Most toy reviewers mention that their toys and gear are body safe, but it can be hard to find out exactly what that means. In the US, sex toy production is not regulated (it is in the EU, for example), so anything can go into a sex toy made in the United States and companies can say whatever they want about their products. 1Along with saying they are “for novelty use only” which protects them from complaints. This results in products/toys containing toxic and harmful chemicals including pthalates (pronounced THEY-lates) which are carcinogenic. 2They have been linked to causing cancer.
For toys used with a penis, body safe materials tend to be slightly less of an issue since toys used with penises are primarily used externally (with the very important exception of sounding 3Inserting items into one’s urethra. ). When using toys internally (anally or vaginally), body safe toys are extremely important. Body safe materials come in two categories; porous and non-porous.
Porous toys have microscopic pores (hence the term) which hold bacteria and fluids. Forever. Most reviewers feel that porous toys are not body safe because they harbor bacteria. However, porous toys tend to be cheaper and thus more accessible. For the sake of this article (and not the rest of my blog). I define body safe as toys that are not inherently harmful by nature of what is in the material. Porous toys should not be shared between non-fluid-bonded partners, or should always be covered in an unused condom when shared.(however, Lilly points out that this may not even help) “Body safe” porous materials include Cyberskin (and the like) but only when made by reputable companies, TPR/TPE, elastomer, and leather. These materials can never be sterilized, should be examined for tears/mold/etc. before and after every use, and should be thrown out every 8-10 months.
Non-porous body safe materials are ABS (hard plastic), silicone (NOT sil-a-gel, silica, silicon, etc.), borosilicate glass, stainless steel and aluminum, wood coated in a medical-grade coating, (Nobessence is the only wooden brand that is 100% trusted for their coating. Read more by Lilly here) and ceramics that have been glazed and kiln fired. 4However, in countries that don’t regulate sex toy materials, what the packaging says may not be true. These materials can be cleaned in a few different ways:
- Rinsed with soap and water,
- Dipped in a 10:1 solution of cool water and bleach and rinsed afterwards,
- Metal, plastic, glass and some silicone can also be wiped down with rubbing alcohol
- Silicone without electric components, stainless steel and some glass toys can be boiled for sanitization for 3-5 minutes; or put on the top rack of a dishwasher on the ‘Sanitize’ setting with no dishes or soap.
Again, because the US does not regulate sex toy production, even toys that say they are silicone may not be 100% (or even ANY percent) silicone. I will only ever link to products that are body safe (or VERY EXPLICITLY let you know that something is not). Some websites I am affiliated with do carry non-body safe toys, so you should do thorough research before you place an order (or message me on facebook). 100% silicone toys will not have a taste or smell. Ones without electric components can be brought to a boil, placed in the dishwasher, and some can even put in the microwave without harming the product. They will not darken or burn when held to a flame.
If you are using a toy from a reputable company, made with body safe (and non-porous) materials, additional discomfort/irritation may come from your lube. This part of the article applies more to folks with vaginas, as penises tend to be less sensitive to lube irritation. If you are sensitive or don’t want to risk it, always check the ingredients and, if you can, the pH of your vag + the pH of the lube you are interested in. The closer they are, the better.
A few quick facts about lube:
- ALL water based lubes have preservatives
- Liquid silicone (silicone lube) can bond to solid silicone (silicone toys), but this doesn’t always happen.
- Oil-based lubes used internally should only be plant based (coconut oil, etc.). Outside the body (for example, on a penis), petroleum based oils are okay, but they can trap bacteria.
In most cases, if it rhymes with “gross,” it’s a sugar (sucrose, glucose, etc., though cellulose is an exception). Sugars are SUPER BAD for vaginas and penises, they feed the bad kind of bacteria and cause yeast infections. While not a ton of lubes straight up have sugars in them, they can have sugar alcohols. And, some flavored lubes and massage oils parading as lubes do have sugars. And basically all foods. Please never put whip cream in your vagina, and avoid the urethra of the penis as much as possible.
Glycerin is a natural humectant which means it finds water in the air and grabs ahold of it. It seems like an ideal thing for a lube to have, since it can be super moisturizing. However, the body (especially the vag) reacts to glycerin in the same way it reacts to sugars, because glycerin is a yeast alcohol. Glycerin can cause irritation & even yeast infections. And glycerin is usually an animal byproduct 5There are plant-based glycerins. For example, all of the glycerin in Lush products is plant based. Unless explicitly labeled as plant-based glycerin in a lube, there’s no way to know. which makes your lube non-vegetarian, something most folks don’t think about. Folks with diabetes should especially avoid this ingredient.
This is added to lubes to provide their consistency. However, it can cause allergic reactions the more you use it. It’s hyper osmotic, and increases the osmolality of a lube which can dry up natural mucus membranes and make you more susceptible to STIs and other infections. Folks with or prone to kidney disease should especially avoid this ingredient.
NONOXYNOL-9 / “SPERMICIDE”
More likely to be on a condom than in lube, this ingredient is meant to be antiseptic but often kills the good bacteria in vaginas. It also makes vaginas more prone to STIs.
Is found in surgilube, the lube used by most doctors any procedures involving lube (vaginal & prostate exams, usually) is antiseptic and compromises the biochrome, which can increase the spread of STIs.
A preservative that has been used in scientific studies to infect test animals.
BENZOCAINE & LIDOCAINE
These are numbing agents, usually found in creams designed to “make him last longer”6gag. I personally don’t believe in numbing creams because your body has nerve endings for a reason. There are ways to last longer without the addition of chemicals (like using a cock ring), and both of these bioaccumulate in the body and take a very long time to leave.
If you still face sensitivity, you can also avoid:
It’s a preservative and, unfortunately for a very select few, it causes irritation because it’s citrus and acid.
If you have ridded your lube collection of all of the above but still face discomfort when using a silicone-based lube, you probably need to switch to a water-based lube. Silicone is generally hypoallergenic but it also never breaks down. This can sometimes result in irritation, especially in the vagina. Try a water-based or hybrid lube (the latter generally has less silicone).
Other common irritants:
- Preservatives including:
- Parabens (though any lube without parabens will go bad faster than one that does have them)
- Sodium Hydroxide
- Diazolidinyl Urea
- Chlorohexidine Gluconate
- Potassium Sorbate
- Benzyl Alcohol
- Nonoxynol 9
- Citric Acid
- Essential Oils (which are also volatile)
- Nonoxynol 9
- Chlorohexidine Gluconate
- Propylene Glycol
- Butylene Glycol
- Mineral Oil
My favorite (and most recommended) brand for lube is Sliquid. They use the fewest ingredients and are made specifically with vulvas & vaginas in mind, however they do use a small amount of citric acid. Other good lubes:
–Sutil (though this is not gluten free)
Further articles on body safe materials:
- BadVibes by Smitten Kitten is a website dedicated to toy and lube testing. This pamphlet in particular was heavily researched and is super informative, and I attended their Lube Webinar where I learned a lot of this information. If you are an educator who talks about lube, this webinar is a must.
- I highly referenced Lilly’s articles when writing this one, and she is a gift to the sex toy world. On body safe toys, on lube, on toy cleaning, on wooden toys.
- Sexational has an article (with such nice sources!) about osmolality
- Ruby Reviews has a nice short list that includes retailers for each material.
- The CSPH also has a really good ‘Intro to Sex Toys’ article
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Along with saying they are “for novelty use only” which protects them from complaints.|
|2.||↑||They have been linked to causing cancer.|
|3.||↑||Inserting items into one’s urethra.|
|4.||↑||However, in countries that don’t regulate sex toy materials, what the packaging says may not be true.|
|5.||↑||There are plant-based glycerins. For example, all of the glycerin in Lush products is plant based. Unless explicitly labeled as plant-based glycerin in a lube, there’s no way to know.|