The materials that sex toys are made from are more important than most people realise. Think about when you shop for clothes - you choose denim because it’s hard-wearing, cotton for cool crispness, a jersey for stretch and comfort, synthetics for special properties such as water resistance, and silk for its luxury feel against the skin. And so on and so forth.
It is much the same when it comes to choosing a sex toy. Materials like silicone, plastic, rubber and glass not only look and feel different, they perform differently too, so it’s all up to what you want from your sex toys – and, of course, what your budget allows. Here’s a handy roundup of the most commonly-used materials along with their pros and cons.
A public health announcement
For around 6 per cent of the population there’s another crucial factor to consider: latex allergy. Among healthcare workers this figure rises to around 10 per cent, through frequent exposure to latex in disposable gloves. Thankfully, where sex toys are concerned, this is an easy problem to avoid. The vast majority of toys don’t include latex, and those that do are clearly labelled. Simply check the packaging or online descriptions before you buy.
You may also wish to avoid phthalates, a group of chemicals that make plastics flexible. Some studies show negative health impacts in areas as wide-ranging as asthma to male fertility, and regulatory bodies are now taking the issue of phthalates seriously. Sex toy manufacturers have responded by removing phthalates from the majority of their products in favour of alternative, more body-friendly softening agents, so again, keep an eye on product descriptions when browsing.
With that out of the way, let's take a look at some of the most popular materials and textures use in sex toys!
Hard, hygienic and low-maintenance, ABS plastic is a favourite for bullets and classic vibrators. Plastic transfers vibrations extremely well and allows for firm, strong stimulation. It's also compatible with all lubricants and easy to clean. If you prefer a velvety touch, look for ”smooth coated” plastic which has been given a rubber-based or polyurethane coating.
This smooth, versatile material – also called TPE/TPR (thermoplastic elastomer/rubber) – is softer than hard plastics and is used to make toys with different levels of firmness and flexibility. It’s compatible with water-based lubes, but you might notice a slight ‘nail polish’ smell due to its chemical composition.
This is a broad term for sex toys made with tactile materials that are designed to be natural in both look and feel, particularly toys for men such as Fleshlights. CyberSkin, Real Feel Super Skin, Better-Than-Real, Fanta Flesh... all of these and more are names for essentially the same elastomer based material.
Realistic feel materials are porous, so it's important to clean them thoroughly and then use a renewer powder to keep them soft and velvety. They’re compatible with water-based lubricants, but for some people the rubbery smell and taste and the higher level of care required can be downsides.
Silicone is enjoying a massive surge in popularity and it’s easy to understand why. Silky smooth to the touch, it allows for gorgeous, shapely higher-end sex toys which feel good to insert either vaginally or anally. It’s non-porous, too, so it’s easy to clean and long-lasting. The Lovehoney Desire range of luxury toys are made from silicone, as are toys by brands like Lelo and Fifty Shades of Grey.
Silicone toys are phthalate and latex free, are odourless and don’t taste of anything. Many silicone toys are fully waterproof, despite having electrical insides, so you can take them into the shower or bath. The only real drawback is that you can’t use them with silicone-based lubricants, so stick to water-based ones.
Latex is a smooth, flexible form of rubber that can be made into amazing shapes, including inflatable sex toys. It has a smooth finish that can be polished with a silicone-based lubricant to give it a glossy, wet-look shine. It does require some special care to prolong its life, and some people are put off by the slight smell, but there are plenty of die-hard latex fans too.
One of the cheapest materials around, flexible (but rather smelly) jelly rubber is now going out of fashion for sex toys. While it can be shaped and coloured to almost any specification, some jelly rubbers contain phthalates, so always check packaging if this matters to you.
Metal and glass
The idea of metal and glass toys might be scary, but these are actually very practical, versatile and body-friendly materials. Because they are non-porous, toys in these materials not only look stunning and sculptural, they’re waterproof, compatible with all lubricants, very durable and can be completely sterilised after use.
Borosilicate glass doesn’t shatter if dropped, and like metal toys, glass ones have a weighty feel which is a turn-on for some people. The rigidity of glass and metal can also provide excellent g-spot and prostate stimulation.
Another benefit of these types of toys is that they can be warmed up or cooled down for sensory play, adding an extra dimension to your bedroom adventures.
Dani Cayetano is customer care specialist for online sex toy retailer Lovehoney.