Once you delve into the world of sex toys and discover that there's more to choose from than a rabbit vibrator or a slimline classic, it can seem a rather bewildering place. Not only are there many different shapes and styles designed to stimulate various parts of the anatomy, sex toys are made from many different materials, too. In this guide to sex toy materials you'll discover the main differences between the most common types, as well as the benefits and any disadvantages to each one.
At this point you may be thinking that surely it doesn't matter what material a sex toy is made from - they're all safe, right? The sex toy industry is unregulated, so it's vital that you educate yourself about sex toys and the materials used in their production. Many sex toys, particularly budget styles, are sold 'as novelty only', with small print disclaimers guarding the manufacturers against any claims should the user suffer discomfort or worse after using the toy intimately.
Although many people won't suffer ill effects using the vast majority of sex toys, I'm sure you'll agree it's worth being 'in the know' about specific materials. Once properly informed, you'll be in the best place to make the right sex toy material choice for your body, with safe sexual pleasure top priority.
Porous or Non-Porous?
No guide to sex toy materials would be complete without discussing material porosity. Whether a sex toy material is porous or non-porous should strongly affect what you decide to put into your sex toy shopping basket – and your body. What does 'porous' mean, in relation to sex toy materials?
We have pores in our skin that allow it to breathe, release impurities and perspire. Similarly, some materials are porous, ie. the material has small pores throughout as part of its nature. Using sex toys is an intimate business, with sexual lubricants and bodily fluids coating the toy during each use. Because these fluids -along with bacteria- can enter the porous material of some sex toys, you can't ever make them 100% hygienically clean after use. No, not even if you think you've scrubbed them thoroughly.
Over time, bacterial growth can occur and build up in porous material sex toys, which can then lead to an increased risk of irritation and infection after use. This is particularly the case with sex toys that are inserted into the body.
It's therefore highly important to know whether your chosen sex toy is porous or non-porous. Happily, there are several sex toy materials which are non-porous, meaning you can keep them, and yourself, squeaky clean and irritation-free at all times.
What About Phthalates?
Phthalates are a group of chemicals often used to make products more flexible, particularly those made with plastics which would otherwise be too rigid for use or which would crack under pressure.
Unfortunately, phthalates are toxins. Sex toys containing phthalates are usually some of the most flexible toys available, but they're not only toxic because of the inclusion of phthalates, they're usually porous to boot.
People can have negative reactions after using sex toys containing phthalates, including severe irritation and burning sensations. It's therefore always a good idea to opt for phthalate-free sex toys instead.
The Sex Toy Materials
Non-Porous Sex Toy Materials
Silicone is the material of choice for sex toy connoisseurs who enjoy flexible toy materials. It's non-porous and non-toxic, making it ideal for both external and internal use pleasure devices. Depending on the exact silicone formulation, it can feel anywhere from simply smooth up to lusciously, velvety soft. This material is very flexible, although the flexibility of the sex toy as a whole will depend on the construction and placement of any mechanics underneath the silicone.
Warming quickly to your body temperature, silicone also responds beautifully to personal lubricant to avoid discomfort and chafing. A common past misconception is that you can only use water-based lubricant with silicone sex toys, and never silicone; this is not the case. As long as you're sure that your sex toy is pure silicone, you can use silicone lubricant without any negative effects. If you're not sure whether the toy is pure silicone, it's advisable to do a patch test on a small area of the toy beforehand.
Some sex toys are made from plastic, usually ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) plastic which is resilient and hard. Well-made plastic sex toys will be smooth and comfortable to use, but watch out for low-budget styles which may have residual manufacturing seams.
Plastic is a non-porous, non-toxic material and you can use your choice of personal lubricant with it. Although plastic starts off feeling cool, it will warm slightly during use thanks to friction and body heat.
Metal is a completely inflexible material which feels cold upon first touch. You might decide you like to use it when it's cool at room temperature, or chill it even further in cold water before use for additional goosebumps during playtime. Or, if cold insertables aren't your thing, you can warm up metal sex toys before use in a bowl of warm (never hot or boiling) water.
You can use whatever type of lubricant you like with metal sex toys, they're non-porous and non-toxic too. Just be careful that a metal sex toy doesn't slip out of your grasp and fall on your toe; they can be rather weighty!
Metals used in top-quality metal sex toys include stainless steel, aluminium and precious metals such as titanium, silver and gold. Lower quality metal sex toys may be made from a mixture of metals and could contain tin, nickel or other properties. Some people are sensitive to nickel and alloys, so be sure to find out exactly what your metal sex toy is made of before you buy and use it.
Glass is also inflexible, non-porous and non-toxic, and many glass sex toys are works of art. There are plenty of options when it comes to style of glass sex toy too; although many are dildos (non-vibrating insertables), it is possible to find glass covered vibrators. Some glass sex toys are smooth and sculpted into a pleasurable shape, others feature ridges, ripples and bumps for additional stimulation when used internally.
You might imagine that glass sex toys are fragile and would break easily, but this simply isn't the case. Think of glass cookware. Glass sex toys are made with the same type of material: borosilicate glass. Not only does this material withstand high temperatures, it's also extremely resilient and difficult to break.
You can use your choice of sex lube with glass because it's non-porous, and it's non-toxic too. Although glass feels cool at room temperature, you can cool it further or warm it up some more just like metal sex toys for some thrilling temperature play adventures.
You might think stone would be too rough to use as a sex toy material, but stone sex toys do exist and they're polished to a smooth, seamless shine. Stone sex toys are made from beautiful stone which has natural glistening elements, and they're chiselled and sculpted into a pleasure-giving, desirable piece of erotic art.
Stone sex toys are non-porous, non-toxic and, obviously, completely rigid and inflexible. They're cool to the touch and can be warmed or cooled in water as described above – and you can use whichever lube you like best.
Ceramic sex toys are simply beautiful. They are sculpted from clay and glazed to be body safe, non-toxic and non-porous. Ceramic is clay which is hardened by heat, making the result a sex toy which is extremely durable. Ceramic sex toys are often hollow, and some can be filled with cold or warm water to provide temperature play opportunities.
Presented in a variety of styles, smooth or ridged, straight or curves, ceramic sex toys offer internal pleasure from a carefully sculpted toy in an unusual material. Just be careful you don't drop your ceramic sex toy on to a hard surface, it's liable to crack or even shatter completely.
You can use your choice of personal lubricant with ceramic sex toys, the safely glazed surface ensures that it's non-porous and no lube will penetrate the toy's material.
No, you won't get splinters from using wooden sex toys! Reputable wooden sex toy manufacturers carve sensual shapes from wood which are sanded then safely varnished to provide a supremely smooth finish. They can be made from many types of wood for a variety of gorgeous finishes where you can see the natural grain. Unlike glass or metal sex toys, wooden sex toys are often lighter in weight and therefore extremely comfortable to use.
Are wooden sex toys porous? It's a difficult question to answer, because it depends on the particular finish the wooden sex toy manufacturer uses. Avoid wooden sex toys left with a 'natural finish' or simply coated in oil, because this will either be porous or wear away after a few uses. Top quality wooden sex toys are coated with a medical grade polymer which is used for medical equipment. It's anti-bacterial, resists moisture and is hypoallergenic.
Make sure you know exactly how your wooden sex toy is finished, and what it's coated with, before investing.
Porous Sex Toy Materials
PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride which is a type of plastic. Plasticizers are added to make this material extremely flexible. You may have seen PVC clothing, so it's clear that PVC is used in the manufacture of a variety of products.
Unfortunately, PVC renders sex toys both porous and toxic. The chloride element of PVC means it contains chlorine, which is used to kill bacteria. Using internal-use sex toys made of PVC can lead to negative effects in some people ranging from mild discomfort all the way up to burning sensations and other allergic reactions.
You can use water-based and silicone lubes with PVC sex toys, but not oil-based as it can degrade the material.
Rubber & Latex
Rubber and latex (which is a type of rubber) sex toys are porous too and can contain phthalates. In addition, some people have a latex allergy – something you certainly don't want to discover right in the middle of your sexual pleasure time.
You might find rubber sex toys labelled as made from 'UR3' which is a manufacturer-created label meaning rubber.
As with PVC sex toys, you are able to use water and silicone-based sex lubes with rubber and latex products, but not oil-based lubes.
TPR and TPE are plasticised rubbers which are used to create extremely flexible sex toys. They are often listed as 'realistic' or 'real feel'. The acronyms stand for thermoplastic rubber and thermoplastic elastomer. These materials are certainly best avoided, because they're porous, usually contain phthalates in order to make them so soft rendering them toxic, and the material degrades quickly – eventually leaving you with a bacteria-ridden, harmful to use sex toy.
TPR and TPE is usually what's behind many manufacturer-created material labels, the exact formulation stated to be a closely guarded or trade secret. These include Pipedream's FantaFlesh, Doc Johnson's Sil-A-Skin, TENGA's Cyberskin, Fleshlight's Superskin and various other labels with 'skin' in the name such as FauxSkin, RealSkin, TruSkin and the like.
Jelly, in terms of the sex toy material, is a blend of PVC and rubber which results in an extremely soft feeling, flexible toy. Jelly sex toys are often on the cheaper end of the price scale and there's a good reason for this. They're not only porous but the inclusion of PVC in the formulation means that jelly sex toys are toxic, too.
Although jelly sex toys can seem appealing because of their low price tag and extremely soft, flexible nature, they're best avoided because of the potential irritation and health hazards they pose. Like PVC, TPE and TPR materials, oil-based lubes can break down the jelly material, so only water-based or silicone lubes should be used.
Jelly sex toys – and other products containing toxins such as those made from PVC and rubber – often have a distinct and strong smell. This potent 'new car' smell is a sign that there are potentially harmful chemicals in the material of the sex toy, particularly phthalates.
The material your sex toy is made from matters a great deal. It's imperative that you're fully aware of what your sex toy is made with before you part with your hard-earned cash, and definitely before using it intimately.
By only buying and using body-safe sex toys, made of non-porous, non-toxic materials, you can look forward to many years of pleasurable masturbation and shared sexual enjoyment. In addition, we can hope that increasing the demand for sex toys made of body-safe materials will eventually lead to a decline in the production of porous, toxic and potentially hazardous intimate-use products. Let's keep sex and masturbation 100% safe and pleasurable!