Buyer beware: Your favorite sex toys may be seriously harming your health. Or they could just be really gross — in a bacteria-collecting sense.
Many of the most popular sex toys on the market, such as the Jack Rabbit made famous by "Sex & the City," contain toxic chemicals, according to experts in the sex toy industry.
An independent lab analysis commissioned by Smitten Kitten, an online sex toy store, and The Coalition Against Toxic Toys in April 2006 found PVC, polystyrene and potentially toxic phthalates in at least five high-selling erotic gadgets.
Clare Jacky, general manager at Smitten Kitten, explains that phthalates are a form of chemical plasticizer used to make hard PVC soft. They've also been linked to potentially causing birth defects and some forms of cancer.
"Not good stuff," said Jacky. "The phthalates will leech out of the toys, and most toys made from those materials will degrade over time; the color will change, and the toy will get sticky and give off an odor."
Some sex toys studied contained as much as 60 percent phthalates. The amount of phthalates that become worrisome in children's toys is under 1 percent, according to Jacky.
"When you're putting these things inside your body, where there are mucus membranes, you want them to be healthy," says Rachel Venning, a co-founder of New York City's Babeland sex toy franchise. "This is supposed to be a part of life that's fun and pleasurable and good."
Venning says all the products sold at Babeland are 100 percent phthalate-free. But if you're shopping elsewhere, she and the people behind CATT recommend a "sniff test."
Toxic toys will often give off "a powerful gust of plastic off-gassing" that smells like a new shower curtain, according to Venning.
It's best to put those products back on the shelf and look elsewhere, she said.
What to look out for: The good and the bad
Rachel Venning, co-founder of Toys in Babeland, recommends silicone as the best material for sex toys.
"It's safe, clean, easy to wash and take care of, firm but pliable, and it's got a nice texture to it. A lot of the best quality toys are made from silicone," she explained.
Venning says cheaper rubber toys have tiny pores where bacteria can collect, and they can be difficult to clean. She advises to look for toys that are nonporous and easily cleaned with soap and water.
AVOID sex toys made out of these products
- phthalates: "plasticizer" softeners used in PVC
- "porous" materials
ENJOY sex toys made from these materials
- medical- or food-grade nonporous materials, ideally hypoallergenic
- hard plastic
- high-quality silicone
- surgical steel
- medical-grade plastics