Mother Nature Gets Naughty: Eco-Friendly Sex Toys
by Elizabeth Black
I am a copywriter for a sex toys company in England, and, for several years, I've written articles reviewing new products for American and English sex toys company magazines. Consumers today are demanding that manufacturers make sex toys from healthier materials, and now companies are beginning to respond.
The problem with sex toys arises because many popular sex items are made from phthalates, a jelly-like material that has been identified as a possible health risk. Since you insert sex toys into your body, you are directly exposing not only your outer body to phthalates, but also your internal organs, especially your sex organs. If you are pregnant, you could be exposing your fetus to toxic chemicals, a particular risk to in utero development.
You'll find phthalates – sometimes referred to as plasticizers -- in many products you take for granted, including sex toys. You can conduct a first-step screening of your existing cache of sex toys for phthalates. Stephanie Iris Weiss, author of the book Eco-Sex: Go Green Between The Sheets And Make your Love Life Sustainable, explains: "(G)ive it a good sniff – does it smell like a vinyl shower curtain? If so, you can bet your bottom dollar that it's full of stuff you don't want in your nether regions." What you're smelling are the effects of “off-gassing" – remember that new car smell? -- in which products leak toxic gasses into the air. In the case of sex products, that means that these products that are also leaching inside your or your partner’s body.
As described in January 2011 Canadian news report, announcing restrictions on the use of six phthalates in new children’s toys and certain child-care projects in Canada, phthalates can be found in a wide range of consumer items, including perfumes, nail polish, vinyl floors, detergents, lubricants, food packaging, soap, paint, shampoo, toys, air fresheners and plastic bags. They are used to hold color and scents in products. You also may be exposed to phthalates through the chemical leaching into your food or through the general environment.
Because phthalates fall into a category of chemicals that can act as endocrine disruptors, they may interfere with the proper functioning or development of hormones. In brief, this means that they also can affect reproductive systems. (Articles in this edition of On The Issues Magazine by Michelle Chen and Laura Eldridge describe in more depth research on the risks of endocrine disruptors to human health.) Some of the male adverse health effects being linked to phthalates in animals include hypospadias (a defect in which the opening to the penis is not at the tip), smaller penis size, small scrotum, low sperm count, lack of sperm mobility and sperm damage; and in females, early puberty in girls and breast cancer.Sex toys companies are eliminating possible hazards
With the growing science indicating that phthalates are hazardous to your health, consumers and sex toys companies are looking to eliminate possible hazards from their sex play products.
If you are unsure of the materials in your sex toy, don't merely put a condom over your questionable sex product. It's best to replace them with toys made of newer, safer materials that do not include phthalates. Older toys were "porous and leaked chemical goo," according to Weiss, and since they were and continue to be labeled as novelty products, unlike children’s toys, their ingredients have largely gone unregulated. If a sex toy is cracked or has lost its sheen, it’s time to put it aside, especially if made before alternative materials became available.
Fortunately, there are now better options. The American sex toys companies Babeland and Good Vibrations have completely phased out sex toys containing phthalates. Instead, they sell pleasure devices made from safer materials, such as medical-grade silicone, glass, elastomer rubber, stainless steel, and even wood. Silicone and rubber are substituted for jelly to make sex toys skin-safe for those with allergies, and the other materials are much healthier than plastic.
Some sex toy manufacturers, such as Lelo, JimmyJane, Vixskin, Coco de Mer, Luxotiq, We-Vibe, Fun Factory, Tantus, and Couture Toys. are producing only phthalates-free sex toys.
Read the packaging materials closely, suggests Weiss. Several phthalates are of concern for risk to human health, according to the environmental health and safety website, Is It In Us?: di-2-ethylhexyl (DEHP); benzylbutyl phthalate (BzBP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP; diethyl phthalate (DEP). If you see one of these items listed on packaging, it’s not the way to go.
Weiss says that consumers should beware of sex toy packaging that claims a toy is safe or that says it is "hygienically superior" (or similar quality claims), or that use fancy names for materials to hide what is actually used in the product. Sometimes companies use deceptively similar spellings on products -- “silicon" instead of “silicone." Other packaging uses a sleight-of-hand, for instance, identifying a sex toy as being made of silicone, but, in actuality, the toy contains only a minute amount of silicone, while being chock full of much less healthy ingredients. One tip, says Weiss: products that are not using the genuine materials often place a trademark or registered symbol after the name of product material because they are made-up marketing terms. Those using the actual safe and genuine ingredients, such as silicone or stainless steel, will not bear a trademark because those materials, like silver or pearls, can’t be “owned" or subjected to name ownership.
“And if you're buying new, of course, go for something long lasting, with rechargeable batteries and designed to last," recommends Weiss.
Disposing of old sex toys in an eco-friendly fashion can be an even more daunting project than buying them. Instead of throwing old products in a landfill, sex toy recycling programs offer an alternative, but they are hard to find, especially in the U.S. “The UK is way ahead of us in this regard (check out Love Honey)," said Weiss in an email. She hasn’t found U.S. companies to be reliable in this regard. "I await better news from the industry," said Weiss. “So for now, I'd say hold onto what you've got, and hopefully someone will take the helm."
The biggest eco-sex pet peeve, Weiss said in an interview in MindBodyGreen.com, is the mistaken belief that people may think being eco-friendly will take all the fun out of their sex play. "I hate that people think going green in the bedroom is a bummer -- it's just the opposite," Weiss said. "Going green enhances one's sex life and relationships -- it brings you into closer touch with your sensual self and heightens your awareness. What could be more conducive to getting more pleasure?"
Most important of all, enjoy using your sex toys alone or with a partner. Remember, your sexual health is an important part of your life.
Elizabeth Black was the sex columnist for the British pop culture e-zine, nuts4chic, until it folded in 2008. Her articles about sex, erotica, and relationships have appeared in Good Vibrations Magazine, Alternet, CarnalNation, the Ms. Magazine Blog, Sexis Magazine, On The Issues Magazine, Sexy Mama Magazine, and Circlet Press blog. In addition, she pens erotic fiction, including erotica and erotic romance. Her books may be found on her web site
Also see: Adding Environmental Footprints to Birth Control Choices by Laura Eldridge in this edition of On The Issues Magazine
Also see: Little Girl Lost: Early Puberty Hides Environmental Injustice by Michelle Chen in this edition of On The Issues Magazine
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