• Iris Olson

Fucking Politics

Updated: Feb 21



Julia did a great job a couple of months ago going over the basics of sex toys, which can be found here, here, here, and here. As you may have noticed, many consumers are unaware of the lack of regulation and quality control of sex toys in the U.S. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) often miscategorizes sex toys as “novelty items” or “massagers”, so while they are considered consumer products, there are no safety regulations in place. This lack of regulation and testing leads to chemical and carcinogen exposure because of the porosity and leaching of substandard materials, which can damage a person’s hormonal balance and immune system. With 50% of the adult population using sex toys, it is critical to correct this lack of regulation by banning the use of phthalates, a plasticizer used to soften plastic, and other dangerous materials, or by creating safety thresholds that restrict their concentrations to acceptably low levels. Phthalates are used to soften sex toys and other plastics and make them more flexible, but their use negatively affects these products’ quality. Exposure to large amounts of phthalates is linked to breast cancer, developmental issues, decreased fertility, birth defects, changes in hormone levels, obesity, and asthma.


Specific phthalates have been banned in children's toys at a concentration above 0.1% by Congress. Children’s toys are regulated to such a low concentration because they are often placed near susceptible areas, such as the mouth. However, many sex toys still contain phthalates ranging from concentrations of 24-70%, which can be harmful to the body. Precautions similar to those legislated for children's toys also need to be implemented for sex toys, because they are designed for insertion into sensitive areas of the body, like the vagina and anus.


Separately from the CPSC, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate sex toys - but only three of them, those classified as medical devices. These regulated sex toys are only accessible to people with prescriptions, usually due to spinal injury, to generate feeling and sensation in the genital region. Although the FDA requires federal regulation and material testing for these three devices, there are no phthalate cutoffs, and exposure may still occur for every other sex toy on the market.


There is also concern regarding injuries caused by sex toy use. According to the CPSC’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), under Product Code 1610, which covers massagers and vibrators, has seen a steady increase in injuries recorded over the past two decades. As of 2007, the number of sex toy related injuries doubled, and in 2013 there was a spike in the number of injuries recorded. Common injuries include removing “foreign objects” from the body and the malfunctions of toys. It can be predicted, based off of the data, that the number of people injured each year due to sex toy use will continue to increase, and that it is necessary to regulate sex toy quality for consumer safety.


Governments outside the U.S. have begun taking steps toward phthalate and sex toy regulation. In 2017 the European Union added four phthalates (DEHP, DIBP, DBP and BBP) to a list of controlled chemicals that need E.U. authorization for use, which requires companies that would use these phthalates in their products to thoroughly assess the health risks associated with them. Denmark’s government has also created public service announcements warning the population of sex toy toxicity, and recommending users to stay away from certain kinds of toys. This campaign included recommending the use of barriers with sex toys. More studies are also needed to determine whether or not the chemicals used as plastic softeners also deteriorate latex and non-latex barriers.


If the U.S. did implement phthalate bans or restrictions, there is a concern that many products would have a different texture and density feel to them if they are produced without plastic softeners. There is also concern that many toys will need to be taken off the market. Shoppers might also question the lack of jelly toys, because these toys have a high concentration of phthalates and other plasticizers in them. Even without phthalates, there are a lot of ways to soften PVC; phthalates just happen to be the most broad and cost-effective option. Most plastic softeners do not carry the same risks that phthalates do, but they may leach and react with skin and barriers to lesser degrees.


Sex toy regulation could increase costs for toy companies to create softer toys with body safe materials. Given that companies would have to use more expensive materials and test their products more rigorously, there is concern that more industry regulation would mean less affordable sex toys. It does not have to be that way. For example, Funkit Toys has created a new phthalate- and plasticizer-free silicone line, NoFrillDo, without raising any cost to the consumer. The materials of the NoFrillDo are body safe and will not break down as quickly as a toy with phthalates, meaning they will not leach chemicals into the body. Basically, the CPSC needs to create a category for sex toys instead of lumping them in with “massagers” and “novelty items.”


We must insist on testing and regulating sex toys, dare to talk about our sexual health and rights as a nation, and ultimately, manufacturers must stop exposing consumers to toxins, harmful chemicals, and carcinogens. Only then can we move towards a safer, and more transparent, world of sexual pleasure.



24 views