Toxic sex toys: how to find one that's not going to murder you with cancer

Toxic sex toys: how to find one that's not going to murder you with cancer

SexSeptember 01, 2014

Why that butt plug vibrating in your drawer could be nastier than your darkest fantasy.

Sex toys are a great addition to every bedroom. It’s hard to say where we’d be without them, but their production is a lot darker and more toxic than that glittery, rabbit suggests. A majority of toys on the market today are made with materials that are known to be harmful to humans. So, before you pop in that last anal bead or take that vibrator off the charger, make sure it’s not going to kill you first.

This gross practice was brought to light in 2005, when the Danish Environmental Agency started to get a little squicked-out by ersatz genitals. It conducted a study called, “Analysis and Health Risk Assessment of Chemical Substances in Sex Toys.” Sixteen popular toys were tested to see what they were made of and to identify those chemical’s effects on the human body with heavy usage (defined as more than one hour per day.) The results were freaky and not in a good way.

Cheap chemicals, mainly plasticizers and solvents, are being widely used to produce sex toys. These chemicals, some of which have been banned in Europe and the United States for use in children’s and pet toys, are toxic to the reproductive system, brain and vital organs. Some are straight-up carcinogenic. They also found porous, non-toxic materials could be harmful because they can never be completely sanitized. They just perpetually collect, and expose you to bacterial infections. Good luck explaining that to the beau, “I swear honey, my dildo gave me that rash.”

You’ll probably want to go ahead empty your drawer of goodies into the trash before we get to the nitty-gritty.

We use known carcinogenic chemicals to make sex toys because they’re cheap, and nobody is telling manufactures no. Many of these chemicals are routinely used in industrial manufacturing to make plastics: tiles, tubing and ticklers alike. They’re a cost-effective way to make a normally hard plastic squishy, flexible and ready for you to vigorously go to town with.

Here are just a few of the most toxic chemicals routinely used to manufacture sex toys, just to give you an idea of what that butt plug’s costing you, aside from your dignity:

  • Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics softer and more flexible. They adversely affect human reproduction and development, and are “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” according to the EPA. Phthalates are banned from children’s and pet toys in Canada, the UK and here, but remain omnipresent in adult toys.
  • Trimethhyltin Chloride is a chemical used as a bacteria and fungus control agent. It causes skin and eye irritation, dizziness, seizures and damage to the kidney and liver. Repeated exposure can cause irreversible central nervous system damage as well as genetic mutations, birth defects and brain damage.
  • Phenol is a disinfectant. It causes skin and eye irritation. Long-term, oral exposure has resulted in progressive weight loss, blood and liver damage, vertigo and abnormal development in lab animals.
  • Toluene is used to create polymers and as a solvent. It causes damage to the central nervous system in both acute and chronic cases. Acutely, it can cause central nervous system depression and cardiac arrhythmia. In cases of chronic exposure, tremors, involuntary eye movements, birth defects and cancer are all normal.
  • 1-Methyl-2-Pyrrolidinone is used as a solvent, a plasticizer and in pharmaceuticals. Labs in California and Europe have found it interrupts the endocrine system, which causes a whole slew of reproductive problems such as birth defects and issues regulating hormones such as testosterone.
  • Dimethylformamide is an industrial solvent that’s used in the production of fibers and surface coating. It damages the liver, causes abdominal pain, nausea, alcohol intolerance and rashes. It’s been know to cause spontaneous abortions and has a possible link to testicular cancer.

You’d expect all objects designed to be wedged inside of, or slipped over, your body’s most sensitive and moist parts would have a set of standards to ensure they were safe to use. The FDA regulates bubble gum for shit’s sake, why not ball-gags? Surprisingly, neither the FDA nor any other regulatory agencies sticks its nose into sex-toy production. The prudish oversight allows manufactures to put whatever they want into their toys without having to list a single thing.

In reality, we’re getting a dose of these chemicals by simply existing in a plastic-loving society. With that in mind, you may think, “Why should it matter, aren’t we all gonna die anyway?” Yes, but it’s powerful to know what you’re putting in your body, and although Kyle and Tre were complete dicks, it’s nice to know your Ron Jeremy replica won’t fuck you over too.

There is a glimmer of hope at the end of this fleshlight though; there are a growing number of reputable sex toy manufacturers who don’t want you to grow boobs, singe your sphincter or have your children grow up without a jaw. It’s not really hard to find them.

The materials used in safe sex toy production are all medical grade and are approved to put inside human bodies, like surgical steel and of course, 100-percent silicone. Ask your local sex shop employee what to look for, he or she should be able to steer you in the right direction. These toys are going to cost more but theoretically won’t leach harmful chemicals into your body. They’re also often very strange and artsy looking, so you don’t have to hide them when your parents come over.

Quality sex toys are easy to sanitize. You can put them in the dishwasher. They also often come with a warranty. If you’re a marathon masturbator, you can sleep more soundly knowing when either of the 10-speed motors go out, a new one will be in your mailbox overnight, if you want to pay the extra shipping. 

Safe sex isn’t something we should have to think about when we’re all by ourselves, but it’s a reality. So go through your toys, and get rid of the gross ones. And think about your body before you take out a second mortgage to buy that three-titted, alien sex doll you’ve been eyeing on Amazon. 

How to spot a toxic toy:

  • It reeks: The toxic chemicals in toys are constantly breaking down and releasing putrid-smelling chemicals into the air and into your body. 
  • It feels greasy: When the chemicals break down, they also create a greasy film on the outside of the toy. That’s not lube.
  • They burn: Depending on how sensitive you are to chemicals, a toxic sex toy can cause immediate burning and irritation.
  • It’s called “Jelly” or “Novelty”: anything that has “Jelly” in the name is sure to have phthalates and who knows what else in it. Also, they can stink, be greasy and burn.
  • It’s cheap: As with all things, you get what you pay for. Toxic toys are cheap because the materials they’re made of are cheap too.
  • It melts: Toxic toys are porous and have been known to fuse together with objects they cozy up to for too long, like the other vibrator in your drawer or your old cell-phone case. 


Fun tip: These toxins are fat soluble, so using an oil-based lubricant while playing around with toxic toys increases the chance that the chemicals will leach out and absorb into you.

Porous materials
Although these materials aren’t toxic, they are porous. No matter how long you soak that butt plug in bleach, it’s like your conscience, and it ain’t coming clean.

  • Rubber
  • PVC
  • Cyberskin/Realskin
  • UR3
  • Vinyl


Titillating tip:  If you have a porous toy that you just can’t part with, slip on a jimmy before you stick it inside. You’re central nervous system, reproductive system and warm wet holes will thank you.

Safe sex toy components

  • Some of these materials may seem weird, but they are all completely safe for sexy time.
  • Glass
  • Medical-grade silicone
  • Metal
  • ABS hard plastic
  • Your consensual sex partner

A tip to end all tips: A toy only has to be 10 percent silicone for the manufacture to be able to put silicone on the label. To make sure your toy is silicone, try to light it on fire. If it’s silicone, nothing will happen. If it’s not, motherfucker’s gonna melt.