Sex education often teaches things through an exclusively heteronormative lens, framing sexuality as a tool for reproduction and not necessarily for pleasure. Sharing toys, knowing what products are body safe, and taking care of the products you buy, are almost never the focus – but they should be. Because ultimately, these are important pieces of sexual/genital health.
Here's everything you need to know about sharing, buying, and washing your pleasure products:
BUYING SEX TOYSThe Internet has really transformed the way in which we purchase toys. There are so many different types of stores and products – which is fitting, as there are so many different ways to experience pleasure. And many stores offer discreet packaging and fast shipping, What a time to be alive.
Whether you're going to an in-person store or shopping online, choose someplace reputable. Just like you might visit Yelp before visiting a restaurant or check the Amazon reviews for a particular brand of shampoo, do your research on various pleasure brands.
Keep in mind that the sex toy industry isn't regulated the way food and drugs are, which means a lot of shops legally sell products that aren't safe for your body! In that context, it's important to research which materials are body safe and to choose a store that provides you with the product information you need to make a responsible purchase.
Furthermore, every body is unique, which means our toy preferences are varied. Don't be discouraged if your first toy isn't a winner for you. And while you may rely on suggestions from others, your body could want something completely different. When buying toys, consider what you like (or what your partner likes if you're going to be sharing), and buy a toy that is aligned with that.
You should also consider toy materials when making your purchase. Toys made from porous materials, like jelly rubber and certain varieties of elastomer (rubber), have tiny holes where bacteria and microorganisms can hide. So it is more likely for a toy like that to cause infections. We recommend buying toys made of non-porous materials like glass, stainless steel, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic, or silicone.
CLEANING SEX TOYSCleaning your sex toys is super important. This is because bacteria and microorganisms may linger on the surface of the toy (if it's non-porous) or in tiny holes beneath the surface (if it's porous), which can then be introduced or reintroduced to your body.
Every type of material has a different cleaning regime, however. Be sure to find out which material your sex toy is made of before cleaning it.
- Motorized Silicone, Glass, Stainless Steel, or Wood: antibacterial soap and a damp cloth to wipe clean.
- Non-Motorized Silicone, Pyrex, Stainless Steel, or Stone: place in boiling water for about 10 minutes, or you can put it in the dishwasher without soap.
- Hard Plastic, Elastomer, Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPR), or Jelly Rubber: because these toys are porous, bacteria can still be present after washing, so you may want to use a condom with these toys. To wash, use soap and water.
SHARING SEX TOYSIt's important to note that in addition to bacteria and microorganisms, sex toys can store sexually transmitted infections. As mentioned before, putting a condom over a porous toy is advised, especially when sharing toys. However, sexually transmitted infections can still linger on the surface of non-porous toys.
Washing toys in between partners can help reduce the problem. But one small study indicated that HPV can linger on both porous and non-porous toys even after they've been cleaned. The toys were re-tested after 24 hours and the non-porous silicone toys no longer had traces of HPV while the porous theromplastic elastomer (toys did.
What does this mean? It means that non-porous toys remain a much safer option, and that even if you're cleaning toys between partners, you may want to use a condom. It's also important to note that if someone doesn’t want to share sex toys with you, they don’t have to. There is a risk of STI transmission that many of us weren't taught.
Finally, if you're sharing toys with a partner sans condom, be aware of the fact that toys are not inherently safe because they aren't attached to human bodies. And you should be having a conversation around STI transmission, testing, and consent.