Three cheers for elastomer!

photo by Alejandro Hernandez

In case you hadn’t noticed, we tend to rant and rave a lot about what you shouldn’t put in your body. And we’re not just talking about taking unwrapped candy from strangers. No, we’re talking about sex toys, too. As consumers, we’re responsible for educating ourselves about what we stick where the sun don’t shine — ’cause the manufacturers just trying to make a buck sure aren’t going to inform us. When we rant and rave, we lavish particular scorn on phthalates, which are an ingredient in jelly rubber, unstable vinyl (a.k.a. PVC), and other soft plastics — and, by the way, potentially carcinogenic. Okay, fine: you get it. The world is full of toxic sex toys and sitting on a dildo just isn’t the fun, harmless, innocent activity people used to think it was. So what should you put in your body?

Enter — cue the singing angels — elastomer. Excuse us while we get technical for a second: In the sex-toy industry, the word elastomer is used to refer to thermo-plastic elastomer (TPE) or thermo-plastic rubber (TPR). The chemical process involved in making TPE is different from that of making vinyl and jelly, so the resulting product is phthalate-free and latex-free (yay!). Even Greenpeace recommends it as a better alternative to PVC. It can be manipulated into a wide variety of textures much more easily than silicone (which was once considered to be one of the few real safe sex toy materials), which means that safe toys can now be designed a lot more creatively: Gone are the days when you had to look wistfully at those toys with the playful little nubbins, knowing that they were all made of nasty jelly rubber. For example, toy manufacturer Vibratex has a new generation of phthalate- and latex-free soft toys made from this material — like their Elastomer Rabbit Habit. Soft elastomer is super squishy and porous, which means you should use a condom to keep it bacteria-free and wash it with mild soap and water.

But elastomers can also be hard and nonporous, like Fun Factory’s Smartballs, which means you can forgo the condom and wash the toy in the top rack of your dishwasher (just make sure it’s not on a day your Mama is stopping by). Fun Factory has trademarked their hard, nontoxic, hypoallergenic version of TPE as Elastomed, but because there are no industry standards for the materials of sex toys or the terms used to describe them, any manufacturer can use the word elastomer to describe a toy that might have phthalates or latex in it. In other words, buyer beware. We recommend shopping at a place you trust with both your credit card and your genitals — Good Vibrations and Babeland are two shining examples. Before purchasing a toy, ask them about the material. If they don’t know, then don’t buy it. And until you find a toy that’s suitable for actual human use, don’t forget that — last we heard, anyway — Greenpeace has nothing bad to say about your right hand.