Are Sex Toys Dangerous?

Sex toys, or sexual aids, are increasingly popular in the post-Sex and the City era. But, are sex toys dangerous? That's what a study commissioned by Greenpeace in the Netherlands set out to discover three years ago. The world-renowned organization recruited a research organization, TNO Built Environment and Geosciences, to investigate the presence of phthalates in sex toys, including vibrators and dildos.

Phthalates are toxic chemicals that are used to make plastics softer and more flexible. They're also found in nail polish, sealants, adhesives and paint pigments. Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) is the most commonly used phthalate and can be found in numerous consumer products. Studies have linked phthalates to infertility and other reproductive problems, cancer, and liver and kidney damage.

The Greenpeace-TNO report revealed that seven out of the eight sex toys analyzed contained one or more phthalates in concentrations varying from 24 to 49 percent. Only one sex toy did not contain phthalates. The researchers concluded that three main phthalates, including DEHP, were used in concentrations up to half the weight of the sex toy itself.

Although these findings suggest that there may be health costs for consumers who buy flexible sex toys (many containing phthalates are called jelly rubber), there's currently little recourse. No government agency regulates the billion-dollar sex toy industry; in fact, these products are usually labelled as "novelties." This leaves the sex toy industry free to regulate itself, which means users remain in the dark about the ingredients in and possible dangers of sex toys.

To reduce your risk of exposure to phthalates in sex toys, look for toys that are made from other materials such as hard plastic, glass, stainless steel, or acrylic. Also, keep in mind that an old phthalate-containing toy will leach the chemicals and increase your exposure.

How You Use Sex Toys Can Also Be Dangerous

It's not just what a sex toy is made of that may harm your health--it's how you use it. Your sex toy may come into contact with vaginal fluids or sperm, feces, saliva and bacteria. They can cause infections, or, if shared, spread sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and the human papillomavirus (HPV).

The best way to keep sex toys clean and safe is to protect them with a latex condom, advises Planned Parenthood. Change the condom whenever the toy is passed from partner to partner, or from one body opening to another.

It's also essential to clean your sex toys before and after every use. While many can be cleaned with soap and water, the cleaning and disinfecting method you use may depend on the material used to make the sex toy. Check the package label for cleaning instructions, or ask the salesperson for advice on the best way to clean and disinfect it.

Sexual health educators indicate that sex toys are normal and natural when used between consenting partners, or alone. Selecting a toy made from a safer material--and careful use and care--will make your sex toy less dangerous and won't limit your pleasure.

Source: TNO Built Environment and Sciences and Greenpeace Report: Determination of Phthalates in Sex Toys: http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/MultimediaFiles/Live/FullReport/7938.pdf