Safe Sex Toys – Safe vs. Unsafe Materials

Safe Sex Toys

In a previous post, we discussed unsafe sex toys and the materials that are often used in their manufacture. In contrast, this post will focus on safe sex toys and the materials that are ideally used along with the strengths and weaknesses of each.

guage-non-porous-materials To help illustrate, I really like this gauge from the Kinsey Institute which helps to show that there’s something of a sliding scale in regard to non-porous vs. porous materials. The worst offenders — jelly rubber (a nickname) and PVC — are at the bottom of the gauge. Why are porous materials dangerous? Because they will easily harbor bacteria and other dirt or irritants that are not easily washed away. Those materials are also unsuitable for sterilization (e.g., via heat in boiling water) since doing so will cause them to melt or fall apart. In contrast, silicone, ABS plastic, glass and stainless steel are very non-porous and are easy to clean. Each material still has pros and cons.

Let’s look at the materials, starting from the bottom of the gauge (least safe) and moving up.

Jelly Rubber
jelly-rubber-dildos

cock-rings-melted



IMPORTANT TIP! Remember that any “phthalate-free” claims on the package aren’t necessarily true, even when coming from large, mainstream companies.
Jelly rubber is one of the cheapest materials around. While “jelly rubber” is not an official term for the material, it is term that is well known. Jelly sex toys are made from a mixture of PVC and rubber, along with softening agents which results in a soft jelly-like texture. Sex toys made from jelly do feel reasonably realistic and they’re economical. These toys often look translucent. One huge drawback to Jelly sex toys is that they are made with phthalates (pronounced “THAL-ates”). Phthalates are “plasticisers” (softeners) added to plastics to make them flexible. Studies have shown that exposure to phthalates can be a health risk and thus they are phased out of many products in the United States and European Union, particularly in products which are consumed by mouth, such as food packaging and water bottles. Potential health risks have been linked to liver damage, kidney damage, hormonal disruption, reproductive organ damage, and liver cancer. Although no conclusive studies on the health risks for jelly sex toys have been conducted, we recommend that you always use a condom when using a sex toy made of jelly for added protection. Or better yet, avoid them all together.

They should never be stored together with other toys – the materials will react and can melt! (See my pic of two jelly cock rings that started to melt together).

Compatible with: Water-based and silicone lubricants.
Feel: Smooth, rubbery and flexible.
Smell: Strong rubbery smell.
Taste: Slight chemical taste.
Contains: phthalates and latex.


PVC
pvc-sex-toy



IMPORTANT TIP!
 Did you know that a study of PVC shower curtains showed that over 100 chemicals were released into the air during a one month period with a new PVC curtain? NOTE: The more odor you smell, the lower the grade and the more phthalates used.
PVC is Polyvinyl Chloride and it is the starting material for many sex toys. Shower curtains are often made of PVC, which has a strong familiar smell to most of us. While jelly rubber is more porous, PVC is also fairly porous even though it appears to be solid. If you have ever stored foods that had some grease or a tomato base into plastic storage containers, you’ve encountered the porous issue. Often you can’t get them truly clean. Now imagine bacteria that can’t be seen by the naked eye but making its home in porous materials like PVC and jelly rubber in your sex toy. 

Another important consideration for PVC is that Cadmium (a heavy metal) is often used in the manufacturing process as a stabilizer.

The safest route is to avoid sex toys made of PVC. 

Compatible with: Water-based and silicone lubricants.
Feel: Smooth, rubbery and flexible.
Smell: Strong rubbery smell.
Taste: Slight chemical taste.
Contains: phthalates and latex.


Skin-like  / Realistic Feel

fleshlight
Realistic Feel is a broad term for sex toys that are made with materials that are designed to be natural in both look and feel. Examples include CyberSkin, Real Feel Super Skin, Better-Than-Real, Fanta Flesh, Futurotic, Loveclone RX, UR3, and Sensafirm. These are made of an elastomer based material. Buying a realistic feel toy such as a Fleshlight will give you an ultra life-like experience. They even retain heat to keep it at body-temperature. Realistic feel materials are porous, so it’s important to clean them thoroughly and powder them with cornflour or a renewer powder to keep them soft.

Compatible with: Water-based lubricants only.
Feel: Firm, tactile and life-like.
Smell: Strong rubbery smell.
Taste: Rubbery taste.


Compounds / Sil-A-Gel

sil-a-gel-butt-plugs
Sil-A-Gel is a trademarked name for a variation of poly vinyl chloride (PVC). At its heart, we’re still dealing with PVC but Sil-A-Gel is an additive to serve as an anti-bacterial compound for PVC toys. Does Sil-A-Gel help? I wish we had a documented study to point readers to. We as consumers should consider the following. The name “Sil-A-Gel” is marketed to sound like silicone, which is a well-known safe material for sex toys, but Sil-A-Gel is not silicone and toys that contain it are still made of porous PVC with phthalates. So how trusting should we as consumers be of a toy that is marketed as Sil-A-Gel? 

Draw your own conclusions.

Compatible with: Water-based and silicone lubricants.
Feel: Smooth, rubbery and flexible.
Smell: Strong rubbery smell.
Taste: Slight chemical taste.
Contains: phthalates and latex.


TPR (Thermo Plastic Rubber)
TPE (Thermo Plastic Elastomer)


TPR-couples-ring



IMPORTANT TIP! When a toy contains phthalates, you’ll often find “weeping” or sweat-like beads of oily discharge on the surface of the toy, especially if it’s warm or hot where the toy has been stored. This is caused by chemical degradation of the toy material, which occurs naturally over time.
TPR (thermo plastic rubber) is a polymer blend that has a thermoplastic character. TPR is hypoallergenic, nontoxic and phthalate free. TPR is less porous than “Real Feel” / Cyberskin but it is more porous than Silicone. Since it is still porous, it’s recommended that a condom be used with sex toys made of TPR to prevent the spread of bacteria and other infectious agents. TPR cannot be disinfected but TPR sex toys can be cleaned with mild soap and water or with antibacterial sex toy cleaners. Unfortunately, this material cannot be sterilized by boiling.

Similar to TPR, TPE (thermo plastic elastomer is higher quality than jelly rubber. An elastomer is a compound that does not include phthalates.  Elastomers start out soft and have product added to make them harder. This product is then removed by high vacuum so that there are no residual hardeners.  

Compatible with: Water-based and silicone lubricants.
Feel: Smooth, rubbery and flexible.
Smell: some rubbery smell.
Taste: Slight chemical taste.
Contains: latex.



Silicone (100%)
Tantus-hank-dildos
Silicone is soft and lifelike, it is hypo-allergenic, and it warms up quickly to body temperature. It is non-porous and thus it is easy to clean with mild soap and water. It may also be boiled for sterilization to allow for sex-toy sharing without the need for condoms. Unlike jelly rubber and the other porous substances listed above, silicone can be sterilized in temperatures up to 300 °C (572 °F). In addition, it can be bleached in a 10% bleach solution. Sex toys made of silicone are more expensive than those made of jelly and rubber, but they are particularly durable and will last for years with appropriate care. It is an ideal material and we recommend it heartily. 

Compatible with: Water-based lubricants only.
Feel: Smooth and flexible.
Smell: no smell.
Taste: no taste.
Contains: silicone.

Care and Feeding: As with all sex toys, a thorough washing after each use is called for. Use an antibacterial soap, or as mentioned above, boil the toy in water for at least 5 minutes to sterilize it completely. When using lubricants with silicone sex toys it is important that silicone-based lubricants are NOT used, as these may cause damage to the toy.


ABS Plastic (hard)
ABS-plastic-vibrator

g spot
ABS Plastic (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is rigid, hard and hygienic. It is a favorite material in vibrating bullets and classic vibes. Plastic transfers vibrations extremely well and allows firm, strong stimulation. It’s also compatible with all lubes and easy to clean. If you prefer a velvet or softer touch but still want the firmness, look for smooth coated plastic. This is ABS plastic that has been given a smooth rubber-based or polyurethane coating.

Compatible with: Water-based and silicone lubricants.
Feel: Smooth, hard and strong.
Smell: Odourless.
Taste: Tasteless.
Contains: no phthalates, no latex.

Care and Feeding: a thorough washing after each use is called for. Use an antibacterial soap but do not boil. Since most hard plastic toys have a vibrator and electronics, do not submerge in water unless otherwise directed by the manufacturer as water will damage the electronics and motor.




Metal
njoy-steel-wand
Metal has wonderful qualities for a brilliant sex toy. It’s non-porous, waterproof, skin-safe, easy to clean and disinfect, compatible with all lubricants and incredibly durable. However, stainless steel has a few disadvantages which includes being quite heavy, and the rigid feel can be too much for some. Steel toys also tend to be ‘self-powered’ — no vibrators. If you like firm pressure, steel toys can be wonderful. You can also chill them or warm them to a desired temperature using water.

Compatible with: Water-based and silicone lubricants.
Feel: Smooth, cold and rigid.
Smell: Odorless.
Taste: Tasteless.
Does not contain phthalates.
Does not contain latex.Care and Feeding: a thorough washing after each use is important. Use an antibacterial soap, or as mentioned above, boil the toy in water for at least 5 minutes to sterilize it completely. 


Glass
glass-dildo

Glass sex toys are usually made from clear medical grade borosilicate glass (”hard glass”). Pyrex is one well-known brand of this glass. It’s a wonderful material for a sex toy as it is completely non-toxic and it will withstand extreme temperatures and considerable physical shock without compromising its structural integrity. Glass toys made of borosilicate are completely safe. A properly annealed inch thick piece will withstand up to 3,000 lbs of pressure and extreme heat and cold. Glass dildos are non-porous and can be sterilized in boiling water to help prevent infection with reuse or sharing. Glass sex toys are durable and usually visually appealing. They are long-lasting and can be warmed or chilled before use.

Compatible with: Water-based and silicone lubricants.
Feel: Smooth, cold and rigid.
Smell: Odorless.
Taste: Tasteless.
Does not contain phthalates.
Does not contain latex.

Care and Feeding: a thorough washing after each use is important. Use an antibacterial soap, or as mentioned above, boil the toy in water for at least 5 minutes to sterilize it completely.

Want to see two cock rings that melted together? To read more about unsafe sex toys and the materials and products to avoid, please click here.

6 thoughts on “Safe Sex Toys – Safe vs. Unsafe Materials

  1. sorry – you have posted an article with misleading information. jelly is not a material – call the supply house and ask for Jelly – they will laugh at you. ( sorry). PVC can be quite safe if produced properly ( they do have an odor though), Silicone comes in different levels – some have additives that are quite bad.
    please do more homework before you post such incomplete articles.

    thanks
    lavi yedid

    • Lavi, I appreciate the reply and that you took the time to write. I agree that “Jelly” is not a real material. It is just a common term used to describe the jelly-like product that is made from a combination of materials (PVC being one component). I have updated my post to make that clearer. And I agree that silicone also comes available in different grades, with some having additives that are harmful. I am writing to an audience that won’t be technical and my intent is to provide a basic understanding of common materials in use for sex toys.

      However, I stand by my statements that any PVC material that gasses off phthalates is not entirely safe. Also, products that are made with the softer combinations as noted in my post are more porous and while those materials can be made safe, the fact that they are more likely to harbor bacteria is a concern, and consumers should be made aware of this. Ideally, it’s nice to have a material that can be boiled in hot water to kill bacteria which is not something that the typical soft-PVC material can withstand.

  2. Pingback: Review of Tantus Flex - Great Love Toys

  3. Hi Logan,

    I recently found your article and decided to read it before I ever made another money wasting/ buyer’s remorse sex toy purchase, and I am so thankful I took the time to do some of my own research! Your article really opened my eyes to the bacteria collecting and other chemical dangers that exist with nearly all sex toys even if they promote their products as being ‘body safe’, etc. The only thing that steers me clear of ever making another sex toy purchase is the chemical burn reaction I might again receive from junk like TPR/ TPE, UR3, etc. I also discovered much to my dismay that most of porous material sex toys I wasted money on can and will become breeding grounds for black mold even if the sex toy is cleaned thoroughly and stored separately from other sex toys. Why the sex toy industry doesn’t address the potential dangers of this and/or any harm to one’s health is very simple: the sex toy industry is largely unregulated. I also found your article highly informative and very educational.

    Sincerely,
    Maria

    • Hi Maria, thank you for taking the time to write! It’s always rewarding to know that information we’ve shared has helped someone else become a better informed consumer. Peace and be wild!

  4. Hi Logan !

    Thanks for the GREAT article. We knew about phthalates but never heard about the Cadmium in PVC Toys.
    Can we suggest that you add another material ? Porcelain ? It has pretty much the same properties as Glass, but porcelain always is always, at least, food-grade quality. ( We heard that some companies now integrate plastics with their glass dildos to make them less fragile but making them toxic, again.)

    Contrary to common beliefs, Porcelain is VERY resistant in use. It just doesn’t like so much being dropped on concrete / ceramic floors ;).

    Let me know if you have any questions about porcelain toys !

    Best,

    Isabelle

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