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Everything You Need to Know About Sex Toy Care and Cleanliness

Everything You Need to Know About Sex Toy Care and Cleanliness

From maintenance to materials, here are the basics on keeping things safe and sexy.

colorful photo illustration of dildos on blue background

When choosing and caring for a sex toy, there are a few things to consider regarding safety.

The sex toy business is hot, hot, hot. Current estimates say it is a nearly $30 billion industry — and that could jump to more than $50 billion by 2026. These days, everyone is in on the action, from solo users to couples, millennials to baby boomers. Physicians even recommend sex toys for health purposes.

Sex toy safety, however, isn’t always top of mind, although experts say it should be. For one, the sex toy industry isn’t regulated by watchdogs groups like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or Consumer Product Safety Commission, which means there is no one ensuring that toys are safe. And sex toys are, of course, used in very intimate ways.

So how can you protect yourself while enjoying all of the fun that sex toys have to offer? Here are five crucial safety tips every savvy sex toy consumer should be aware of.

RELATED: 7 Healthy Reasons You Should Have Sex

1 Know What Materials Your Toys Are Made Of

illustration of DEHP phthalate plasticizer molecule

DEHP phthalates plasticizer molecules are commonly used to make plastic flexible.

Although there is not scientific literature analyzing the body safety of various sex toy materials, there are some materials that consumers may choose to avoid. Some toys are made with phthalates. These chemicals, which are present in some plastics, have been banned for use in such products as children’s toys and pacifiers because they may disrupt human hormones. The FDA says it is unclear what (if any) impact phthalates have on human health. But if you have made a personal decision to avoid them elsewhere in your life — for example, your cosmetics —  it is important to know they could be lurking in your sex toys.

Many products state they are phthalate-free, but because the industry is largely unregulated, no outside organization checks the veracity of those claims. So one thing to keep in mind is whether the toys you are using are soft and jellylike. Phthalates are used as softeners. They are more likely to be present in squishier toys, made from more porous materials.

Porous sex toys are also “more likely to transmit infection,” says Alyssa Dweck, MD, a gynecologist based in Westchester County, New York, and author of The Complete A to Z for Your V. That is because their surfaces are more permeable.

That does not mean there is any research literature out there that says jellylike sex toys are inherently unsafe, but it is something to be aware of.

2 Wash — and Dry — Your Sex Toys Regularly

sex toys washed and drying on drying rack, soap, plates bubbles

Like, really regularly. “Sex toys should be cleaned between every sex act and in between every partner,” Dr. Dweck says.

You probably know that sexual activity increases a woman’s risk for urinary tract infections (UTI); you may not realize that the bacteria that cause a UTI live in the area around the anus. Sex increases the chances that the nearby bacteria migrate into a woman’s urethra, where they can multiply and trigger a UTI.

UTI prevention calls for strict genital hygiene, which includes keeping anything that comes into contact with sensitive areas as germ-free as possible. That’s why Planned Parenthood’s website warns, “Anything that touches or goes into your anus — like a finger, penis, or sex toy — should be thoroughly washed before touching other genitals.”

Toys can also spread infections, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs), because they can retain bacteria and viruses. Dweck recalls a patient who was baffled by why she kept getting trichomoniasis, a common, curable STI. “She was wondering, Why do I keep getting this? As it turns out, she wasn’t cleaning her toy properly,” Dweck says. Her patient was essentially reinfecting herself every time she used her vibrator.

Rachel Hoffman, a New York–based social worker with Union Square Practice who specializes in sexuality and intimacy, says she has seen similar things happen to clients who have ended up with recurrent yeast infections.

In addition, sex toys can get covered in dust and other particles while they’re stored.

Your toy’s manufacturer should be your first stop for washing instructions. Some toys can go in the dishwasher, for example. Others cannot.

“Most products will tell you specifically how to wash them,” says Hoffman. Though both she and Dweck say that if you are unsure of your toy’s exact instructions, soapy warm water is a good place to start.

And be careful to dry them, too. Damp toys can grow mold.

RELATED: Taking Care of Your Sexual Health

3 Consider a Condom to Reduce the Risk of Infection

yellow blue and magenta condoms on white

“Condoms most certainly should be used to cover phallic-shaped toys for people who are sharing toys with a partner,” Dweck says. That is because even if you diligently clean your toys, there is still a chance of transmitting infection. A study published in November 2014 in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections found traces of the human papillomavirus on vibrators a full day after they’d been used and cleaned.

Dweck adds that the condom should be switched out if you change the body parts coming into contact with the toy, so from oral use to vaginal use, for example.

RELATED: 8 Things You May Not Know About HPV

4 Use Sex Toys as Intended and Skip Household Items

illustration of bananas and cucumbers

When you get a new sex toy, take time to read the directions. If you are new to sex toys, ease in slowly, Dweck says, and stop if anything feels uncomfortable. Dweck also urges people to avoid using household items as sex toys. She has seen patients who have used cucumbers and bananas, for example.

“We’ll often see people use cell phones on vibrate or electric toothbrushes,” Dweck adds. “What comes up with this? Well, the batteries may not be encased properly, so you can have some sort of caustic reaction as a result of that.”

Food products, on the other hand, can be fairly porous, which means they can carry bacteria and potentially cause infection.

RELATED: A Guide to Solo Sex or Women

5 Buy From a Credible Company

woman ordering online, magenta background, laptop, credit card, phone

The sex toy industry is growing by the day, which means it can be a challenge to vet the safety of what you’re buying. Experts say to start by researching reputable manufacturers and to look for companies that are transparent about their products. If a manufacturer provides detailed information about the materials it’s using and specifics on how to use and clean its toys, that is a good start.

“A lot of people are now buying from places like Amazon, but it can be hard to know what you are getting unless you are very well versed in products,” says Hoffman. If you are looking to shop at an online retailer instead of buying in person, do some research into what customers are saying online about the products through verified reviews.

An overall good rule of thumb for sex toys and safety? Listen to your body.

“If you’re feeling any sort of discomfort,” Hoffman says, “like itchiness, burning, anything, it’s not the right one.”

RELATED: 4 Strange Sex-Related Symptoms — and How to Handle Them


Trying Long Distance Toys

Trying Long Distance Toys

Sexology 101

The Truth About Masturbation

You Won’t Go Blind: The Truth About 7 Masturbation Myths

Think solo sex is unhealthy? Think again. Here are 7 reasons it can be good for you.

Masturbation myths
Masturbation is healthy — whether you’re in a relationship or not.Thinkstock

Masturbation is a normal physical function. “It’s as natural as going to the bathroom or breathing air,” says Susan Kellogg-Spadt, PhD, the director of female sexual medicine at the Center for Pelvic Medicine in Rosemont, Pennsylvania.

And yet for some people, there’s still a stigma around masturbation that has led to misinformation and numerous masturbation myths. Read on to learn what’s fact and what’s fiction when it comes to solo sex.

Myth 1: People in Relationships Don’t Masturbate

Reality: “People masturbate whether they are in a relationship or single,” says Justine Marie Shuey, PhD, a board-certified sexologist in Philadelphia. “Some get jealous when their partners masturbate because they feel it’s cheating, or that their partner is masturbating because they aren’t good enough [in bed]. But it’s important to understand that people have different levels of sexual desire — all are totally healthy and normal, and some involve masturbation.”

Myth 2: Excessive Masturbation Can Lead to Erectile Dysfunction

Reality: “Erectile dysfunction does not result from masturbation,” Dr. Spadt says. “What can happen with either men or women is you masturbate frequently and become used to a certain touch, whether it’s vibration or your own hand.” Because of this, she says, “You may become habituated to that sensation and find it more difficult to have an orgasm with your partner.”

Myth 3: Masturbation Is Not a Normal Part of Sexual Development

Reality: study published in JAMA Pediatrics that involved more than 800 teenagers ages 14 to 17 found that 74 percent of boys, and more than 48 percent of girls, masturbate — and that’s a good thing, according to Dr. Shuey. “It’s totally healthy for people of all ages to masturbate,” she says.

Myth 4: There Are No Health Benefits of Masturbation

Reality: “Masturbation has a number of health benefits,” Shuey says. “They include better sleep, reduced stress and tension, fewer headaches, improved concentration, increased self-esteem, a more youthful appearance, and better fitness.” There are also a number of specific sexual health benefits for women — particularly older women — including less vaginal dryness and pain during sex.

Myth 5You Can Masturbate Too Much

Reality: Masturbation only becomes excessive if it serves as an escape from problems in your relationship, if it begins to affect your health, or if it turns into a substitute for real-life experiences. Additionally, if masturbation causes physical soreness, emotional issues (you can’t think about anything else), problems with your relationship, or habituation issues (when only the type of stimulation you engage in during masturbation will lead to an orgasm), it may be a signal to cut back, Spadt says. But very few people ever get to this point, she notes.

Myth 6: People Only Masturbate When They’re Alone

Reality: “Some people masturbate together, and they incorporate masturbation into their sexual repertoires,” says Spadt. Some couples enjoy watching each other masturbate, and some like to masturbate themselves to orgasm after other forms of sexual contact. Mutual masturbation is also a great way to have safe sex and prevent unwanted pregnancy.

Myth 7: Masturbation Will Make You Go Blind

Reality: “Many myths about masturbation, such as this one, come from back when people believed sex was only meant for procreation,” says Shuey. Because masturbation isn’t for procreation, it was considered problematic. “People also believed masturbation could lead to insanity, tuberculosis, hairy palms, and death,” she says. “Obviously, none of these things are true.”



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