by David Claus, Ph.D.
100% pure silicone is arguably the safest and best sex toy material in the world. It's soft and lifelike, non-porous (it won't harbor germs), non-allergenic, and it warms up quickly to body temperature (it wont stay cold after pulling it from your drawer). It's also extremely durable and very easy to clean. In fact, it can be boiled at temperatures up to 575 °F (300 °C) – try that with a hybrid silicone or jelly rubber toy and it'll just melt away. A pure silicone sex toy truly is the gold standard of the industry, but it usually comes at a hefty price. Silicone toys are generally the most expensive toys on the market.
So is it worth the extra money? Ask any sex columnist / sexologist and they'll surely answer with a resounding “yes.” Consumers need to know there really is a difference between the $100 pure platinum silicone dildo and the seemingly identical $10 version. If the toy has a realistic, soft, skin-like feel, AND it's inexpensive, there's a pretty good chance it is made from a softened jelly rubber, a latex, a polyvinyl chloride, or some other elastomer mixture. If you detect any smell, it's essentially a sure thing it's made from one of these materials. Aside from latex, (which is both allergenic and porous), you can bet these toys are mixed with various softening additives called phthalates. Phthalates are a family of colorless, odorless hydrocarbon fractions mixed with alcohols, and offer manufacturers a cheap, effective way to soften and increase the mass of a plastic, making it feel and look more realistic. Unfortunately there is growing evidence that continued exposure to phthalates might cause negative health effects. They've been labeled as possible endocrine disruptors, which means, among other things, they may interfere with normal sexual development in your offspring. When phthalates are added to unstable compounds like polyvinyl chlorides, they're even more likely to leech into your body. Use toys made of these materials inside your body and you WILL be exposed. Whether or not it's harmful is still unknown.
Many manufacturers want to jump on the silicone bandwagon, yet they don't want to pay the high material costs. Some get around the high price of pure silicone by introducing cheap additives to their “silicones.” Due to loopholes in how the material is regulated, it's actually possible for manufacturers to call their toy "silicone" even if it contains as little as 10% of the real thing, pumped up with cheaper materials like latex and, yes, phthalates. Other common ingredients in cheap, mass-produced sex toys can be alarming, from various heavy metals, petroleum distillates, titanium dioxide (used in some cheaper pigments), and even benzene!
To be fair, the jury is still out on just how dangerous most of these compounds are when used in normal situations, but many people don't want to wait and see. Just be aware that your cheap toy MIGHT actually prove toxic over time.