Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Dangerous Sex Toys: What You Need to Know Now About Phthalates

Haven't bought a new sex toy in a while? Discard what you have and go shopping.

Key points

  • Phthalates, a family of chemical rubber softeners used in many sex toys, are unsafe for intimate contact.
  • The FDA cites phthalates as a probable human carcinogen but there is no legislation pending to keep them out of sex toys.
  • When shopping for safe sex toys, choose ones that are phthalate-free. These usually include hard plastic, silicone, glass, metal, and wood toys.

Just a few weeks ago, Germany's green party demanded that their government launch an investigation into high levels of dangerous chemicals found in sex toys, which can cause everything from infertility to diabetes.

The chemicals in question are phthalates, which are a family of chemical rubber softeners used in many sex toys. Phthalates can be found in all kinds of things such as plastic shower curtains or even your car dashboard — and that might be alright because you are not that intimate with your car dashboard. But putting phthalates in your sex toy is entirely another matter because of how close-up and personal we get with them. Just let your mind wander for a minute on that one.

The role of government in sex toy safety

"Consumers must be protected when it comes to sexual health. Feigned embarrassment or false taboos should not prevent information getting out and checks being done," MP Volker Beck said in his call to the German government.

In the United States, the FDA cites phthalates as a probable human carcinogen. But there is no legislation pending to keep them out of our sex toys. In studies, they were found in high doses to cause cancer in rats, and even in lower doses, the rats had some serious problems such as genital development and fetal development, which produces stillborn rats.

When phthalates were looked at in humans, there some evidence that they interfere with sperm production and possibly infant genital development. Right now, we are working with limited studies, as there has been much more research done on animals than on humans. But the FDA and Greenpeace have released statements that these chemicals present a possible health risk to the human population.

Governor Schwarzenegger passed a toxic toy ban to keep phthalates out of children's toys — but what about grown-up toys? So much of this is unfortunately puritan and political.

If kids' toys are starting to be protected, why not adult sex toys? Children's toys are often put in their mouths (intimate contact) and that is why they are being banned, but adult sex toys are also interacted with intimately, being put into mouths and other body parts. Yet apparently, the sex toy industry is not highly regulated. Sex toys are often labeled as "novelty toys" (huge loophole), which translates into "you are not really supposed to use them — they are meant as gag gifts." Therefore, there is no government-sponsored research into whether sex toys are actually safe for us to use. Pretty amazing, huh?

Shame around sex toys leads to lack of regulation

Because we are still filled with shame around buying and using sex toys, we have found ourselves in a lovely catch-22. Because of our shame and embarrassment overusing and buying sex toys, the sex toy industry often gets away with using materials that are dangerous.

And when was the last time you saw a senator or congressperson want to stand up for healthy sex toys? So, as a consequence, very little is being done to keep us safe, including this information getting out into the free press. Therefore, American consumers (many of whom have sex toys in their nightstand) are unsuspectingly using a wide array of sexy toys that can be toxic not only to themselves but to their eventual offspring.

How to avoid harmful sex toys

You can be proactive when you buy your sex toys. Just like when you buy your organic groceries, read the labels to make sure that they are phthalate-free. Brands like JimmyJane are phthalate-free and state so on their packaging and website.

Another hint is to avoid rubber jelly sex toys that do not list their ingredients. Or to be on the safe side, pick hard plastic, silicone, glass, metal, and wood toys. These are usually phthalate-free. The good news is that many sex toy stores have developed phthalate-free sections — even online. And there are plenty of soft rubber options available.

So if you haven't bought a new sex toy in a long time, it might be time to discard whatever is laying on that nightstand and go shopping.

More from Pamela Madsen
More from Psychology Today
More from Pamela Madsen
More from Psychology Today