Sex Toy Safety Guide

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What are Phthalates?

Phthalates are mainly used as plasticizers, i.e., substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity. They are used primarily to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

In 2010, the market was still dominated by high-phthalate plasticizers; however, due to legal provisions and growing environmental awareness and perceptions, producers are increasingly forced to use non-phthalate plasticizers.

Original: (“Sex toy safety guide,” 2023)[1]

A List of Common Phthalates and Their Abbreviations

Ordered by molecular weight, commercially important compounds shown in bold
Name Abbreviation Alcohol carbon number Molecular weight (g/mol) CAS No. Properties of concern for human health (ECHA classification 2022)[2]
Dimethyl phthalate DMP 1 194.18 131-11-3
Diethyl phthalate DEP 2 222.24 84-66-2 Under assessment as Endocrine Disrupting
Diallyl phthalate DAP 3 246.26 131-17-9 Skin sensitising
Di-n-propyl phthalate DPP 3 250.29 131-16-8
Di-n-butyl phthalate DBP 4 278.34 84-74-2 Toxic to Reproduction, Endocrine Disrupting, Under assessment as PBT
Diisobutyl phthalate DIBP 4 278.34 84-69-5 Toxic to Reproduction, Endocrine Disrupting
Di-2-methoxyethyl phthalate DMEP 3 282.29 117-82-8 Toxic to Reproduction
Butyl cyclohexyl phthalate BCP 4 – 6 304.38 84-64-0
Di-n-pentyl phthalate DNPP 5 306.4 131-18-0 Toxic to Reproduction
Dicyclohexyl phthalate DCP 6 330.42 84-61-7 Toxic to Reproduction, Endocrine Disrupting, Skin sensitising
Butyl benzyl phthalate BBP 4 – 7 312.36 85-68-7 Toxic to Reproduction, Endocrine Disrupting
Di-n-hexyl phthalate DNHP 6 334.45 84-75-3 Toxic to Reproduction
Diisohexyl phthalate DIHxP 6 334.45 146-50-9, Toxic to Reproduction
Diisoheptyl phthalate DIHpP 7 362.5 41451-28-9 Toxic to Reproduction
Butyl decyl phthalate BDP 4 – 10 362.5 89-19-0
Dibutoxy ethyl phthalate DBEP 6 366.45 117-83-9
Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate DEHP, DOP 8 390.56 117-81-7 Toxic to Reproduction, Endocrine Disrupting
Di(n-octyl) phthalate DNOP 8 390.56 117-84-0 Not classified but some uses restricted
Diisooctyl phthalate DIOP 8 390.56 27554-26-3 Toxic to Reproduction
n-Octyl n-decyl phthalate ODP 8 – 10 418.61 119-07-3
Diisononyl phthalate DINP 9 418.61 28553-12-0 Not classified but some uses restricted
Di(2-propylheptyl) phthalate DPHP 10 446.66 53306-54-0 Under assessment as Endocrine Disrupting
Diisodecyl phthalate DIDP 10 446.66 26761-40-0
Diundecyl phthalate DUP 11 474.72 3648-20-2
Diisoundecyl phthalate DIUP 11 474.72 85507-79-5
Ditridecyl phthalate DTDP 13 530.82 119-06-2
Diisotridecyl phthalate DITP 13 530.82 68515-47-9

Source: (“Common Phthalates,” 2023)[3]

Health Concerns

An endocrine disruptor is a substance that interferes with the normal hormonal mechanisms that allow a biological organism to interact with its environment. In the scientific community, phthalates are broadly classified as endocrine disruptors; while many scientific studies indicate the likelihood that phthalates behave as endocrine disruptors in human beings.

Phthalates and the Law

United States of America

Phthalates in childrens' toys are regulated, in part, by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which became public law 110-314. Section 108 of that law specified that as of February 10, 2009, "it shall be unlawful for any person to manufacture for sale, offer for sale, distribute in commerce, or import into the United States any children's toy or child care article that contains concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of" DEHP, DBP, or BBP and "it shall be unlawful for any person to manufacture for sale, offer for sale, distribute in commerce, or import into the United States any children's toy that can be placed in a child's mouth or child care article that contains concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of" DINP, DIDP, DnOP

European Union

The use of some phthalates has been restricted in the European Union for use in children's toys since 1999. DEHP, BBP, and DBP are restricted for all toys; DINP, DIDP, and DNOP are restricted only in toys that can be taken into the mouth. The restriction states that the amount of these phthalates may not be greater than 0.1% mass percent of the plasticized part of the toy.

The low molecular weight products BBP, DEHP, DIBP, and DBP were added to the Candidate list of Substances for Authorisation under REACH in 2008-9, and added to the Authorisation list in 2012. This means that from February 2015 they are not allowed to be produced in the EU unless authorisation has been granted for a specific use, however they may still be imported in consumer products.

Phthalates and Sex Toys

While there is some regulation of phthalates in children's toys - the sex toy industry remains almost totally unregulated and there is no legal requirement to inform the consumer of just how much phthalate is in the toy. Cheap PVC, jelly and "Novelty Use Only" toys will most likely all contain phthalates to some extent - including the ones labelled "non toxic" (yes, really).

The Danish authorities conducted a study of 16 randomly selected sex toys in 2006. They found that:

"Jelly, which is a widely used material designation, has turned out to be plasticized vinyl (PVC). The plasticizer content may be very high up to 70%, which means that more than 2/3 of the materials consist of plasticizers. The plasticizers used are of the phthalate types (DEHP, DNOP; DINP)."

That is 7000 times the legal limit for kids toys in the US.

Conversely, they also found a vibrator which contained 200ppm Cadmium, a poisonous heavy metal - the legal limit in the EU is 75ppm. Sex toys were also consistently found to contain concentrations of Lead, and three had Arsenic in them. Most of these toys were cheap imports from China.

You can find a pdf of the full study here. Read it sitting down.

But I can just cover it with a condom and it'll be fine, right?

Eh, it's a bit complicated. Phthalates are very mobile in oil, and when these cheap jelly toys start to break down - you can see an oily sheen on them. Oils will degrade regular latex condoms, so you might be better off using nitrile or polyurethane. Really though, the safest thing to do is avoid buying these toxic toys.

What toy materials should I avoid?

  • Anything that is for "novelty use only", or "not intended for internal use"
  • Jelly, jellee, jele - they're all the same, squishy, jelly type toys. $10 on Wish. You know the type.
  • Rubber - even if it's "skin safe", it may not be because, as we've learned, there's no legal requirement to be honest about your phthalate content.
  • Vinyl and PVC
  • Proprietary materials like Cyberskin / UR3 / Futorotic / Fanta Flesh / Neoskin / FauxFlesh/ etc – if it’s not pure silicone, and it looks super realistic (and it’s not Fleshlight), it's probably got some phthalates in it.
  • TPE, TPR, Elastomer, TPR-silicone, SEBS - these are phthalate free in theory, but they're also porous and can harbour bacteria and fungi.

What toy materials are safer?

  • Silicone - 100% medical or food grade silicone is very body safe. It's non porous so no bacteria or fungi can make a home in it. It contains no phthalates (or arsenic!). You may also see "Platinum Grade Silicone" printed on some toy packaging - this doesn't mean that it's any better than medical or food grade silicone. Platinum is used as a curing agent in the manufacturing process. Avoid anything that says "Silicone blend".
  • Glass - Providing that class insertables are not painted, they are very body safe. Annealed toys are best. Pyrex is a meaningless term for glass sex toys.
  • Medical grade steel - recommended by surgeons worldwide.
  • Ceramic - as long as the ceramic is glazed and kiln fired, it will be non porous and thus body safe.
  • Aluminium - powder coated toys are also non porous, so they're safe.
  • ABS plastics - technically non toxic but may be a little porous.

BUT THEY'RE SO EXPENSIVE???!!!

I know, right? Here's a regularly updated list of non toxic, body safe sex toys that are $50 or less.. It's also good to know that food grade silicone is as safe as medical grade silicone for sex toy use - and medical grade silicone toys tend to carry an unnecessarily heavier price tag.

References and Further Reading

Dangerous Lilly - dildo burner and sex toy nerd, please check out her incredibly fun and informative blog

Kara Sutra - sex educator and toy reviewer

Wikipedia on Phthalates

Citations

  1. "Sex toy safety guide". reddit.com. u/TheSoftessMoss. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  2. "Search for Chemicals - ECHA". echa.europa.eu. European Chemicals Agency. Retrieved 9 June 2022. Enter CAS No's to validate manually
  3. "Common Phthalates". en.wikipedia.org. Wikipedia Foundation. Retrieved 23 September 2023. Phthalates are produced industrially by the acid catalysed reaction of phthalic anhydride with excess alcohol.