Jan 112015

A few weeks ago I received a lovely note that reminds me why I do what I do, why I’ll never back down and shut up and why I keep on researching and thinking, testing and theorizing, why I geek out about sex toy materials.

This may sound silly, but I wanted to thank you for all the information you share on your blog and on /r/sextoys. My husband asked for a BBD (big black dildo) for Christmas. I knew from previously buying plugs that we needed a good quality silicone, but was nervous about getting something online that I couldn’t really gauge the size of. So, I went to the local toy shop and asked for help picking out a silicone dildo. The lady there confidently directed me to Doc Johnson, ensuring me that Sil-a-gel was even better than pure silicone and that of course it would be fine with the coconut oil we use for lube. :/

A few days later, I found /r/sextoys and your blog. I’m so glad I did before I gave my husband that gift and we used the Doc Johnson! I tossed that stinky pvc thing and went shopping. Because money is tight, I settled on the Tantus Vamp grab bag, knowing I couldn’t pick the color. Well, it showed up today (just in time for the holiday!) and it’s perfect! The size is great. There’s no smell. Best of all, it’s black with just a hint of purple sparkle in the right light!

So, thank you. You’ve made one woman very safe and very happy this Christmas! …and I’m sure I’ll have a very happy husband when I give him his gift tonight!

And with this note, I’m both happy and pissed. Why pissed? Because for every one of us, in this army fighting against unsafe sex toy materials, there are 5, 10, 15 other retail sex shop employees spouting off bullshit like “sil-a-gel is better than silicone and it’s fine with coconut oil for lube”. A: it’s porous AND whatever sil-a-gel is has been known to cause skin reactions in some people and 2: using coconut oil on a PVC toy would destroy it super quick, because like attracts like and oil will cause the toy to melt like these. So this shop employee bluffed and lied their asses off at the expense of the buyer’s health and wallet (I say wallet because sure it’s cheaper to buy that POS Doc dildo but they would have had to replace it after one time using coconut oil on it).

It’s a fact that you’re not going to get the safe sex toy education in your average store, yet it still pisses me off; just like it pisses me off when people leave their shopping cart in the parking space rather than walking 9 feet to the cart corral. I can’t help it.

There’s only one answer here: We can’t stop. We need to keep educating other people, all the time. We need to educate to the point where our readers are then going to their local shops and educating the employees. We need to find a way to educate without judging and without scaring them away from all sex toys or thinking we’re trying to “upsell”. I’m not trying to force everyone to buy expensive silicone toys; if they know the dangers and choose to use a PVC stinker, that’s them. Yes the porous stuff is gross and the toxic ones have bad chemicals but not everybody believes it’s a problem for their body. They’ve had no reactions and no problems thus far and they’re not going to change. Okay, fine. But so far for every one of them I’ve encountered, I’ve educated at least 5 more who happily want to use only body-safe, non-porous sex toys. And I feel like I have to stress one thing here: even though many sex toy companies are going the phthalates-free route (even if we don’t believe them, some really did achieve this) not all companies are doing this; not all are non-toxic as advertised. And we can’t overlook the potential harm and pitfalls of porous sex toy materials. It’s a real problem.

Affordable, even cheap, silicone sex toys are coming on the market all the time. Reviewers need to look at these and try them out; flame test and look under the hood. Because the day when we have the ability to recommend more than a few under-$40 sex toys made from safe, non-porous materials is the day we can start winning the war. They choose the porous crap often because it’s cheaper. When companies see how well the silicone is selling and when (dare I dream?) the silicone outsells the cyberskin, the PVC, the rubber, the jelly – then they’ll change their tack and their product line-up.

I’m interested in hearing from sex toy shop workers who have managed to educate a customer without scaring them off; and those of you who have been educated. What has been the best tactic?

 Posted by at 8:35 pm

  18 Responses to “We Need a Name for This Army”

  1. Not a truer word was spoken! I wish we could have a name. I am terrible at names unfortunately. I’d probably offer up something ridiculous. I have faith that this Army of Sex Bloggers can truly make a difference. We will write till our fingers bleed! Doc Johnson needs to be smacked by their own disgusting items.

  2. I was pretty surprised the Doc Johnson silicone dildo I bought wasn’t fake. Previously bought a PVC butt plug from them that I threw out. It had an obnoxious odor to it. It’s a shame they’re the only major manufacturer for toys that fit on sex machines without alterations.

  3. Oh you mean the vac-u-lock? Yeah at least they are making some silicone ones though.

    and while I HATE the fact that they made that sil-a-gel additive and proclaim it to basically be unicorn glitter, I don’t hate everything they make and I won’t boycott them as a company like I will with Pipedream. But damn I will absolutely tell people the truth about that sil-a-gel bullshit. fuck that noise.

  4. Ugh! I was in a shop recently and the lady was trying to chat me up.. I wonder if it was the same store, what’s with people and Doc Johnson? At the cash I was talking about Tantus and silicone coz she seemed a big clueless, and she goes “Oh! I know, silicone is the best. I always tell people about the Doc Johnson strokers. And I go, what? I’m positive those aren’t silicone, unless they came out with a new one recently. So we march over together after I pay for my items, and yup, it’s the same old Head Honchos that are definitely a greasy mess. I literally make her look at the box for material labelling.. nonetheless, she goes on to proudly announce how she sells these things to everyone.
    “And it’s not just for guys! I tell women, look, you don’t feel like doing any work to use the toy on your man? Just put it inside of yourself and have him fuck it while it’s in you.. it’s a whole new feeling!”

    Um, WHAT. I don’t think I could even hide the shock on my face. You just suggested I put that giant gross thing in my actual vagina and then have my partner insert himself as well? What the actual fuck.

    When I worked in a shop, teaching people about material safety was pretty easy. If someone brought something sketch up to the cash, I would gently advise them about condom use with the toy, and lay out their options for other toys that wouldn’t require condoms, and why. We’d talk about how there was a price difference, but how you get what you pay for, and good quality silicone is forever. I was just open and honest about things, laying out facts with no scare tactics. I’m pretty easy to talk to, generally, so I never really had issues with people shying away from me about these topics. If I saw someone browsing and looking lost, I’d ask if they wanted some basics info to start with, and material safety was always topic #1. Customers were always shocked, and so glad I’d told them.

  5. OMG. That is SUCH a GROSS suggestion, lol, ew. Wow.

    Of course one problem with many of these stores is that they have no silicone alternatives. Let’s say someone is asking for a ultra-realistic *vibrator*. Not dildo, vibrator. There’s actually quite a few lower-cost realistic silicone dildos right now, but vibrators? No. So I can totally see a shop employee not bothering to tell them anything, as they don’t want to lose the business. So in these cases the answer is that we need to see more silicone produced by the Big 5 because often, those are the only brands a store will carry. There’s a chain of stores in my state and they carry only Big 5 lines with literally 6 other over-priced “luxury” options via Lelo. That’s IT.

  6. That issue is why I ended up quitting my job, honestly. I refused to sell ~70% of the stuff we stocked because it was all crap, and on top of that all the decent stuff was insanely overpriced. It was the worst, and my head office wouldn’t listen to me about upgrading to better products. Thinking back, we definitely did not have a single realistic vibrator I would have sold to anyone, you’re totally right. Shitty retailers exist to make money, not to educate or help anyone – if they were, they wouldn’t stock that stuff in the first place.

  7. When I worked at the shop, I’d explain porosity/the possibly of phthalates, and some people were like omg show me the silicone ones of course, while others could care less about it all and picked out the slimiest, stinkiest toys. I don’t really know why. I think maybe the fact that there weren’t many silicone toys available and definitely not ones with fun colors etc. was a factor.

    Since I haven’t been working in a shop anymore, I sometimes forget how HUGE of a problem this still is, and it frustrates me to no end that there are people spouting nonsense like sili-a-gel being better than silicone.

    Thanks for everything you do, Lilly!

  8. What it boils down to, for me, is that I’m stuck between feeling “Ok, I did my part and educated you, now it’s on you how you treat your body” and frustration and horror, like watching them play russian roulette. Do you think that in the situation with the store you used to work in, informational cards about phthalates and porosity, to stick in their bags for them to read at home, would have done ANY good? Would it have been allowed?

  9. Before I started making sex ed videos and blogging I worked in 2
    different stores… I quit both after a year (each) because the company
    owners were more concerned with making a profit than selling quality
    toys that were safe.

    As for the educating aspect, I was brazen
    and really didn’t give a shit if I scared people off; when customers
    would come to the cash desk ready to buy a product (or ask about one
    that wasn’t body safe) I’d tell them I couldn’t in good conscious let
    them buy it, I’d then walk them over to something that was safe (almost
    always Tantus). I’d explain about materials and the benefits of body
    safe toys, tell them about lube compatibility, make them do a whiff
    test, allow them to touch the two side by side (jelly/silicone) so they
    could feel that slimy texture jelly has, and turn it into a conversation
    about the industry rather than a simple ‘buy this and not that’ sales
    ploy. Nine times out of ten I’d not only sell them something better, but
    have them buying more than one item. I think what worked for me was the
    fact that I was sincere and passionate about what I was doing.

    the level of customer education has changed A LOT since I worked in a
    shop 10 years ago and as a result, more and more stores popping up only
    focus on offering body safe options which is a really nice change of
    pace. I think the key to making things better is constantly working to
    spread the good word… the more people know the better informed
    decisions they make. Companies supply for demand; if the public demands
    ONLY body safe options companies will shift their focus. Voting with
    your dollar is the way to change things.

    Keep fighting the good fight and never forget how important what you do is. <3 *fist bump*

  10. I can’t with good conscience let someone buy something questionable, although in the current catalog there are only one or two things that have “that” smell anymore, but there are still TPR and TPE toys for up to $150. I can’t. Not when there are better options available that do what they want them to do at sometimes a LOWER price point. Bells, whistles, & beads aren’t worth having to throw the thing out within a year (and we know they wont).

    You know I’ve tried hard to make change within my home party company, even long before I started blogging (which, btw, thank you for the kick in the pants to just do it). These changes are thanks to you, because I’ve fought hard for them, and others are listening. But the changes are slow, and they recently put together a product advisory committee, not made up of sex-positive individuals working to curate the line into something safe, but chosen by popularity contest. When I have been looking at the lube ingredients, price changes, and watched THAT happen? I was pissed.

    Still, this is too important and I still have the chance to make that impact on dozens of people every week. One of my first blog posts has been about a show recently where the guests were saying stuff like “Don’t get that one! It’s the plastic. Get the silicone!” You would’ve been proud. :) I still don’t like having to excuse the presence of porous toys or crap lubes, though.

    That’s why in a few weeks I’m leaving and going to a newer company that only deals in quality stuff. It’ll pay a little less, but my gosh the selection is so much better! Because making a buck is no longer more important than spreading this evangelism of safe sex utensils. Because I can’t keep letting people with vaginas use glycerin and paraben-laden lube. Because you taught me the difference between pthalates and mineral oils and about the flame test and…so much more. Thank you. Truly. You have had a much further reach than you know through each person you touch with this message.

    Re-enlisting, ma’am! *salute*

  11. I think it may have done some good, so people could think about it/research it more on their own…but I’m pretty sure that would not have been allowed/been seen as bad for business, unfortunately.

  12. I’m gonna be a slight voice of dissent here. Depending on what type of shop and where it was that this person went to, it’s plausible and VERY possible that the salesperson didn’t actually know. When I started working at the retail shop I used to be at, they had no idea. They’d been in business for almost eight years and had no idea about any of it. They often knew nothing about the products they sold at all, and would simply read off the packaging when a customer asked a question. And this was an independent store. The big chains that sell primarily the Big Brands? Little to no training there either. So yes, I think it’s awful that someone got told that Sil-A-Gel was better than silicone, but if you legitimately have no training and read on a package that something has an antibacterial additive and nothing else says that, in our modern germaphobic antibacterial everything society it can seem like it *is* better.

    I think that a major place that educators need to reach out to are the stores, not the progressive feminist vulva-centric shops that only carry high-end stuff. I love those shops, I do, but they aren’t what most people have access to. Educators need to get out there to the chains, to the porno stores, to the shops downstairs from titty-bars, to the truckstop shops, and start teaching those folks. It’s hard to do. These shops are losing their footing not because they carry crappy product, but because they have by and large made their bank off DVD sales/rental and that business is going down faster than the Titanic. Their bottom lines are coming up fast and so products with a lower profit margin and higher pricepoint are terrifying. This is what we’re up against. This is where the message is lacking. This is your battlefield.

  13. But why would they risk giving horribly wrong advice (like using an oil lube with PVC) that could end badly without knowing anything? I’ve simply never been in a retail job where I didn’t try to know the bare minimum at least.

    I absolutely agree, these shops are where the education is needed but would the allow it? When that education would be basically against most of the products that they sell? There are shops near me that are not quite the sticky floor stores but they only carry 4 Lelo vibes and the rest is Big 5. They don’t have the nonporous options to give customers and I don’t think they’d be willing to educate if that info meant a customer didn’t buy anything. The Big 5 are coming out with more silicone options though, it’s just not the majority. I have honestly no idea how to educate those stores or their customers. That’s gonna require some braintrust ideas.

  14. You give the reason of why right there in your question: because they don’t know. People don’t like admitting they don’t know something. Ever. Let alone with regard to sex OR to a customer. Hell I saw this when I worked in high-end retail too. If you don’t know, fake it. Pretend to be an expert and people will believe you and buy shit. A lot of the people who work in the shops we’re talking about here aren’t going to try to know things. Hell the OWNERS don’t try to know things. That’s not the world they live in. At best it’s just a job for many of these folk, and at worst it’s a means of titillation.

    And yeah- that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Getting that message to the stores to whom this presents a real financial situation to. That’s what educators and companies need to address. It’s great that Vixen and Lelo and WeVibe and New York Toy Collective and all the other really amazing brands exist. But a lot of folk AND STORES can’t afford them (and many don’t even know they exist). That’s where the real work is that needs doing. I don’t know what the solution is- I worked at trying to solve the problem at one store for a few years until I physically couldn’t handle it anymore. It’s not easy. It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of ingenuity. But that’s where it is.

  15. Like, legit the three hardest words for most people to say are “I don’t know”. Doctors, waiters, customer service reps, teachers, sales people, anyone. No one wants to fucking say “I don’t know”.

  16. Your blog is really informative. I didn’t know that there was so much behind the sex toy industry. I assumed that these products were safe overall and had no idea how important it is to take the materials found in sex toys into consideration. From your more recent posts, I can see how that’s become a problem recently with the whole marketing shadiness going on. I’m looking forward to reading more of your reviews.

  17. I wish I got letters like these. LOL Good on you!

  18. Sil-a-gel crap burned me and my partner years ago when I reviewed a double deal for retailer.
    I’m that person in the sex store that spends 45 min in there trying to direct people took what they need even though I don’t work there. Ha.

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