Fact and Fiction Interview Series: Crista Anne of Dildology

This post was originally featured on a former iteration of this site on December 29th, 2014. It has been reposted here for posterity - and because Crista is fucking awesome. 

The Fact and Fiction Interview Series is a series of interviews that were conducted for an article that will be coming out soon, talking about the safety of different sexuality pleasure and health products. Not all are created equal; some come under more rigorous testing for safety and effectiveness while others are not, and therefore more likely to have issues in material or formulation. 

This interview is with Crista Anne, foundress of Dildology- a non-profit and third party tester of sex toy materials for known irritating and harmful ingredients. 

I fantasized about being able to test these items to find out what they were actually made of. Getting answers.

Sexational!: First off, tell me a little bit about who you are- your background and why you do what you do. 

Crista: I’m Crista Anne, I consider myself a progressive pleasurist with an extensive background working within the sex toy industry, sex-positive movement and advocating for pleasure based comprehensive sexual education. Former sex worker, buyer/manager of adult boutiques, long time sex blogger and foundress ofDildology.org. I’m passionate about sexual accessories, what incredible tools they are for improving relationships and quality of life through increased pleasure and sexual well-being.

I’ve always taken the trust that my customers placed in me to help them on their sexual journey very seriously- I consider it an honor.

S!: Can you tell us a bit about the history of Dildology- how it came about, what you’ve done, and what you’re planning to do? 

C: Dildology was born from my years working behind the counter of adult shops. I started in your garden variety adult novelty shops, most of what we sold were inexpensive jelly items or hard plastic vibes that weren’t designed to last for more than a few uses. I’ve always taken the trust that my customers placed in me to help them on their sexual journey very seriously- I consider it an honor. When they would come back reporting that their toy was leaking, melting in the bedside drawer, causing them pain and irritation or worse – infections and burning – I felt extreme guilt. This was before there was any talk of phthalates, before sex toys hit the mainstream. I had no answers for them as to why this was happening. Going up the food chain to ownership, distributors and the like gave me no answers. I was confused and I was angry. Furious that these brave people who were trying to improve their lives were being harmed by objects that were supposed to bring them pleasure.

The longer I worked in these stores, the more I handled our stock, I began experiencing skin irritation on my hands and arms. Rashes. Blisters on my palms and fingers after a day battery testing new shipments. Noticing that products that were labelled as silicone or were also causing irritation, I fantasized about being able to test these items to find out what they were actually made of. Getting answers.

Dildology itself came together after I met my Partner, Val Orenda. He has the technological and scientific expertise that I lack. After years of listening to me rant about subpar sex toys, then attending one of the Catalyst Toxic Toy panels with Metis Black – he started delving into what a testing process for toys would look like. From there we came up with the ethical standards for the testing process and Dildology was born.

We’ve tested two items so far, JimmyJane’s Hello Touch and the  [Doc Johnson] James Deen Realistic. The Hello Touch was verified as silicone while the James Deen Realistic came back as PVC w/ Phthalates, which did not match the manufacturer’s claim of being phthalate free.

Dildology has been on a hiatus while we’ve dealt with health issues and securing non-profit status, but in the coming months we’ll be back to testing. We’ll be reaching out to the community to find out what they most want to see tested, while pursuing sustainable funding. (Each dildo tested costs roughly $200-500.)

The most common complaint was a sharp increase in experiencing vaginitis (bacterial or yeast infections) after using a sex toy. Itching, burning, increased discharge. There were plenty of other serious complaints, some experienced lasting numbness where the toy had been in contact. A few dozen times people reported blistering on their labia.

S!: During your time in retail, what sorts of complaints have you heard from people about irritation from sex toys? 

C: The most common complaint was a sharp increase in experiencing vaginitis (bacterial or yeast infections)  after using a sex toy. Itching, burning, increased discharge. There were plenty of other serious complaints, some experienced lasting numbness where the toy had been in contact. A few dozen times people reported blistering on their labia.

I personally experienced the sharp increase of yeast infections and urinary tract infections. When I was using jelly or mystery material items, I would experience a yeast [infection] or uti every few weeks. In the five years since I’ve avoided anything but trustworthy body safe items, I’ve had three total. (Most likely relating to pregnancy)

Blissfully yes, phthalates are becoming less prevalent and the industry as a whole has made a move towards putting out much higher quality products.

S!: My understanding is that phthalates are becoming less prevalent in jelly toys- based on the tests run by the smitten kitten on their new toxic toy jar- but are there other concerns we should have? Are there other ingredients in toys we should be concerned about, and if so- why? 

C: Blissfully yes, phthalates are becoming less prevalent and the industry as a whole has made a move towards putting out much higher quality products. Smitten Kitten and BadVibes have done amazing work, they are all sexual superheroes. What we are doing is not so much judging how body safe a dildo is, we’re putting the test results out for the public and comparing them against the claims of the manufacturers. Eventually we’d love to dive deeper into safety for a more comprehensive picture, but that is currently outside our scope.

Overall, I have not seen nearly enough accountability for potential toxicity. Changes are being made, but that change is incremental at best in my eyes. This is a massive industry trying to achieve mainstream acceptability while still hiding behind “novelty” branding.

S!: In your experience, have sex toy manufacturers been taking accountability for the potential toxicity of their products, outside of companies that product primarily non-porous toys? 

C: Overall, I have not seen nearly enough accountability for potential toxicity. Changes are being made, but that change is incremental at best in my eyes. This is a massive industry trying to achieve mainstream acceptability while still hiding behind “novelty” branding. Sex toys are still considered a taboo subject to much of the population. The rise of sex blogging and sex toy reviewing has created a more savvy consumer base, but most people still do not research their sex toy purchases. They place a great deal of trust that these products are safe to be used on some of the most sensitive areas of the body. Manufacturers need to make greater strides to live up to that trust.

S!: Do you have any closing commentary? 

C: Improving the quality of sex toys, promoting their use and working towards the goal of a more sex-positive culture is what I consider my life’s work. One bad toy can give all toys a bad name, and that infuriates me. That being said, I also abhor using scare tactics like “blankity blank item will give you cancer”. That scares away consumers, people who could possibly deeply benefit from their use. What I want to see is improved quality with a focus on the consumer’s pleasure, not more propaganda.

Since the posting of this interview, Crista has blown up on the internet with her Orgasm Quest, which is all about reclaiming her masturbatory orgasms - a tool she has used to combat chronic pain, fatigue, and anxiety - after going on medication for depression. You can learn more at her site, but look how awesome she looks as a SheVibe superhero! I'm so incredibly proud to know someone as amazing and colorful as Crista.