The toy materials debate remains one of the touchiest topics among pleasure product businesses and supporters. Sex educators, wellness organizations and sex toy bloggers aren’t giving up easily, and for good reason. Adult novelties have been traditionally produced using various types of thermoplastics, often containing harmful chemicals of which shoppers were completely unaware. The public wasn’t always interested in the physical nature of their sex toys, but when the dam burst on a nasty group of chemicals called phthalates, consumers began to take a closer look. Even plastics that posed no obvious threats could potentially harbor bacteria or cause skin irritation. With affordability on the line, many companies took a cue from the medical industry to provide a solution.
Silicone, when manufactured to the highest standards, is used in the surgical field for its myriad body-safe qualities. Hypoallergenic and versatile, silicone is increasingly the prime choice for toy designers and consumer connoisseurs seeking healthy choices at reasonable price points. Niche start-ups followed the wellness trend, delving into more eccentric alternatives like glass, steel and wood. As consciousness becomes a mainstay in the pleasure products business, toy makers are opening up to their audiences and embracing a more ethical stance.
We will always pick the best material required for product development and to keep customers happy. —Bonny Hall, Lovehoney
Large manufacturers have been slow to adopt silicone as a primary toy material. With the exception of select luxury companies, many major toy producers have stuck with old-school standards like PVC and jelly. These basics of American manufacturing have gotten a well-deserved bad reputation for causing burning sensations on the skin and emitting foul odors akin to a pool inflatable. Educated consumers, however, are making an unparalleled impact in recent years alongside consistent pressure from the sexual wellness community. “For the most part, bloggers and educators changed the industry by impacting demand,” says Lunabelle, creator of sex toy review blog NinjaSexology.com “Very few manufacturers changed directly because of pressure from bloggers. But as more people heard the message of body safety, more people started demanding body-safe sex toys,” says Lunabelle. “Money talks, so they started listening.”
The blogging community has always held positive ties with smaller companies like Tantus, who have been using silicone since their start. The impact of their influence on consumers is beginning to catch the eye of larger manufacturers like Lovehoney. “We very much embrace the expert community, whose knowledge and expertise is invaluable,” says Bonny Hall, Lovehoney’s product director. “We encourage our end consumers to share customer reviews and feedback about our products, and we read the comments and we take action. Our product development team also works closely with consumer product testers to ensure our new products really are the best they can be.”
Earlier this year, Screaming O made waves with their material safety campaign, which investigated and explained the ingredients included in their product lines. Sex toy reviewers raved about the principle of such a landmark decision, which allowed the public to make more informed purchasing decisions about their toys. Lovehoney is also a believer in information sharing as part of their philosophy. “We have always made it very clear to our consumers what materials our products are made from,” says Bonny Hall. “We also test all of our products and any claims that we make, like phthalate or latex free, are backed up with independent certification.”
The rise of health-based ethics is more than just a change in production. It’s a conversation starter on sex toy materials in general, and a push to make every type of pleasure enhancement safer for all bodies. “As consumers become more aware, we’ll see the production of PVC/jelly toys begin to drop with the decrease in demand,” says Lunabelle. “There are still a few ‘But I like jelly, and it’s cheap’ folks out there, but they’re a minority.”
Though silicone is a welcomed alternate to the toxic plastics of the past, it’s still a somewhat misunderstood material. “There’s a common misconception that as long as something is made of silicone, it’s non-porous and body-safe,” says Anne Hodder, CEO of Hodder Media, whose clients include Screaming O. “It’s not the only safe choice. It’s simply one of the most prevalent and common sex toy materials on the market due to its association with medical gear and being safe for use on delicate parts of the body.”
Silicone’s quality can be dependent upon, among many other variables, how many times it has been poured, cooled and then re-melted. First-generation silicone, or fresh silicone that has only been melted and cooled once, is one of the most notably safe options for discerning consumers. “Not all silicones are alike, and the only truly non-porous silicone is that which has been made using platinum as a catalyst and designated medical grade by an authoritative agency,” notes Hodder. Silicone boasts various degrees of flexibility and can be boiled for maximum sanitizing in its highest-quality form, but it isn’t the only option for conscious clientele. “Because porosity is a concern for so many sex toy buyers, it’s important to be familiar with the variety of silicone alternatives that are not only non-porous, but also hold unique properties that silicone simply can’t,” explains Hodder. “Stainless steel offers a completely body-safe experience while also providing a conduit for temperature play, and borosilicate glass is an often affordable, non-porous sex toy material that incorporates artistic aesthetic.”
Alternative materials have enjoyed a niche fan base for many years. Before the heavy implementation of silicone, consumers often turned to soda-lime glass or steel as a healthy option. “Stainless steel is a material we find goes over really well with more advanced players,” says Sarah Tomchesson, head of business development at The Pleasure Chest. Diverse material options open up unique sensual experiences for body and mind. Companies like Njoy are renown for their stainless steel designs, which could double as works of sculpture art. New creators entering the market have expanded on auxiliary sex toys, using previously unexplored materials that please the eye and promote physical wellness.
Chakrubs, a boutique company based in New York, uses organic crystals such as quartz, obsidian and amethyst. “Using crystal as a material felt so natural to me,” says Chakrubs CEO Vanessa Cuccia. “I created something I wanted because I couldn’t find anything like it on the market.” In an industry overwhelmed by buzzing electronics, Chakrubs’ smooth stone wands and egg shapes aim for a gentler experience by encouraging users to become reacquainted with their natural sexual response. “I had been learning a lot about energetic systems and metaphysical healing modalities,” says Cuccia. “I wanted something to support my emotional, sexual and spiritual well-being, and crystals as a material was the answer.”
Equally non-porous and eco-friendly, NobEssence offers hand-made wooden dildos coated in a waterproof, bacteria-resistant solution. They spent two years developing their coating process to meet body-safe standards. This kind of dedication to proper research is beginning to extend to other toy brands, and it’s likely to stay that way.
As more conscious manufacturers bring their visions to life, a focus on quality and safety is becoming more prevalent. “We will always pick the best material required for product development and to keep customers happy,” says Lovehoney’s Bonny Hall. “We ensure that we have a robust quality control procedure across all of our factories.” The toy materials debate has never been lacking in heat, and is often criticized for being overly nit-picky. However, benefits to consumer health should always outweigh any negative feelings toward changing the production process. After all, we’re an industry that sells happiness, and that means doing right by our devoted fans.