Dildos and Dil-don’ts
Disclaimer: Okay, we're just going to come out and say it - human beings have sex. Puritan culture has vilified that fact and made it pretty uncomfortable (and shameful!) to talk about all things sex. This is especially true for people who identify as women. Hello, slut shaming. We believe there are no ifs, ands, or butts about it: pleasure is important. However, this content may not be for everyone. Consider this your heads up that it's about to get spicy in here.
Valentine's Day is coming up fast and for some reason, the emphasis is always on couples, commitment, love, things that come in the shape of hearts, and cheesy greeting cards. But, what about self-love? This year, we're trying to practice radical self-love in all forms, whether that means getting more sleep or scrolling through social media less to make ourselves feel our best.
And, you know what can make you feel really good? Enter: sex toys. While not only for doing the deed on your own, sex toys are a great way to show yourself a little extra love this Valentine's Day. As always, we're keeping people and the planet in mind, so that you can rest assured that you're getting off guilt-free.
The History of Sex Toys
Image: Michael Latz via Getty Images, Huffington Post
Let's start with a little background on sex toys. The oldest sex toy ever discovered was an 8-inch long stone dildo from 2,800 years ago (we just found it in 2005, and it was a big O-rdeal). But, sex toys have been found throughout history, like jade butt plugs and bronze strap ons from the Han Dynasty. Fast forward to the 1870s, when Joseph Mortimer Granville patented the electromechanical vibrator to address hysteria in women. While it started as a misogynistic invention, we can appreciate the more modern developments that have shaped today's vibrators.
We're still making advancements away from a man-centric, male gaze understanding of sex toys. Pioneering vibrator companies (like California Exotic Creations and Doc Johnson) were not only linked to the porn industry, but were also made with crappy, short-lived motors and from cheap, porous materials (more on that later). These vibrators were quasi-disposable and not about pleasure. Fortunately, we're now entering an era of sex positivity and sexual well-being... and, we're hoping to honor the planet in this movement, too.
Let's Talk About Holes...
(...get your mind out of the gutter, we're talking about porous vs. non-porous materials)
In the wide variety of sex toys available, there are porous and non-porous materials. The former allows for bacteria to grow because they can't be properly sanitized like their non-porous counterparts. Not to mention a host of other problems associated with porous materials that you definitely don't want disturbing your sexy time. Let's get into it.
Porous Materials - AKA Rubber, Jelly, and PVC
Rubber is a popular porous material used to make some (typically cheap) sex toys because of its flexible qualities and low cost. While the *squeak* of rubber may seem unsexy to some, there is even more unsavoriness behind the curtain. The recent increased demand for rubber is driving industrial-scale, mono-cultured rubber production that is projected to have drastic negative impacts on tropic biodiversity and forest ecosystems, especially in Southeast Asia and Southwest China.
Rubber can also contain phthalates. Phthalates are a set of chemicals that make plastic more durable, soft, and flexible, which is why they're often found in many familiar products, from garden hoses to dildos. They're also associated with developmental abnormalities, disruptions in both female reproductive health (including endometriosis) and male reproductive health (including semen quality!). Some other porous sex toy materials are jelly and PVC, which can also include phthalates and cannot be cleaned as properly as they should be. If you're just sold on a toy that is made from any of these materials, you can use a condom to create a barrier to keep it clean and keep you healthy.
Non-porous Materials - AKA Silicone, Glass, and Metal
Enter: non-porous materials. Silicone products are found in almost every industry, from leather processing to aerospace, to... you guessed it, sex toys. Silicone is a material that is basically a cross between rubber and plastic.
While plastic comes from non-renewable resources like crude oil, supporting the fossil fuel industry, silicone comes from silica...which is derived from sand. Basically, to make silicone, silicon is extracted from silica, passed through hydrocarbons, and mixed with other chemicals. The whole sand thing sounds great, but it also can be mixed with plastics. Yikes. Look for high-grade (or medical-grade) silicone to avoid this. While silicone isn't perfect, it doesn't break down into microplastics, which we can all agree are the devil.
Some other options are glass and metal toys. Borosilicate glass is a crowd fav in sex toys and also in highly durable glass products like Pyrex. In a comparative environmental assessment of glass and PET plastic, glass outperformed in energy use and emissions... but only if its reuse factor was 80% or higher than PET plastic. Basically, keep your toy in use.
Metal sex toys, like aluminum or steel, are also popular but can be somewhat...cold. A study of the production processes of nine metals found that aluminum had one of the highest environmental impacts (in terms of ââgreenhouse and acid rain gas emissions, solid waste emissions, and gross energy consumption), and steel one of the lowest. When considering metal toys, maybe opt for steel over aluminum if you have the choice?
...And What's the Buzz
(for those toys that turn on to turn you on)
Rechargeable vs. Battery
When it comes to vibrators, or toys that require a power source, we did some digging into the best options out there. One study looked at the environmental impact of both rechargeable batteries and disposable batteries and the results are less than straightforward (as with most things sustainability) and depend massively on the impact category being assessed. Overall, the use of rechargeable batteries was found to be less harmful to the environment than disposable batteries when used in high-consumption devices, like cameras, flashlights, and electronic toys (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).
So... where do we go to get off from here?
Let's avoid porous materials, like rubber, jelly, and PVC when we can. We're also hoping to not buy from low-quality, male-gaze-centric brands that have never once considered holistic pleasure - because that's not aligned with our values or our health.
Shoot for non-porous materials, like silicone, glass, and metal (specifically steel). Spring for either rechargeable or disposable batteries, but if you're going to be using your toy for a while (as you should!) opt for the rechargeable option. Look for brands that recognize all bodies, levels of ability, and genders, and meet an affordable price point - because everyone has a right to pleasure.
Some Stars of the Show
(...that have us seeing stars.)
This brand believes that all bodies are beautiful, worthy, and deserving of celebration and pleasure.
This brand is made by women for people with vaginas, vulvas, and all the related anatomy. Their products are user-tested, doctor-approved, and come with a three-year warranty. Their mission is to close the pleasure gap and they do this by emphasizing informed pleasure, even offering a free quiz to help you find your vibe.
This Black-owned retailer is staffed entirely by people of color and approaches sex toys with a trauma-informed lens. They also have a blog that investigates all the interesting and informative dimensions of sex and sex toys.
Disclaimer: Rest assured that we've assessed social and environmental considerations when making this gift guide, even though not all physical products have been put through the wringer of our proprietary algorithm (yet). We also don't get any cut of the sale if you decide to buy these products; we just really love them.