Speaker: Tracey Tief
Written by: Esha & Sheena Jain
Sexual pleasure is a topic that society considers taboo. According to Tracy TieF, a certified natural health practitioner, she believes that sexual pleasure is our birthright. She urges people to be aware of toxic sex toys and the potentially harmful effects of their materials. The sex toy industry is unregulated and so many are unaware of the potential health risks associated with the use of these products.
The main concern is the use of phthalates, a chemical used in adhesives, paint, insect repellents, polyvinyl chloride plastic, children’s toys and cosmetics such as nail polish and perfumes. Phthalates, also known as plasticizers, are added to the plastic sex toy to make the toy softer and more flexible. Overtime these added phthalates leak out in a process called “off-gassing”, which may be ultimately absorbed into the body.
According to Tracey, plastics can modify the fats and oils in our bodies. Fats are necessary for energy storage and act as a cushion for the brain. The argument is that if they were to be ingested or absorbed into the bloodstream, the off-gassing could modify these fats, potentially contributing to hormonal and neuronal disruptions. She believes that the hormonal disruption can contribute to reproductive issues, such as polyps and ovarian cysts, and are linked with the usage of sex toys due to the effects of phthalates and the permeability of the vaginal wall. Human studies are limited on the effects that these materials have.
What has been found is that these materials do have an overwhelmingly reproductive inhibiting effect. One study conducted by Hans Ulrich Krieg in 2000, a German chemist, found 10 chemicals emitted out of sex toys that were available in Europe. Of the chemicals found, diethylhexyl phthalates was among them and contained concentrations as high as 243,000 ppm, a value that was considered ‘off the charts’. Phthalates are lipophilic substances, and therefore are drawn to fats. The theory is that the fat could aid in drawing the phthalates out of the plastic, and would be absorbed into the mucous membrane of the vaginal canal and rectum and eventually even be absorbed by the liver or kidney. In another study led by Greenpeace Netherlands, in 2006 found that vaginal or rectal exposure to these chemicals would cause endocrine disruption, fertility issues and may lead to certain types of cancer. The American FDA cites phthalates as a probable human carcinogen. Animal studies found that high doses of phthalates cause cancer in rats. In lower doses, the rats displayed problems with genital and fetal development, producing stillborn rats. Regardless of the limited studies, based on what evidence is presented, the FDA and Greenpeace state that these chemicals do pose a health risk to the population.
Currently, North America and the European Union have been able to take actions that restrict the use of phthalates in children’s toys; however the issue still remains to exist for adult toys. According to Tracey, the loop hole lies in semantics. The packaging labels these products as “novelty” products, which means not intended for actual use. This allows manufacturers to avoid legal responsibility for what health risks may occur contributed to by the potentially harmful materials, and this industry labeling practice enables manufacturers to sidestep the need for government regulations. Therefore, manufacturers are not obligated to provide product lists of chemicals and materials used.
So what would a toxic-free, safer sex toy look like?
Firstly, the toy would not contain any strong chemical odours. If the toy is held over a flame it should not burn or melt. If it did burn, some percentage of plastic exists. Additionally, it would not contain any plastic, rubbery or jelly-like material and there should not be any expiration dates on the packaging. If the material is more porous, it could create space that may allow for bacteria to become trapped. Tracey also noted that porous toys cannot be sterilized and should be used with a condom. A non-porous toy is likely a stainless steel that is smooth with an impermeable surface and does not harbor bacteria in its surface. It can be sterilized with boiling water or through a dishwasher. Finally, alternate materials that can be safely used are as follows: wood, stone, metal, glass, non-porous, medical grade silicone, ceramics and crystal.
- What are plasticizers and why are they used in cosmetics?
Plasticizers make plastics more flexible. It’s used to make the fragrance in cosmetics, personal care products and baby products last longer.
- Why is Bisphenol A added to plastic products?
BPA aids in making plastic clear and shatter proof.
- What are the effects of Bisphenol A (BPA) and Phthalates on children when ingested?
Children’s products such as teethers, sippy cups, toys and cleansing baby products contain BPA and Phthalates. When children put these items in their mouth the chemical has the potential to leak from the product to the child. Animal studies have shown that BPA can have developmental effects and adverse effects on reproduction. Animal studies show that phthalate exposure can cause liver, kidney, male and female reproductive system adverse effects. Specifically when phthalates were exposed to fetuses in the mother’s womb, it caused decreased sperm activity, decreased concentration, early puberty in females and testicular cancer. According to Tracey, it can contribute to asthma, autism and learning disorders in children. Unfortunately, the evidence is taken from mostly animal studies and human studies are limited.
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Canadian Cancer Society. “Phthalates – Canadian Cancer Society.” Www.cancer.ca. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 June 2016. (http://www.cancer.ca/en/prevention-and-screening/be-aware/harmful-substances-and-environmental-risks/phthalates/?region=on )
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015. Web. 24 June 2016. (http://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/phthalates_factsheet.html)
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