Scientists in the United States are warning that most sex toys on the market haven't been properly assessed for health risks, even though the materials they contain are potentially toxic and strictly regulated among kids toys.
Vibrators and beads, made of plastic, silicone, rubber, or latex, are designed to interact with some of the most sensitive membranes of the human body, and these tissues can rapidly absorb chemicals.
Nevertheless, in recent experiments at Duke University, scientists found that four different sex toys, including anal toys, beads, dual vibrators, and external vibrators, shed nanoplastic fragments when mechanically rubbed and scraped.
What's more, all these sex toys were found to contain phthalates; a group of widely used chemicals that can be detrimental to human health. At high enough concentrations, they are known to damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and even the reproductive system.
The concentration of phthalates found in the current review exceeds US regulations and EU standards for children's toys. What these chemicals are doing to adult health is unknown.
While studies show that young children can absorb phthalates when putting objects in their mouths, it is unclear if adults can also absorb these chemicals when using sex toys on permeable tissues.
The kind of mechanical abrasion recreated in the current experiment isn't necessarily equivalent to how sex toys are used in the bedroom. But the results do represent a worst-case scenario that needs to be investigated further. Especially since many sex toy products claim to be safe when no such research has been done.
One sex toy in the study, for instance, was incorrectly advertised as "phthalate-free", even though it wasn't.
Another toy was packaged and sold as a "novelty gag gift not intended for safe use". On the other side of the box, however, it also claims to be "body safe".
To state a specific sex product is 'safe' creates a false sense of security for consumers and stops them from making informed choices.
The potential toxicity of sex toys is "not sufficiently understood, communicated, or managed", the authors of the study say.
Roughly 71 percent of lesbian women in the US report using sex toys, while nearly 80 percent of bisexual women and gay or bisexual men report the same.
As demand for these products increases, concerned scientists and activists are calling on government regulators to directly address the potential health risks of sex toys and to enforce transparency and strict regulations for the intimate products.
Currently, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission does not impose labeling requirements or invoke materials standards for sex toys.
The United Kingdom also lacks specific chemical regulations for sex toys.
While it is too early to say how dangerous these chemicals are, the fact that they haven't been safety tested for our most intimate body parts is worrisome.
"Some of the phthalates identified in our experiments have been observed concurrently with serious fertility complications or loss of fertility in rodents at high concentrations," the authors of the study write, "though causation may not have been demonstrated, the correlation is concerning enough to warrant further investigation."
The study was published in Microplastics and Nanoplastics.