Toxic. Non-porous. Body-safe. Skin-safe. Non-toxic. These are all terms you will see used to define sex toy materials. Toxic, non-toxic, and non-porous are all pretty self-explanatory terms but we’ll go over them here. The term that seems up for debate is body-safe, so today I’m going to give you various answers on what a body-safe sex toy is.
But, let’s start by talking about the other, more easily defined terms, before we define a body-safe sex toy.
Toxic Sex Toys
The topic of toxic toys is one this blog is familiar with; I have a whole page dedicated to the ins and outs. When you get down to the nitty-gritty of language, though, you may wonder if “toxic” is accurate. Toxic, by definition, means “containing poisonous substances” or “containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing serious injury or death“
While there are no cases of a sex toy material killing someone we do know that some sex toys contain phthalates, a chemical that can do bad things to the body. The occurance of phthalates in sex toys is sharply declining, thankfully, as evidenced by recent lab tests. One or two uses won’t likely hurt you, and sex toys are not the only place to find phthalates but they’re a thing you can control and avoid.
We’ve also seen the presence of heavy metals, like Cadmium which is dangerous, but this is rare. We may see irritants, such as chlorine, which may cause a burn or rash on your skin. But the chances of a sex toy truly being “toxic” to the point of serious illness? We don’t know. After all, no one is subjecting mice to a Basix dildo and observing them.
The lab tests on sex toys have largely been performed on the more well-known brands but the market is flooding, unchecked, on sites like Groupon, Amazon, Ebay and AliExpress. Brands come and go and they are usually not the focus of testing. These are the brands I am most skeptical of; they are white label brands usually (another definition post to come on that) and their manufacturing isn’t watched with a careful eye like the more major brands.
Because the sex toy industry is much less regulated the chemicals in sex toy materials are not monitored by any governing body. Packaging can say whatever the company wants it to say with no regard for the truth. As consumers become more savvy and bloggers educate more, I feel we’re seeing fewer companies lie on packaging but it certainly still happens.
There are a few things we know to be true, though: You’ll never find phthalates in silicone or hard materials. Due to the nature of the material you don’t find phthalates in TPR/TPE but you may in latex rubber or PVC. PVC/Vinyl can contain high levels of chlorine, while TPR/TPE has been shown to be free of harmful and irritating chemicals. Visually, it can be hard to tell the difference between a TPR and PVC – your nose may know, but all soft sex toy materials (even silicone) can have a bad chemical odor due to manufacturing chemicals not being removed before the toy is sealed up in packaging.
Non-toxic is a definition I use for materials that are porous but are either very unlikely to contain harmful or irritating chemicals or the company claims they are free from harmful or irritating chemicals. TPR/TPE and various trademarked “flesh” like materials will fall in this category – such as masturbators like Fleshlight and Tenga. PVC that claims to be phthalates-free could begrudingly go in this category if we’re feeling charitable or have repeatedly seen that the brand never fails on lab tests.
Unfortunately, as noted above, it can often be hard to tell the difference between PVC and TPR/TPE. Both can be jelly-like and clear, or completely opaque. I am more wary of this difficulty telling the difference when you’re relying on white-label brands direct from the Chinese manufacturing plant than of major name brands carried at most retailers.
Non-toxic, porous sex toy materials may not ever harm your body in the ways a toxic toy can – they are unlikely to cause a rash or chemical burn, for example. They will, over time, become a happy home to bacteria and yeast because these materials can only be cleaned on the surface – the same can be said for toxic toys because they are also porous. Their pores will always freely feed bacterial colonies and encourage them to thrive. The material is not chemically stable and will break down over time. It will happen slowly if left on its own: it’ll sweat an oily substance, lose it’s coloring, or take on coloring from anal use or simply the place it’s being stored. It will happen rapidly if stored in a place that gets hotter than body temperature or if two porous toys are stored touching each other.
Non-toxic, porous sex toys can also potentially cause vaginal infections in some people.
I’ve only seen this term used by a few retailers, namely Lovehoney (and anybody setting up their site who copies Lovehoney). My best guess is they use this term as a nicer way of describing materials that are porous yet claim to be non-toxic.
Why “Skin safe” and not body-safe or, more accurately, non-toxic? Perhaps even they recognize that “body-safe” is a higher level of quality yet they still want to give you a false sense of security. Given all the issues that can happen with porous materials I would never call them “skin safe”. PVC without phthalates is non-toxic but could burn your skin from chlorine…that doesn’t sound “safe”.
Body-Safe Sex Toy Definitions
Like “skin safe”, some retailers and manufacturers use “body safe” as a blanket term for anything that is merely non-toxic. The issues with porous sex toys, like repeated vaginal infections, won’t happen for everyone. If you replace the porous material after 4-6 months and take very good care of it1 then you may never have to worry about shoving a bacterial colony of squigglies in your body. These exceptions, maybes and loopholes mean that, to some, TPR/TPE and similarly named products (elastomer, for example) are “body-safe”.
I don’t consider microbial stowayas “body-safe” but, unless you’re a microbiologist, you won’t know the bacteria and yeast there. They could be. I’ve heard of people giving themselves repeated yeast infections because of the microbes in the toy; I’ve heard of people feeling like they’ve had food poisioning after using a porous sex toy anally.
While many retailers will push you towards sex toy cleaners for the porous materials, I don’t recommend it. The chemicals from the cleaner could potentially stick around in the pores. Do we know this to be 100% fact? No. Again, a lack of specific medical studies but enough people who know more about
To most bloggers, educators, and retailers, though, a body-safe sex toy is something that is both non-toxic and non-porous.
The Exceptions to Body-Safe Sex Toy Materials
Taken a step further a body-safe sex toy means being certain that the metal alloys in metal toys are considered surgical-grade or marine-grade, like njoy’s 316 grade stainless steel or Crowned Jewels’ body-safe aluminum and titanium. Good stainless steel shouldn’t be highly magnetic. It also means that the glass has not been painted and non-toxic pigments in frit are the only pigments used. It means that the wood has been sealed with food-grade sealant (or medical-grade) that will not wash away. It means that only non-toxic food-grade pigments are used in ABS plastic or silicone.
The tricky part, then, is knowing the answers to those exceptions for every brand you buy. You can get to a safe and trusting place by only buying from brands endorsed by sex toy reviewers, sold by trustworthy retailers also endorsed by sex toy reviewers. I am always very wary of recommending unknown brands of metal sex toys especially if the brands are only found on sites like Amazon, AliExpress, and so on; I can also tell you that you are very unlikely to get a body-safe metal butt plug for under $25 – especially the jeweled kind.
I’ve given you the tools to know more about the safety of your glass sex toys but there are no easy, fool-proof home tests yet for metal. Wood sex toys are usually easier because, for the most part, manufacturers/crafters know what they’re putting on the wood as a sealant and are up front about this. This article talks about the sealants you should avoid. You can try your hand at flame-testing to determine if something is silicone or not – not all PVC and TPR looks like “jelly” so at first glance you may be unable to tell visually.
A body-safe sex toy doesn’t have to be expensive, either. Buy from a trusted retailer – not Amazon, AliExpress, Groupon, Ebay – and you can find many options to fit your budget. You can’t find many body-safe sex toys under $10, for example, but you can find hundreds under $35. I want you to have the best, safest experience possible and that starts by knowing your materials, the risks, and how to shop.
- clean it immediately before and after use with a mild soap, let it air-dry 100% before storing it in a dark environment, storing it by itself in unbleached cotton bags/wrapping ↩