manufacturer to offer “platinum based crystal clear silicone”. See their status here: https://twitter.com/#!/CHAVEZDEZIGNZ/status/169282163202736128

    I’m going to ask them about it as I’m now a little skeptical…

    ~ Well, what Metis and I were really talking about is something more “crystal clear” like this, but really we were discussing stretchy cock rings like this one. They call is 100% silicone. Boldly! I then happened to click on a “related products” link there and found the Screaming O cock ring, which this company claims is made of TPR “food grade silicone”. No. TPR is fucking TPR, TPR is not “food grade silicone”. TPR is porous.

    Anyways, my point. The Jollies dildos aren’t what I would call crystal clear, they’re murky clear but they’re also really solid. They’re not rock hard but I’ve had their toys and it’s really firm silicone. The thing that Metis and I were mainly referring to is what I linked to above, the super-stretchy “silicone” cock ring lie. Since Jollies makes all their dildos by hand themselves I’m apt to trust them in their composition but I also might ask them.

  • http://pennysdirtythoughts.com Penny

    Thanks for writing this informative article! I had a lot of the same questions that you did about silicone toys. I’ve noticed a lot of toys that claim to be silicone and feel like TPR…it’s upsetting that so many companies either don’t know their own products or are purposefully misleading consumers.

  • Nick

    Thanks for the great article. I’ve read your other articles on sex toy safety and it really is nice that there’s someone out there pushing for education on the subject.

    My only beef with silicone toys is that there just aren’t enough of them. I only know of two companies that make silicone toys I’m interested in — Tantus and Bad Dragon — and neither of them make (for example) a double-headed toy. Any ideas? Maybe next time you have Metis’ ear you can ask her about doing a 12″ or so double dildo :)

    ~You’re right Nick, there just aren’t enough of them – mainly because it’s not cheap and the Big 5 companies like to go for cheap and sadly so do most consumers at first. There really aren’t many dildos on the market like the one you’re describing, mainly I think because it’s large and more of a targeted audience.

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  • Natalie

    Re: The pricing of silicone dildos. Obviously, there are a few reasons why silicone toys are more expensive. I know part of it is because it’s marketed as “high quality”. Thing is that silicone should be standard quality, not a special feature of a toy, and I think that’s why a lot of toy manufacturers drive up the price the second they drop the word “silicone”. If there was actual regulation on sex toys, I would hope that the price of silicone toys would go down. You can buy cheap kitchen utensils made out of silicone. I know sex toys are a different matter but it’s not just that the material is “too expensive”; it’s that toy companies that aren’t devoted to making silicone toys are milking silicone for all it’s worth and it’s a practice that needs to stop. Sadly, when sex toys are still illegal in some states in the US, I don’t see regulation happening anytime soon.

    ~ I do believe Metis when she says that silicone is not cheap. You can’t exactly compare the silicone of the truly good sex toys to the silicone of kitchen utensils. First, there’s the point that the companies making kitchen utensils are (usually) a much bigger company and production plant than the sex toy manufacturers. Their molds are generally easier to make than dildos, which usually get hand-poured and certainly easier to make than the enveloping skin that covers a vibrator. Second, better companies are using medical grade silicone.
    However, you ARE correct in that some companies crank up the pricing with the “luxury” lines made of silicone. I do not think, though, in our lifetime that we will see the porous rubber/pvc/vinyl-based sex toys abolished.

  • gardenlobster

    Just wanted you to know, I drudged this one up from the archive to share with my team of home party reps. Not all of us are uneducated soccer moms trying to make extra bucks by hook or crook. ;) I just wanted you to know this information is still vital and valid, even 2 years later. I’m starting to think there needs to be a collaborative published book on this topic. I read a comment recently on something else you posted from the archives, where a store-owner stated a “manufacturer’s” Chinese factory simply asked if they wanted silicone on the label, without clearly identifying the material used. With the recalls of Chinese children’s toys, jewelry, counterfeit condoms with holes, shoes, etc. that are toxic, not once have I seen an adult toy recall. Something to think about. Forgive the digression. I simply mean to say: thank you.