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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Are sex toys safe?

Question: Are sex toys safe?
“I was shopping online for sex toys, and came across a site that seems very knowledgeable, where they say the only safe kind of sex toy to use is silicone. They claim most sex toys have cancer-causing ingredients. I couldn’t help but notice that your site recommends stores that carry these sex toys. Are there dangers of getting cancer from using sex toys? Why are you recommending stores that carry these products? The whole thing definitely has me turned off sex toys for a while.”
The turn off is understandable. Sex toys, while a lot of fun are by no means necessary to having a good (or great) sex life. But if you like them, hopefully the turn off will pass, and maybe some information on what we know, and don't know, about the safety of sex toys will help.
Unfortunately there is very little scientific data on the safety of sex toys, and I have come across websites that, in my opinion, make too many generalizations about the potential danger of sex toys (sometimes for reasons that seem a little self-serving). For example, there is simply no data that can confirm that “most sex toys have cancer-causing ingredients”. Also, it is untrue to say that silicone is the only material that is “safe” to use. It’s possible that ten years from now we’ll discover something in the manufacturing of silicone that poses a health risk. Scientists are constantly learning more about how the chemicals we come in contact with impact our health and the best we can do is keep up to date on what the research can tell us. The bad news is that scientists often leave sex out of their research, with the obvious exception of sexually transmitted disease research. As such finding information on the safety of sex toys can be difficult. Here are a few things to consider…
The vast majority of sex toy manufacturers do not disclose what they put in their toys. This “mystery material” may pose health risks, but we have no way of knowing for sure. Sex toys are not approved, tested, or regulated by the FDA. They are sold as novelty items, not medical devices.
We do know that many soft rubber toys are made using phthalates , which have been linked to several environmental and individual health issues, in a variety of other consumer products. The most common sex toys that are made with phthalates are calledjelly rubber but many other kinds of soft rubber toys also contain phthalates.
We also know that manufacturers often add an artificial scent (to mask the smell of phthalate off gassing), and these scents, along with the dyes they use, and the material itself, could be something people have allergic reactions to.
So where does that leave us? As with any other safer sex issue the important thing is for you to understand and assess their own risk , which you can only do by getting as much information as you can, and making a thoughtful decision, preferably not in the heat of the moment.
There is no doubt that higher quality, hypoallergenic, materials, such as silicone, andelastomers, are the better choice. But they are expensive and out of reach for many of us. Using a latex condom on an inexpensive toy will reduce the risk of reacting to it, but may not eliminate risk entirely.  BY 
There have been a number of news items recently about "toxic sex toys," specifically related to the use of phthalates in sex toys. Unfortunately, headlines about killer sex toys often fail to give us the information we actually need to make decisions about whether or not we should use sex toys that contain phthalates in them. Here is some basic information about phthalates and their use in sex toy manufacturing.

What are Phthalates?

Phthalates -- pronounded "thal-ates" -- are a family of chemicals used to soften hard plastics to make them more flexible. Derived from phthalic acid, and often called a plasticizer for its plastic-softening properties, phthalates have been produced since the 1920s and have been used in everything from perfumes to pesticides and medical instruments to sex toys.

Why are Phthalates Used to Manufacture Sex Toys?

Phthalates soften the rubbers and make sex toys have a soft cushy feel to them. They are used in a wide range of sex toys, but there are many other toys that are phthalate-free.

Is There a Health Risk?

There is simply not enough data to answer this question directly because few studies exist using sex toys. But the information regarding safety of phthalates in general is instructive.
A variety of individuals and research institutions have weighed in and expressed concern ranging from mild to serious. There is a growing body of research that suggests phthalates have a toxic effect, particularly on the male reproductive system. Most organizations (with the notable exception of the chemical industry) agree that phthalates pose some risk to health and reproduction, both directly and indirectly through the impact on the environment.
Studies on rodents have revealed that when exposed to very large doses, phthalates can cause damage to the liver, lungs, kidneys, testes and can cause hormonal disruption. Preliminary studies on humans (where they have measured phthalate levels in the body and compared them to other health markers) have suggested a relationship between phthalates and poor semen quality and a relationship between phthalates and genital development.
In 2002, the FDA issued a warning that infant males who were ill and undergoing treatment, as well as other "vulnerable patients," could be harmed by phthalate exposure from vinyl medical devices.
In 2006, the National Toxicology Program reviewed the science and concluded that:
"There is serious concern that certain intensive medical treatments of male infants may result in DEHP exposures levels that affect development of the male reproductive tract."
"There is concern for adverse effects on development of the reproductive tract in male offspring of pregnant and breastfeeding women undergoing certain medical procedures that may result in exposure to high levels of DEHP."
Phthalate molecules are not chemically bound to the plastics they soften, and as such, phthalates can "break free" from plastic fairly easily, causing rubber and jelly toys to deteriorate over time. Some studies have reported that phthalates may mimic the female hormone estrogen.
Most recently, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency released a report on the safety of phthalates in sex toys. According to the report, titled Survey and Health Assessment of Chemical Substances in Sex Toys, using sex toys with phthalates for one hour a day or less poses no health risks unless you are pregnant or nursing.
At the same time, there is a move on the part of healthcare leaders in the U.S. and Europe to prefer products that don't contain phthalates in the interest of both patient and practitioner safety.
Given all this, it seems reasonable to say that it would be better if nothing were made with phthalates. If you are able to afford sex toys that are phthalate-free, I would certainly recommend them over toys that contain phthalates.

Why Use Phthalates If they are Harmful?

There are always research studies that offer different opinions, and other studies have shown that neonatal phthalate exposure has had little effect on children, and the phthalate industry asserts that the level of phthalate exposure utilized in experiments with rodents was so much higher than the level of phthalate exposure incurred by actual people that the results were skewed.
But the main reason sex toy manufacturers likely use phthalates is that it is inexpensive, and it is the way they’ve always done it. Unfortunately, the industry is rarely proactive about the health of their customers and instead responds only when there is strong pressure to do so.

Who Do I Believe?

This is an impossible question to answer. You need to assess the risk for yourself. The sources at the end of this article will direct you to information on both sides of this issue. If you have any concerns you can use condoms on your toys, or you can choose purchase toys that are phthalate free, which are often better quality.

How Do I Know If My Toy Has Phthalates?

If you shop at a good sex shop, just ask them which sex toys are phthalate-free. Most good websites indicate which toys have phthalates in them.
As a general rule, the more that a toy smells like rubber, the more phthalates it contains. One researcher I spoke with referred to this as the “plastic shower curtain” test. If you take a toy out of the package and it has a strong "chemically smell," like a new shower curtain, it probably has phthalates in it. Sex toys made of the following materials do not contain phthalates:
Learn more about phthalates in sex toys:
  1. Greenpeace UK Statement on Phthalates in Sex Toys
  2. Brief on the Potential Human Reproductive and Developmental Effects of Di(2-ethylhexyl) Phthalate (DEHP). National Toxicology Program, Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, US Dept. of Health and Human Services, May, 2006.
  3. Aggregate Exposure to Phthalates in Humans, Health Care Without Harm, July 2002.
  4. U.S. FDA Phthalates and Cosmetic Products Information Sheet , Updated February 7, 2008.
  5. 'Gender-bending' Chemicals Found to 'Feminise' Boys, New Scientist, May 2005.
  6. Phthalate Info Sheet from Introduction to Hormone Disrupting Chemicals, Dr A. Michael Warhurst.
Why Health Care is Moving Away from the Hazardous Plastic Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

Safer Sex Toy Shopping

Concerns for People with Allergies and Other Sensitivities

Trust Your Experience, Ignore Marketing Tricks

People who live with MCS and reduced immune systems usually know just how to shop and take care of their needs. It is crucial to know what is actually in the product you are using. This can be a problem with retail sex stores, where they often make claims and offer inaccurate information about products out of their own ignorance or a desire to sell you something more expensive. For example, be wary of claims about products being “all natural” or “the most natural”. More often than not the store people don't even know what is meant by this.

Little Information Available

When it comes to plain rubber sex toys, in almost all cases we don't know what they are made of. There has never been any clinical study of plain rubber sex toys and the manufacturers are not willing to disclose what is in their products. If you do not have a latex allergy the cheapest way to explore with sex toys is to use a latex condom on any toy you buy.

Latex Allergies

Latex allergy is fairly common and latex is found in most condoms and gloves, and many dildos, vibrators, and sensation toys. Never assume a toy is latex free. While a lot of mass manufactured dildos are not made from latex, they are often poured into moulds that have come into contact with latex, in factories where latex is being used. Usually the one exception to this is silicone dildos. Most of the silicone manufacturers only work with silicone rubber and thus can guarantee that there will be no latex in their products. It is still worth asking if you have a severe allergy.
If you have a latex allergy, there are alternatives for both toys and safer sex gear. There are now three kinds of non-latex male condoms and one non-latex female condom being manufactured. All these products are made from polyurethane and while they come with their own limitations (they cost about $2.00 per condom) they offer options for people with severe latex allergies.

Demand More Information, Know the Contents

Always ask about the ingredient list for lubricants, creams and oils. Most of the products have many ingredients, some of which may cause an allergic reaction or direct chemical irritation.

Avoid Scented Toys, Ask Before You Buy

Unfortunately more and more toys designed for penetration (whether they vibrate or not) are being made with a scented rubber. Manufacturers are doing this to hide the unpleasant smell of the less expensive rubbers they use. But the scent is sometimes strong and can induce a reaction. Again, when buying toys, it's best to ask if the toy is scented. If the person doesn't know, insist on being able to open the package and smell the toy before you buy it. Also, some people will react to the dyes in toys for penetration. If you don't have a latex allergy the easiest way to deal with all these concerns is to use condoms on all your sex toys.

More Information

If you want more information on this topic a great place to start your search isImmuneWeb. It's a website for people with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivities and more.