[Header Image Description: A photo of me, Finn, a pale-skinned indigenous non-binary person with straight blond hair past my shoulders. I am looking quizzically into the distance, holding a purple dildo and a pink bottle of Sliquid Sassy lube. I am wearing a shirt that says “This is my selfie top”.]
I talk a lot about body-safe toys on this blog, but I have never explained what I mean in my own words. Maybe you’ve just walked into a brick-and-mortar store and found a wall of products that you’ve never heard of before – how do you make sure that your next purchase won’t harm you? Hopefully this guide will help you work that out.
There are two main factors that make a material body-safe: it is non-porous, and therefore sanitisable, and it is non-toxic. I know, it seems obvious that something that is going up your butt should be non-toxic, but the sex toy industry isn’t regulated, so we can end up with a lot of dodgy products.
Materials to avoid
Toxic toys contain a whole host of chemicals, the most problematic being phthalates. These chemicals are used to increase flexibility and transparency of plastics, but they can cause serious health problems, ranging from nausea to chemical burns. Never buy anything advertised as jelly or jelly rubber. Sometimes jelly toys are advertised as jelly, but they are frequently advertised with words like “crystal” and “gem” because of their translucent appearance. If a toy is called “crystal” something and isn’t obviously made of glass, I would avoid it.
Other products are labeled made with materials like TPR, TPE, Cyberskin, and mystery rubber. Even if a product is advertised as phthalate-free, these materials are porous, and can hold onto bacteria. This means they can never be shared between partners, can never be shared between orifices, and can grow mold. Additionally, all of these materials degrade over time. You can see these materials sweating oils, and if you keep jelly/TPR/Cyberskin toys in a drawer together, they will melt together. (Lilly has a jar of toxic toys that has been stewing for years, so you can see just how gross these toys end up.) You can’t use oil-based lubricants on them, because this also degrades the materials.
Another sneaky marketing tactic is to label a toy as “Sil-a-gel” or “silicon” (without the “e” that’s in silicone). This is a way to make it sound like the toy is made of body-safe silicone, when in fact, these toys are still toxic and/or porous. Even if a manufacturer claims that a toy is a silicone blend, it is still not entirely body-safe, because adding silicone to one of these materials does not make them non-porous.
I have a few porous vibrators, because wand heads in particular are commonly porous. However, if I were buying a new wand vibrator now, I would make sure that it had a non-porous silicone head.
If a product isn’t clearly labeled with one of the safe materials below, it is probably not body-safe.
The easiest body-safe toys to find are silicone toys. Silicone doesn’t have to be “platinum grade” or “platinum cured” to be body-safe; this just tells you what was used to cure the silicone to make it solid. It also doesn’t need to be medical grade, and food grade is sufficiently body-safe. It is non-toxic, and considered non-porous. Silicone is technically microporous, so it will hold onto smells, but it doesn’t hold on to enough bacteria to transfer it between uses, if cleaned properly. Silicone can smell a little plastic-y because of the packaging and production process, but it shouldn’t smell rancid or overly chemical – these are signs that a product is unsafe. Silicone also cannot be transparent. It can be transluscent, or “cloudy-clear”, as some describe it, but there are only a handful of manufacturers that make silicone in this colour.
Glass toys are also a body-safe material that you can find in a lot of places. They are all non-porous and sanitisable. However, there are a few boxes that you need to check to make sure that a glass toy is properly safe. First, a glass toy should be annealed, which means that it was cooled slowly, so that it is strong and durable. It should also be designed without “abrupt changes in thickness and direction”, where the toy could possibly break or crack. Soda lime glass in particular is prone to breakages, and can’t stand high temperatures. Also, be wary of colours in your glass toys, because some glass toys have the colours painted on, and they can flake off and end up inside of you.
As for metal toys, opt for stainless steel, aluminium, or titanium. These are body-safe and non-porous. The same is true for glazed and kiln fired ceramic, as the glaze seals the toy. Wood can also be body-safe if it is finished with a medical grade sealant. Because it is important for the sealant to be medical grade, I probably wouldn’t buy just any dildo from the internet, and would look for reputable manufacturers.
It’s important to note that leather is a porous material, much like human skin. This means that you can’t share something like a dildo harness between non-fluid bonded partners. If you want to share a harness or something similar, certain kinds of artificial and vegan leathers are non-porous, or you could use a fabric harness. I’ve heard that kangaroo leather is non-porous, but it’s very hard to find.
[Image Description: A rainbow NS Novelties Waves dildo in a fabric harness, the Spareparts Tomboi harness in red.]
Finally, when you’re buying a toy for anal use, the toy should have a flange, or flared base. The widest part of the base should be wider than the widest part of the insertable portion of the toy.
I have a guide on cleaning body-safe materials here.
Lubricant is really important for safe and pleasurable sex! As someone who is taking testosterone, my vaginal lubrication is quite low, so lube helps things feel more comfortable. Lube reduces dryness, friction, and instances of tears in the vaginal and anal walls. By protecting against these tears, lube actually lowers the risk of spreading STIs – but you should still use a condom if that’s a concern for you. Additionally, lube is vital for safe anal play. However, not all lubes are equal, and it’s important to read the ingredients.
Here are a list of main ingredients to avoid in water-based lubricant, and why you should avoid them:
- Parabens – potentially carcinogenic, common allergens
- Glycerin/propylene glycol – dries mucus membranes, contributes to yeast infections
- Nonoxynol-9 – a spermicidal agent, but also a common irritant
- Benzocaine – an irritant, numbing agent (pain is your body’s warning system)
Of course, also consider things that you may specifically be allergic to, as some products contain things like gluten. Other labels to look for are “pH neutral” and “unscented”/”unflavoured”. Lubricant brands that I could recommend are Sliquid (what I use), Sutil, and YES. However, most of these have to be bought online, and if you can’t do that, I would look for Astroglide Natural. However, other Astroglide products contain glycerin, among other things.
Silicone lubricants are unlikely to cause irritation, and should only contain a few ingredients. These ingredients are usually cyclopentasiloxane, dimethicone, and dimethiconol. You can also use it to smooth down frizzy hair!
Oil-based lubricants can potentially cause bacterial infections in the vaginal canal, because the vagina has more trouble cleaning it out. Oil-based lubricants also break down latex barriers like condoms. I only use oil-based lubricants for handjobs and anal play, and the ingredients of these should sound natural: shea butter, cocoa butter, and coconut oil are common ingredients.
When you’re buying a sex toy, you should only buy it from a sex toy retailer. You can go down to your local brick-and-mortar store, or you can purchase it online from a dedicated retailer. Don’t buy sex toys from Amazon or eBay, because you could be receiving a copycat toy that isn’t body-safe like the original toy.
I love Etsy for buying unique and exciting sex toys, but I would only recommend buying silicone, glass, or ceramic toys from there, because other materials are hard to produce safely on a small budget.
Everything I know about body-safe materials, I learnt from Dangerous Lilly. Read more at her blog, she’s the expert at this stuff.
For more information about shopping on Etsy, Lunabelle from Ninja Sexology is a connoisseur. She has a regularly updated list of good stores.
If you want to know how to clean your body-safe toys properly, I have a post about that, too.