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Basic Genital Care for the Vulva

It is important to maintain a healthy vulva, but few of us receive practical tips. Not all information available for vulvar care makes sense to us at A Woman’s Touch, so we’ve narrowed down the information and corroborated facts with published medical information. Two main principles for caring for the genitals involve letting the vulva (mostly) care for itself.
Principle #1: Do No Harm. 

In some ways, the vulva is no different than regular skin, while in other ways, it is very special. Generally, the protection mechanisms of the surface of the vulva is very similar to skin elsewhere on the body:

  1. barrier function keeps things from poking through the skin, and keeps moisture from seeping out
  2. healthy cell structure means that cells hold on to each other, and withstand friction without tearing apart,
  3. maintenance of good blood flow to the skin and sub-surface structures.
The vulva and vagina, in particular have:
  1. an acid-base balance (aka pH) which is in the acid range (usually 5.0-6.0) when the vulva is healthy, and
  2. a unique biological system (aka the vaginal microbiome) that helps keep the genital system healthy. Neither the vulva nor vagina are sterile, and they are not meant to be sterile. Aggressively treating or cleaning the vulva or vagina removes many of the protective systems that help keep it happy and comfortable. People who only occasionally clean their genitals generally have healthier genitals than those who clean/wash more than once per day.
Principle #2:  Moderation in everything. 
Think of the vulva as a healthy clean place already. Without intervention, the vulva can usually take care of itself pretty well with just basic care. Some of the problems that people encounter are based on an incorrect notion that “down there” is “very dirty”. This is a cultural/psychological belief, which is not based on anatomy or biology. You may believe that you’re not clean enough, which can lead to some serious–and damaging–scrubbing. Aggressive cleaning of the vulva can lead to damage of the natural protective mechanisms, accelerating a cascade of interrelated conditions that are more difficult to treat than they are to avoid in the first place.
Tips for cleaning the vulva
1. Wash the vulva no more than once per day. Less than once per day is fine.
  • Showers are better than baths (since you avoid soaking the skin).
  • Cool water is better than hot water (which can dissolve skin oils and break the skin-barrier surface).
  • Hands washing the vulva are better than cloths or scrubbies (less friction is easier on the surface).
  • Generally, an acid pH (6-7) is better than basic (higher pH) water, since the skin has a natural pH of 5.5. If you’re not having a problem with your vulva, then your usual shower water is probably fine. It isn’t easy to change the pH of your entire water system, and water softening will not necessarily help either. If you notice sensitivity with your shower water, consider rinsing your vulva after your shower with a small rinse bottle of distilled water acidified with a tablespoon or so of white vinegar. There is no need to rinse out the vagina, so don’t squirt water inside the vagina.
2. Soap is optional for the vulva, according to most skin care specialists.
  • If you choose to use soap, dilute your soap in water and use the smallest possible amount, then rinse very well.
  • If you choose to use soap, wash your genitals last. Do not cause a long exposure by “sudzings” up early in the shower.
  • The choice of soap/cleaner is very important and a tad complicated. Generally, shampoo, liquid soap or shower gels are better choices than bar soaps. This is because the pH of most bar soaps is basic (8 or higher), while the above mentioned are acidic, so kinder to the skin. Bar soaps, even the “gentle-skin” variety, contain pore-clogging and skin irritating chemicals and oils. Beyond damaging your skin, oils can stay on the surface of skin and damage latex and stretchy-elastomer toys. Complexion soap is best left to the face.
  • The terms hypoallergenic, natural, organic, sensitive-skin, or gentle mean nothing in terms of how safe they are to use on your vulva. Avoid liquid cleaners made with sodium lauryleth sulfate (SLS). SLS is a very effective detergent, and removes healthy oils from the inside the skin structure. Some people are also allergic to SLS.
  • Be aware of possible allergens in your soap products. Beyond SLS , other highly allergenic ingredients are aloe vera, propylene glycol, dyes, and many fragrances including essential oils such as lavender, tea tree oil, citrus and peppermint. This is not a comprehensive list, as any individual can be sensitive or allergic to different ingredients.
  • Do not use bleach, or skin-bleaching products. Your vulva is naturally a little darker than your hand skin tone. It’s only porn actors who decided genitals should be blanched in color. Using bleach seriously damages the skin, and may lead to a long-term darkening process over time. This means that your genital skin will be damaged and darker in color later than when you started bleaching.
  • Disinfectant soaps (those that “kill germs”) are not recommended: Disinfectants kill healthy, beneficial bacteria, and disinfectants are often strong detergents, which remove oils and damage the surface layer of your skin. Remember, it isn’t that dirty down there.
3. Drying after washing is best done by blotting (dabbing till dry) the vulva with a clean soft towel.
  • Most clothing has high residual levels of soap (we use too much in the wash), so rinse and dry a new undyed towel several times before use to remove the manufacturing chemicals. Then, dedicate this towel for blotting moisture off of the vulva. Hand-wash this towel away from other clothing using very little detergent, and air dry it for use again.
  • Some with sensitive skin choose to dry their vulva with a gentle hair dryer set on cool air.
  • Don’t wear underwear or pajama pants to bed. Some people seem unaware of what they have resting against their vulva most of the time. The skin on the vulva needs to air-out, and is easily damaged when kept wet/moist all day (and night) long.
To maintain vulvar health:
1. Wear underwear (if you wear underwear at all) made of undyed silk, cotton or modal fabric.
  • Soft moisture-wicking fabric is particularly helpful, so cotton might not be the right choice for you.
  • Find underwear which has fabric-covered latex elastic, rather than wearing elastic directly against the skin.
  • Change your underwear promptly if it becomes wet for any reason, whether that’s from sweat (exercising, hot conditions), urine, sexual fluids (semen or vaginal secretions) or even menstrual blood.
  • Change your underwear promptly if you’ve been exposed to cleaning chemicals, tobacco smoke and smoke from fires. The chemicals that you can smell with your nose dissolve in the sweat/oils of your vulvar skin, and can cause dermatitis (inflammation).
  • Do not wear underwear during sleep. Your vulva needs that time to dry off.
  • Careful if you go completely without undies, as the fabric of the clothing you wear may be harsh on your skin. However, some women find a great deal of comfort with a skirt/dress and no undies.
2. Avoid wearing anything tight against the vulva.
  • Skin-tight jeans are a particularly common offender. Your blood circulation cannot overcome the constriction. Vulva binding is almost the same harm as foot binding.
  • Careful about those long, long, long bike rides, too. The pressure from the bike saddle is keeping blood from circulating in your vulva. Stand up in the pedals and enjoy the breeze once in awhile. (And remember to change your shorts after your ride so that you don’t keep the sweat trapped against the skin.)
3. Do not use hair dye, makeup, or lotions on the vulva. 
  • Some moisturizing sexual lubricants are safe for all-day use on the vulva, but most cosmetic lotions and moisturizers are not. Particularly avoid desensitizing or pain-numbing gels, lotions or sprays. Although formulations differ, generally these compounds are very acidic and can irritate the skin long after the pain-numbing effect has worn off.
  • Do not use benzocaine-based numbing products on the vulva. These medications commonly cause contact dermatitis, making whatever problem you had worse.
  • Careful to choose OINTMENT over cream prescription preparations. Creams, by definition, have alcohol added to their bases which can irritate your skin as you are trying to heal it.
4. Do not, under any circumstance, use sticky-backed menstrual pad products.
  • The pad adhesive is very irritating to the skin of the vulva. The adhesive seeps into the underwear itself, so that the next time you use your undies,  you’re exposed to the adhesive directly against the skin. Washing is not very effective at removing all of the adhesive stuck in the undies, either.
  • If you need some extra protection or cannot tolerate use of tampons, then use undyed organic cotton pads called Glad-Rags. These will catch blood, will not cause skin problems, and can be hand washed for multiple uses.
Regarding sexual practices:
  1. Choose your sexual lubricant carefully. One would think that sexual lubricants were developed to be safe on the vulva; unfortunately this generally is not true. It is also impossible to universally recommend any one product for every person, since each person’s skin is unique. (Even Liquid Silk has propylene glycol in it, which can be irritating to some people.)
  2. Know the pH of your vagina and your sexual lubricant. (Your health care provider can help with the first, while AWT gives you this information in the AWT Lubricants Brochure.) If you are pre-menopausal, your vaginal pH should be between 5.0 and 6.0; post-menopausal women between 5.5 and 6.5. Talk to us if you have questions about the type of sexual lubricant that might be right for you.
  3. Test a new lubricant elsewhere on your body before applying it to your vulva, particularly if you have sensitive skin. We prefer to use the inner elbow crease, because while the skin is relatively similar to your inner lips, it’s a lot easier to treat the inside of your elbow than it is to treat a negative reaction on your vulva.
  • Apply a small dab of lubricant you are using for the first time in the inside of your elbow.
  • Bend your elbow and watch TV or read a book for 1 hour.
  • Observe the lubricated spot. Is it red? Does it itch at all? (If so, rinse well with cool water, and don’t use that product.)
  • Observe the lubricated spot again in 24 hours. Is it red now when it wasn’t before (called delayed hypersensitivity)? If it is red, do not use this lube.
  • The next test is to apply it to the outer lip, but don’t engage in sexual intimacy just yet. Observe it after 1 hr & 24 hrs again.
  • If this is ok (no itching, redness or pain), then give it a sexual test-run. Remember that friction burns mimic problems with lubricants, so use enough lubricant to decrease friction. Consider using a condom during this test (male, or female nitrile is fine). If you have no pain, redness or itching, then you are likely safe to use this lubricant.

4.  Sexual penetration should not hurt. Pain, although unwelcome, is also giving very important information that something is amiss and may lead to tissue trauma. Numbing the pain doesn’t mean that trauma isn’t occurring and you should continue.If you have redness or discomfort after sexual penetration, there are three main causes to consider:

  • The mechanical friction of sex (causing skin burn and pain),

Mechanical friction often happens with partner-size-discrepancy, inappropriate fit of condom, lack of lubricant used on the shaft of a penis or dildo, or low arousal in a penetrated partner. All of these can be modified; ask us for help. Female condoms are particularly useful for partner-size discrepancy, for the female condom covers the sensitive vaginal layer, so that the friction is still felt on the penis, but not directly against the vaginal skin. Conversely, male condoms apply the friction against the vaginal wall directly.

  • A chemical reaction or acid/base burning of the skin.
Semen has a basic pH (7.2 to 8.0), and includes prostatic enzymes which can break down the proteins in the vulva and vaginal skin. Wearing a well-fitting male or female condom can circumvent this completely. Silicone lubricants have a very acidic pH of 4.4 to 4.6, and may be just too acidic for you to use comfortably. Other people find the application of the lower pH lubes provide comfort, so you would have to experiment with this yourself.
  • A true allergy to latex products.
Mechanical friction and chemical intolerance are more common than latex allergies. However, if you have a high occupational risk for allergy and know that you are allergic, carry your own non-latex barriers for your own comfort.
  • Some other problem. This post is not intended to diagnose or solve all pain with penetration problems. However, working your way through to this point gives you and your health care provider quite a bit of information on topics that don’t need to necessarily be investigated further.
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The AWT Good Sex Diet

Download a free PDF version of this brochure

How can I improve my sexual health and wellness naturally? I am willing to make lifestyle changes, but don’t know where to start.


What a great question! Here is a list of things you can do to improve your sexual health primarily through lifestyle changes:

  1. Eat 1-2 oz. of dark chocolate (70% or greater cacao content) a day.
  2. Drink green tea if you can, or rooibos (red) tea if you don’t like green tea or want something without caffeine. Have as much as you enjoy; 2-3 cups per day is recommended.
  3. For protein, choose beans, chicken, turkey, ocean fish (not whitefish) that is wild caught, and only grass-fed beef. Eat protein at every meal to help stabilize blood sugar.
  4. Eat 3-5 servings of differently colored vegetables per day, including broccoli, leafy greens, carrots…Only eat yellow, blue or sweet potatoes, not white. Eat corn only occasionally, and only fresh kernels in season.
  5. Eat 2-3 servings of fruit per day, especially apples and berries.
  6. Eat at least 1 oz. of nuts per day (walnuts or almonds are good). Eat nuts as a snack when you are hungry to satisfy your hunger and stabilize your blood sugar.
  7. Cook with healthy oils like canola and olive oil. Avoid trans fats completely, and use butter sparingly.
  8. Avoid white flour and white sugar. Use whole wheat flour and honey, fruit sweetener or agave syrup when making sweet desserts, whenever possible. If you choose to eat a piece of cake or have some ice cream, eat a handful of nuts along with it to balance out your blood sugar.
  9. Drink lots of water. Filtered tap water is fine.
  10. Supplement your diet with the following every day:
    These will give you maximum protection against cancer and maximum help for your cell membranes. You want your Vitamin D levels (tested by your doctor) to be between 50-60ng/ml, for highest immune function.

    • A basic multi-vitamin (Theragran M is a good choice)
    • Fish Oil: 1000-4000 mg
    • Vitamin D3: 2000-4000 IU
    • Calcium Citrate: 250-500 mg (no other form of calcium).
  11. Exercise 30 minutes a day, to a sweat (or a nice glow).
  12. Enjoy at least one orgasm per week to boost your immune system and maintain your nerve conduction.
  13. Did I mention chocolate? Chocolate has both the right kind of protein for sexual health (L-arginine), and is packed with fantastic fruit antioxidants, both of which are powerfully good for your blood vessel and nerve function.

Num-num.

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Vaginal atrophy, dryness, and lack of flexibility

I am postmenopausal – I have vaginal penetration issues that are severe, tearing and extreme dryness as well as progressive desensitization. I am looking for ways to renew vaginal tissue and increase elasticity. Where do I begin…massage vibrator? moisturizer? kegel exerciser? estriol creams?


Begin with reading through the Vaginal Renewal program.

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What is Sexual Health?

Isn’t sexual health something that you just have – isn’t “normal” the baseline?


Sexual health might seem a tricky concept to define, given how little we hear about it.

Even if your personal perspective of normal adult sexuality is holistic, non-medical and/or allows for some level of personal sexual expression, “normal” was defined back in 1970 by Masters & Johnson. Although their research was groundbreaking, Masters & Johnson utilized persons of relatively high sexual function, so by comparison, most of us have been “abnormal” ever since. So, defining normal sexual expression can be tricky, even for those who research the topic.

Others struggle to incorporate sexuality into a medical health care context by examining sexual problems, rather than by understanding the components of sexual wellness. In this framework, health care providers aren’t attending “Sexual Health” conventions; instead they attend “Female Sexual Dysfunction” or “Male Sexual Dysfunction” seminars. Stepping into this game, pharmaceutical corporations struggle to provide remediation for our abnormalities.

Yet others “ab-sexualize” the topic entirely. Absexualization is the process of moving away (“ab”= away from) any type of sexual activity under any circumstance. This can be an appropriate decision for one to make for oneself; however, making absexual decisions for others has been prominent in Western culture for centuries, and appears to be a never-ending debate.

At A Woman’s Touch, we rather like the (unofficial) 2002 World Health Organization definition of Sexual Health:

” … a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

This definition characterizes sexual health as something active, rather than something you only have if you don’t think anything is wrong. At A Woman’s Touch we advocate for positive and respectful approaches to your own, unique sexuality.

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How Can Health Care Providers Answer Questions about Sex?

As a health care provider, sex seems like a pretty confusing topic – I get bombarded with different information from all sides every day, and I don’t know how to answer these questions. Why did I learn more in school about filling out insurance forms than I did about sex?

Why is it that I can’t get answers to the MOST BASIC sexuality questions from my health care provider? They make me feel like an idiot for asking, and the stuff I’m asking about seems so basic. What’s up?


Healthy sexuality is a topic missing from most health care provider’s education, which means that health care providers aren’t receiving the basic fundamentals of almost all aspects of sexual health. We do get education on sexual dysfunction to some extent, but it’s hard to see “normal” when you are trained to see abnormal. People trained in the allopathic medical system are also trained to treat with pharmaceutical medications. Considering that sexual health issues are often not completely addressed with medications alone, what do you do when your prescriptive powers aren’t useful?  Most health care providers just don’t ask questions to something they don’t have the resources (or the time) to address. Some providers, unfortunately, make people feel uncomfortable because THEY are uncomfortable with the topic because their education just hasn’t prepared them very well.

What to do.

Sexuality is a topic that can be understood within a basic framework that allows people to be individuals, and relies on general principles. For example, for healthy sexual capacity:

  • sexual structures,
  • blood vessels,
  • nerves and mind, and
  • blood flow

all have to be healthy for normal sexual capacity. Anything that hurts the heart or brain is going to hurt sexual function too, because the body doesn’t separate one from the other. A culture might have problems with sex, but the body shouldn’t.

No matter whether you are a consumer or a provider, there are some basic things that you can do to begin to build your understanding of the vast topic of sexuality.

  • First, learn about what sexual pleasure, sexual reproduction, and sexual health is.
  • Next, learn what body parts function in sexual arousal and function. Where are they? How do they work together? What are their names?
  • Next, look into how the body works. Don’t just take my word for it: we know quite a bit about how sexual arousal, sexual engorgement and sexual pleasure work. We also have quite a bit of data on how to keep the body healthy, and what things to avoid to hurt overall health, and sexual health.
  • Really consider some of the different ways to think about libido/sexual interest, sexual arousal (from both a cognitive and physical point of view), and what makes satisfaction a reality?
  • Last, as a health care provider, consider that someone might be relaying concern even though their sexual health status is fine. This often occurs because they:
    1. lack information about their personal anatomy,
    2. lack information about how their anatomy and/or sexuality works,
    3. don’t know how to effectively stimulate themselves and/or others, and/or
    4. don’t have any place to gather accurate information about sexuality.

As a health care provider, you might be blocked from looking up things on any site (including ours) that includes factual information about sexuality on your work computer. Ask your IT administrator for permission to view sites that are clinically relevant for your practice. Begin your homework as soon as you can.

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Sexual Maintenance

My friend told me that you recommend one orgasm per week as sexual maintenance. I laughed–you make sex seem like changing the oil in your car or something….


So when someone is comfortable with their sexuality, is that it? Do they get an A+ on their report card? Do they get to pass GO? Can they just stop learning and continue in autopilot?

Nope, it doesn’t work that way. There are a couple of phrases which aptly apply to the topic of sexuality:

“Use it or lose it.”

This underlines the importance of regularly exercising your sexual body, by

  • becoming aroused,
  • tolerating comfortable sexual touch,
  • becoming physically aroused with touch,
  • and experiencing orgasms.

The human body will prioritize when it’s asked to, but if someone stops reminding the body how to experience sexual pleasure, the systems will slowly fade in responsiveness and vibrancy of experience. Rehabilitation from this faded state is possible in most cases, but it is far easier to maintain the equipment than it is to rehabilitate from disuse. This is why we talk about “maintenance orgasms” and routine “non-sexual” genital massage as ways to keep the systems up and available, should the person choose in the future to be sexual with themselves or others.

“Variety is the spice of … sex.”

This second phrase is really a mysterious trick, because so few people realize that if one does the same old things over and over again, the body and mind will become bored in the process. Sure, we can all eat dog kibble for every meal, but food is much more intriguing when we vary our meals and have little culinary surprises from time to time. Similarly, being sexual can be a routine event, but experiencing pleasure sexually is related to re-experiencing pleasure. Something that is pleasurable is “a source of delight or joy.” Can you see an element of … surprise or unexpectedness in that description?

Pleasure has an extended spectrum from subtle (pleasure) to extreme (pleasure) – notice that those descriptive words could also apply to the experience of orgasm.

The main focus here is that pleasure is, if anything, more important than sex. At AWT, we often explain:

“Sexual pleasure is pleasure first, and sexual second.”

Our capacity to experience pleasure is enhanced by regularity, variety and change.

So, just in the same way a car mechanic can revel in the fine workings of a well-oiled power machine, this is a matter of perspective. If you want to think of your body as a duddy old clunker, you’re making a choice to do that. Some of us would rather think of preventive sexual self-care as tuning our fine, well-lubed power machines.

Varoom, varoom.

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Simple Steps to Sexual Health

Are there any relatively simple things that I can do to improve my sexual health?


There are some fairly easy and inexpensive things that you can do that help your whole body be healthier. As you improve the functioning of your blood vessels, nerves, and general exercise capacity, you’ll very likely notice a difference in your sexual responsiveness, since sexual liveliness depends on healthy blood vessels, nerves and a robust exercise tolerance. None of them are hard to do, so get to it!

  1. Eat 2 to 3 ounces (56-84 grams) of chocolate per day.Why? Dark chocolate increases your good cholesterol and lowers your blood pressure.

    Tricks:

    • The chocolate must be 70% cacao solids or higher. (No white or milk chocolate allowed.)
    • Eat a little before meals to help suppress your appetite .
    • Split into 2 servings during the day.
  2. Take 2000 IU Vitamin D per day.Why? Vitamin D is anti-inflammatory, and reduces inflammatory diseases (rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis) and some types of cancer (breast, skin). New research is showing that 2000 IU Vitamin D is a good baseline dose, particularly if you are not in the sun as a part of your daily routine. (Note: if you have a calcium metabolism disorder or sacoidosis, consult with your health care provider first.)

    Tricks:

    • Look for higher dose formulations (1000IU – 2000IU) without calcium! Vitamin D comes in little pills, while the calcium adds the bulky pill size. You can take a smaller pill of calcium and swollow it separately.
    • Take your Vitamin D with cereal every morning. Stick your bottle next to your cereal box to help you remember.
    • Check out the vitamin manufacturer on-line at www.consumerlab.com. They test vitamins to make sure they have the correct ingredient and amount, and that contaminants (such as lead and mercury) are not in your pills.
  3. Use a biofeedback tool to strengthen your pelvic floor.Why? A strong pelvic floor keeps urine from leaking out during laughing, coughing or jogging. Also, women with stronger pelvic floors experience stronger orgasms. Biofeedback tools are vaginal weights that you use to help you do resistance exercises for your pelvic floor muscles. Using these tools is more effective at strengthening your muscles than just “doing your Kegels”.

    Tricks:

    • Lie on your back when beginning your exercises–it helps to take the weight off of your pelvic floor, and leads to earlier success.
    • Put your exercise tool next to your toothbrush to remind you to do your exercises every day.
    • Never push out when exercising your pelvic floor muscles (unless you get specific instructions from a birthing coach). You’ll always want to focus on letting your tummy drop down/inside (aka suck-in-your-gut), which helps the pelvic floor muscles work more effectively.
  4. Engage in 20 minutes of intense exercise BEFORE engaging in sexual activity.Why? Intense exercise primes women’s (and men’s) arousal system. If women are sexual after 20 minutes of exercise, their perception of pleasure and sexual performance are enhanced. This is particularly effective for women who experience low sexual desire or low arousal.

    Tricks:

    • You must exercise to the point of breaking a sweat. (Walking is great, but it needs to be at least a moderate pace!)
    • Taking a quick shower after exercise can leave you feeling fresh and clean, AND reduces the time necessary to take your clothes off.
    • If your partner isn’t interested, go ahead and have an orgasm anyway!
  5. Break a sweat for 30 minutes, 5 days per week.Why? Women who engage in strenuous exercise (pre-menopausal or post-menopausal) have better overall health, plus they report having more orgasms. Women who have more orgasms report more sexual satisfaction.

    Tricks:

    • Do the stairs in your office building during lunch time or during any break time.
    • Find every set of stairs in your life–there are more than you think once you start looking.
    • Go up the stairs, and take an elevator down. Going up is safer for your body.
    • Walking is easier on your body than jogging, so work on the walking part, then walking for longer periods of time.
    • Start a walking group in your neighborhood. 30 minutes goes by fast when you’re enjoying a chat with friends.
    • If you walk in the dark, remember how hard it is for drivers to see you: put a light on your back belt or pack to help them see you further off.

Putting these behaviors into your life can add a little zip to your self-pleasuring.

References:

Steinberg FM et al (2003) Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids: implications for cardiovascular health. J Am Diet Assoc. Feb; 103(2):215. Grassi D et al (2005) Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons. Am J Clin Nutr. Mar;81(3):611. Grassi D et al (2005) Cocoa reduced blood pressure and insulin resistance and improves endothelium-dependent vasodilation in hypertensives. Hypertension Aug;46(6):398. Polivy J et al (2005) The effect of deprivation on food cravings and eating behavior in restrained and unrestrained eaters. Int J Eat Disord. Dec;38(4):301. Holick MF (2006) High prevalence of Vitamin D inadequacy and implications for health. Mayo Clin Proc. March;81(3):353. Heaney RP (2006) Nutrition and chronic disease. Mayo Clin Proc. March 81(3):297. Di Gangi Herms AM et al (2006) Functional imaging of stress urinary incontinence. Neuroimage. Jan 1;29(1):267. Meston CM & Gorzalka BB (1996) Differential effects of sympathetic activation on sexual arousal in sexually dysfunctional and functional women. J Abnorm Psychol. Nov;105(4):582. Penteado SR (2003) Sexuality in healthy postmenopausal women. Climacteric Dec;6(4):321.

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Is your toy made of a safe material?

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.

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Why not use K-Y Jelly or Vaseline as a lubricant

Do Not Use Vaseline Oil in the Vagina. Vaseline is an oil based petroleum product that is very difficult to naturally clear out of the vaginal space. It can cause something similar to vaginal acne, and can cause or intensify yeast infections if you get them fairly often. In addition, if you are using latex barriers (condoms, dams, or gloves) for protection against sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy prevention, Vaseline will create tiny holes in the latex, making them worthless.

The original K-Y Jelly (the kind that is sold in a tube) is a water-based lubricant that is widely available, and for that reason many people are familiar with it. Unfortunately, it has some major drawbacks as a sexual lubricant. K-Y Jelly was not developed as a sexual lubricant per se, it was developed as a medical lubricant. Medical lubricants are used when something needs to be introduced into a body, usually once (like when a physician uses a speculum during a vaginal exam, for example). Sexual intimacy often involves a lot of back-and-forth motion and friction, and under these conditions, medical lubricants dry and become sticky and gloppy. Lubricants which were developed as sexual lubricants will take the friction of sexual activity, be slicker in use, and stay wetter, longer.

K-Y has developed some “personal” lubricants that are a better choice than the thicker jelly. You can consider them along with the other lubricants available that have been designed for sexual use. Use our “How to choose a lubricant” brochure to help you choose which lubricant might work best for you.

Sexual lubricants are a very sexy sex toy. In our store, people who take sample packets home to try them out invariably come back with rave reviews. Sexual lubricants come in many different varieties and properties, and most people can find the lubricant(s) that work best for themselves. No taste? Really slick? Doesn’t cause yeast infections? Flavored? Just ask–all of these (and more) have been developed for the sole purpose of increasing your sexual pleasure.