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Review of Buzz, A Stimulating Sex Toy History

The book Buzz by Hallie Lieberman is the most in-depth read about sex toy history yet.  It starts off with a quick overview of ancient history, talking about things like the world's oldest dildo, it then focuses on about ten people that had big impacts on the sex toy industry in the late 1900s.

Hallie is a witty and engaging author, and I couldn't put the book down.  I was gasping at how Doc Johnson was created, feeling euphoric rushes when I heard the tale of the first silicone dildos, and had my world turned upside-down when I found out who purchased Good Vibrations in 2007.

In this post i'll try to summarize some of the main historical figures in the book and their impact.  

Opening Buzz and entering a wonderland of sex toy history

Hallie Lieberman

Hallie Lieberman is the author of the book, and one of the world's best sex toy historians.  Her writing style is witty and there was never a dull moment in Buzz.  She has two awesome websites: dildographer, dedicated to her sex toy history research, and, which talks about her other writings and projects.

Reuben Sturman

This guy is the main antihero of the sex toy universe.  He created a ruthless porn empire, eventually owning hundreds of porn shops across America and controlling 70% of sex toy production.  

Sturman started off with his own adult book shop, but really gained momentum after he invented the peep-show booth in the 60s.  These booths let people pay a quarter to watch 10 minutes of porn in a semi-private booth.  This was before VCRs, so it was one of the few ways to watch porn movies in private.  Demand quickly became huge and Sturman re-invested his earnings into opening more shops.  He used ruthless tactics, and even hired the mafia to enforce other adult shops to pay him 'mortgages' aka extortion fees.

During the 60s and 70s he blanketed the USA map with new porn shops.  He was regularly in court for obscenity charges because of his porn distribution, but the charges were always found unconstitutional and he continued to expand his empire.

Next, he created Doc Johnson in 1976, a dildo and sex toy company that's still huge today (and using questionable sex toy materials).  To create it, he purchased a dildo company called United Sales, rebranding it to Doc Johnson, and took over their factory in LA.   Doc Johnson is one of the sketchier dildo companies around when it comes to shady materials, so it makes since it has its origins with the porn godfather himself.

While he was never charged for extortion or obscenity, eventually he got hit with 15 counts of tax evasion and was sentenced to 75 years in prison in 1992.

He was newly married and in love at the time.  He and his wife had just had his first daughter, and he was getting ready to retire.  Before going to prison in 1992 he divorced his wife to protect them, leaving his small family a large fortune.

In 1994, he managed to escape prison on foot.  Authorities started notifying airports, thinking he'd flee the country, but he was found at an In-and-out burger, where he was having lunch with his 7 year old daughter.  It turns out he spent all of his two weeks of freedom spending time with her.  I thought that bit was kind of a sweet moment in his intense and ruthless life.

After recapture, Sturman was returned to prison, where he died in 1997, he was 73 years old.

Another picture of the photogenic Buzz

Betty Dodson

Self-described as a "let's have sex, let's have fun" feminist, Betty Dodson was enthusiastic about teaching women how to masturbate.  Her book, Liberating Masturbation was a how-to-guide on masturbating.  It also included dozens of drawings of different labias, so women could get an idea of how different vaginas looked.

At the time, in the 60s and 70s, female masturbation was still seen as very taboo, and considered dangerous.  Thanks to Betty Dodson and others, it's different now.  She was quoted as saying “vibrators are not fattening, illegal, or immoral”, in her attempts to convince people that being a "vibrator zombie" was not a bad thing.

She was also famous for hosting her body-sex workshops in the 70s and 80s.  In these classes being naked was mandatory, and Dodson taught groups of women how to masturbate using vibrators like the Hitachi Magic Wand.

Betty Dodson's first book, Liberating Masturbation

Joani Blank and Good Vibrations

One woman who attended Betty Dodson's body-sex workshops was Joani Blank.  She even had her labia drawn by Dodson and featured in Liberating Masturbation.

After returning to San Francisco, she soon started Good Vibrations, a woman-only sex shop that sold vibrators.  It had a boutique style and was down-to-earth, Blank really didn't care about making a profit as much as helping women out.

Good Vibrations soon inspired a movement of independent woman-owned sex shops: Smitten Kitten, Babeland, Sugar, Come as you are, Grand Opening, Self Serve, and many others.

While the men in the sex toy industry, like Sturman, seemed to create empires and seek profits.  The women seemed to be creating movements and social change.

Joani Blank, founder of Good Vibrations

Dell Williams

Dell Williams was another woman that often bumped into Betty Dodson.  After going to her body-sex workshops she tried to buy a magic wand at a Macy's.  However the sales associate in the store teased her about it.

She was then inspired to create Eve's Garden, another woman-only sex shop.  The shop sold vibrators out of her apartment at first, but eventually moved to street level.  Through the help of Gosnell Duncan, they would create some very innovative silicone dildos.

Dell Williams

Gosnell Duncan, Inventor of the Silicone Dildo

Duncan is my new personal hero.  He was the original silicone dildo hobbiest, before there was ever an Etsy or Tumblr, he was creating silicone dildos by hand in his basement.

After an accident in his auto-repair shop, he became confined him to a wheelchair and was unable to have an erection. He noticed he wasn't alone, some disabled people wished to be able to have sex again, more than being able to walk.

Duncan created the first non-phallic dildos with the help of Dell Williams.

He experimented with the PVC strap-on dildos.  But dislike the smell and feel of the material.  He had often used silicone parts in his work on automobiles, and thought it would make a great dildo material.

Soon he was writing letters to GE chemists learning about how to mold and cast silicone. He developed a process where he would make a dildo model out of clay, pour a mold around it, then pour silicone into the mold.

He named his company Paramount Therapeutic Products, and started selling his dildos for $20-$40 each.

He reached out to Eve's Garden and Good Vibrations to see if they wanted anything unique.  Together they collaborated to make the first non-phallic dildos that didn't look like penises.  They were also the first dildos to come in different colors like blue, pink, and toffee.

What the book is missing

Buzz is only 290 pages, and I wish it was longer.  I hope Hallie Lieberman decides to make a 2nd edition that includes the details of European and Japanese sex toys, or vibrator companies like Lelo and Fun Factory.

But until then, I don't mind re-reading Buzz a few more times.

What did you think of Buzz?  Does it seem like an interesting book to you?  Leave a comment below and we can discuss it more!

Sex Toy History Quiz

How well do you know your sex toy history? Take the quiz to find out!

Jar Test – Will These Jelly Dildos Melt?

One my goals is to promote awareness of toxic sex toy materials, and help put the companies making them out of business (or at least force them to switch to safer materials).

The most toxic sex toy material is jelly, a catch-all term for a mystery blend of plastics and plasticizers that results in a cheap shiny rubber.  Jelly sex toys have smell very bad, kinda like nail polish remover.  They also start to melt at temperatures above 90 degrees, and can cause burns and rashes in people with sensitive skin.  Not to mention other unknown long-term effects of absorbing plasticizers into the bloodstream through the absorbent vaginal and anal tissue.

The antithesis of Jelly materials is Silicone rubber.  Silicone is one of the most inert and safest materials known to human kind.  It's not porous, so it doesn't harbor bacteria, it doesn't melt, and it's stronger than than jelly.  It can be created in different densities for different softness, and is the perfect sex toy material.

The Test

For this test i'm going to fill two jars with dildos: one with jelly toys, and one with silicone toys.  I'll monitor their progress over months to see how each jar does.


The expected result is that the Jar of jelly toys will melt into complete goop, while the silicone toys stay the same.  Since the jars are at room temperature, we'll see what happens to the different dildos over a long period of time.

I got the idea for this test from Jennifer Pritchett, the owner of Smitten Kitten.  When you enter Smitten Kitten you can see a liquefied jar of toys labeled "toxic" on display.  

Jar 1: The Jelly Jar

The jelly jar has 6 different dildos, I tried to pick ones from the most infamous jelly dildo producers: Doc Johnson, pipedream, Adam and Eve, and a few from some sellers on Amazon.

Double Header by Doc Johnson

Basix by Pipedream

"Pink Jelly Slim Dildo" by Adam & Eve

Realistic Ultra-soft by Paloqueth (Made in China)

Crystal Jellies Anal Plug by Doc Johnson.  This was the worst smelling and most oily jelly toy of the bunch.

Made-in-china Jelly Vibrator from Amazon.  After opening it, it was so sticky that my dried lavender stuck to it like a lint roller.

The smell of my room after unwrapping these was awful.  I started to feel nauseous immediately and was eager to seal these fuming dildos away in the Jar.

After touching the dildos they were moist and left an oily residue on my hands, and when i rolled them in dried lavender leaves, the lavender stuck to their surface.

The Paloqueth dildo was the only one that didn't smell bad, it's also the only matte dildo. It'll be interesting to see whether or not it melts like the other dildos do.

All the jelly dildos together

And into the jar they go!

Jar 2: Silicone Jar

This Jar was a bit more expensive to put together.  However I have faith they won't melt and I can continue to use them after the experiment is finished.

  • Fun Factory Bouncer - $99
  • Semenette Pop - $150
  • Hot Octopuss Pulse - $150
  • Fun Factory Duke - $100

These silicone toys don't smell and they don't make my hands oily after I touch them.  I'm going to miss them, a lot, but they are on a mission, I'll see you in a few months my dears! God Speed:')


I'll continue to update this post over the next few months with the jar's progress.  I also ordered a few more dildos so I can stuff the jars to capacity.

A Rabbit Afraid of K-Y Warming Jelly

6 Studies That Put K-Y Under The Microscope

The last time I was at Smitten Kitten I talked to one of their SESAs (sex educator sales associates) about lube.  When I asked what he thought about brands like K-Y his response was an “Oh we hate K-Y here”, then gave me their lube safety pamphlet.  After reading it, I was inspired to do some research and went looking on PubMed for more studies about K-Y.   Surprise surprise, there’s more bad news than good.

Study 1) Microbicide excipients can greatly increase susceptibility to genital herpes transmission in the mouse

Findings: K-Y Warming Jelly Causes Ten-Fold Increase in HIV transmission

In this study, K-Y warming jelly (KYWJ) was applied to the vaginal tissues of mice.  Twelve hours later the mice were exposed to the herpes virus, and then three days after were checked again.

Compared to the control group, mice exposed to KYWJ were 10 times more likely to contract Herpes.  The scientists believe the main ingredients to cause this are glycerol, propylene glycol, and PEG-8

2) Is Wetter Better? An Evaluation of Over-the-Counter Personal Lubricants for Safety and Anti-HIV-1 Activity

Findings: K-Y Jelly kills Lactobacilli, the vagina’s natural gate-keepers.

This 2012 study was done at the University of Pittsburgh and led by Charlene S. Dezzutti, an HIV researcher.  The goal of the study was to see what personal lubricants helped reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

The safest lubricants were silicone-based and organic water-based lube, and the most dangerous one? K-Y Jelly, which killed all three species of Lactobacilli in the vagina.  Researchers attributed the kill-off to K-Y Jelly’s anti-microbial ingredient chlorehexidine gluconate.

Lactobacilli are a healthy bacteria that occur naturally in the vaginal flora, they keep bad bacteria from growing out of control.  When Lactobacilli is killed, the bad bacteria and fungi grow out of control, leading to B.V., yeast infections, and increased STI suceptibility.

3) Use and procurement of additional lubricants for male and female condoms: WHO/UNFPA/FHI360: advisory note

Findings: K-Y warming gel has an osmolality 27 times higher than the United Nations’s recommended safe level.

The World Health Organization or WHO is an agency of the United Nations that concerns itself with International Public Health. Their teams of scientists analyze new studies and issue health reports and advisories on their findings.

In 2012, WHO made an announcement about the importance of using lubricants with condoms for anal sex.  Studies had shown that lubricant reduced the risk of condom breakage from 21.4% to 3% when used for anal intercourse.

In this same report, they advise avoiding lubes with an osmolality above 380 mOsm/kg.  This advisory is based on four studies that found high osmolalities caused tissue damage. While the osmolality of the vagina is 260-290 and sperm is 380, most lubes on the market had osmolalities well over 1,000.

When measured in a study, K-Y jelly had an osmolality of 2424, 6 times the recommended safe level.  K-Y’s other products like K-Y Warming Jelly had an osmolality of 10300, 27 times the safe amount.

4) Effect of Vaginal Lubricants on Natural Fertility

Findings: K-Y has a minimal effect on the ability to conceive

5) Hyperosmolal vaginal lubricants markedly reduce epithelial barrier properties in a three-dimensional vaginal epithelium model

Findings: K-Y damages the epithelial layer when observed under a microscope.

Done in 2018, this is the most recent study on K-Y.  It is the first step to use 3D vaginal tissue models to test the effects of K-Y.  Dr. Richard Cone says in the introduction that it is the closest thing to replicating the real world reactions.

The test used 10 lubricants on the vaginal tissue and a microscope to show the effects.  Compared to the control, which looks smooth an uniform, the tissue exposed to K-Y was torn up and warped in appearance.

6) Behind the label: K-Y Jelly

Findings: K-Y doesn’t have to display ingredients on the label.

If K-Y has nothing to hide, why wouldn’t they put the ingredients on the label? In this article of the ecologist, the author points out that since K-Y has FDA approval they aren’t required to put ingredients on the label of their product.  The FDA allows this so companies can keep their recipes a secret.  Like other scientists, author argues that the FDA testing process proves that K-Y is safe on the skin, but not on vaginal or anal tissues, where they are actually used.  So the lack of a label prevents people from doing in depth research on the safety of K-Y for themselves.

So Why’s It Still On Most Shelves?

With all this dirt on K-Y, it seems that there are few benefits of using its ingredients.  It continues to be on the shelves though, probably because it has fewer side effects for penises than it does for vaginas and butts.

It’s also strange that K-Y would ignore the United Nations health advisory and continue to make lubes with a high osmolality, despite the scientific evidence above that it’s risky.

You can also check out my big lube guide if you want to learn more about the different types of lube and which ingredients are the healthiest.

Dangerous Sex Toy Materials 101

It's still the wild wild west for sex toys and regulations are almost non-existent.  Chinese factories can get away with putting toxic chemicals into rubber toys.  If used these toys will cause chemical burns and rashes when used.

 It's important to buy from trusted retailers and manufacturers that have full disclosure over the materials used in their toys.

Dangerous Sex Toys

There are still no government regulations when it comes to sex toy materials.  They are considered novelties by the FDA and not evaluated at all for safety.

That means it is up to you to know what materials are dangerous and what to avoid.  This usually means choosing a responsible retailer that only sells body-safe toys and isn't out there to make as much money as possible.

Here are some of the consequences of using a toy with toxic chemicals:

  • Burning
  • Rashes
  • Blistering skin
  • Carcinogen exposure
  • Allergic reactions
  • Bacteria Infections

Most dangerous materials are made from a mixture of many ingredients and it's impossible to know what they are without an expensive lab test.

For this reason, it's safer to just stick to safe materials rather than take risks on cheap materials you find in shady shops.  But let's explain how bad companies try to mislead customers by using material terms in a vague way.

Rubber Mixtures

Also called: TPE, TPR, PVC, Jelly, Elastomer, Skin-Safe Rubber

These materials are vague terms that could all be used to describe the same dildo.  To understand how companies mislead people with labeling let's go over some quick chemistry 101.

Categories of Rubber

Elastomer - The ultimate catch-all term for any rubber, including 100% skin safe silicone.  It is the technical term used by chemists to describe rubber.  There are two big sub-categories of elastomer: TPE and TPS.

TPE - TPE stands for thermoplastic elastomer.  It just means any rubber that melts when it get hot, can be molded into a new shape, and then returns to its rubbery state when cool.  Chemically speaking, TPEs have non-covalent bonds, which are broken by heat.

TPS - TPS stands for thermoset elastomer.  This is the opposite of a TPE, and is created with chemical reactions that cause covalent bonds that can't be broken by heat.  A good example of a thermoset elastomer is 100% medical grade silicone.

Base Ingredients

When cooking up a toxic rubber dildo companies start from a number of base materials.  These are a harder substrates that are heated up and then have other additives and plasticizers added to get the desired softness.

PVC - PVC is a common base ingredient used to make TPE sex toys.  It is also known as vinyl and is found in cheap plastic around the house like light switches, plastic pipes, and plastic window frames.   It is made from industrial grade salt (chlorine) and crude oil (carbon) giving it the name polyvinyl chloride, or (C2H3Cl)n.   By itself it is a hard and opaque material that isn't dangerous.  But it needs to be softened to make sex toys and this requires toxic plasticizers like phthalates.

Polystyrene - Is another common plastic polymer that can take many forms including styrofoam, plastic cups, and DVD cases.   It is made from Benzene and highly flammable.  When used to make dildos plasticizers are added to make it soft and squishy.

Latex - Latex comes from trees and was the first type of rubber people used.  It occasionally makes an appearance in sex toys, especially inflatable dildos.   Oil from your body breaks down these toys over time and they won't last long.  There is also the risk for having a life-threatening allergic reaction.  Latex is another material that is mixed in to make toys extra soft.  It is the oldest type of rubber and was used until 1943 when synthetic rubbers were discovered.  Latex can cause allergies which makes it one of the most deadly materials manufacturers use.  If you have a latex allergy you really need to stick to safe sex toy materials from reputable companies.

Polyethylene - This is the most common type of plastic in the world and is used to make things like plastic bottles and plastic grocery bags.  Chlorinated polyethylene can be crosslinked peroxidically to form an elastomer which is used in cable and rubber industry.  There are many formations of this but it is most commonly two parts carbon and 4 parts hydrogen.

SBS - ​​​​This means Styrene-butadiene-styrene and is a common type of TPE.  It is soft and used to make electrical wires.  It can be softened even more by using different types of oil additives.  Another form of SBS is SEBS which is usually less shiny and holds its color longer.

EPDM - This is a type of synthetic rubber and stands for ethylene propylene diene monomer rubber.


Bad plasticizers are what put the toxic in unsafe sex toys.  They are volatile oils and acids like phthalates that turn hard plastic into rubbers.   They act as a mini lubricant that fits inbetween the molecules of the base ingredients, making a highly unstable mixture that will easily melt.  When using toxic toys the plasticizers will leak out and cause rashes and burns for a few days.  Safe plasticizers are natural and made from soybeans.


You've probably heard of phthalates before.  They have had many studies proving they are dangerous and cause birth defects and death in rodents.  They were banned in children's toys in the EU in 1998 and banned in 2018 in the USA.

The word phthalate which refers to three isomers—ortho-isomer or phthalic acid, tere-phthalic acid, and meta-isomer iso-phthalic acid.  Ortho-phthalates are the ones commonly used with phthalates. 

Chemistry: Grab your lab coats and test tubes, it's time for some technical details. Phthalates are made from reacting phthalic anhydride with alcohols such as methanol, ethanol, and tridecyl alcohol.  When the phthalates are added to polymers like PVC they reduce the interactions between the neighboring polymer chains, almost like a mini molecular lubricant.  This lowers the glass-transition temperature and makes it more flexible at room temperature.  It's important to know that these are nonconvalent bonds meaning the structure is far from permanent.  This means that when disturbed or stimulated by heat the bonds break and toys turn to goo, explaining the jar test.

So basically it is made from acids, and these acids will leak out into your body as you use the toy.  No wonder it hurts.  

Do sex toy manufacturers use them?  Yes, especially the ones in China. Some toys can be as much as 70% phthalates according to Mantis Black from Tantus.

Smell - ​​​​Dildos made from phthalates will smell like strong chemicals, similar to a new car.  If you are exposed to too much of this odor you can get a headache and become sick.

Dangers - Most people who use a toy with phthalates get burning sensations, rashes, and blistering.  The severity of the burns very depending on the number of phthalates and the amount the toy is used.  Several studies show how the phthalate DNHP altered the male reproductive tract of rats during fetal development.  These studies did use very high doses of phthatlates, almost 100 times what a child or mother would be exposed to.  There haven't been any studies done on humans to do the risks involved for people.  All we have are the large amount of accounts of burning sensations and doctor trips caused by using sex toys that contain phthalates.

Lately phthalates have been big news as bloggers and sex-positive shops push for awareness and try to hold manufacturers accountable.  In response many shady companies label their toys as phthalates-free.  This doesn't mean much though as there are plenty of plasticizers that are just as bad as phthatles.

Phthalate Alternatives, Better? Or Just Different

Some phthalate alternatives:

  • Ester
  • Hexamoll DINCH
  • acetyl tributyl citrate (ATBC)
  • dioctyl terephthalate (DOTP)
  • 2,2,4-trimethyl 1,3-pentanediol diisobutyrate (TXIB)
  • trioctyl trimellitate (TOTM)
  • di-(2-ethylhexyl) adipate (DEHA)

Bio-Based Plasticizers

Bio-based alternatives can be made from plant materials such as corn, soy, rice, wheat, and linseed, which makes them much less hazrdous.  They are still new technologies and are mostly in the research stage.  Theoretically they could be a future possibility for creating safer

  • epoxidized sunflower oil (ESO) (as coplasticiser)
  • epoxidized soyabean oil (ESBO)


Additives can be added to a mixture to change the color, make it more durable, more flame resistant, or more bacteria resistant.  Usually additives try to make up for how unstable the mixture is, and it's better to just go for an inherently stable thermoset elastomer like silicone.

One example of this is sil-a-gel, a trademarked material of doc johnson.  Another is antimicrobial silicone used in ear buds.

Trademark Material Names

If you went to a bakery and every loaf of bread was labeled something like "Molly's awesome bread", how helpful would it be?  You could look at the color and shape and get an idea if it interests you, but you wouldn't know what ingredients were in each loaf.

That's basically how shady dildo manufacturers label their sex toys.  They make up names or use very vague and broad terms like "Skin-safe rubber".

Here is an example of some of the names the big manufacturers give their dildos.

  • Doc Johnson
    • UR3
    • UltraSkyn
    • Jelly
    • Realistic
  • Fleshlight
    • SuperSkyn

Toys That Aren't Toxic, But Still Aren't Great

On the spectrum of safe and dangerous sex toys there are a few that fall in the middle.

  • Non-toxic but porous materials
  • Glass toys that aren't properly annealed
  • Dangerous shapes

Porous materials

One characteristic of blended elastomer materials is that they are porous.  Some other materials like unpolished stone dildos can also be porous.

Even though you can't always see the pores with the naked eye they are plenty big for bacteria to sneak in and get nice and deep beneath the surface.  Almost like the toy is a sponge.

This is why the toy is so dangerous.  You simply can't get it clean no matter what you do.  The toy will retain vaginal fluids, lube, and any dust or dirt it comes into contact with.  If you are guy it will absorb semen and if you use it anally it will have fecal matter stuck in it for good.

The main health risk of a porous toy is recurring bacteria infections.  Because you can't get it clean the bacteria will culture and mold can even start to grow.

Porous Male Masturbators

Nowadays we have plenty of non-porous silicone dildos to choose from, but for guys most penis toys are still made from elastomer blends.  One toy that really sticks out is Fleshlight, which uses its on porous elastomer recipe to make its toy.  Other companies like tenga also make toys from porous materials.

Because they are penetrable toys there isn't really the risk of bacteria infection in guys.  However these toys can get gross pretty quickly and most guys have to throw them away after a few months of use.  Even if it is cleaned right away they soak up semen like a sponge and no matter how well you wash it it will start to smell funny.

So far there are only a few silicone male masturbators like the fun factory ozone and the some bad dragon models. 

Unflared Anal Toys

Dangerous shapes are usually anal toys that can get stuck in your rectum when using them.  If they do get stuck you need to take a trip to the ER to get them removed.   Chinese manufacturers will market a toy on amazon as an anal toy, when it should only be a dildo.  Only use toys anally if they are flared enough that they won't get stuck inside you.

Dangerous Glass Materials

Dangerous glass materials are those that are not properly annealed.  Annealing is a delicate process that takes a lot of skill, resources, and proper machinery.   An annealed dildo is strong and won't break as easily as other glass dildos.

It is also important to avoid glass dildos that are coated with a mysterious unknown varnish.  These can contain materials like lead and cadmium, especially when they are made in Chinese factories.

Sharp edges

Avoid toys that have sharp edges.  This is a risk with some plastic vibrators that have an elastomer coating.

Electric shock

Poorly made vibrators and other toys with batteries can break while using them and lead to an electric shock.  It is important to get a toy from a good company which won't break inside you.

Safe Toys Made From Known Materials

As you can see every toy you buy from mysterious dealer is a box of mystery chemicals.  I prefer to know what I am putting inside my body and more importantly, that it is safe!

Here are the best safe materials

  • 100% Silicone
  • Borosciliate glass
  • Stainless Steel, or polished metal
  • Finished Wood
  • Ceramic


Silicone is the worlds gift to sex toys. 

  • It's non-porous, and can be cleaned to good as new condition
  • Feels silky and smooth
  • Can be made in different densities for different feelings
  • Can't cause allergic reactions (it's also used in medical equipment)
  • Heat and cold resistant - It can withstand temperatures up to 400 degrees F and temperatures as cold as -100 F.  So you can boil it to sanitize it or stick it in the freezer to chill a drink.

Therefore Silicone is pretty much a no-brainer for most people.  Progressive shops like Smitten Kitten, She Bop, and Babeland carry silicone instead of the other elastomer blends we mentioned.

Chemistry: Put on that lab coat again, it's time for technical details.  Silicone is categorized as a thermoset elastomer which means that it can't be turned to liquid by heating it.  The bonds are covalent chemical bonds unlike a thermoplastic like PVC which has noncovalent bonds that break when heated.  If you do get silicone above 400 degrees (with a flame for example) it will turn to black ash.

Rubber silicone is made from the earth by obtaining a mineral called quartz.  This can be seperated into pure silicon (notice the lack of an e) whic is a pure element on the periodic table.  To get rubber silicone the silicon has chloral methane added and then goes through distallation processes.  The kind used in dildos is called Difunctional chlorosilanes and that is what you can buy on amazon or what manufacturers buy to make their silicone dildos.


Glass is a non-porous material which makes it easy to clean.

There are two main types of glass material: borosilicate glass and soda-lime glass.

Borosilicate glass: This is one of the strongest types of glass there is.  Almost all laboratory glassware uses this type of material so they can be sure it doesn't break.  Borosilicate is made by combining and melting together boric oxide, silica sand, soda ash, and alumina.  The boron atoms in the material are what allow it to handle heat much better than other materials.  In fact it has a thermal expansion coefficient that is one-third of soda-glass, meaning it is three times more resistant to extreme changes in temperature.

Soda-Lime Glass: Is a common type of glass used to make all kinds of things, 90% of manufactured glass is estimated to be soda-lime.   It gets its name because it contains sodium-oxide (soda) and calcium oxide (lime), but many other materials can be used to make it.  It is weaker than borosilicate glass and when it has its temperature altered extremely it can shatter.  Cheaper made-in-china sex toys use this material and they are more prone to breaking.  But material isn't the only important issue the annealing (how it is heated and cooled) is also important.

Annealing glass is a delicate process that takes time, resources, and skill to be done properly.   It slowly cools the glass to remove any internal stress making it as stable and strong as possible.

The ideal glass dildo is made from borosilicate glass and carefully annealed.

Glass dildos made from soda-lime and that aren't properly annealed, for example lovehoney and pipedream, still work and are much cheaper.  Just know there is a risk of these breaking and some people that have them delivered find them broken right out of the box.  It's important that you check a cheap glass dildo for cracks before you use it.

Glass toys that you must avoid

Some cheap glass dildos on amazon are sold with a glaze to them.  This "luster" is highly toxic and can contain things like cadmium and lead.  It's best to avoid these and stick to a glass dildo you can see through.  Colored glass swirls are okay when made by glass artists, and are a common way to decorate an annealed borosilicate glass dildos.

Pull loops - Some glass dildos have glass loops that you can slip a finger through to control it.  These are weak points in a glass toy and can break easily.  There are a few stories of them breaking off when inserted analy.

​​​​ ​​​The Bottom Line

Stick to see-through glass dildos made from reputable manufacturers.  Properly annealed borosilicate glass is the strongest.  Cheap glass dildos are usually made from soda-lime and more likely to break, and glass toys with a glaze and that have a hoop.

Metal Toys

Toys made from 100% medical grade stainless steel are about as safe as it gets.  They are super smooth and are quick to heat up.  And feel nice and weighty in your hand.  Medical grade stainless steel is also called surgical grade, and it's used in surgery tools, biomedical implants, and piercings.

You can't say metal sex toys without bringing up NJoy a company that specializes in metal sex toys.  Their target market is people looking for elegant sex toys and their prices range from $70 to $300.  They also make only 'omnisexual' products which means toys that can be used by either men or women.

Wooden Toys

If you have never heard of wooden sex toys it might not sound super appealing.  But the reality is these are some of the silkiest and smoothest toys there are,  and they look gorgeous!

The secret to making a wooden toy safe is the waterproof coating.   After the toy is carved, polished, and smoothed a medical grade sealant is added that is completely impermeable.  The sealant is made from a polymer of some kind and is phthalate-free, odorless, and non-porous.  Most likely a type of epoxy or polyurethane finish.

Good places to find wooden toys are nobessence, lumberjill, and also Etsy.  These toys come in all kinds of interesting shapes that aren't possible with other materials.


Ceramic is a great material because it is not porous and is very smooth.  One of the best companies for this is which creates porcelain dildos in a fun a creative way.


Stone toys are made from highly polished stone and make for a heavy toy.  You can find them with or without sealants depending on the type of stone.  Some can be slightly porous so it is important to ask any Etsy craftor about the materials used and make sure it is safe.

Stone is mostly used to make buttplugs and dildos and there are a lot of options on Etsy.  

DIY Sex Toy Testing

The Flame Test

A common material in jelly toys in benzene which is highly flammable.  By taking a flame to your dildo you can check that it is silicone and not jelly.

The Lick Test

This is a technique that Matis Black mentions in several of her interviews.  You lick the toy and then if your tongue goes numb you know that it is dangerous.  It's not my favorite test just because licking it is kind of gross in my opinion.  As an alternative to this I just smell it and if it smells chemically I know it has phthalates - this takes more experience though.

Polariscope Test

You can use a polariscope to check if your toy is properly annealed.  A cheap polariscope is about $30 on amazon and is used by jewelers and geologists.

It will reveal the flow of the glass and show you how it cooled.  If the toy shows rainbow colors it is weaker and more fragile than a clear toy.

Lead Test

You can get a simple lead testing kit that will show you if a toy contains lead.  Lead can appear in glass toys with a varnish coating on them.

Sex Toy Regulations

There are still very few regulations on sex toys.  The government is hesitant to fund any studies and there are many loopholes that shady companies use to get by with making cheap toys.


The FDA is responsible for approving medical devices.  Since sex toys are considered novelties they don't have to approve them before they hit the market.  So there is nothing stopping dildos filled with materials that are not approved for things like spoons and children's toys.


The consumer protection service commission does oversee sex toys.  However they do not test them before they are released to the public.

It's only when the receive consumer reports of dangerous toys that they will investigate and do recalls on novelty items.  But most people are too embarrassed or blame themselves when a toy causes burns.

The Novelty Label

While sex toys should be classified as medical devices, most are not.  Instead they are considered novelties.

A novelty means that it is intended to be for visual and aesthetic purposes.  By selling toys as novelties stores can get away with selling dildos made of cheap and dangerous materials.

Safe Sex Toy Retailers and Manufacturers

Since sex toys have little regulation it's up to you to find the good sex toy manufacturers.  Over the last 20 years there have been more and more sex positive shops you can choose from and most big cities have one by now.


These are shady sex shops with names like XXX World.  You will find their shops near strip clubs and they will have all their toys in their packaging, and you can't touch or smell them.  Much of the packaging is aggressive and disrespectful to women.

​Beware of Everything Shops

Amazon - Amazon brands itself a store that sells everything.  But the way they do this is by allowing anyone to sell on the Amazon as a 'merchant'.  This means chinese companies can put up copycat products for sale and can sell the most toxic and dangerous toys manufactured.  This makes it a risky gamble to buy sex toys on Amazon, especially dildos.  However for some niche items like sex swings and sex furniture it can have cheaper prices.

If you do buy something on Amazon be sure to read the reviews first to see what people say about it.   I try to make sure that whatever I buy has at least 15 reviews.  Anything with no reviews is probably re-listed because the old product had negative reviews.  Don't be the first one to experiment with a new product that has no reviews.

Lovehoney, Adam & Eve - There are other big ecommerce stores online that sell all kinds of dildos.  I try to avoid lovehoney and adam&eve because they don't clearly label the products and stock all kinds of made-in-china toys made from mystery rubbers.

Sex-Positive Shops

The absolute best place to buy sex toys is your local sex-positive shop.  These are usually woman owned and have very friendly staff and free educational workshops.

Many of these shops also have their own websites you can order products from if you are not close enough to their store.

Good retailers:

  • Smitten Kitten
  • Babeland
  • Early To Bed
  • Good Vibrations
  • She Vibe

Some manufacturers that swear by body safe toys

  • Tantus
  • Vixen Creations
  • Njoy
  • Nobessence
  • Crystal Delights


Phthalate Risks and Alternatives - University of Maryland -

Phthalates and Male Reproductive Tract Development -