Laura Anne Stuart adjusts toys on the shelf at the Tool Shed.
Attack of the Killer Butt Plug sounds like a horrible B-movie, but you may be surprised to learn what is in your sex toys. To give you a business owner’s account of safety in this $15 billion industry, I talked with Tool Shed proprietor Laura Anne Stuart, celebrating her fifth year at the helm of Milwaukee’s first woman-owned sex toy store. With more than a decade of experience as a sexuality educator, Stuart is part of the Progressive Pleasure Club, a collective of sex-positive independent sex toy stores sprinkled throughout the U.S.
Tell us about your toys. We try to carry only what we consider body-safe things, which are nonporous, nontoxic, phthalate-free and toys that are materials like 100 percent silicone, glass or stainless steel.
That sounds like what you’d use to build a Habitat for Humanity house. [Laughs] If you’re making food and you want high-quality pots, pans and utensils that are going to stand up to a lot of use, what do you have? You have stainless steel, glass, silicone, wood and others, because those are good materials that do not contain chemicals that can leak into your body. It’s the same thing with toys.
Sex toy manufacturers are not required to disclose what’s in their products, so how do you know what’s in them? We boil non-motorized toy [samples] for three minutes. ... If they’re 100 percent silicone, they’ll withstand boiling. If they’re not 100 percent silicone, they’ll melt, dissolve or discolor. For motorized toys, during a flame test, a silicone toy might get some soot on it. ... But it won’t completely melt, catch on fire or smell terrible. The ideal thing would be to have an independent lab do a chemical analysis. But that costs like $400 to $500 per toy.
How should people clean their toys? It depends on what your toy is made of. One of the reasons that I like silicone ... is because you can boil it to sterilize it. If the toy has a battery case or is otherwise motorized, you could spray it with antibacterial or antiviral cleaner and wipe it clean. If you put a condom over it, you don’t have to worry about cleaning it because then you can just throw the condom away.
To people who use toys and never worried about safety or toxins, why should they care? People can certainly make whatever choice they want with their bodies. I just want to make sure that they are making an informed decision.
Twanna A. Hines is an award–winning educator and sex columnist. She has contributed to CNN, NPR, Sirius, Lifetime, Mashable, Nerve, Fast Company magazine, CBC (Canadian National Radio), Paris Première (French television) and Al Jazeera. She’s online at FUNKY BROWN CHICK®, and you can follow her on Twitter @funkybrownchick. Send her your best sex and relationship questions and get some real, sex-positive answers: email@example.com