Safety first: Should government regulate sex toys?

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Sarah Impola

Safety first: know your toy's story

By Copy Chief

The world of sex toys can be big and scary to a novice—it’s easy to grab the cheapest vibrator available and think it will suffice. However, not knowing the origin and composition of the sex toys you purchase can cause harm to your body and sexual health.

The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for testing medical devices prior to their being sold in the United States, but sex toys are not under their jurisdiction. However, some sex toy experts think they should be, as many sex toys can be made of porous materials capable of retaining bacteria, or plastic containing phthalates, a chemical material linked to cancer. Good sex toys can be made of silicone, glass, metals like stainless steel and even certain treated woods.

“The FDA does not regulate sex toys because they are not considered to be medical devices,” said Deborah Kotz, a press officer for the FDA, in an emailed statement. “The FDA does, however, regulate genital devices that have a medical purpose such as vibrators intended for therapeutic use.”

While there is not a complete lack of regulation of sex toy products as the Consumer Product Safety Commission does oversee them, the CPSC does not test products before making them available for purchase, which may be necessary for sex toys.

Dr. Nicole Williams, a gynecologist who works at the Gynecology Institute of Chicago, said sex toys should be regulated for safety reasons.

“You want to make sure if you’re using something that requires power, that it won’t provide any damage to the vaginal or anal mucosa, which could be life- long damage if the device isn’t properly regulated,” Williams said.

The FDA recently began regulating lubricants, but Searah Deysach, owner of Early to Bed, a feminist sex shop specializing in inclusive and high quality sex products located at 5044 N. Clark St., is not sure whether government regulation is sufficient.

“Some of the smaller companies make products people like [but] can’t afford to go through the FDA processing. Some of the bigger companies, like K-Y can, are FDA approved, and they burn people’s genitals, so I have mixed feelings on how they would handle sex toys,” Deysach said.

Alexis Thomas, co-owner of sex toy shop Taboo Tabou, 843 W. Belmont Ave., agrees that FDA approval is not the way to ensure sex toys are safe for consumers and instead suggests they seek advice from sex shop personnel.

“If you find a good neighborhood toy shop, they’re going to be picky about the toys…. Ask [your local sex shop] what kind of materials [toys] are made of, can they be sterilized, what kind of lube is that. Make sure you’re aware of what you’re buying,” Thomas said.

One does not have to break the bank to get a good sex toy, either.

“You can find [good toys] in any price range if you’re willing to do the research…. [But] if it says it’s for novelty use only, avoid it. Those are not made for your genitals and can harm you,” Thomas said.