Imagine a $15 billion-plus global industry with little to no product safety regulation. Not in this country, you might say. We have two words for you: sex toys.
OK, get the snickering out of your system. Feel better? The truth is, the sex toy industry is serious business in more ways than one.
Globally, it is projected that sex toy sales are going to be as much as 52 billion in just 4 years. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of adults worldwide have used sex toys during sex, and nearly half (44 percent) of all women between the ages of 18 and 60 have tried them, according to data compiled by StaticBrain. Even more serious than those numbers, however, is the issue of sex toy safety testing.
Medical devices are strictly regulated for many aspects of safety, including the materials used to make the products. “Adult novelties,” however, aren’t held to the same standards. With increasing consumer demand for sex toys — one market research organization predicts industry growth of nearly 7 percent by 2020 — and the prevalence of adult novelties made in countries where manufacturing processes and materials face little regulation, sex toy safety testing is gaining attention.
Lisa Lawless, Ph.D., is founder and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Science & Art in Sexuality (NAASAS). NAASAS devotes a good deal of attention to sex toy safety. “The issue here is more about the materials that sex toys are made of, and if they are safe to use,” said Dr. Lawless. “With many chemicals being used to create sex toys, it is important to be educated about what is safe and what is not.”
We have been called on more than once to conduct sex toy safety testing through a material safety screen. The screening involves X-Ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy, Semi-Quantitative Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy.
These tests can tell us a great deal about the materials present in a given adult novelty item, including if any compounds are present that raise toxicity concerns. For example, many sex toys still use phthalates, which the FDA has banned for use in children’s products. We can also tell how eco-friendly the ingredients in a product may be — information of interest to consumers who care about buying “green” products that have a lesser impact on the environment.
One of the most powerful advantages of science is its ability to enlighten people, even about things that many people may view as embarrassing or “NSFW.” Sex toy safety testing is one more way polymer testing science can make life better and healthier for people, by helping ensure the products they use are as safe as possible.