Have you ever excitedly torn open the packaging on a brand new toy only to be practically knocked over – and worse, totally turned off – by the unmistakable plastic smell of new shower curtain? Ever had a "bargain" dildo leave you itchy and sore? More likely than not, phthalates are the culprit.
Phtha-what, you ask? Phthalates (say THAL-ates) are chemicals found in sex toys and many other products which we use on a daily basis. Although no study has been conclusive so far, there is some evidence these chemicals may be harmful to human health. The government doesn't regulate sex toys, so it's been left to adult industry to produce better products – and to you, the consumer, to find out the whole story on phthalates in order to make informed decisions. Lucky for you, EdenFantasys.com is here to help!
Phthalates are petroleum-derived chemicals used in many everyday products. They're often found in cosmetics and hair products, paint, carpeting and flooring, synthetic bedding, medical devices, children's toys, and yes, sex toys. They're used, among other things, as a plastic softener. Think about a child's rubber ducky. Without phthalates, the toy would be inflexible, un-squeezable, and squeak-less. In sex toys, phthalates are used to inexpensively produce vinyl (PVC) toys. On the one hand, these toys are great – they are inexpensive and their soft, squeezable texture makes them a favorite of many. On the other hand, some studies have revealed phthalates may have inadvertent and potentially serious health effects.
In addition to all of the serious health concerns connected with phthalates, many can speak from personal experience about the irritating effects of phthalates in sex toys. The compounds leak out of products, producing that chemical, rubbery smell so characteristic of jelly joys, in addition to an oily film which can cause itching, burning, and swelling in the sensitive nether-regions where such toys are usually employed. Not to mention the fact that toys made with phthalates are porous, meaning unable to be disinfected, therefore can harbor and transmit infection.
How do you spot a toy containing phthalates? There are several different warning signs. When shopping, look at a demo model of the toy if one is available, but also consider the signals are much more obvious in a brand-new, out-of-the-box toy.
If a toy has a chemical smell to it, or if it smells a little like perfume, it has probably been made with phthalates. If the packaging or description of the toy contains the words "jelly," "gel," or "rubber" it probably contains phthalates. Clear or translucent toys are more likely to contain phthalates. With the exception of Vixen Creation's VixSkin products and TopCo's Cyberskin, most "realistic feel" toys have not been tested for toxic content, so buyer beware (and bear in mind that while non-toxic, Cyberskin toys are still porous). When you unwrap a toy and it feels faintly slimy or greasy it is probably due to phthalates leaching out of the plastic pores (hence the term porous). Dark spots on a demo model of a toy are also a good sign the toy is porous and may contain phthalates.
Keep in mind manufacturers are not required to back up claims made on packaging about toys labeled "for novelty use," so these toys may be labeled "non-toxic" or even "silicone" when in fact they're your standard, run-of-the-mill, chemically softened jelly toys. While toys made with phthalates are often less expensive than their better-made counterparts, even the famous Rabbit Habit (of Sex and the City fame) used a jelly-rubber material.
The manufacturing company, Vibratex, has since come out with a non-toxic elastomer version of its most popular toy, with other toys to follow.
If you've decided you want to avoid toys with phthalates altogether, you still have plenty of options in the world of sex toys. Several companies, including Tantus ansd Vixen Creations, are producing high quality, very sexy dildos and vibes made of medical grade silicone. Toys made of metal and shatter-proof glass (Pyrex) are also good options, as they're non-porous and non-toxic. Glass toys are especially fun because of how slippery they get. And as I mentioned, you can always replace your Rabbit Habit with the new elastomer version!
I have a confession to make: my favorite toy is made with vinyl. When the media buzz about phthalates in sex toys began, I decided not to use it any more. I cleaned it, packed it up, and put it away.
That lasted about a week. Nothing else in my collection quite compares to my favorite, and so before long I was unpacking it, popping in the double A's, and – now here's the important part – covering it with a condom before using it.
If you already have toys in your collection you think may contain phthalates, you don't necessarily have to give them up. Washing them with soap and water right before using them will help to remove the chemicals that have leaked to the surface of the toy. You can also minimize the immediate risk of irritation and potentially reduce the long term effects of porous toys containing phthalates by using latex barriers. A jelly dildo or vibe can be covered with a condom. A friend of mine uses a latex glove over her rabbit vibrator, with the index finger over the shaft and the thumb over the clitoral stimulator. You could also use nitrile gloves and polyurethane condoms if you have a latex sensitivity; but in that case you're better off sticking to hypoallergenic silicone, glass, or metal toys anyway. No tests have been done on the effect of phthalates on condoms, or on the efficacy of condoms in reducing chemical transmission from sex toys, so you have to weigh the risks and benefits for yourself.
What's the takeaway message? Don't let phthalate worries run your life, but keep in mind that there's more to buying a sex toy than picking a color. Arm yourself with the information you need to make knowledgeable decisions, and with a little luck all your adult toy wishes will come true!