Jul 012013
 

If you’re arrived here from elsewhere, be sure to read Part 1 first.

As “toxic sex toys” are being talked about more and consumers and retailers are slowly being educated more, the idea of the “novelty use only” tagged sex toys is being held up as the poster child for all the is bad and wrong in the sex toy industry. But I learned something when I started talking to companies – some of them just don’t know jack shit. They’re doing it because there are no legalities or formal ways to do things, there is no governing body or regulations of any kind. Some companies are taking tentative steps out on a limb and doing away with the wording of “novelty” in any fashion; some get more creative and legal with their warnings. Some companies still use the term….companies that we have come to trust and respect. One such example is Standard Innovations, the Canadian company responsible for the We-Vibe family of vibrators (and my beloved Salsa/Tango). They are regarded as a company who only produces body-safe sex toys; “luxury” sex toys. Their vibrators are made of silicone or hard ABS plastic. They are clearly not a “joke” vibrator, they are clearly meant to be used for sexual purposes. Below is a disclaimer from Evolved Novelties that comes from a pack of their Vibrator Enhancer add-ons (since those are just a hunk of silicone, it’s clear the disclaimer is their stock one), the one from the We-Vibe Salsa, and the one from the Jopen Intensity. Hover over the thumbnails to read the full disclaimer.

Disclaimer from Evolved Novolties reads: ""This product is sold and should be used as an adult novelty only and should never be other than for external use. It should not be used on a prolonged or frequent basis. It should not be used on swollen or inflamed areas or near or on skin lacerations. No medical claims are warranted or implied by the use of this product."  Disclaimer for We-Vibe / Standard Innovations Salsa vibrator: "Sold as an adult novelty Only, not for Medical Use"  Novelty disclaimer for the Jopen brand Intensity vibrator: "This product is intended for use as an adult novelty product only. For external use only. Any product use for medical purposes or for a use that has an adverse effect on any function of the body is prohibited"

But they’re not exactly denying the sexual part of usage in their disclaimer. They are contradicting themselves, sometimes, by telling you to use it externally only in the disclaimer (after giving explicit directions to insert it in to your body, like Jopen did with the Intensity as seen here). I’ve yet to run across a disclaimer that outright says : “This is not for sexual use”; they’re denying a medical use: “not a medical device, it is designed for pleasure only. No therapeutic benefits are claimed” is one that I’ve seen. I think it’s akin to the warnings on bottles of herbal remedies like taking Turmeric pills for inflammation – “these statements have not been proven by the FDA”. Does this mean that Turmeric is bunk, that it will have no chance of reducing inflammation? Nope. Just that big company pharmaceuticals is where the money is at, and where all the testing goes. The redirect of language to avoid trying to look like a “medical device” is simply to avoid getting in to bed with the FDA when it comes to exporting since, as we’ve learned, a large percentage of vibrating sex toys are produced in China or Japan. After receiving some “blowing smoke up my ass” responses from a few companies, I contacted Jopen. I know that they’re a division of California Exotic Novelties1 but I still see them as a little bit separate since the designs for most of their items come from a company called Swan. However, the blunt response I outright asked, nay, begged for came back from Al Bloom of CalEx:

Actually, it is quite simple. To avoid being classified as a medical device by the FDA, we have to make a clear distinction in our labeling that our products are strictly for pleasure, and not a medical device of any type. Once pleasure products fall under the auspices of the FDA, the thousands of choices that consumers enjoy today, at prices they can afford, would dry up, and they would be left with a handful of very expensive products that weathered the storm of FDA testing, retesting, and multiple fees and costs along the way.

 

 Listen, we support FDA testing and protections on consumables, medications, and actual medical devices, but when it intrudes into the bedroom, the consumers will end up losing choice, affordability, and a whole lot of varied degrees of fun!

 

 Now, please understand that because we are classified as pleasure products, and labeled as novelties, does not mean that we disregard safety issues regarding our products. In fact, we go overboard in this area. We use only body safe materials, and our motors and internal wiring conforms to the strictest testing using European Union guidelines for RoHS and WEEE.

I respect him for this answer. I may hate 99% of the stuff that CalEx puts out and feel that they still produce toxic toys and I may now be feeling that Jopen is a highly overpriced trainwreck, but I still respect Al as a person for telling me this stuff. When I asked for clarification about the tariff rates as I mentioned in my first post, he responded:

Yes, US Customs classifies medical devices at a much higher tariff rate than pleasure products. That is not our main concern, it’s really the hoops you mention…and, it can take years to get a product through FDA testing, a huge stumbling block to get over.

He’s not exaggerating – a friend told me about the piles of paperwork, the fees and the hoops and the time that someone had to go to to get a sexual lubricant FDA-approved. Now, they can still use FDA-Approved materials, and make that claim. That doesn’t necessarily mean that, for example, Lelo went to the trouble of getting their silicone FDA approved. It means that their material supplier did, and they can carry that certificate on themselves to inform their customers (to the best of my knowledge, and practice assumptions are gleaned based on facts derived from a company I’ve done work for that does work for medical companies – they have to use medically-approved supplies but they don’t have to get the FDA approval, the supplier of those materials does).  Interested in what Lelo had to say? I’ve annotated it with comments from my anonymous friend to decipher the smoke-blowing:

As all LELO products are made of 100% body-safe, FDA-approved2 materials3, we have never used the word “novelty” on any of our packaging, so this part of your inquiry does not really apply to us.  It is good you are bringing this issue to attention on your blog though, as consumers should realize that the word “novelty” on sex toy packaging can sometimes serve as a legal loophole4, since the materials may not necessarily be body-safe certified5. It is best for consumers to always research a company’s reputation online, ask questions to in-store sales representatives, seek advice from bloggers like yourself, etc.

 

Yes LELO is manufactured in China, but the thing that sets us apart from any company worldwide, is that LELO manufactures all of its products fully in-house6. When we say that we believe in and stand behind our products, it’s not based solely on faith. All of our products are put through a rigorous pre-testing and post-testing regimen to ensure that LELO’s high standards of quality are met. Being the only company in the industry to manufacture products fully in-house7, we are able to keep a close eye on these testing processes. And even after our products have passed our in-house tests, they also go through independent testing agencies like Intertek and SGS to receive official product certification, and to ensure all health and safety requirements have been met8.

Alright so let’s hear from SI/We-Vibe who produce sex toys that I (mostly9) like (even if some don’t work for me) and who do use a disclaimer:

We-Vibe products are labeled, “Sold as an adult novelty. Not for medical use.” Although our products are often found in pharmacies, OB/GYN and therapists offices they are not classified as medical devices and we want to ensure there is no confusion with consumers. Medical devices must meet a host of defined regulatory standards unique to specific jurisdictions.  We-Vibe products are designed for pleasure purposes with safety as a top priority. Our products meet or exceed many international standards for consumer electronic products10

 

The silicone used in We-Vibe products is sourced from a medical manufacturer and undergoes a series of inspections and quality control processes before it makes its way to our production facilities11. We-Vibe regularly, as often as once a week, conducts manufacturing inspections to ensure our high standards are being met.  In addition, our products are routinely inspected by an independent lab to ensure they meet or exceed REACH (the European Community Regulation on chemicals and their safe use), RoHS (an electronics standard to reduce hazardous materials found in electric components) and other international consumer electronic standards12.  Body-safe and eco-friendly is not just a stamp on the box – We-Vibe’s primary concern is quality products and consumer safety. 

 

You’ll also want to let your readers know about counterfeit products that are showing up more often and being produced without concern for the health or safety of consumers. Beware of highly discounted product, if a deal seems too good to be true, it’s likely the product may be counterfeit and the safety claims may be questionable. Authentic We-Vibe products are available from authorized distributors and retailers. Consumers should purchase our products from reputable, established and trusted businesses13.

All in all, I’m disappointed with their answer….but yet there are other ways to look at it. First, that they don’t take me seriously. Second, that perhaps they’re shutting the door on a trade secret. Third, that perhaps they just don’t know why they label it that way, but everybody else does/did and they will too. There was not an ounce of facts there that came even close to answering my question. At least Al Bloom answered me without a crap ton of marketing fluffy bullshit. On the other side of the coin, at least they answered. The contact I have couldn’t answer it so they passed it along to someone else internally. Half of the companies I contacted wouldn’t even respond to me.

Okay so what about companies who produce mostly in the US, like Tantus? I know that a few items need to be outsourced. I don’t know which items. Do those items have a more strict disclaimer? Tantus, though, isn’t using “novelty”. In fact their disclaimer on the suction cup is kind of intimidating. I’ve shown the disclaimers below for one of the Secret Vibrators and the Suction Cup.  Mouse over the photo to get the text of the disclaimer to pop up if you don’t feel like clicking.

Disclaimer for Tantus on their Suction Cup attachment: "To the fullest extent permitted by law, Tantus makes no warranties of any kind whatsoever whether express or implied, and specifically no warranty of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose and in no event shall Tantus by liable, whether in contract or tort for any damages to the user in respect of economic loss, any loss or damage to property or death or injury to any person of whatever nature and however or wherever sustained that arises out of or in any way connected with the purchase, delivery or use of this product"  Disclaimer on Tantus Little Secrets vibrator: "WARNING FOR VIBRATING PRODUCTS: To avoid injury or aggravation of pre-existing conditions, this product should not be used on swollen or inflamed areas or skin lacerations. No medical claims are warranted or implied by the use of this product. Do not use on unexplained calf pain"

Aneros is also a little concerning, especially (in my opinion) since the item is meant to do prostate stimulation. The butt seems to be just a little bit more ….. sensitive, or maybe that’s just mine. “Disclaimer: Use of Aneros products is at your own risk. Neither the manufacturer nor retailer assumes any responsibility or liability for use of Aneros products” Again, I don’t know if this negates any legal claims if you get hurt. As Davis told us before, they can’t prevent a lawsuit. But it sure will deter the consumer.

I attempted to contact Vibratex, to ask them why they’ve never had to use a disclaimer, but they wouldn’t respond to me even with repeated attempts.  I put out an email to Evolved Novelties, but received no reply there, either. I’ll wrap this up with a little bit of industry history courtesy of Metis Black of Tantus:

When the industry was a baby Ted Marche made toys in his garage and he sold them very prolifically. This was the first US large manufacturer. He made a toy that had a wire inside the soft latex which rotated, much like the modern rabbits do. On one toy the interior wire was not capped, the edge of the wire as it was being used inside a man’s rectum chewed through the toy and did severe internal damage to his body. I think this was the mid 70’s. He (Marche) was sued and lost. The judge gave the victim a $14 mil settlement- which of course Mr. Marche couldn’t pay. That is how Ruben Sturman, and later Ron Braverman, got Doc Johnson. He took it off Mr. Marche’s hands.

 

I don’t know, but I suspect that was the turning point for having a disclaimer on the box. And that is why legal liability is so important in the industry. We are an industry that pays through its teeth for our liability insurance. You never ever have to see a claim and still, because of what we make as an industry, we are charged an arm and a leg and we are told we are lucky to even get it since 99% of insurance companies won’t issue insurance on our products.

 

I honestly don’t think it has anything to do with the quality, or lack thereof, of a sex toy. I think it has to do with history. Small manufacturers are less likely to use this terminology. Large one’s are more likely.

I’m going to continue to work on this list, with the help of others – if I have something listed incorrectly, let me know and if there’s a brand not listed, let me know how to categorize it. If you see a brand we trust with a disclaimer of any type, can you photograph it and send it to me? It’s going to be a given that the larger and older companies will continue to use the disclaimers.

Companies that do not use a “novelty” “not medical” or anti-liability disclaimer:  LELO, Je Joue, Vixen, Fun Factory, Vibratex, Vamp, BS is Nice, OhMiBod

Companies that do include a “novelty” “not medical” or other anti-liability disclaimer: Jopen, We-Vibe, Tantus, Aneros, CalEx Novelties, Doc Johnson, Pipedream, Topco, BSwish

  1. which I am vocally not a fan of
  2. “‘FDA approved materials’ is nothing more than a clever marketing ploy to confuse consumers into thinking their products are FDA approved”
  3. “The fact that they use FDA approved materials has nothing to do with anything.  The FDA is concerned with the final product, not the individual materials used, so it has no bearing on importing, costs or otherwise.”
  4. “There is no “legal-loophole” and they are perpetuating the spread of misinformation for their own gain.”
  5. “Who is the certifying agency of their “body-safe certified” products?  I have never heard of such a thing.”
  6. “I am assuming this means they have their own factory?” Me: Maybe yes? See this
  7. This is a false statement. They are far from the “only” company manufacturing their own toys. Doc Johnson, Blush Novelties, Odeco (which is also the factory for NS Novelties), IMToy and Maia Toys are also producing their own lines, along with many, many other factories.”
  8. “While this is true, what she is not saying is that they HAVE to perform these tests if they want to sell in the EU.  There is NO WAY around this and every single toy that has vibration goes through the same testing procedures, no matter what the company (unless they don’t want to sell in Europe). These are the RoHS and CE certification tests.  The only question in regards to testing that would be worth asking is WHO does the testing and Intertek and SGS are in fact, the most reputable testing facilities.”
  9. Still hate that Thrill
  10. NONE of this is an answer, it’s marketing
  11. Yep this is what I was talking about up above with Lelo’s claims
  12. Once more WITH FEELING! They do these tests because they HAVE TO
  13. What on earth did THIS have to do with my question?? Nothing
Mar 192013
 

We all were once ignorant about sex toys, because the truths were never talked about. Truth, fact and education is slowly being spread around in the hopes of a revolution. I’m playing the small part that I can, and sharing with you everything I learn. Many fellow bloggers know this now, but a lot of consumers do not so I will say this for the benefit of all: there are no regulations on sex toys. None. You have one method for safety, and that is to buy only toys made by a trusted company. But this whole unregulated thing goes far deeper down the rabbit hole than I realized. I learned so much at the Toxic Toys panel, and this post is about EDUCATION. Is it scary? Yes. Does that mean it should be covered up? No. Never. On this blog, I’m sorta like The South:

“I’m saying this is the South. And we’re proud of our crazy people. We don’t hide them up in the attic. We bring ‘em right down to the living room and show ‘em off. See, Phyllis, no one in the South ever asks if you have crazy people in your family. They just ask what side they’re on.”
— Julia Sugarbaker, “Designing Women”

I’m bringing this crazy, and scary, information out to the front porch, not just the living room, and giving it a cocktail. I’m waving the banner high and I’m asking that you read it, learn it, and make changes to keep yourself and others healthy. Because there are wonderful, safe sex toys out there: Silicone, Glass, Stainless Steel, even hard Plastic. And wood!

The 10% Myth

There is a “fact” that has widely been spread around between reviewers, blogs and social media, like a game of telephone to the point that we don’t even know its origins, that a sex toy need only contain a minimum of 10% in order to garner the use of the word “silicone” on the packaging. During the Toxic Toys panel at Catalyst, Metis and Jennifer of Smitten Kitten confirmed to us that the 10% thing isn’t even true. There is NO regulation, so why would there even be that? But really, regardless, whether there is 10% or 50% silicone, there is still a percentage of that item that is something like elastomer and is therefore porous to some degree; and while it’s not likely, it may even contain phthalates or heavy metals or VOCs. Might. If they can and do lie on the 100% silicone claim, what else are they lying about? Update: there is no “blending” of elastomers and silicone.

Bottom line: A company could have the manufacturing plant in China put “silicone” on the label when it’s far from silicone. Nothing and no one can stop them.

Except…for us. Consumers would have to file class-action lawsuits against a sex toy company who mislabels.  WE CAN START THE CHANGE.

April 8th: Edited to add: In research trying to find out what exactly is the bizarre material that Screaming O calls SEBS I happened upon my old review for their unfortunate Studio Line MakeUp Brush Vibrator, which was my first foray into the world of failed flame tests. On my review at EF, another reviewer noted that while I was panning S.O. for calling it plainly “silicone” when it is not, that she was told it was “SEBS”, I contacted Screaming O and received this response:

screamingOsebs

No, Screaming O, “our government” doesn’t say SHIT about sex toy material listings. You can see, then, how easily this myth got spread around.

Phthalates-Free! Really?

So if there are no regulations on the silicone thing, can they lie about the phthalates-free claim, too? YES. Nothing on that packaging has to hold a grain of truth. NO REGULATION. I asked because my Sex Nerd Spidey Senses went up a year or so ago when I was doing some work for a new sex toy retail site and saw that a lot of cheap, crap jelly, PVC, UR3, and Cyberskin sex toys made by the big companies all of a sudden were labeled as phthalates-free – simply because this had become the big buzz word that consumers were responding to. It is not the only toxic element that can be present, but it is the one getting all of the attention because phthalates are banned from children’s toys, dog chew toys, etc.

The Brand Thinks it is Silicone

It’s simply a fact of the industry that the vast majority of the sex toys are being made by a third-party plant in China because this is where it is the most affordable to do so. This is mostly true for vibrators, anything containing electronics, moving parts, etc. So the brands/companies go to China and find a plant and they agree on a material and formulation, etc. They can tell China that “Hey I do want this to actually be 100% silicone.”. The big companies are going for price point – a low one- so unless there is someone in the plant regulating and watching over the plant, that plant may not make the sex toy out of the exact same materials the subsequent times after buyer approval isn’t happening.

Phthalates are Not the Worst Thing Out There

Pigmentation can be an issue. The Danish did their big study on sex toys (Tantus Inc. kept a PDF of the study so that you can read it yourself). They took 16 random sex toys and analyzed them. Metis summed it up here:

In 2006 the Dutch EPA did a study where they randomly chose 16 adult toys from a store. Out of those 16 tested 3 had arsenic, 6 had antimony, 12 had lead and 7 had cadmium. Cadmium is a heavy metal. Every time you expose yourself to those toys your cadmium level increases. One of the cadmium toys had levels so high that the EU would have required a radioactive sticker on the product had it known this had been imported into the continent. So what was it? The radioactive sex toy was a Chinese made Slimline vibrator made of safe ABS. The issue wasn’t what the toy was made of but what it was pigmented with. This toy was yellow and cadmium was its pigment.

Should you avoid ALL yellow sex toys? I don’t know the answer. Cadmium is also used as a plastic softener, so it’s not necessarily tied to the color yellow. I also want to point out though that this big test was done in 2005. The sex toy industry has come a very long way in the last 8 years. I would be especially interested to see the same testing done again, now. 

So Now What

NOW how do we, as consumers, protect our bodies?

1. Call the Dildologists. After the writing of this post, a new organization as been formed to serve as an industry watchdog, who will raise money and independently acquire material validation from accredited labs through funding.

2. I can point you again to the flame test; while the test is not 100% utterly accurate and you can see different results for different types of silicone, I feel that it can serve as a pretty close litmus 90% of the time. You can perform this on a tiny little section near the handle, near a part that doesn’t touch your body and the results will be quick and obvious. If there is a different method that will be more reliable, I’ll tell you.

3. Here’s a weird test recommended by Ducky Doolittle, also part of the Toxic Toys panel: Lick it. Your lips are very sensitive. If your lips tingle, go numb, etc? Do not use that toy. Your mucus membranes absorb things so quickly, both the good and the bad. A mindframe of “It’s just a sex toy that I only use occasionally, and I just really prefer jelly!! But I don’t use it much, and it doesn’t burn me, so I’m fine!” is not going to keep you safe. A lot of bad things in cheap sex toys won’t give you a clear cut reaction, but can indeed slowly cause damage to your body that you don’t even know about until it’s too late and no one will be able to pinpoint it.

4. Educate yourself, and others. After the writing of this post, I created a landing page for all things about sex toy material safety. Read it. Share stuff from it whenever you can. The more people we can educate, the better. Get them to throw out their shitty toys and pledge to only purchase safe materials from reputable companies.

I think you might be reading this and freaking out. I don’t want you to stop using sex toys. Just be careful on which manufacturers you buy from – on this page I have listed out the brands that I’ve researched and found to be reputable. That isn’t to say that each one makes only non-porous toys but I believe that, as an example, Evolved, is  trustworthy that their porous TPR toys are still non-toxic. If this changes, I’ll let you know. If you get a sex toy that has an odor? Ask the manufacturer/brand. Call them out on it (Consider the packaging, sometimes a smell can be from the packaging – if so, the smell will dissipate after separating it from the packaging for a few days).  Also keep an eye on the Coalition Against Toxic Toys for their recommendations and to Dildology as they begin to build their catalog of results.

This isn’t the end, the information here isn’t finite. Things are changing, education is being passed around, and reporting will continue to happen. I will keep writing. I want you all to do your research and keep writing. Take off your blogger hat sometimes and put on your journalist hat. YOU CAN DO IT! We can be the revolution, we can be the change.