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.
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