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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Are Your Sex Toys Toxic?

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Any time I teach a “Sex Toys 101” class, I talk about the materials from which these toys are made. Most Americans assume that if you can buy something in a store, it must be safe. Our government wouldn’t allow a product to be sold if it contains harmful ingredients, right? WRONG. U.S. regulatory bodies want absolutely nothing to do with sex toys. No one monitors how sex toys are manufactured, what materials are used to make them or what claims are made on the toy’s packaging.

Because of this, substances like phthalates, plastic softeners which may cause a myriad of health problems, are banned in children’s toys, but regularly find their way into adult toys. Studies have found other toxic ingredients like arsenic and lead in sex toys. Sex toy store owners have long known that toys commonly labeled “jelly” or “crystal” are unstable and will dissolve or change shape over time.

Feminist sex toy stores, led by Minneapolis-based Smitten Kitten and their Coalition Against Toxic Toys, have tried to raise awareness about this issue and pledged to only carry toys made from safe materials, such as 100% silicone, glass or stainless steel. As a result of this activism, over the past five years, there has been an explosion in higher-quality toys. At the same time, however, large manufacturers who traditionally trade in phthalate-laden items have realized that slapping “silicone” on the front of their boxes will appeal to health-conscious consumers. Since there’s no regulation of the industry, there’s no guarantee that toys advertised as “silicone” are actually safe.

This can be very frustrating for store owners like myself. We rely on the reputation of certain toy manufacturers based in the U.S., Canada or Europe, and we take toys from larger companies home to boil on our stovetops as a test of their stability. However, one never truly knows what’s in a particular toy.

Enter a new non-profit startup: Dildology. With the motto In Dildo Veritas, Dildology has pledged to conduct laboratory testing on a wide variety of toys from different manufacturers to determine exactly what those toys are made of. The folks who founded Dildology are not affiliated with any store or manufacturer, so their results will not be biased by a need to sell products.

One of the reasons that widespread independent sex toy testing has not been done previously is that the tests are expensive—around $450 to analyze one toy. Thus, the three people behind Dildology have started a crowd-funding campaign on Offbeatr. Right now, you can help them without contributing any money by simply voting for their project—Dildology needs a minimum of 130 votes in order to begin collecting donations. I’ve voted for them, I will give money once they have reached their vote minimum and I will donate toys for them to test.

Our sex-phobic government doesn’t care enough about our vaginas and anuses to test these products for us, so it’s time to take matters into our own orifices. I am incredibly excited for the day when Dildology reports on the results of their first toy test. Finally, I will be able to speak with certainty about how sex toys impact our sexual health.

Laura Anne Stuart owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side. She has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than fifteen years. Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXPress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

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