What are Phthalates?

executive summary
Phthalates are responsible for making plastic sex toys bendy, giving them that flesh-like quality. But are those chemicals posing a health risk to sex toy users?

hot facts
Studies on animals have shown high levels of phthalates interfere with hormone production.

Phthalates in Sex Toys


by Dr. Petra Zebroff

Safe Sex Toys

What a joy it is to see someone paying attention to the regulation of sex toys!

The adult industry has been unregulated for such a long time, where the rule until now has pretty much been "if a toy sells, it is good". Health has never been much of a concern until now.


(pronounced tha-lates), are responsible for making plastic sex toys bendy, giving them that flesh-like quality. But are those chemicals posing a health risk to sex toy users? In the last few years some individuals and publications are trying to convince us there is a severe health risk from these toys of pleasure.

What do Phthalates do in sex toys?

Phthalates are a family of chemicals used to make plastic softer and pliable. They are found everywhere, from household products such as lunch boxes, children's toys, cosmetics and medication to sex toys.

Studies on animals have shown high levels of phthalates interfere with hormone production. They have been found to mimic female sex hormones, and when consumed in high enough levels can lead to fertility issues (poor semen quality), affect brain development and eventually can cause liver and kidney damage. This is especially true for budding young rodents and pregnant mom and dad rats.

What are the risks to budding young humans?
The health risk is evident in tiny animals, but after years of study the facts on humans is still inconclusive.

In 2004 Brussels banned "soft" toys known to contain "phthalates". They chose to target teethers and pacifiers because the exposure is concentrated as children put them in their mouths for 3-4 hours at a time. They worried that the length of time the children were exposed to the chemicals could alter hormone levels.

The evidence of phthalates in sex toys

In 2006, after two independent studies the European Commission ruled against doing the same thing for banning sex toys, the Spokesman stating, "There is no evidence that sex toys are used in such a way and for such a time as to generate a comparable risk."

A sex toy survey sponsored by Greenpeace found the levels of phthalates were higher in sexual toys than children's toys, but because of how sex toys are used and the age of the user " the risk of phthalates 'migrating' into the body is far lower", the European Commission responded.

The most recent news comes from the Danish environmental Protection Agency. They found that using sex toys containing high levels of phthalates posed no health risk if used for 1 hour per day or less. Safety issues remain ambiguous for pregnant or nursing women.

What makes phthalates unhealthy

More detail for those who want it
There are two ways to make up a plastic. Combinations result from chemical reactions between molecules resulting in strong bonds. Mixtures, on the other hand, happen when two substances are physically blended (i.e. oil and vinegar). With time the mixtures "un-blend" and become separate again. Phthalates are mixtures blended with plastics. After time the phthalates separate, they smell, become gummy and literally fall apart emitting little bits of themselves.

The problem is that some manufacturers of sex toys cannot reliably tell you whether their products contain phthalates or not as many companies send their designs away to China and India to be manufactured.

The Libida Alternative

Libida's health and sex-positive philosophy of sexuality has made us suspicious of any product that smells strongly or emitted "bits" that we couldn't identify. We have always stayed away from those suspects. A few years ago when we saw the research on children's toys we started to decrease the toys that were known to have phthalates.

Today we have eliminated products that have obviously high levels of phthalates. We have also banned any products made by manufacturers who cannot reliably tell us whether the toys they sell have phthalates in them or not. Although the evidence is not conclusive as to whether sex toys are more toxic than other products found in our medication (used to stop the pills from dissolving before they get to an appropriate target in the digestive tract), or our children's toys, we are recommending only those products that are low in phthalates or phthalate free.

We want to encourage the industry to create affordable products that give us pleasure but that are also good for our health without danger of being toxic. We want to encourage adult toy manufacturers to be aware of what they are selling and how their products could be affecting the men and women who use them.

How YOU can identify phthalate-laden toys?

If you are buying yourself a nice shiny new toy and want to know if it contains the dreaded phthalates, ask yourself the following questions:

* Does it smell horribly like chemicals?

* Is it pliable?

* Is it made of plastic?

* Is it unusually inexpensive?

If you answer with 2 or more yes's it probably contains phthalates. In general if it is soft or pliable, and smells bad it is likely to contain phthalate.

Manufacturers are still using Phthalates because it is a cheap way to get the material to be the right consistency. Phthalate products are often less expensive. As you move up the quality chain, the percentage of phthalate-laden toys decreases dramatically.

What are your options?
All sex toys on Libida are low in phthalates of phthalate free. We have chosen to focus on the following products.

1. Silicone: Wonderful, flexible, sexy toys are being made with medical grade silicone. These are body safe. Try: Lelo Liv or Romance Vibrator

2. Elastomers: The two largest sex toy manufacturers in the US are starting to include "phthalate free" labels on their toys to show that even though their toy is flexible and plastic it does not contain excessive levels of phthalates. Try: Rabbit Habit

3. Glass: Many dildos are made with glass, a beautiful and sleek alternative to plastics.
Try: Spiral Glass Dildo

4. Hard plastic: Just because something is plastic does not make it toxic. It is only the softer plastics that you have to worry about.

5. Use a condom: Have a favorite toy that seems to have phthalates, but you don't know for sure and don't want to take the chance? Use a condom over it. And write us and ask us to find out for you.

The Future of Sex Toys

The bright side to this confusion is that, although unsubstantiated, these claims are causing the adult toy manufacturers to pay attention. This year at the largest adult trade show the big guns in toy manufacturing, Doc Johnson and Cal Exotics, started to show "phthalate free" labels, and 100% silicone in their sales pitches.
Let's keep phthalates in perspective. Many common household products are laden with phthalates yet they are not being targetted.
Sexual pleasure is good for your health. Sex toys should be too.