Amazon Warehouse (image courtesy of theguardian.com)
People sure do like to buy sex toys from Amazon and it is troubling to me. 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-Vibe, Fleshlights, 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. Groupon has become another. I’ve been alerted to mislabeled sex toys on Groupon numerous times. Please just don’t buy sex toys from Groupon, either.
Stay Safe, Ask a Sex Blogger
So what would you rather do? Save ten or twenty bucks and take a big gamble on buying sex toys from 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 sex toys 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!
- Educational sex books / erotica books
- 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.