Really, this goes out to all sex educators that I know, respect, and love.
We have an unspoken agreement to help each other disseminate medically accurate, evidence-based information, right? There’s so much abstinence-only, fear tactic, assumed stuff to weed through out there.
However, we all know that sometimes evidence doesn’t exist the way we’d like it to, because research requires money. We also know when something affects the poor or women, it’s less likely to be taken seriously as a fund-worthy research cause. So, the great majority of us fight for the rights of the marginalized under the sex-positive, intersectional feminist banner. I realize not all do, but the more research that we actually do have, the more we can form coherent theories about the way human sexuality works.
I’m a long time Loveline listener. It’s how I got into doing what I do, being the girl with the answers back in high school. I haven’t listened in a great while because family, kids, work, depression, etc. But one night, I happened to see a reminder from the Sex with Emily Facebook page, and my spouse is out on business, so I tuned in for the October 8th show. Unfortunately, the podcast of the show and the transcript are no longer available online.
At the beginning of the show, a woman asks about irritation she experiences while using a 5-year-old dildo. Emily casually encourages her to get a new one, while Dr. Drew (who I adore but don’t always agree with) tries to diagnose this woman he’s never examined as having a common menopausal ailment that’s basically the result of hormones and not enough lube. The caller insists that when she uses the dildo with a condom, she does not get the itching, burning rash, but she does when she uses it without the condom.
Emily goes on to say this about buying a new one: “all dildos are made out of silicone today…”
OK, I get it. She’s an affiliate for Good Vibrations, who literally wrote the book on sex positivity, who she sent the caller to shop with (thank goodness!). I’m guessing in her now celebrity experience, sex toys all seem high quality and safe. This is a sex educator who probably wouldn’t step foot inside an Adult Megaplexxx because it’s not sex positive and likely carries cheap jelly junk.
However, what she said was still factually incorrect, and she did not correct Dr. Drew, and they both treated it as no big deal. Both of them should know better. Especially for women of little means, the Megaplexxx may be the only available place to shop. Or a free MLM sex toy party that offers cheap toys. Or if one has Internet they buy toys online and sort by price to buy the cheapest one.
The reality is, women who don’t know the value of their own pleasure, poor women, and other marginalized women of lesser financial means generally don’t know how to shop for sex toys. They don’t have time to read sex toy review blogs or magazines. They don’t have access to sex educator workshops. They may live in the heart of right-wing sex negative “technically illegal to own dildos” country. They don’t know how much these things should cost. The lack of regulation means that the most dangerous phthalates are still legal in the USA, in products that come in direct contact with mucous membranes that have estrogen hormone receptors.
I realize this is the same Emily Morse who spoke at S.H.E. again this year, where there were reports of porous sex toys all over the place. She didn’t call it out. Maybe she didn’t want to burn bridges with industry people? Maybe I’m being totally reckless with my career right now but this just seems so wrong. This is not the industry I want my daughter buying her sex toys from someday.
I don’t care how much longer you have been doing this than me, or how big a fan I am, or how you’ve influenced my career. I have to speak up when you say something factually incorrect. It breaks my heart when you tell someone that ALL sex toys today are made out of silicone, or a chemical burn is a result of menopause hormones and friction. It hurts when I see heroes not even concerned about the dangers of toxic toys that still exist in an unregulated industry.
You can say you don’t know – it’s OK! You’re someone’s authority figure and they’re taking what you say as gospel. Speak with care. Have humility. Admit when you don’t know. It’s OK to correct the professionals around you trying to diagnose conditions without seeing the patient. My God, MD’s need to know this happens. It’s ok to be wrong.
In the United States, you can literally become an OB/GYN without a single day of sex education: it’s opt out in schools, it’s not required in undergrad, and it’s not taught beyond the reproductive process in med school. When a patient says they’re having a problem with their pleasure, you have no training. You can’t help! You have not experience in the adult products industry and have no clue!
Chemical burns still happen. Porous dildos break down quickly. Toxic toys leech color like the caller described hers having done since the day she bought it. Really, they shouldn’t be produced at all. They are dangerous to consumers and hurting women. They are made for poor people and hurting them. Stop treating this like no big deal; it comes off as white privilege.
I expect the same courtesy from you when I’m off base in the public eye! Let’s get better together! Let’s get more research funded!
I’ll answer the caller’s question. How long do dildos last? If they’re virtually nonporous (silicone, glass, steel, aluminum, high quality sealants on ceramic, wood, and stone luxury toys), they can last decades. If they’re porous, the clock starts ticking within the first year, best we can tell. That includes “future flesh” and “cyberskin” and “UR3” and whatever cute names and alphabet soup they come up for those squishy plastic-rubber blends. Those are probably only safe for penises, we think. And the truth is, we really don’t know at the molecular level what’s happening because no one is willing to pay for the research. Nontoxic porous materials can still harbor microorganisms.
Why? Because women are the ones who report these problems. Because women use these products. Because women’s own personal pleasure has no value in our society. Because poor women and minority women and trans women and fat women queer women and disabled women are the most likely to own cheap sex toys since they earn less and that’s what’s marketed to them!
There is only one exception I can think of: kudos to the Bedroom Kandi brand, produced by OhMiBod, for marketing silicone products primarily to black women. That’s it, really.
Y’all, we can do better.
P.S. Dr. Drew, if you’re reading this, I was the one at that sex toy salespeople convention that blew you away with my question about the most important sexual health information we should spread, citing statistics I still have memorized and use in workshops today. I left that company due to the poor quality of the products they wanted me to sell.