This post was originally featured on a previous iteration of this site on November 14th, 2013. It has been reposted here for posterity.
This interview is part of a series, asking industry professionals and experts about toxic sex toys, how our adult stores have changed, what we can do to support change- and most importantly, how we can avoid toxic toys ourselves. Some of the quotes from this interview were featured in my post for Bitch Magazine, The Trouble With Toxic Sex Toys.
Lorax of Sex is a blogger, educator and reviewer known for honesty- they’re not afraid to jump into the fray and dole out the harsh truths. Their curiosity was first piqued back in the 90’s when writing a ‘zine in Pittsburgh; they’d bought a ball-gag which “tasted awful and numbed [their] tongue and lips. [They] couldn’t believe it was normal, or that it was good if it was ‘normal’.” This story is one that many people who work in sex shops or write about sex ed and sex toys hear all too often, but few are spurred into action in the same way Lorax was. “I’ve always had a bit of a social-justice slant and am the bookish type who loves a good research project,” says Lorax of them self, “I was the kid who sat in the library stacks until closing time, reading all the things.”
Sexational!: When did you first become aware of the issues of toxic toys?
Lorax of Sex: When I first wrote about the ball-gag, I knew something was up. My early sex-shop forays were to the NYC Babeland (Toys in Babeland back then still), so I started off with quality. I actually never went into the age-old skeevy sex-shops until much later, and the first thing that hit me was the smell. I’d heard about it from my friend Pinkness, who had experience as a camgirl and dildo-slinger. The horror stories she would tell! I was spared the first-hand experience with a toxic material until just a few years ago, when I used a buttplug owned by a lover (with a condom over it even!) and it BURNED. I don’t think I sat comfortably for days.
S!:More options for body safe and non-porous toys have come onto the market in recent years; what are some that are missing? Whose missing out on the sex positive, body safe changes that are happening in the industry currently?
LS: This is a big thing for me, and I mean that quite literally. Big things. Sex utensils for the male, Leather, and kink markets. It’s easy to find dildos ranging from 3/4″ to ~3″ diameter in safe quality materials, sometimes they’re a bit of an investment, but they’re there and there are options. Go larger though and you are out of luck. There are a few companies- SquarePeg and OxBalls in particular who market more to the gay/Leather contingent and make quality toys, but they’re still hard to find in most cities and I’ll be honest- SquarePeg toys are expensive and aren’t the visual that many folk are thinking of when they want to buy a massive dildo.
I find that these demographics- male, Leather, and kink, tend to get left out of the materials safety discussions a lot. The shops that have an educational platform and are working towards an industry change definitely have a more vulva-centric tone. Some don’t seem to carry any kink gear or have much familiarity beyond the entry-level knowledge required to appease the 50 Shades fadsters. I know that there was a conscious effort back when progressive sex shops started to come about, to move away from the seedy porno stores and toward something more sex positive and female friendly, but I wonder if the pendulum hasn’t swung a bit too far in that direction and forgotten about the male market? Not only are there relatively few designs options (comparatively) but the materials used for masturbation sleeves and “extreme” insertables are still full of toxic chemicals. Folk talk a lot about putting things IN our bodies, but let’s not forget that sticking your penis in a cup full of toxic goo is a pretty horrid idea too.
S!: What advice do you give for someone looking to avoid unsafe or toxic toys? How do we avoid these things?
LS: If at all possible, go to a store where you can touch/smell things. Yes, smell them. Safe toys won’t have smells. Demo models that have been out of their packaging are best, as sometimes the product itself is safe but the packaging has phthalates/VOCs/inks/etc. that off-gas weird smells. So sniff stuff. Feel stuff. Does it have a strange residue? Be particularly wary of oily or wet feeling residues. Powder-y residues may just be cornstarch used to reduce the tackiness and the lint-grabbiness of demo models after washing, so ask the staff whatever it is was powdered after washing. If you can’t make it to a store in-person? Go online, but look for the independent progressive boutiques with an educational focus. Look at the sites recommended by folks such as myself and Epiphora. Don’t trust the packaging. I personally only really trust my silicone to companies who deal exclusively in silicone, with nary an elastomer or TPR product to be found (though these materials aren’t toxic per-se, they are porous which means a shorter life for such sex utensils). The giant companies who made their names hawking jelly toys who are now labelling things as “phthalate free” “silicone grade” and such? I don’t trust them.
S!: What can we do as individuals to help change the industry?
LS: Speak up! Spread the word. I think the biggest thing we can do is work to end the sexual shame of our societies, so as to reduce the embarrassment factor many feel about using sex utensils. When our society no longer sees dildos and vibrators and buttplugs as “weird” or “abnormal” or “dirty” then we can start to see the honest health based discussions that need to happen, and people might be more likely to step forward and take steps toward legal action to get some regulation within the industry. When chemicals illegal in pet toys and playthings for children are permitted in items designed for internal use, “novelty use only” warnings be damned- the companies are making these for use, and they need to be held to some sort of health and safety standards.