Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Different Kind of Safe Sex

Valentine’s Day is approaching, so I thought I’d take the time to provide some serious information of ways you can practice safe sex both with the one you love or flying solo.

Click through for information on safe choices in sex toys.

Have you ever noticed that sex toys are marketed as a ‘novelty’ item? Unfortunately, in this case, the words ‘for novelty use only’ on your packaging doesn’t actually mean ‘for a good time’.

Several states, such as Texas and Alabama, have had laws on the books at various times prohibiting shops from selling items that are being marketed for the explicit purpose of stimulating our genitals. Texas has recently lifted the ban, but Alabama recently upheld it. Thanks a lot, Alabama.

And since our toys are not beings sold for that intended use, they have gone unregulated by the FDA. This lack of regulation means that some sex toys are made from chemicals and materials you wouldn’t actually want within 5 feet of your vagina. This is especially a concern because vaginal tissue is much more absorptive than the rest of your skin, allowing chemicals to cross into your body much more easily.

The main chemical threat in sex toys are phthalates, a group of chemicals that are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Many EDCs are able to bind hormone receptors in our bodies and mimic natural hormones, but they can also modify endocrine signaling through a receptor-independent mechanism. As a result, EDCs interfere with reproduction, development and a variety of other processes that are regulated by hormones.

Why are phthalates in our sex toys? Bottom line: It’s the cheapest way to make them soft. However, these phthalates are not chemically bound to the plastic, and therefore, leach out of your sex toy during use enabling them to be absorbed by your body.

Mounting research has shown that exposure to phthalates in the womb can be linked to developmental problems in our children, but also can cause cancer in us. The EPA has classified one phthalate, DEHP, as a probable carcinogen.

The U.S. has already passed a ban of these chemicals in children’s toys and products, why not adult toys?

The government probably will not make the regulation of our sex toys a priority in the near future. However, you can protect yourself by making smart choices and buying products from companies invested in our health.

Materials that contain phthalates include materials made with PVC such as jelly rubber and cyberskin. Materials that are safer include silicone, elastomer, glass, and stainless steel.

Despite the government’s lack of regulation, several companies have taken action to make safer options readily available. Some companies to check out include Babeland and Smitten Kitten.

It’s getting easier to find toys made without phthalates, but you should also take time to think about any devices you may already have. If you’re not sure what it is made of, or you think it may have been made with a phthalate containing material, it may be time to go shopping for something new. Otherwise, for your safety, it is recommended that you use a condom with a toy that contains phthalates to minimize transfer. And remember oil-based lubricants are not compatible with latex condoms since they damage their integrity, so stick to silicon- or water-based lubricants.

When purchasing a new toy, don’t forget to research which lubricants are compatible with the material. For example, it is not recommended to use a silicone-based lubricant with a silicone vibrator. Also, avoid buying lubricants listing ‘fragrance’ as an ingredient. ‘Fragrance’ is just code for ‘this product contains phthalates’. Babeland offers a variety of organic lubes that do not contain phthalates or parabens (another nasty EDC we should be avoiding in our personal care items). For more safety and compatibility information and some product suggestions go here.

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