Hi again! I’m Cal (they/ze/zem/zir pronouns) and this is a continuation of my last post, where I discussed some common types of sex toys. In this post, I’ll tell you about some safe materials for sex toys, as well as some general safety tips. I’m also going to talk about the varieties of condoms and lube to maybe help you pick which ones might be best for you.
Something very important to keep in mind when buying sex toys is that not all materials are created equal. Some are porous and hold bacteria and potentially STIs; some are unstable and will break down over time; some have chemicals in them that are not good for your body; and some are weak or poorly made in a way that may cause them to break easily. One toxic chemical group, known as phthalates, is added to some toys to make them more flexible, but it leaches out of the toys easily and can end up in your body. There are many materials to be wary of when searching for a toy, including jelly/rubber, latex, ABS plastic, PVC, TPE, TPR, and more. Transparent toys that aren’t made of glass are seldom safe, so if there is a transparent toy you have your eye on, check the materials list before purchasing. Even though toys made from these materials are usually cheaper, you get what you pay for, and safety is the most important thing. A common red flag for unsafe sex toys is if they start to smell or leave residue on your hands. However, many of these toys can still be played with if used with a condom over it. This is still less ideal than a toy made from safe materials, but condoms are a relatively reliable way to keep yourself safe when using toys that may be porous or have phthalates. Another material is glass: although glass toys usually won’t hold bacteria or odor, they’re more likely to break — even a tiny chip or crack in a glass toy could weaken it or cut you, which could lead to serious injury or infection.
Despite all of this, the best materials for sex toys are medical-grade silicone and stainless steel, both of which are non-porous, pretty easy to clean, and don’t break down. Some other reliable ones are properly-treated wood and ceramic. Despite these being pricier, it’s well worth it when they last a long time and are much safer for your body!
Another thing to remember is that the kind of lube you use matters! Lubricant can help make penetration easier and more comfortable for everyone involved and is vital for anal play (the anus doesn’t produce natural lubricant like the vagina, so anal penetration without lube could cause discomfort and even lead to physical damage). Some lubes are even specifically designed with anal sex in mind. When using toys, make sure you have the right lubricant for the job, since not all lubes are compatible with all types of toys.
There are different bases for lube: oil-based, water-based, and silicone-based, and some are made from a combination of those.
- Water-based lube is the most versatile, and can be used for absolutely anything and with any toys. It’s not as thick as oil- and silicone-based lube, so some people don’t prefer it, especially for anal play — but it works with all types of condoms, washes off of fabric and skin easily, and doesn’t stain.
- Silicone-based lube is thicker than water-based lube, lasts longer during use, doesn’t dry as easily, feels smooth, and is generally hypoallergenic. You can use it with any kinds of condoms, but not silicone sex toys, since the silicone in the lube would break down the toys and make them less safe to use.
- Oil-based lube is the longest-lasting, but it can stain, potentially lead to greater risk of yeast infections, and can’t be used with latex condoms (since it increases the risk of the condom breaking).
Make sure you pick the right kind for you! Keep in mind any allergies you have, and be sure to find a lube that doesn’t have any of those on the ingredients list. Ideal lube has no glycerin and parabens, and (if you have a vagina) will not disrupt the vaginal pH balance. (Healthy vaginas are about a 3.8 to 4.5 on the pH scale, which means they are fairly acidic.) And beware of lubes with odd features! Some are flavored, which is not a great idea for penetrative sex, since it can cause bacterial growth or an infection. Avoid numbing lube especially, because it’s important during sex to be able to feel discomfort so you know if your body is telling you to slow down or stop.
Condoms are a great way to practice protecting yourself and others! I’ll be talking about external condoms (ones that go over the penis; as opposed to internal condoms, which go inside the vagina) here, since those are the kinds people are most likely to use with sex toys. There is a type of condom for everyone, and they’re the only barrier method that can help protect against pregnancy and STIs. Condoms come in different thicknesses and textures, and whichever ones you prefer is just down to personal preference! If you decide to use condoms with silicone sex toys, make sure you get non-lubricated condoms — many lubricated condoms use some type of silicone lube, which can damage silicone sex toys if they’re used together. If you use non-lubricated condoms with your silicone toys, it will keep the toys safer, and you get to use whatever kind of lube you want! Non-lubricated condoms are also great if you are allergic to some lube ingredients or want to have oral sex without tasting lube (there are also flavored condoms, which can be great for oral sex but not so much for other activities like penetration). The best materials for condoms are latex, polyisoprene, lambskin, and polyurethane, and their pros/cons are listed here:
- Latex is the most common material for condoms. They are relatively inexpensive, easy to find, and reliable when used correctly, but cannot be used with oil-based lube. Some people also have latex allergies, so they would have to use a different type of condom.
- Polyisoprene condoms are a great alternative if you have a latex allergy, but may be thicker than other condom materials. Just like latex, they cannot be used with oil-based lube.
- Lambskin condoms are all-natural, can be used with all types of lube, and may transmit more body heat or sensation than other kinds of condoms. That being said, they’re made from the thin parts of lamb intestines and thus are not vegan-friendly. They’re also more expensive and harder to find. Lambskin condoms are also very slightly porous, so they are not the best prevention against STIs — but they do still help protect against unwanted pregnancy.
- Polyurethane condoms are versatile because they can be used with any lubricant. They’re thinner than latex condoms, but less flexible, so they may be loose and slip more easily. But, like lambskin, they transmit heat better than other condoms.
- No matter what toys you have, make sure to wash them thoroughly with soap and water (and dry them!) not just after using them, but before as well, since they may have gotten dusty since you last used them. You can also buy special cleaners for your toys, which helps them stay sanitary and bacteria-free. It’s best to store toys in a dry place away from direct sunlight.
- Similarly, be sure that you wash your hands before and after masturbation/sex!
- It’s also ideal to try to urinate after you masturbate or have sex, since sexual activity makes it easier for bacteria and particles to get in and around the urethra. By urinating afterwards, you clear the area out and make it less likely for you to get a UTI (urinary tract infection). UTIs start out mild but can eventually get very serious, so if you think you have one, seek treatment right away. Symptoms include feeling like you need to pee (and feeling like you need to continue peeing even after having already passed urine), pain while peeing, and having dark/discolored or bloody urine. UTIs are more common for people who have vulvas, but can happen to anyone. Often, a provider will prescribe you an antibiotic to treat the UTI, which is an easy way to make it go away.
- Make sure you’re listening to your body! If an insertable toy feels too big, or if a vibrator feels too strong, it may be best to stop using it. If you’re uncomfortable, maybe use more lube or pick a different toy.
- If you or a partner of yours has a vagina, make sure to not ever move toys or a penis back and forth between the vagina and the anus. If you go from vagina-to-anus, that’s all right, but never go the other way around — you could risk getting unwanted bacteria in the vagina, which could cause all sorts of issues later on. If you plan to switch between the two orifices, make sure to wash the toy or penis thoroughly and switch out the condom you’re using.
I hope that you were able to learn something about safer sexual activity, and if you think you know someone who may benefit from reading this blog, go ahead, and share it with them! You may just help someone answer a burning question that’s been on their mind. Have fun and stay safe!
Tags: sex toys, safety, condoms, lube
Sources consulted: (for both of these posts)