Dirty Toys

Friday, January 15, 2010


Last December, Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett wrote a letter to federal Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq, expressing concern "for the urgent need for responsibility in the adult toy industry." Have a look at the letter here: http://www.carolynbennett.ca/dev/downloads/ACF10.pdf.

The whole thing got started when Bennett paid a visit to Red Tent Sisters, a local independent sex toy store. "We talked a little bit about sex toys and she was shocked to find out they weren't regulated," says co-owner Kim Sedgwick, who was happy to apprise Bennett of this fact because, "I just want there to be a dialogue around it."

Red Tent Sisters takes a special interest in disseminating information about the chemicals in cheaper sex toys and their potential health risks, offering people the chance to give informed consent. "There isn't going to be research done unless people talk about it," says Sedgwick. "We seem to take this 'Let's assume everything's safe until we find out otherwise' attitude. With women's health issues, it's always way after the fact that we research it."

Come As You Are, a co-operatively run sex store in Toronto, was pleased to see an MP talking about sexuality and sex toys in a way that "wasn't questioning an individual's right to use them." But co-owner Cory Silverberg says there are some flaws in the way the issue is being framed.

You can read a joint statement and a letter addressed to Carolyn Bennett from the co-op here: http://www.comeasyouare.com/default/index.cfm/blog/sex-toy-safety-in-canada-a-response-to-hon-dr-carolyn-bennett/.

I spoke to Silverberg further on the topic. Here's the Q&A that came out of it:

Sasha: If they can ban toxic materials in baby toys, that suggests to me that they've come up with a less toxic, presumably equally economical materials to use in sex toys. Is this the case?
Cory Silverberg: Good question. There might be lots of materials they could make sex toys out of that would be safer for our bodies and the environment. Unfortunately that kind of innovation is slow to come to sex. One possible positive outcome of a challenge like this is that it would kick manufacturers in the butt, and they'd start thinking more about safety and less about the quick sale.
S: Aren't toys made of silicone becoming more affordable as the demand for them goes up?
CS: Not really. All our 100-per-cent silicone toys are still hand poured and made by relatively small manufacturers. So they cost more to make. Plus, these small manufacturers don't rely on minimum-wage labour—they tend to pay well, offer health plans, etc. Our prices have gone down a bit, but that's due in part to having Happy Valley, a local manufacturer, and to the strength of the Canadian dollar.
S: Can you suggest other sex toy materials already on the market that are good and cheap and not so toxic?
CS: We don't have research on anything and these chemicals are ubiquitous in other consumer products. So we still take the position that we don't know what will actually harm you in sex toys.

That said, there's no research at all to suggest that silicone, wood, metal, glass toys or hard plastic toys that don't have BPA [bisphenol A] in them have any negative health effects.

We feel torn in this situation because we would love good research on this, and in Canada that often means getting the government involved. But at the same time we're wary of government regulation around sexuality, since they haven't exactly had the best track record in the past.

S: Wasn't there some research done in the early 2000s that suggests the chemicals used in certain sex toys are dangerous and have caused damage? Endocrine disruption, for example?
CS: Yes. There is research showing that phthalates and BPA are a problem for the human body and for the environment. The problem is that we don't know if they are a problem in sex toys since whenever anyone does research on consumer products they pick examples from every category (cosmetics, small appliances, clothing, medical supplies) but they never include sex toys. That's what I think we need to correct. Sex toys should be treated like any other consumer product, no more and no less regulation.

I know that phthalates are a concern around fucking with hormones and infant development. And BPA in incredibly high concentrations has been found to cause sexual dysfunction. But that was with men who were literally soaking in the stuff because they were factory workers in China. When it's in a sex toy, does it cause any harm? Who knows?

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