Is your toy made of a safe material?

Published:

Dr. Myrtle,

Why doesn’t A Woman’s Touch offer any of the less expensive jelly toys? What’s the big deal about phthalates in sex toys anyway?


At A Woman’s Touch, we evaluate all potential toys based on:

  1. How well they provide erotic stimulation;
  2. The quality of the construction; and
  3. The materials used to make the product.

Sex toys have been made from a variety of materials over the centuries, from glass and finely-polished dense wood to medical-grade silicone and plastics. Although different materials have different benefits, we rate safety of material and high-grade construction techniques as highly as any other feature.

The term jelly usually refers to a group of synthetic plastic toys which have quite a bit of flexibility and often are available in a variety of jewel-tone colors. Because they are a molded product, they can be created in a fantastic variety of shapes, yet cost very little to manufacture and sell. In the world of erotic-stimulation toys, they are everywhere.

Well, everywhere but A Woman’s Touch. In the late 1990s we discovered that there were several scientific concerns regarding exposure to one of the components of these toys: plasticizers called phthalates. Phthalates (pronounced THAY-lates) are the component of plastics that help make them flexible. Phthalates are in your hospital blood transfusion bags, your kitchen baggies, your facial cosmetics, and deodorants. (Probably even in the deodorant bottles!) Phthalates are also in many jelly sex toys. Some forms of phthalates are more harmful than others; unfortunately, many of those forms are found in jelly toys.

If it sounds as though phthalates are everywhere, you would be right - this group of compounds represents one of the most common environmental pollutants in the world. They are also considered endocrine disruptors - chemical compounds that interfere with normal animal and human hormonal systems, causing them to not perform as they normally would. In the case of phthalates, these compounds act as environmental estrogens, effectively supplementing a person’s estrogen at a very low level.

So what?

Estrogen is a good hormone, at the right levels under certain circumstances. It is important for a woman’s capacity for fertility (being able to reproduce), and at low levels helps the body repair some of its tissues. However, women who are at risk for breast and other estrogen-sensitive cancers need to avoid additional exposure to estrogen hormone supplementation, as well as environmental estrogens such as phthalates. Phthalates have been found to potentially counteract therapeutic medicines (tamoxifen) that help prevent breast cancer recurrence (J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2004;67(23-24):2025-2035).

Studies are also finding that fetuses and young children who are exposed to phthalates suffer a variety of immune disorders and developmental problems.

Men are not immune to the effects of phthalates either. Under circumstances when a male in utero is exposed to high levels of these estrogen-like compounds, some scientists have found anatomical reproductive malformations (Toxicol Sci 2000 Dec;58(2):350-65) as well as negative effects on adult male function and fertility, as well as concerns regarding tumor formation in the liver and testes) (Toxicol Sci. 2004; Oct 20 & Andrologia. 2004 Dec;36(6):337-345).

But you said they were everywhere!

You can help reduce the production of these products by not buying them, or reducing your use of flexible plastic products. You can also make decisions to lower your personal level of exposure to plasticizers such as phthalates by:

  • researching the chemicals in your personal care products such as cosmetics, deodorants,
  • avoiding significant contact with known sources such as flexible plastics, and
  • avoiding the use of jelly toys.

A Woman’s Touch has tested all the toys we offer for the presence of phthalates, and currently offers only phthalate-free products or those made with food-grade, non-dangerous types of phthalates. We are currently working with alternative toy manufacturers to redesign products that are found in inexpensive jelly to have them manufactured in phthalate-free materials. We are also actively looking for alternatives to those toys with the food-grade phthalates, so we can discontinue them altogether.

Another reason to avoid jelly toys: general hygiene. Jelly toys are porous, meaning they allow bacteria to enter into the material. For cleanliness, we recommend using non-porous toys that are easily cleaned with soap and water, like hard plastic, glass, silicone, or Lucite.

If you have a favorite jelly toy and are unwilling to part with it quite yet, one choice would be to cover it with a latex or polyurethane condom during use, and keep it stored away in an air-tight container when not in use. Why an air-tight container? Phthalates are constantly leaching out of the products into the air, so you breathe it when you are exposed to the items in the same space. If you’ve noticed that your jelly toys smell strongly of chemicals, change color over time, or feel oily or greasy to the touch, that’s the phthalates leaking out of them.

So why don’t we just carry jelly toys and tell you to cover them, or yourself, with condoms? Well, since the phthalates off-gas constantly, not only are we putting the workers at risk who work in the factories that make jelly toys, but we’re exposing our staff and you to these toxins every time the toy is handled. It’s not worth the increased health risks to us or to you. Fortunately, the adult toy industry is finally responding to the pressure from retailers like A Woman’s Touch and are manufacturing toys without phthalates and other toxic materials.

Take Care of yourself, and the environment.

Dr. Myrtle