For 15 years I’ve talked to anyone and everyone about toxic chemicals in our sex toys.
Many in the novelty industry, manufacturers, store owners, and educators alike heard me mention this funny word and then spell it for them: p-h-t-h-a-l-a-t-e-s and it may have been the first time they had heard about it at all. I’ve done two Toxic Toy Seminars with long time sex toy advocate Ducky DooLittle and Smitten Kitten owner Jennifer Pritchett and both times phthalates have been central to the conversation. And these seminars have been catalysts in and of themselves. We inspired Dildology.org, a not for profit organization, set up to provide material verification services on sex toys and maintain a public database of the results.
But phthalates aren’t the only toxic chemical lurking in sex toys and I don’t want any of you to think if we stop making PVC “Jelly™” toys then toys will be safe.
Toxins In Hiding: Health Concerns
In 2006 The Dutch, funded by Greenpeace, released a study on Phthalates in toys at the same time the Danish EPA released a more thorough study of 16 randomly chosen sex toys. They did a element screening analyses using Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectroscopy, inclusive of phthalates, and what they found was much more alarming. Greenpeace released an easy to read press release and got worldwide media. The Danish study is written for environmental chemistry people and I am not a chemist. It is a dense document of the stuff toys are made of some of which I’ll try and make sense of today.
This isn’t to say phthalates aren’t an issue. They are a huge issue with known health risks and don’t let anyone, especially the plastics industry, tell you otherwise. Phthalates are plasticizers that make a hard materials, plastics and vinyls, unstable. The result of the combination is that the once hard material is now soft, it degasses (smells) and it continually looks for other electrons to make it complete - to stabilize it. It degasses and degrades. Ever had toys melt - that is the electron search/ degrading of the material.
Because of the instability, the toxicity is intense: besides being an allergen and a respiratory inhibitor, it’s a hormone disruptor shown to cause low sperm count, demasculization, and when pregnant women are exposed it has shown in studies to cause demasculization in their baby boys. Many phthalates (remember this is a whole family of plasticizers) are harmful to fetus and fertility and the content of phthalates in a PVC sex toy has been shown to be up to 70% of its content - more than 2/3 of the material involved.
The Danish EPA study found 4 of the toys they randomly chose had phthalates, one had timethytin chloride which they warned could cause irreversible neurotoxic effects (brain damage) to progeny so shouldn’t be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women, 5 had Phenol which can cause harmful effects on the central nervous system, 3 had carbon disulphide also effecting the nervous system, 14 of the 16 had toluene, and 1 had cadmium levels so high the Danish Government had they known would not have allowed the product to enter the country. Cadmium is biocumalative (each time you use it some stays in you), and is especially adverse in the water supply.
Toxins in the Social Sphere
Chemistry is a problem and with the non regulated sex toy industry many individuals have suffered and they’ve been shamed. I say they’ve been shamed because they felt it was their bodies that were in the wrong with what looked like a yeast infection, a bacterial infection or some sort of irritation. Without laws to protect us, it’s been like the wild west and buyers beware.
I’ve talked on and on about the reality and the issue. Tristan Taormino has written about it in the Village Voice, Violet Blue in the San Francisco Chronicle, Brian Alexander in MSNBC, an amazing amount of bloggers and journalists with both personal and professional writings— but we’ve all felt powerless. Let’s face it: no politician is going to touch the regulation of sex toys. It’s a career ender. A class-action suit has other difficulties, because you need to have medical support that recognizes and reports the chemical burn or the skin irritation is a direct result of exposure to the sex toy you played with, which means that Medical Doctors need to recognize that this is an issue, and thus far, they haven’t.
So I keep mentioning pregnant and nursing women, much more than I’ve ever mentioned them before, and there’s a reason for this— California’s Prop 65. Prop 65 is The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. It states (25249.6) that “No person in the course of doing business shall knowingly and intentionally expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning to such individual.” And the exposure assumes a “lifetime exposure at the level in question for substances known.” It assumes the exposure at “one thousand times the level in questions for substances known to cause reproductive toxicity.”
Every year the Governor of California publishes a list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity and guess what - many of the chemicals found in the Dutch randomly chosen sex toys are on the list. Now, again, I’m not a chemist. I don’t know the levels which have been found to be toxic. But I'm certain that if multiplied by 1000 they would make sex toy producers of said items to label them with a warning label saying that “This Product May Contain A Chemical Known To The State Of California To Cause Cancer or Birth Defects Or Other Reproductive Harm.”
© Tantus, Inc. 2012. All Rights Reserved.
Metis Black is the Founder and President of Tantus, Inc. The realization of her sex toy manufacturing company in 1997 helped to change the profile of sexuality products by mainstreaming silicone products and educating the industry on material safety and sexuality.
Metis' success has brought her accolades inside and outside of her industry. Her articles on material safety standards in sexual products and the chemistry of personal products such as lubricants have been widely published. Some of her publishing credits include American Journal of Sexuality Education, Good Vibrations Online Magazine, On Our Backs, Adult Novelty Business, XBiz, and The Free Speech Coalition. In 2015, she was also elected onto the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance's Board of Directors.
Over the last decade and a half, Metis has proven to be a champion for sex educators and a mentor to other small business owners.