In the decade since I wrote Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable (Random House/Ten Speed Press), much has changed in the landscape of eco-friendly sexuality products, and much of that change is very, very good. There is a plethora of organic, toxin-free, and body-friendly lube to choose from, condoms have come a long way, product packaging has gotten an upgrade, and consumers know a lot more about how to avoid dangerous chemicals when in pursuit of pleasure. Customers are willing to do a bit of due diligence to make their sexual enhancement purchases feel good in more ways than one.
But when it comes to finding authentically sustainable sex toys or pleasure products, the struggle is still real. The ideal sustainable sex toys that tick every health and environmental box don’t yet seem to exist. Some conscious companies aim to reduce their carbon footprint with manufacturing processes, others are sticklers about packaging, and others focus on making sex toys that will last for a long time. And still others care mostly about making a profit, so they’ll only produce a safer/healthier pleasure product when they’re forced to by regulation.
This is important. The reason we don’t have a singular standard for sex toys in the US in terms of health or the environment is because our government doesn’t truly regulate sex toys—they’re considered novelty products. The only way to get FDA-clearance for a vibrator or other sex toy is to label it a medical device, and then seek FDA-approval, a long, arduous, complicated process. Most sex toy manufacturers, especially the smaller companies new to the pleasure product industry, don’t have the time or resources to bring their innovations to the public this way.
Because of this, the FDA can’t force sex toy manufacturers to disclose the materials their products are made of or how they’re made. If we want to avoid putting toxic sex toys anywhere near our nether regions, we must rely on the transparency of the companies that make them.
The good news? Even though it doesn’t look like the FDA is going to take up the regulation of sex toys soon (they’ve got a lot on their plate right now), a body called the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is working on sex toy design and safety standards, so there will eventually be an easier way for you steer your clients to products that are truly safe and healthy, without too much unsexy homework.
Creating Your Own List of Standards for Sustainable Sex Toys
For those of us who are conscious of the way we treat the planet, concerned about climate change, and care about what we put in or on our bodies, choosing sex toys that don’t cause harm is a big deal. If your health and the health of your clients is high on your priority list, it’s important to learn how and where to find sex toys that are truly body-safe and don’t harm the environment. Since you won’t find one product that does it all, this is a matter of figuring out what your personal health/sustainability priorities are.
Figuring this out is complicated and because products are often shrouded in marketing language, it’s wise to review the ethics of the company overall—not just the pleasure product you’re interested in. First, what we can do is measure the relative sustainability of a sex toy on the market by looking at the practices of the manufacturer. Next, regardless of whether that sex toy will be inside the vagina or anus, or used externally, it’s important to know what’s in it. Anything that comes in close contact with the mucus membranes can be more easily absorbed into the bloodstream, so there’s more at stake when you choose sex toys than just pleasure.
Very broadly, what’s good for our bodies is good for the earth, and vice versa, at least in terms of chemical additives in products. The chemical industry has a powerful lobby, and under the Trump administration, they managed to get their industry somewhat deregulated, reducing transparency and increasing pollution via chemical dumping. When it comes to plasticizers and phthalates in our products, both our bodies and the planet can suffer harm. (See more on these chemicals below.)
There’s a lot to consider when you’re on the hunt for a new sex toy—ergonomics, convenience, price point, noise level, whether it’s waterproof, the shape, size, color, and more. But I’d argue that sustainability should be high on that list, too. If you’re unsure what to focus on when creating your own standards for health/safety and environmental consciousness, here’s a list to get you started.
What are the most important health and sustainability categories for sex toys?
- Sex toys should be made of materials that are safe for the body and the planet. No plastic products (made from Big Oil, not intended to enhance your Big O), plasticizers that contain phthalates (man-made chemicals that are potentially carcinogenic). Sex toy materials that come in contact with mucus membranes should be non-porous and inert. Dame Products has an excellent breakdown of what these terms mean. This is why silicone is the new go-to for sex toys, but even silicone is a complicated material (more on that below).
- Sex toys should ideally last a long, long time—we don’t want our non-biodegradable sex toys to end up cluttering a landfill. Sex toy recycling is hard to find, and when you do find it, it tends not to function the right way. Look at what the manufacturer has to say about the life-cycle of the pleasure product you’re thinking of buying. I’m always willing to spend more on a pleasure product if I know it’s built to last.
- Sex toys should be rechargeable, ideally using a USB cord and not a cord designed just for the toy, which aside from getting tangled up with 25 other cords that you no longer know the origin of, will end up being thrown out and taking up space in a landfill as well. Battery-operated sex toys are rarer these days, but they do exist and should be avoided if possible. Even small, travel-friendly vibes exist that charge via USB.
- Sex toys should ideally be manufactured in a closed-loop factory (where the materials are upcycled) in a country that offers transparency on their manufacturing standards. Many toys are made in China, and this can be very problematic. If you write to the company and they can’t tell you anything about the factory in which their pleasure products are produced, you may want to move on to a more transparent sex toy brand.
- How far have your sex toys traveled to get to you? Consider where your sex toy was manufactured, where the company warehouses their products, and how far it has to ship to get to you. If you can find a company that produces pleasure products nearer to you, that’s a preferable option.
More on Materials in Sustainable Sex Toys: It’s Inside of You, So What’s Inside of It?
Most vibrating sex toys (the kind that many use for clitoral stimulation) are made from silicone these days. This is a step above the old plastic products of yore, ones made with BPA, phthalates, and lord knows what else. These sex toys still exist, but you can avoid them more easily because there are so many silicone toys on the market. But all silicone is not the same, and this can complicate your search for a body-safe sex toy.
Some companies will use terms like “premium silicone” or “body-safe silicone”—and these terms are relatively meaningless. “Medical-grade silicone” would more accurately describe the material you’d want a sex toy to be made of, but once again, because sex toys are an unregulated industry, you’re relying on the transparency of the manufacturer.
As a sex coach, you might want to develop a list of trusted sex toy companies and consider emailing or writing to them to find out what their standards are for the materials in their sex toys. Ideally, these companies will be willing to identify the factory that their pleasure products are made in, and you’ll be able to check their transparency standards. A company that has a boldly outlined statement on their website about materials, production, and factory standards is more trustworthy from the get-go. If you have to go digging, you’re more likely going to find something that’s been intentionally hidden.
Glass, wood, crystal, and stainless-steel toys are a wonderful more traditionally eco-friendly option when you don’t require vibration and don’t want to do the extra due diligence around manufacturing processes. However, even these more “natural” materials can be coated in chemicals, so you’ll have to do some extra checking here as well.
The great thing about glass and wood is that they’re easily recyclable. When shopping for wooden dildos, aim for manufacturers that use non-endangered hardwoods and are coated in a non-chemical seal, preferably a vegan one. Glass is wonderful because not only is it recyclable, you can find dildos made from recyclable materials! Make sure you buy from a company that produces non-breakable glass.
Be Wary of Greenwashing
When I first began researching this topic in earnest more than a decade ago, sex toys marketed as eco-friendly were few and far between. And sadly, a few of the companies that claimed to produce sustainable sexuality products were merely greenwashing—using marketing terminology and graphics that conveyed an eco-friendly ethos, but not living up to it. An example of this came from a well-known lube company that shall not be named—they packaged their lube in a green plastic bottle, stamped “Eco-friendly!” on the side, and didn’t bother to change the formulation, which included parabens and petroleum, a major negative for both the body and the planet.
Broad categories like “sustainable,” “green,” or “eco-friendly” mean different things to different people and can be easily misappropriated by companies that don’t have the best interests of their customers at heart and are more interested in Google keyword searches.
In the sex toy industry, there is a fair amount of misleading greenwashing, because anyone can label their product this way even if it doesn’t meet the standards set by sustainability experts. This is the no-regulation conundrum in the USA. Some European sex toy manufacturers are more rigorously regulated, so if you live in the US, you might consider looking abroad for options. However, this can lengthen the journey your sex toys will take getting to you, thereby increasing your carbon footprint.
Finding the ideal sustainable sex toys does take some advance work, but as a sex coach, you can take the task into your own hands, and then guide your clients. As you now understand, the homework itself is not very sexy! But it’s well worth it to make sex totally worry-free for your clients. They’ll appreciate that you went the extra mile to keep them healthy and safe—and protect the planet they want to experience pleasure on.
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