Mar 222015
 

Showing a jar of toxic sex toys on the left with a lot of clear liquid in the jar and a jar of silicone sex toys on the right with no liquid and no damageThe first official lab test of sex toys happened in 2006, with results confirming that toxic sex toys were a big problem. But the industry has come so far since then. While there are still many stores that stock a lot of gross, crappy sex toys, the overall percentage of porous materials in sex toys is on the decline. Beyond that, it seems like phthalates are on the decline, as well, in porous toys. But does this make them any more safe? Can the major companies be trusted? And really, what proof do we have that the cheap sex toys are safe?

In The Beginning…

Back in 2006, Badvibes.org, headed up by toxic-toy pioneer Jennifer Pritchett of The Smitten Kitten, had a whole bunch of sex toys tested at a lab. They did a material analysis, looking to find out if something called silicone was really silicone, and to see what level of phthalates were found. The results were staggering – high measures of phthalates. In the years since, savvy consumers simply tried to avoid the porous materials by sticking with silicone but until recently we had many shady companies using the word “silicone” when the product was actually made of a thermoplastic elastomer, rubber or PVC. So another pioneer, Metis Black, came up with the flame test. It took a long while to really understand the nuances of the flame test and how any given material would react. We thought that pure silicone could never burn up and disintegrate but found out that when the sample is thin and is a softer, stretchier silicone burning and material destruction can and will happen. I found that out when I decided to get the Jimmyjane Hello Touch tested at the same lab that Badvibes.org used.

Recently Lab-Tested Sex Toys

Then, Dildology tested a Doc Johnson dildo labeled as “phthalates-free PVC with added Sil-a-gel” to see what was up. True to PVC nature, the dildo had an awful odor. Lab results came back which indicated that phthalates were present. This test was run July 2013. In September of 2014, Badvibes.org again sent out a large batch of sex toys to the same lab for testing; including the infamous James Deen PVC dildo. The lab results on the James Deen dildo showed a compound that ends in -phthalate when Dildology had it tested, but the Badvibes test came back with a different percentage of compounds and a plasticizer called “sebacic acid dibutyl ether“. In addition, every single other item that Badvibes had tested September 2014 came back showing zero phthalates. Despite a chemical found that has phthalate in the name1 , what was found is a non-phthalate plastic softener. The only bit of “bad” found in the tests from September 2014 was a Pipedream product called “Silicone Lil’ Pearl Pleasure Sleeve” that wasn’t silicone at all, of course, but a compound that looks like it’s similar to what the Screaming O rings are made of and seems to be considered non-toxic.

Since we know that the industry is not regulated and that manufacturers can lie on their product packaging (or, in the case of Screaming O, have a years-long miscommunication from the material supplier result in years and millions of packages incorrectly labeling the product as a type of silicone, an error that was not of malicious intent), we’ve been very reluctant to trust. Just because the 2014 Badvibes test showed no phthalates doesn’t mean they’ve been eradicated. One item they didn’t test that I would love to get tested is anything from the Pipedream Basix collection, but alas I have no spare money to do more testing. Further, there’s something else I want to point out – this supposed Sil-a-gel additive that Doc Johnson uses in their porous PVC items which is supposed to basically be an antimicrobial? I see no evidence of anything other than PVC and plasticizer in both lab tests of the James Deen dildo. Maybe it’s something that wouldn’t show up in the FTIR test the lab ran? I don’t know. Many people who own a Doc Johnson product advertised as containing Sil-a-gel experienced burning, itching and redness of the genitals and report a very strong shower-curtain-perfumey smell.

Not Enough Studies

Here’s the thing – there are chemicals and materials in play that we don’t know much about. We don’t really know how they’ll affect us when used as a sex toy. Some people report that for the minimal time a sex toy is inside your body, there’s no way that phthalates, if present, are going to cause damage to your endocrine system. Hell some people believe that phthalates aren’t harmful to us at all! I don’t know of any studies done on people who used phthalates-ridden sex toys for years. If someone did get sick, get cancer, etc…..what are the chances that that illness could even be traced back to their sex toy use? Some people might say that because we do not know, we should not worry. I say that because we do not know we should err on the side of caution – stick to pure, safe, chemically-stable non-porous materials like silicone, glass, medical-grade metals, properly coated wood and properly glazed ceramic as well as hard ABS plastics.

Is PVC Toxic?

It’s commonly said in our industry that PVC without phthalates isn’t toxic. This isn’t what everyone believes2. A recent study of Dollar Store items showed a lot of toxic chemicals in their stuff, and I felt that the study hit home for our industry – just because a person cannot afford the current cost of most non-porous sex toys, doesn’t mean they should be saddled with the unhealthy chemicals. So when the people who buy, for example, a Doc Johnson PVC dildo with added Sil-a-gel experience itching and burning and redness….are they reacting to the toxins in PVC that are NOT phthalates? Or are they reacting to whatever this Sil-a-gel stuff is, if it exists?

It’s Still Porous

I also say that even if the material in question is non-toxic (like most TPR/TPE type elastomers) it is still porous, and that is still a major concern. Porous sex toys can never be sanitized much less sterilized; they should never be shared between non-fluid-bonded partners; and you should never use the same porous toy both vaginally and anally. The porous sex toys can hang on to bacteria, mildew and other fungi, cleaning chemicals that you thought you rinsed off, and so on. Since the materials are not chemically stable, as they break down they will feed these microorganisms back to your body. I have read many comments on places like Amazon where people bought what is claimed to be a TPR, non-toxic sex toy and experienced the burning and itching that is associated with phthalates. Could they be mislabeling the material? Sure. Could the porous material be hanging on to the chemicals used in the manufacturing process like mold release agents? Sure. It could be anything.  In this age of all the “phthalate-free” claims, I get plenty of feedback from people who’ve experienced long term chemical burn problems.

Will a Condom Protect You?

The party line has been “cover it with a condom” but how did the collective we arrive at that? Just because condoms can prevent pregnancy and STIs doesn’t mean they can be put on a chemically-laden bacteria-infected porous dildo and keep you safe. But let’s think about this logically for a minute – the jar of melted sex toys that I have, and the recent Smitten Kitten jar both displayed oils seeping out of the materials. From what I know of the materials in my own jar, only one item was PVC with probable phthalate content. The rest were a TPR material, as best as I can guess. And there’s a lot of oil in that jar! And guess what doesn’t play nice with oil? Latex condoms. There have been no tests run to see if the latex will break down enough for the irritating chemicals, bacteria or fungus to get through. If I could do this test myself, I would. I don’t know who to contact to run such a test. There is one possibility and that is using nitrile condoms (like the FC2 Female Condom) or polyurethane condoms (like Japanese import Okamoto or Trojan Supra) but have you seen the prices on these? Also, they’re not going to cover the entire toy (leaving nothing exposed is the best protection) PLUS they’re probably not big enough for the extra-large specialty toys that are cost-prohibitive when made in silicone.  If you’re going this route, or any route with a porous material, I recommend replacing it after 4-6 months (4 months for anal use, to be safe). This estimate is not scientific, but based on my own prior uses with toys and watching how long it took for them to change color, get oily, etc.

Update: I did a few home tests and more research on this topic, read about it here and see what happens to latex condoms on porous sex toys.

Will the Industry Change?

I understand budgets. I understand that by the time you save up for a $30 sex toy, something else will have happened to your $30 that is more important than a sex toy and you’re back to the original $15 you could spare which means buying a PVC or Jelly toy. I understand it; I wish I had a better fix for you. If a polyurethane condom is something you have access to and can purchase in small doses per use, and if it’ll cover your toy completely, then go that route. I cannot stress enough that this isn’t ideal. I don’t want to tell you that you’re not worthy of masturbation and enhancing partnered sex. This just means we need to see a change in the industry. The more silicone purchases that are made, the more companies will understand the need and make changes.

I think that the change has already started, just by looking at percentages of stock. Let’s look at Lovehoney UK, as an example. For dildos, they have 299. 100 of them are made from a safe, non-porous material – silicone, glass or metal. That’s 1/3. It’s okay, but I’d like to see it at 2/3 or more. For vibrators, they stock 391. Looks like roughly 215 of them are a safe, non-porous material – silicone or hard plastic. That’s a little over half which is good but again I’d like to see that number a lot higher. Here’s one more example – sextoy.com, a US-based site that I do not recommend to my readers, currently lists close to 2000 dildos on their site. A little over 1200 of them are made from a porous, potentially toxic material – this leaves only 800 non-porous options. I think that the companies that make many hundreds of sex toys could make their silicone sex toys even cheaper if they manufactured more. The bigger the bulk order is for material, the more their cost goes down, right? That’s my thought, anyways. There needs to be a large selection of truly safe AND very affordable sex toys.  It is beginning to happen – we’re seeing under-$30 pure silicone dildos (in small doses) from companies who previously only produced toxic, porous junk.

This post references research I’ve done and is my personal opinion. In the end, you make up your own mind but I’m going to give you the tools to be as well-informed as possible. I would ideally like to see my readers ditch the porous materials (except for penetrable toys, that’s largely unavoidable) but I also know that there are gaps in the industry. I do feel that a porous, “non-toxic” material has the potential to be harmful, depending on what is living in the pores. I know that lower-end mass production companies might have heavy metals in their pigments, something that is ignored but still a toxicity problem. I know that we have no idea about the effect of these phthalate-replacements on our bodies when used in a sex toy. I know that VOC’s are a problem, and it is present in the cheap materials that have a strong odor. We still have a long way to go. To see a change we need to continue to educate and be vocal and encourage readers and customers to “vote with their money” by buying the silicone options when ever possible. Shop at reputable retailers like the ones listed here, and choose wisely. If you’re ever uncertain, ask me!

  1. Dioctyl terephthalate
  2. Said in the article “One PVC shower curtain can release as many as 108 volatile organic chemicals into the air.”
 Posted by at 12:34 pm
Jan 162015
 

Since 2005, The Screaming O has been telling us that their products like Ringo, The Big O, The Screaming O Plus (the clear material products) were “SEBS Silicone”. After I delved into my material research, discussions with industry professionals, and flame testing, I felt pretty damn certain that there was never any silicone in these products. When an AVN article came out on January 14th talking about how The Screaming O decided to run lab tests AND quoted Anne Hodder of Hodder Media Inc, their Public Relations Spokesperson, as saying “I think we can finally put to rest the critics with our data that shows our products are what we say they are,” I got kinda angry at first 1 because well….no. The tests revealed that the SEBS products are just SEBS….not the SEBS Silicone they’ve been called all along. And because there was no talk in the article about The Screaming O recognizing the material disparity publicly and stating that changes will be made to reflect that, something felt off. It felt like “they still don’t get it”. But as soon as I was told that actually, yeah, they DO get it, I wanted to see if I could get more information. Yes, I think a few have doubted that even their silicone was truly silicone, and those tests DO prove that they are. But the biggest problem is that continuing to have these listed as silicone has caused confusion to people who are trying to seek out only non-porous materials, and it damages trust in the industry as a whole. 

I think this might be the first time that a sex toy company has both tested AND publicly admitted that their material hasn’t been what they advertised it to be. I was able to snag an interview with Anne Hodder and get some answers. I do now feel better about TSO overall as a company. I still don’t love the porous cock rings 2 but now that I know they weren’t purposely lying and now that I know the material is absolutely non-toxic, I think the rings are fine for a first-timer to try out the world of cock rings. I’d rather you choose from their pure silicone line, but hey, budgets n’ all that.

I’m printing Anne’s answers as she gave them to me. So this will be long, but you can skip around if you wish. 

1. When a company goes on for so many years saying that it’s a blend (and recently I was told by an expert that blends aren’t possible) we lose complete trust in them. What can be said to help us regain our trust in your brand about the “SEBS Silicone” issue? Is TSO also admitting that these products are porous (and that for true body-safe products that will last, go for the premium silicone versions)? Is TSO officially saying that yes, the SEBS products were all mislabeled in the past?

Labeling our products as SEBS Silicone was not an intentional manipulation or plan to deceive the public; it was an error that dates possibly back to the company’s 2005 inception and was carried throughout our marketing until we made the official decision to have our materials tested. And with the lab results in hand, we are now in the process of revising our marketing, packaging, websites and more to reflect the correct information: our stretchy products are made of pure non-toxic, body-safe SEBS.

SEBS, as is any material that is not platinum silicone, stainless steel, or coated wood or stone, is slightly porous – but “porous” does not mean “unsafe” or “toxic” when it comes to external-use toys. As with any sex toy, keeping Screaming O products in tip top shape simply requires cleaning after every use and safe storage: keep in a cool, dry place away from dust/dirt and any other outside contaminants.

We choose to manufacture much of our product line out of pure SEBS in order to provide quality alternatives for men, women and couples who cannot afford (or do not want) to drop $60+ on a rechargeable cock ring or $90+ clitoral vibe. And that demographic deserves body-safe materials and quality construction, which is why we are committed to confirming the composition of our materials with independent lab testing.

Also, it’s important to note that our SEBS is NOT to be confused with jelly, the material commonly found in floppy dildos that often smell like melted shower curtains – and not something you’d want anywhere near your body.

2. What can you tell us about the Twitter conversations back in November, most of which are referenced here? That exchange really soured a lot of bloggers on the company in general.

That exchange was unfortunate. To put it simply, we had an outside contractor handling basic social media duties (daily posting, mostly) who responded to the online argument without conferring with the marketing team first. Her responses were argumentative, uninformed and unprofessional and did not accurately represent the thoughts and feelings of The Screaming O.

We immediately went into damage control as soon as we were made aware of the situation. We reached out to all involved and offered “offline” discussion to try to set the record straight, and The Screaming O is no longer using this contractor’s services.

Customer service is our No. 1 priority – whether it’s with our retailers or our fans – and we work hard to establish and maintain candid communication with anyone who reaches out to us, regardless of whether it’s with a compliment or criticism.

3. The article that came out on Jan 14th talked about the test results without acknowledging that TSO recognizes the disparity between the results (SEBS vs SEBS silicone) and plans to take action on that. What can you tell us about this action?

We are now in the process of revising all copy on our websites, packaging and marketing materials to correctly represent our SEBS products, now that we have hard lab data to clear up the confusion. We also encourage retailers and customers to adjust their own marketing copy to ensure that their descriptions accurately represent our products to the shopping public, something that we’re communicating through internal newsletter and email communication.

What This Means

Something that I learned a few years ago from Metis Black of Tantus is that basically you have the material supplier and (for most companies) the manufacturing plant (usually in China) acquires the material. The creating company can SAY they want XYZ and the supplier can say “yeah sure…it’s XYZ *winkwink* and the creating company who is putting their name on the product is truly none the wiser (unless they went the extra mile and randomly had toys sent off to a third-party lab to be tested). So the company (in this case, The Screaming O) geniunely believes that their product is this “silicone elastomer blend” and sticks to that. I do believe that we’ve seen other, larger companies in the past who may have known that their “TPR Silicone” product had no silicone, but they labeled it that way for sales because they could. Companies like that simply quietly changed the wording on their site and product packaging, but never did so out of concern for their customers. 

Some might be skeptical about a company really not knowing that their material isn’t what they’re told it to be; but it rings true to the infamous (in industry circles) story of Metis challenging a vendor friend at a trade show some years back who insisted his product was silicone, and she used the flame test to show that it wasn’t. 

I’m hoping that TSO is able to reach most retailers and have them change the wording on their sites, and begin to lift this confusion of “blends” being a thing and myths that “silicone melts when it touches other silicone“. 

I’ve been told that the lab test results and information will be available online and I’ll update with a link here when they are. 

What are your thoughts? Does this change how you view The Screaming O and their products? 

  1. That may be a bit of an understatement
  2. While these are external-only items, the porous material can still come into contact with mucus membranes of the vulva and the chance for STI transmission can still occur; this is my opinion and perhaps not the opinion of TSO
 Posted by at 4:45 pm
Jan 152015
 

Update: This post has been edited with information I’ve been given that completely changes the narrative; information that hadn’t been made as public as their lab tests. It changes the story from one of me being angry, to me feeling like the industry is actually, slowly, getting better and getting somewhere. Update at the bottom. 

 

For a long while now I’ve been a big critic of The Screaming O brand for one big reason:

They lied about their materials.

This misrepresentation of material content has continued to perpetuate firstly the myth that there is such a thing as a TPR/Elastomer/Silicone “blend” and secondly it perpetuates the myth that silicone will melt and degrade or that silicone can look crystal clear.

I’ve put their basic rings to a flame test before and they created such immediate, hot flames that I had to pour water over them to die down – a simple wave in the air wasn’t enough. Consistently, Screaming O has claimed that the material of their cheapie rings is “SEBS silicone“. The SEBS part confuses retailers, so they’ll just omit that and call it silicone. I’d strongly suspected prior to a flame test that these cheap rings are not silicone because they are so soft, so stretchy and crystal clear. This has not been a hallmark of pure silicone. Flame test revealed no grey and material destruction that was like it liquified in the heat.

ScreamingOburnt

A few months ago there was a dust-up on Twitter between Screaming O and some bloggers and part of this stemmed from a few of us talking about sex toys that are labeled silicone when they clearly are not. Of course, Screaming O came up and made this bold bullshit call:

Tweet that says:  "@sex_ational @dangerouslilly @RaavynnDigitaL Our products that are silicone are labeled and the ones that are not, are not. #wedontfakeit"

Product packaging, and the website, has always listed these as “SEBS Silicone”, and the language I’ve taken issue with is “silicone”

ScreamingOSEBS5

 

TO BE CLEAR: My problem with Screaming O is that they’ve been misrepresenting their material for ages. I do recognize that some of their products are silicone, like  their Primo line. They look completely different. They look like they could actually be silicone, unlike their cheap jelly products.  So you can imagine how rankled I got with their tweet claiming they don’t lie. The products have been sent out for  independent lab tests:

“I think we can finally put to rest the critics with our data that shows our products are what we say they are,” Hodder said.

Polymer Solutions Incorporated, a material analysis laboratory in Virginia, conducted tests on the Screaming O Original Ring, made from clear SEBS (styrene-ethylene/butylene-styrene), and the PrimO Apex, which is purple silicone. Since there are no standardized tests in place for pleasure products, the lab conducted tests that fall under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which covers baby products and other children’s items.

The tests proved that the PrimO Apex is made from silicone, that the Screaming O Original Ring is made from SEBS.

Let me clarify: “made from clear SEBS (styrene-ethylene/butylene-styrene)” FULL STOP. That’s  it. That’s all. No silicone.

 

UPDATE: I have been informed that Screaming O DOES plan to update their information to reflect the lack of silicone in the SEBS products. So, my apologies for my anger this morning, Screaming O. The information that they “get it” and are making changes wasn’t included in that press release, and I think that’s the most important information of all. Hopefully all retailer sites will be told to update their product listings, and stop calling them silicone and confusing people. I want to thank the warriors behind the scenes who prompted this re-evaluation on their wording, geting the test done, and making the changes. I’m under the impression that the site will be updated soon, and slowly product packaging will change.

I was so upset at what appeared to be a compete “they don’t get it” moment because I was going by the press release information, that I didn’t take the time to ask before I got angry and ranted. I need to do that more, and now I feel like an asshole!

 

 

 Posted by at 10:35 am
Dec 102014
 

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of Pipedream. They’re one of the “Big 5” companies, having been around for many years. They like to think they’re a Mafia Boss the way they treat smaller companies in the industry. They take their ability to make mass amounts of sex toys every day and create so much crap. They’re no stranger to misogynistic ad copy on their sex toys but their latest little stunt is above and beyond.

I’m sure any of you reading this are aware of the big celeb phone hacking dubbed “The Fappening”, where dozens of stars had their cell phones hacked and the photos shared for the world to see. Some of these were naked selfies. It was a violation of their privacy, it was a violation of consent. Jennifer Lawrence rightly called it a sex crime.

“Just because I’m a public figure, just because I’m an actress, does not mean that I asked for this,” she told Vanity Fair. “It does not mean that it comes with the territory. It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting. I can’t believe that we even live in that kind of world.” (Vanity Fair)

“It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime. It is a sexual violation. It’s disgusting. The law needs to be changed, and we need to change. That’s why these Web sites are responsible. Just the fact that somebody can be sexually exploited and violated, and the first thought that crosses somebody’s mind is to make a profit from it. It’s so beyond me. I just can’t imagine being that detached from humanity. I can’t imagine being that thoughtless and careless and so empty inside.” (Vanity Fair)

Knowing all of this do you think there’s any chance Jennifer Lawrence would have consented to have her likeness made into a SEX DOLL? I don’t fucking think so. In true gross fashion, Pipedream had to take it up a notch. It’s not just a Jennifer Lawrence doll. It’s a JLaw “Hacked” doll…..complete with a JLaw-lookalike model dressed as Katniss Everdeen plus posing in selfies made to look just like the ones leaked. Since they’re using a model and not the actual leaked photos, Pipedream isn’t doing anything illegal. But it’s disgusting. It makes light of anyone whose consent has been violated with naked photos leaked to the public. What’s next, Pipedream? Are you going to start making dolls from photos found on Revenge Porn sites?  Here’s the wonderful ad copy and then a quote from their press release:

We’re not sure what came faster, news of J-Laws leaked selfies or the thousands of guys waiting for this day to finally come! She did the world a favor when her sexy selfies spread across the internet, and now Hollywood’s honey is getting naked for the money! If hacked cell phone pics weren’t enough to make J-Law our favorite new selfie slut, her brand new blowup doll is proof that this blockbuster babe is ready for primetime penetration! Just add air and this American hustler transforms into America’s hooker right before your eyes! There’s no silver lining to her 3 love holes, but if you add a little lube they feel great wrapping around every inch of your pleasure rod! Her cloud got hacked so you can get jacked!

“Nobody creates products with mainstream crossover appeal like Pipedream,” Pipedream CEO Nick Orlandino said. “The publicity we receive when one of these celebrity dolls hits the market is priceless. Our customers will definitely experience rising sales as J-Law blows up — literally!“  (Xbiz)

Of course, the JLaw Hacked doll isn’t their first trip down the rabbit hole called Bad Taste. Their “Fuck Me Silly” toys are extremely offensive.  They, of course, justify their ad copy choice when called on it. Just when I think they’re maybe, possibly okay-ish to support for their silicone toys (because people do need access to affordable sex toys and if it’s a crap brand’s silicone butt plug vs buying a porous one, well I’ll choose the lesser of two evils), I find that they include AnalEaze  with all of their silicone butt toys. Their Fetish Fantasy line of low-priced silicone vibrators and cocks are not made of medical-grade silicone like they advertise (medical grade requires clean-room facilities which I cannot fathom them having) but that’s fine – we don’t need medical grade. It would be nice, though, for them to disclose that it’s not pure silicone through-and-through. The core is foam.  I’ve not dissected their Fetish Fantasy line and I can’t yet tell what the chances are of something happening to the silicone exterior enough that moisture could get to the foam core.

What I find the most ironic of all is this email I received earlier this year from their social media manager:

We keep a close eye on all the review blogs and it’s no secret that you’re not a fan of us. We know how influential you are to the blogging community and to customers. Since we so highly value your opinion, we wanted to reach out to you and offer you a trip to Pipedream. We’re hoping to talk to and show you what our company is all about, as well as learn from you and hear your personal feedback. If your opinion doesn’t change after meeting us – no hard feelings! We’d just like the opportunity to open up a dialogue with reviewers, show you what we do and who we are, and have a sit down conversation to more clearly hear your concerns. And, of course, your trip is completely on us. 

 I never responded because really….what could they say that would change my mind? ETA: Actually, since a few people who know nothing about me personally are ripping on me for not taking PD up on the offer, I now feel the need to expand on this. I never responded to the email because there was nothing they could say that would change my mind AND VICE VERSA. But I didn’t GO because, paid trip or not, the ability to take time off and fly there was not in the cards for me. I had multiple, valid personal reasons for being unable to make such a trip. I’m not young, single and without obligations enough to just pick up and go to California.  

Here’s my personal feedback, Pipedream: CLEAN UP YOUR FUCKING ACT. Stop being the douchey bros of the sex toy world. You don’t need to disrespect women to sell sex toys.  Why is “She Never Says No” such a common theme in your ad copy?

Many people have given me shit for being so vocal about not supporting this company. I’m supposed to just give a free pass to any company producing affordable silicone sex toys. And what about their affordable glass toy line? Their ceramic toy line? I’m sure there are other companies making cheap glass toys. If you want to support a company with rape culture ideals that’s your choice. It’s my choice to recommend brands other than Pipedream, and to educate my readers on why. 

 Posted by at 10:06 am
Nov 082014
 

What happens when we cut up silicone sex toysand leave them in a jar, in a hot room over thesummer for a total of 5 months all up in each others business? LET’S FIND OUT!When I continue to see people warning others that their silicone sex toys need to be stored in separate containers, I get a little twitchy. I mean sure, it won’t hurt, but it’s not necessary. We need to reassure people that silicone is 100% safe, not scare them with false facts! Cured silicone is pretty damn stable! So to help me prove my point, months ago I cut up some pure silicone sex toys and put them in a mason jar, just like I’d done with a bunch of TPR/PVC toys. I let this closed jar of toy bits sit in the one room of my two-story house that is not air-conditioned. It got pretty hot up there this summer! Even without the benefit of heat, though, my first jar full of gross sex toys had a reaction. I never had to subject it to heat.  Those toys reacted to each other because the oil-based chemicals that help soften them also kill them – as one toy started to break down, the oils from it would be the catalyst to starting a nearby material to break down and it gathered like a snowball rolling down a bank. Yet I wanted to put the silicone sex toys to harsh conditions, to dissuade anyone from having a doubt.

To clear up confusion: as I mentioned above and will show below, yes, I had to cut up most of these into smaller pieces. I do not own a huge glass jar nor do I have room for one . Cutting the sex toy into pieces doesn’t affect the results (in either jar).

prejar1 prejar2

So how did we get here? Why do some still think that silicone can have the same reaction as TPR/PVC/Jelly? Because just a few short years ago many of the big-name manufacturers were trying to scam us, and would call something silicone that was absolutely not silicone. We still see this here and there, but not nearly to the degree of past years. Screaming O is a big offender, their cheapie disposable (crystal clear, burns like a damn oil lamp) vibrating cock rings are labeled as silicone or some weird creative “silicone elastomer” fake material name. And so, because these toys were falsely labeled as “silicone” and they were in fact a very unstable, gross material…..they had reactions. But pure silicone will not.

To ensure variety, I included three types of Tantus silicone  – a cross-section from an O2 dildo, a portion of firm silicone from the Flex and the Panty Play which is made overseas and is a silky-soft silicone. Oh and part of a Protouch, I’m not sure if that’s the same silicone as the Flex or not. There’s a portion of a very inexpensive CalExotics toy; I don’t remember the name of it, it seems to be discontinued. I did flame test it though, and it passed. Also included is a piece of a Doc Johnson silicone dildo that is very cheap; it too passed the flame test. 

It’s been 5 months….what will we find?

 

Want some updated photos of the Original Jar of Horrors? There’s been some activity! Gravity? Further decomposing?  Using the markings on the jar I can point out what’s happened. When you view the original photos you can see that the bright blue thing (a masturbation sleeve) once was mostly above the Ball logo.  And there’s a dark purple bit, that used to be partially behind the Ball logo on the lower half.  There also appears to be a lot of liquid but it’s a slow-moving heavy oily liquid. I can’t tell just how much material has settled at the bottom of the jar so I don’t know how much displacement there is with the liquid or if there’s more liquid….or just a changing landscape of melty TPR.

MeltedJarNov14  MeltedJarNov14pt2

 Posted by at 10:29 am
Nov 022014
 

Amazon Warehouse (image courtesy of theguardian.com)

Amazon Warehouse (image courtesy of theguardian.com)

Amazon and sex toys. Not quite as troublesome in my world as toxic toys, but nearly so. A lot of people are more comfortable buying their sex toys from Amazon than a sex toy retailer, because they feel certain that it will be more discreet – they know that anything “sold by Amazon” will come in an Amazon box and an Amazon mailing address. And most of the time, Amazon is cheaper…and to detriment of the reputable sex toy shops, too.  Many of the higher-end manufacturers put a limit on how low their items can be sold, and Amazon sellers often completely ignore this. Either they are just shady people or…..they’re counterfeit.  In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve had more people report problems ordering from Amazon than any other sex toy problems combined. I’ve had readers tell me, even as far back as 4 years ago, that they bought a “luxury” vibrator and something went wrong after a month or two. They took their problem to the manufacturer because it has a warranty, and they found out it wasn’t the brand they thought they were buying and the company wouldn’t honor a warranty claim. Rightfully so; it’s not their product. The counterfeit sex toy market is bigger than you think and it’s found a nice home at Amazon (and Ebay).

So Which Brands Are Suspect?

While this is by NO means a complete list, and I’d be suspect of just about anything, the specific brands I’ve heard of are: Lelo, Fun Factory, We-VibeFleshlights, Tenga, Fairy Wands by Merci Toys, Magic Wand.  Njoy is probably the most copied brand I know of. Multiple times a month I am contacted by shady companies in Hong Kong, Pakistan and India, who specialize in metal sex toys. They often go so far as to use Njoy product photos. The prices are super low, and there’s no way it could be an Njoy product, much less made of medical grade stainless steel, for that low price (in the ballpark of 15% of the cost of an Njoy).  One shady seller on Amazon was including free Fun Factory Smartballs that were counterfeits….and not even made of silicone as was found out from a flame test. Other products that I would be wary of: low-priced metal toys that claim to be stainless steel. I’ve heard some really bad things about a crystal-ended metal plug that is selling for around $20.  I would absolutely be suspect of glass sex toys sold on Amazon, as I personally experienced what can happen (see update from 2015 below).  Further issues abound with BDSM items (which are outside my realm of expertise) as well as specialty items like chastity cages:

 Another brand that can be suspect is Tantus. It was officially noted to affiliates “in regards to Amazon & Ebay, we don’t sell directly to anyone that has an Amazon/Ebay store. Tantus does NOT guarantee the origin, product quality, or authenticity of ‘Tantus’ items purchased off of these sites.”

Could They Re-Sell a Used Sex Toy?

This part is just a theory but there’s another issue with third-party sellers that isn’t brought up much in discussions about Amazon – the returned sex toys. I’ve always felt pretty confident that there’s little to worry about when the major retailers who allow returns of sex toys (despite a few dramatic claims at the height of other issues with EF). Lovehoney and EdenFantasys both allow it. While Lovehoney is certainly bigger and more global, EdenFantasys used to hold its own quite well as a go-to retailer in its day. Logistically speaking, why would they risk their reputation and company on re-selling a returned (used or defective) sex toy? All it would take would be for one person to report it to the authorities and the doors would be shut. But with an Amazon third-party seller who doesn’t use Fulfillment By Amazon, a person could send back a toy and an unscrupulous seller could re-sell it. I’ve seen third-party sellers who do accept returns if it is “unused and unopened” but unless it’s been shrink-wrapped it’s not that hard to carefully open a box and make it look like it was never opened. On Twitter after this post was first published, this was said and very relevant:

Updated for 2016: Cosmo recently interviewed a person who has done a metric fuck ton of reviews on Amazon. This person is sent product from Amazon sellers; not Amazon directly. She noted that she has had products arrive “destroyed” or “be dirty like someone’s used them already”. This does not sound good!

The Amazon Shuffle – The New Shell Game?

Are all sex toys from Amazon possibly a counterfeit? Of course not. But the risk for getting one is high enough that I don’t feel that people should take the gamble. Many people have no idea that they even got a counterfeit some of the time, especially until it breaks.  Many think it’s okay to buy the item if it is listed as being “Sold by Amazon LLC”.  Here’s how it works: In the Amazon Warehouses, to save space, every We-Vibe Tango (as an example) goes into the same warehouse bin. Every seller who is storing their goods at Amazon for Amazon to ship has to give their item a UPC or Item Code or something. Everything with the same item code all goes in the same bin. They don’t have room to store every seller’s We-Vibe Tango in a different space. So now, whenever you buy a We-Vibe Tango someone at Amazon is grabbing from the communal bin. Since Amazon has many warehouses across the country, they’ll also ship your item from the warehouse closest to you that stocks the item. This means it’s not necessarily going to be the stock of the retailer you chose to buy from and there’s no control over that, either. You could be ordering from a reputable retailer on Amazon and still get the stock from a shady retailer.  The ONLY way you’re not taking a risk is if the item is being sold by AND shipped by a reputable retailer or manufacturer – of which there are very few on Amazon. And then, because it’s coming from the retailer/manufacturer and not Amazon, there goes all your assumed discretion in shipping and the possibility of “Prime” shipping. So what’s the point?

Update for 2015: For two distinct purposes, I purposely purchased sex toys from Amazon. One purpose was to determine what some of these Chinese vendors actually meant when they were calling a product “medical grade silica gel”, which meant I bought some items with dubious material declarations. Spoiler alert: it’s a crapshoot on whether you’ll get silicone (a material actually used for sex toys, whereas silica gel is not) or something…else. The second purpose was for my glass sex toy test. I purchased two that were listed as a branded item. Both came in identical packaging – which to say, it wasn’t manufacturer packaging. Both were purchased from different sellers. One I was able to confirm easily as a counterfeit, by being sent the actual branded item from SheVibe.

Is it Just Amazon?

No. While other sites don’t work the same way, there’s still a huge huge risk of the game ending badly if you buy from Ebay. If you find discount sites that look too good to be true….they probably are. Aliexpress.com is one such site. 

Stay Safe, Ask a Sex Blogger

So what would you rather do? Save ten or twenty bucks and take a big gamble on Amazon or deal with a sex toy retailer that is vetted by your hardworking sex toy review bloggers, and is a company that actually cares about you? By buying from the companies we bloggers work with, you’re supporting the Good Guys in the industry. By using us bloggers as a sounding board before you spend your money, you could actually save money by listening to our advice in our reviews. I advise many people one-on-one on their purchase before they buy (email, Tumblr or Reddit). I’ve had too many people come to me AFTER their purchase, saying that they wished they’d seen my review before wasting their money and there went $100+ down the drain. Read all the reviews, email your favorite bloggers. Ask their opinion. And then, when you’ve decided, wait a little bit. Keep an eye on the sales. Tantus, for example, has a different sale every month. SheVibe has different sales every week. And don’t just take the word of one blogger. 

BOTTOM LINE: I’m such a huge advocate of safe, non-porous sex toys; I want every aspect of your sex toy buying and using experience to be as safe as possible. I can’t promise your safety if you buy from Amazon and Ebay.

When you CAN shop at Amazon

There’s really only three sexuality items you can safely purchase from Amazon, in my opinion. As always, do your research first! 

  1. Educational sex books / erotica books
  2. Condoms
  3. Lube, only after you’ve read up on which lubes & lube ingredients to avoid!

Where to Shop

If you’ve been here before, you probably know my most highly-recommended store is SheVibe.  My reasons are many and varied, but here’s the highlights: their stock is neither too specialized or too excessive. They don’t stock known-toxic toys. They educate their customers on the porous toys. The company is run by people who love what they do and who treat everyone – customers to industry people – with kindness and respect. Their prices are great, and they have many sales. They have a large and varied stock without trying to carry every product under the sun. They are often champions for smaller, indy brands like Fucking Sculptures, and are open to suggestions. Nearly everything under the sun that I could ever recommend for purchase, SheVibe carries. I can’t say that about any other store on my list.

I don’t often recommend buying directly from a manufacturer, but there are two that I’ll break that rule for:

Tantus is great, and every month has a really great sale (no sale you like? Coupon code LILLY gets you 15% off). Between their closeout section and grab bag section, you’re bound to find a safe, silicone dildo to fit your budget. And their customer service is great. Problem with your order? They’ll take care of it. Currently their shipping is a bit high though and can be a deterrent for small orders – although they do offer free shipping in the US if you spend $100. 

Crystal Delights is another wonderful manufacturer of truly high-quality glass items. Their specialty is glass plugs with Swarovski crystals at the end. They also make tail plugs and glass dildos. 

Other retailers I can recommend:

Early to Bed is a Chicago-based shop with an online presence. They have a great selection of items for trans and genderqueer people; however they have a habit re-naming the sex toys they carry. This makes it hard to locate a particular sex toy if you know it by brand and style name.

Smitten Kitten is a Minneapolis-based shop with an online presence. They have a great selection of kitschy and cute gifts, they carry an extended line of BS Atelier products, they’re the only shop I know of right now carrying Hole Punch toys, and they are the brains behind the Lube Guide and every starting point I’ve had for toxic toy research. Their educational book section is absolutely fabulous.

Goodvibes is a long-time shop with an online presence as well as a few brick stores in the US. They don’t carry anything toxic, but do carry some porous items. Their overall catalog tends to be slim and I have numerous favorites that they don’t carry. They also sometimes re-name toy, but more often I’ll find them stripping the manufacturer’s name from the lower-end stuff – since I try to avoid recommending certain brands, I’m not a fan of this practice. Their prices are not as good as SheVibe. They do have a decent on-demand porn store, though.

Come As You Are is a nice little Toronto-based cooperative shop with an online presence. They’re one of the few better stores that do carry a few toxic items – in fact the first few things that come up in their dildo section seem to have phthalates. However, they’re one of the few places that carry a silicone vaginal dilator set with the dilator sizes ranging from 1/2″ wide to 1 1/2″ wide and you can buy the sizes separately. Their prices seem to be good and they also have a great selection of items for trans and genderqueer people. They do have educational material on the site, but continue to (as most places do) insist that condoms will absolutely protect against phthalates (it’s not actually been proven true, nor has it been proven false).

I’ve never experienced them personally, but a number of Canadian friends spoke well of the shipping, prices and customer service at Lovedreamer. They seem to carry a fair amount of crap, but also have a good amount of sales going. Do your research before picking something out.

Lovehoney has bases in the US, UK, Australia. On the plus side, they have a 365-day return policy if you hate it. On the other hand, they carry a large amount of porous stuff without educating consumers about it and their prices are not as good as SheVibe. Stick to silicone (if in doubt, ask) and the other safe materials. Even if they call it “body safe”, if it’s not a non-porous, I’d avoid it.

Other places that are fine, I just don’t work with them: Babeland is best if you are at a brick store. Online their selection is kinda meh. UK shoppers can also check out ThatPosition or Vibrator Kingdom. Canadians, check out Pinkcherry. Australians, I’ve heard MissX and AdultSpice are good.

 Posted by at 12:32 pm