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Toxins in Sex Toys

Phthalates (pronounced thal-ates) are plasticizers used to soften PVC vinyls. If vinyls do not have any softeners, they are basically very hard PVC plastic. They are used in cosmetics, fragrances (perfume) air fresheners, scented candles, ink and many other products... including sex toys.

ScienceDaily reported on 4-12-12 that researchers at Uppsala University (in a study published in the journal Diabetes Care) have found that there is a connection between phthalates found in cosmetics and plastics and the risk of developing Type-2 Diabetes. Even a modest increase in phthalate exposure will increase the chance of developing diabetes by double.

Lisa Lawless
By Lisa S. Lawless, Ph.D.
Psychotherapist & Sexuality Expert

CEO & Founder of
Holistic Wisdom, Inc. & NAASAS

Copyright: Holistic Wisdom- Do NOT Copy Warning

Copyright © Holistic Wisdom, Inc.

Types of Phthalates
  • Mono-methyl phthalate (MMP)
  • Mono-ethyl phthalate (MEP)
  • Mono-isobutyl phthalate (MiBP)
  • Dimethylphthalate (DMP)
  • Diethyl phthalate (DEP)
  • Di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP)

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In 2006, the National Toxicology Program reviewed the science and concluded that:

"There is serious concern that certain intensive medical treatments of male infants may result in DEHP exposures levels that affect development of the male reproductive tract." "There is concern for adverse effects on development of the reproductive tract in male offspring of pregnant and breastfeeding women undergoing certain medical procedures that may result in exposure to high levels of DEHP."

Phthalate molecules are not chemically bound to the plastics they soften, and as such, phthalates can "break free" from plastic fairly easily, causing rubber and jelly toys to deteriorate over time. Some studies have reported that phthalates may mimic the female hormone estrogen.

Most recently, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency released a report on the safety of phthalates in sex toys. According to the report, titled Survey and Health Assessment of Chemical Substances in Sex Toys, using sex toys with phthalates for one hour a day or less poses no health risks unless you are pregnant or nursing.

At the same time, there is a move on the part of health care leaders in the U.S. and Europe to prefer products that don't contain phthalates in the interest of both patient and practitioner safety.

But the main reason sex toy manufacturers likely use phthalates is that it is inexpensive, and it is the way they’ve always done it. Unfortunately, the industry is rarely proactive about the health of their customers and instead responds only when there is strong pressure to do so.

The Controversy-

There is still a great deal of debate here. Some studies show clear harm with cause for respiratory irritation, headaches, nausea and damage to the liver, kidney and the central nervous system. Some are also suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. However, other studies are inconclusive.

Says Sex Toys Contain Dangerous Chemicals

Greenpeace has called on the European Union to ban the use of chemical plastic softeners in sex toys because they contained dangerous substances known as phthalates.

Many of adult sex toys contain the same toxic substances that the European Union banned from use in children's toys. Greenpeace tested some of the toys and found that seven of the eight sex toys it had tested contained between 24 and 51 percent of phthalates.

Phthalates can disrupt the human hormonal system, diminishes fertility and adversely affects the kidneys and liver. The substance is used to soften plastics and PVC plastic. Banning phthalates would just mean that manufacturers would need to make nontoxic alternatives which is pretty easy to do. They just cost a little more.

One of the most common toxic additives is DEHP, a phthalate that is a suspected carcinogen and reproductive toxicant readily found in numerous PVC products.

In 1999, the federal government measured dioxins in blood samples taken from 28 residents who lived near PVC facilities in Louisiana. The testing revealed the average resident has three times more dioxin in his/her blood than the average US citizen. Workers at PVC plants may face lifelong health risks from exposure to cancer-causing vinyl chloride and other hazardous chemicals used to make PVC. These health risks include angiosarcoma of the liver, lung cancer, brain cancer, lymphomas, leukemia, and liver cirrhosis. When heated in a fire, PVC releases toxic hydrogen chloride gas, forming deadly hydrochloric acid when inhaled.

Toxic Chemicals & Long Term Exposure

There are so many toxic chemicals in everyday products. The EU's Negative List includes approximately 400 different banned chemicals. In the United States, most of these chemicals remain legal. It is commonly known that many children's toys contain phthalates but as of now, this chemical is still not been banned in the US American manufacturers aren't required to disclose ingredients in personal care products, household cleaners, cosmetics, toys or many other products. So the best you can do is buy products that claim to use minimal amounts of chemicals, and that the ingredients they are using are safe.

At what level do these chemicals cause harm? We are talking about very, very small amounts of these chemicals. You won't apply a cosmetic or pick up a child's toy or shampoo your hair and immediately become ill. The issue is the effect of these chemicals on human health once they've accumulated in the body for five, 10 or 20 years. There is also the concern of multiple sources of accumulated chemicals in the body and possible interactions between the different chemicals.

While the data is all there, the debate continues over what exactly is a dangerous amount, and EU officials have very different opinions than officials in America. Many American consumers are proactive. They are buying organic food, purchasing cosmetics made of natural ingredients and toxin free household cleaners. However, in the United States, manufacturers aren't required to disclose ingredients in any of the products you purchase. So the best you can do is buy products from companies that claim to use minimal amounts of chemicals, and that the ingredients they are using are safe. There are less toxic alternatives; manufacturers just need to be prompted to look for them and implement the changes. It is starting to happen in the EU but has yet to happen in the US.

The difference in the US approach is that over the past 20 years, there have been major deregulatory efforts by the government brought on by industry pressure. In the last 7 years or so we've actually been loosening regulations on chemical hazards

Agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission are seeing massive cutbacks in enforcement staff. To top it off, new very strict rules have been imposed on regulatory bodies requiring a level of scientific certainty-almost conclusiveness-- that's nearly impossible to obtain. With the current administration, we have ended up with a regulatory structure that's rewarding short-term economic interests of major industries in the United States over long-term health and environmental concerns.

One of the reasons the EU has taken a serious look at the result of exposure to chemicals is that the government pays for health care. If they were to have to pay for all of these long term conditions caused by long term exposure, say 10-20 years from now they realize it would be an exceptionally high cost. Therefore, it has given them a powerful incentive to start reducing these potential causes of illness. Unfortunately, we have no incentive system like this in place in the United States.

On the positive side, there is a growing environmental consciousness among American consumers in general, so it is starting to make sense financially for companies to start moving away from toxic chemicals and toward less harmful options. Some smaller innovative companies and some larger far-sighted US companies are moving in this direction to our benefit.

Danish EPA Study

A report from the Dutch Environmental Protection Agency was done on sex toys and outlines in a very clinical manner their findings on sex toys and the toxins they found in some of them.

Contaminating Recycling

PVC cannot be effectively recycled due to the many different toxic additives used to soften or stabilize PVC, which can contaminate the recycling batch. Most consumers do not know that a 3 in the recycle symbol indicates that the plastic is made of PVC, and therefore recycle those products, inadvertently rendering thousands of potentially recycled containers useless. In fact just one PVC bottle can contaminate a recycling load of 100,000 PET bottles. Recycling of PVC is negligible, with estimates ranging from 0.1% to 3% of postconsumer PVC waste being recycled.

Smell Study Debatable

A common myth in when it comes to phthalates is that you can always tell they are present because of that new shower curtain smell. The error is in saying that it is the phthalates that cause the smell when in fact, phthalates can in be in some cases near odorless. It can be impossible for consumers to know for sure if their product(s) contain them or not.

What To Do Until They Are Properly Regulated?

The good news is that safer, cost-effective, alternatives to PVC are readily available for virtually every use. From safer plastics, to bio-based materials, there is a growing market replacing hazardous PVC products. A growing list of companies have committed to phase out PVC products and switch to safer, healthier products.

Until there is regulation, consumers like you have to rely on a few helpful sites, books and videos that educate you on these issues so that you can make good choices and protect yourself from harm. That is why we provide not only education, but toys that are well researched and considered nontoxic.

The National Association for the Advancement of Science & Art in Sexuality - NAASAS

We have founded a professional education association that helps raise the bar for everyone that works in the field of sexuality - the National Association for the Advancement of Science & Art in Sexuality- NAASAS

Professionals and consumers can check out our global efforts to make changes within the sexual health industry through our Safe Sexual Product Campaign via The National Association for the Advancement of Science & Art in Sexuality - NAASAS.

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