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.
Metis Black has a long list of credentials when it comes to safety in the adult industry- the founder of Tantus, a company thats vision is centered on body safety and quality back in 1997 when many of these issues were just barely starting to surface in industry conversations, “…with the goal of creating the safest soft toys and mainstreaming the sales of them through traditional sex toy channels.”- Metis was one of the first to talk about phthalates openly, both on product packaging and with educators, journalists, and adult store workers alike. Metis first spoke out from inside the industry in ANB, Adult Novelty Business (Published by AVN), the sex toy industry-s first dedicated magazine- debuting in January 2005, Vol 1, Number 1’s feature article was “We Like Our Porn Dirty and Our Sex Toys Clean,” written by Metis. This tradition has continued, with Metis most recently teaching a panel on Toxic Toys at Catalyst Con West this past September.
Sexational!: You’ve talked extensively about toxic toys and specifically about the dangers of certain materials. Phthalates are a commonly referenced issue; can you talk about these and other, less known ingredients that are dangerous?
Metis Black: I don’t believe many studies have been done. The one I know of and reference is the Danish EPA study of 2006 http://tantusinc.com/SEX-ED/DANISH-MinistryEnvironment-Study . The Danish EPA randomly chose 16 sex toys of which 4 had phthalates, one had timethytin chloride which they warned could cause irreversible neurotoxic effects (brain damage) to progeny so shouldn’t be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women, 5 had Phenol which can cause harmful effects on the central nervous system, 3 had carbon disulphide also effecting the nervous system, 14 of the 16 had toluene, and 1 had cadmium. I mention these particular chemicals because they are all on the California Governors 2013 list of chemicals that are cancerous or cause reproductive harm. If the levels meet lifetime toxic levels (if exposure during a lifetime might cause cancer or reproductive harm) then within California they need consumer labeling of such.
S: How has the industry changed since you first became involved?
MB: Silicone went from being extravagant, expensive and elite to the standard of better toys. And consumers now know to ask about it.
Politically the EU has done a lot with REACH http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Registration,_Evaluation,_Authorisation_and_Restriction_of_Chemicals
With REACH, if you import into the EU over a ton of products a year, which is very little, you will need to have each product analyzed by a third party. I believe this is being done by the larger companies. And this helps us to changes some of what we see domestically. Yes. It’s safer to buy a product with EU certification.
S: What about regulation? Why hasn’t it happened? Is there anything going on right now that we should be aware of?
MB: For a politician to take aim at the Adult Sex Toy Industry, it’s a career killer. For a class action suit to happen, doctors and the medical profession are going to have to recognize and substantiate that the rash, irritation, burn, inflammation, etc. are direct results from your use of a vibrator, dildo, butt plug etc and nothing else. So far they haven’t been educated on this, they don’t recognize it when it happens unless a patient mentions that that might be the cause.
S: What recommendations do you have for people who want to avoid toxic toys personally, and what can we do as individuals?
MB: 5 weeks ago I did a seminar talking about Toxic Toys and Prop 65 at Catalyst Con in the Los Angeles area. The background is really interesting because the only way to really move legislation is through politics (and we are a hot potato/ career ender) or a class action suit. With a class action suit, Doctors and the medical community need to be able to recognize that the irritations you have experienced came from your sex toy. So far that hasn’t happened.
So there are two Civil Rights Lawyers, who about 6 weeks ago, sent into the California Attorney General the first notification of a sex toy that had a chemical that was 8 times the level considered safe, according to the Governors 2013 List http://oehha.ca.gov/prop65/CRNR_notices/list_changes/052413list.html
The manufacturing company has 60 days to decide to pull it from the shelves or to print a warning level stating that it contains chemicals found to cause cancer or reproductive harm. If they don’t either label it or have a recall- the fine is $2500 per day and I believe that’s from the day the CA Attorney General sent the company the notification that they were in violation of Prop 65.
At the time of my seminar, the lawyers were not able to talk about the case, but they were in the room. I don’t know what has been resolved.
The lawyers only tested 12 products. They also found that three toys that claimed on packaging were phthalate free, actually had phthalates. I’m hoping a case of false advertising can be pursued.
From what I’ve seen, consumers and store buyers are really at a loss. They have to believe manufacturers sales people who really don’t necessarily know what the toy is made of. It’s a shame.