This is the third in a series of articles on sex toy materials.
Click here for last Part 1, Intro & Why It Matters.
Click here for Part 2, Toxic Sex Toys.
Click here for last Part 4, Body Safe Sex Toys.
Click here for Part 5, Counterfeit Sex Toys.
Note: links may be NSFW, long investigative journalism pieces, or scientific papers and may send you down a rabbit hole for hours.
Not all porous toys are chemically toxic, but most toxic toys are porous. Let’s take a look at the characteristics of porous sex toys.
What Does Porous Mean?
Porosity is a measure of the size and number of pores in a surface. Pores are empty spaces. Much like the pores in your skin, which can collect dirt, oil, and keratin, other surfaces are porous as well, on a microscopic level. The depth, size, and number of the pores make a difference. A surface is considered nonporous when it is difficult for very small particles to fit inside the pores. It’s important to remember that pores do not go all the way through a material and don’t travel in a straight line.
Why Are Porous Sex Toys a Concern?
Toxic sex toys are a concern for everyone, but porous sex toys are a bigger concern for those with vulvas. The penis is mostly enclosed with skin, with the urethra the only mucous membrane exposed. The vulva has far more surface area of exposed mucous membrane and has a delicate ecosystem to manage. It’s that ecosystem that’s at greatest risk.
Porous sex toys have pores that are large enough to house or trap body fluids, bacteria, yeast, mold, and viruses. The next time you go to use it, whatever is inside the pores can come back out and cause problems. One study confirmed that it is harder to clean viral DNA off of porous toys, meaning if you use toys with a partner, you’re at increased risk of passing along sexually transmitted diseases. I recommend always using a barrier with partners with whom you’re not fluid bonded, including on sex toys.
Pores can also absorb soaps, in such a way that the soap can’t be rinsed and the residue dries. The next time you use the toy, the soap comes in contact with tissue it shouldn’t, and cause a nasty reaction for the same reasons you aren’t supposed to douche or wash inside your vagina with soap. If it’s a toxic sex toy, the way that soaps work on things like mineral oils and plasticizers could mean there’s more toxins released the next time you use it.
Sex toy cleaner can’t penetrate pores, unless you’re actually going to soak the toy in it. The “spray & wipe away” technique doesn’t get bacteria out of the pores. However, sex toy cleaner is usually made with filtered water, which will not contain mold spores like tap water can. Never use a porous toy in the shower or bath, even if the toy is water resistant. I’ve heard too many horror stories and seen too many pictures of mold-growing toys.
That brings us to the fact that porous toys are made out of materials that can’t be sterilized. Using alcohols or bleach on them can cause reactions that break down the material. You can’t throw them in boiling water, either, because their melting point is too low and they’ll turn into a puddle of dildo goo on your stove.
What Materials are Porous?
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
We’ve already talked about PVC, but manufacturers like to come up with cutesy names like jelly, jellee, crystal gel, and many more. More often than not, PVC is toxic, so just keep clear of it.
Natural latex rubber comes from a tree. Not only is latex porous, but a good chunk of the population is allergic to it. Latex toys cannot be used with oil-based lubricants because oil breaks down the chemical bonds in latex. Mechanical rubbing can also break down latex over time. This is why condoms, dams, and gloves are single-use items.
A thermoplastic is a class of polymer. They are heated and blended and then poured into molds to cool. This is why you can’t boil them – their melting points are usually relatively low. They can sometimes be blended with mineral oils and plasticizers, and can be toxic, but some are blended with safer polymers, so it’s not easy to tell which are toxic. There is no one chemical structure or formula for thermoplastics. Some formulas are patented, and therefore an industry secret. Thermoplastics are the most common sex toy material in use today. Hard thermoplastics are considered non-porous, but squishy thermoplastics are considered porous, and there are two types.
TPE – Thermoplastic Elastomer
TPE is used when the end product needs to be stretchy. TPE is usually non-toxic and commonly used for male masturbators. Tenga makes a version blended with silver, which inhibits bacterial growth. Other names for TPE include simply elastomer and SEBS.
TPR – Thermoplastic Rubber
TPR is less stretchy and tends to make up more of the simulated skin products, and often contain mineral oils of various purity. Fleshlights are made of a patented TPR blend, but they have disclosed that they use food grade mineral oil (the most pure). Other names for TPR include variations of “flesh” or “skin” (future flesh, cyber skin, etc.) and it can also be called rubber.
How to Avoid Porous Toys
Avoid crystal clear materials, although some porous sex toys are opaque. Research manufacturers thoroughly. Do you want to give your money to a company that produces racist or sexist items, or who hides behind “novelty use only” verbiage? Chances are they don’t care what your toy is made with. If you host a sex toy party with me, I will bring or show examples of cheap toys. My shop is about 98% free of porous sex toys, and those that are have been vetted to be non-toxic. You can also ask me about any toys you currently have.