1. Health
Cory Silverberg

German Greens Warn of Dangerous Dildos

By July 4, 2011

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A piece published in Spiegel Online last Friday reports on an effort by Germany's Green Party to push the government to do something about the use of phthalates and other chemicals in the manufacturing of sex toys. The position paper is apparently titled "Sexual Health as a Consumer Protection Issue." Their argument (which we should keep in mind is made, no doubt, for any number of self-serving political reasons) is that if the government regulates other consumer products to protect the public, they should not be treating products used for sexual pleasure any differently simply because they have to do with sex.

This is a similar argument as the one a minister in the Canadian opposition made in a letter to the government in January 2010. And it's a good one. If the government considers it's job to include protecting citizens from harmful products, there is no reason why a butt plug should be treated any different than a hair brush (lord knows I've been to parties where they get treated roughly the same way).

But it's hard for me to get behind the specifics of either fight. For starters, it is hard to stomach focusing on this issue when huge segments of both societies lack access to basic health care services, affordable healthy food, affordable medications, to name some of the big items. It's hard to get motivated about a fight about sex toys when who gets access to care for TB for HIV for diabetes is determined largely by the color of your skin, the amount of money you make, how old you are, or how you make your way into a doctors office.

It also makes it more difficult for me to rally for this cause when the claims of harm are so exaggerated. There is plenty of good research that documents the potential damage from overall exposure to phthalates. I know I'm convinced by it. But using a dildo (or vibrator) alone isn't going to cause cancer. I'd be much more excited to see the Green Party integrate sexual health into all their platforms, to consider sexual health and sexuality when they are considering other environmental concerns. This feels more like an effort to get some e-ink (and look, it's working!)

When I worked in sex stores the fear tactics of other retailers always turned me off. For one, they felt inherently classist. If you think everyone can afford $90 for a silicone dildo you aren't spending much time listening to people outside your sex shop. Also, there are ways of dramatically reducing the risk of using any sex toy, and since many of these same retailers like to fly the flag of progressive politics, it seems odd that a harm reduction model gets thrown out when it comes to making a $90 sale versus a $30 sale.

It's encouraging to have anyone in positions of power talking about sexual health as part of overall health. But beyond that I think our critical thinking (or if you prefer, our cynicism) needs to kick in.

Read more - Speigel Online: Greens Warn against Dangerous Dildos

Related - Phthalates in Sex Toys ; Do Condoms Protect Against Phthalates? ; Are Sex Toys Dangerous?

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July 6, 2011 at 10:00 am
(1) Susie Bright says:

Thank you for saying this, blunt and true.

July 6, 2011 at 10:59 am
(2) Megan andelloux says:

Thank you for your thoughtful insight on this issue. I look forward to your posts every week.

July 6, 2011 at 11:03 am
(3) Steve Welch says:

Good points, here, but surely someone with a gas chromatograph could do a simple experiment to verify that latex is a barrier for these compounds, as most people suspect, and further if common lubricants reduce the effectiveness of that barrier. This isn’t rocket science, folks!

July 6, 2011 at 11:26 am
(4) Cory says:

@Susie, you know you are responsible for my earliest philosophical education about sex toys (the practical education came courtesy of the “massager” I found in my parents bedroom). I can’t think about dildos without thinking about Marx, and you.

@Steve, when I got the question about the condom as barrier I turned to Dr. Ted Schettler for an answer. I think you’re right, it isn’t rocket science, but someone has to be motivated to do it. Sadly sex is still not thought about as an activity of daily living and as such when people are studying health effects of various consumer products they rarely consider the sexual impact or the way that products are used as part of sex play. It’s also an issue of funding. No one wants to fund that research.

July 6, 2011 at 11:31 am
(5) Electric Lady says:

It’s all about educating people. Most people don’t realise there is no legislation governing what goes into sex toys in the same way that there is for sex toys or even pet toys.

It’s also a false argument to pretend it’s hard to focus on this as a health issue when there are bigger health issues out there. There are always a range of health issues (and indeed, other issues) for us to consider as a society. That doesn’t invalidate a discussion of any other issue than AIDS and cancer because they seem trivial by comparison.

Also, it’s potentially misleading to typify the industry as promoting expensive silicone toys as a safe alternative. Hard plastic toys are just as safe, and can be very cheap indeed (they don’t come much cheaper than the famous ladyfinger, for example!). The cost of silicone items is coming down all the time too.

I say, any government focusing on this as a health issue has to be a good thing, regardless of the millions of other important issues we need to be aware of.

July 6, 2011 at 11:47 am
(6) Cory says:

Thanks for sharing your thoughts EL. I appreciate your points and thanks for saying the part about not shutting down this conversation by arguing that there are more important things to talk about. I definitely didn’t want to suggest that we shouldn’t be talking about this because there are more important issues out there. I wrote about it because I think we should be talking about it. It’s just that when I think about the uneven ways government regulation impacts peoples health (it’s often good for middle-class and rich, heterosexual white folks, usually not as good for the rest of us) I’m not eager to ask them to regulate something like sex toys. I’m not saying there is an easy alternative, but I do believe there’s a better one.

Thanks again!

July 6, 2011 at 1:06 pm
(7) searah says:

Thanks for such a level-headed take on the issue.

I do think it is great that all the phthalate hooplah has prompted manufacturers to not only make safer toys, but also do a somewhat better job of just being more upfront about what toys are made of.

When I started in this business 10 years ago, vibes, dildos, plugs, etc. were not labeled with ANY info on what the toy was made of and now there is at least an attempt to indicate the material on the box (even if some manufacturers seem less honest about it than others).

I think it is my job as a retailer to stock quality toys in all price ranges, inform folks about these concerns and then let them make the choices they want to about what to use.

July 6, 2011 at 2:06 pm
(8) Cory says:

Searah, I’ve always felt like you and your store have been a great example of wanting to support better quality while addressing issues of class and embodiment. It’s hard to figure out exactly what it is, and obviously this is an entirely personal judgement, but my experience with some retailers is that there is a class piece to this that is unspoken, and all the more insidious because of it. Everyone says they just care about pleasure, but for many retailers what that means is pleasure on their terms, not yours.

Interestingly, have you checked out the Trojan Tri-Phoria. I received one and reviewed it recently and while it’s fine as a vibrator, it is shocking what a bad job they’ve done of communicating with consumers. As you say, these days there is much better labeling, and in some ways the Trojan product feels like a throw back. Which isn’t to say the vibrator itself is bad, just that what I imagined would be innovation actually feels more like the opposite.

July 6, 2011 at 2:52 pm
(9) Nicole Sartain says:

It is something to debate but nothing I’m really going to lose sleep over ever.

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