Sex: The final frontier

Why do we tolerate toxic plastic and excessive packaging in sex toys?

Credit: Luc Latulippe

They’ve graduated from seedy storefronts, but why has the green revolution bypassed sex toys?

It’s not very easy to track down good, green sex products. No really. Cruelly, though the delights and benefits of sex products are almost innumerable, the health and eco downsides of most are almost as many.

Vancouverites’ interest is ahead of the curve, according to Andrea Dobbs, retail manager of Vancouver sexual products retailer Womyn’s Ware. She notes that consumers interested in green sex products are the same ones who eat local and organic food, and use natural moisturizers. It’s about what they put into their bodies, she notes, and this city is a leader in such concerns.

It’s still very difficult to source good eco products, and she compares it to calling a distributor in search of fair trade, organic coffee and being encouraged to buy crack – they’re both stimulants, right? Most sex toys are still made overseas, she notes – for a dollar or so – out of toxic materials; they’re then distributed through a corporate chain, and sold for $150 at a store with windows covered in stickers and a display with blow-up dolls.

Happily, there are some tantalizing green sex product options available. And in Vancouver, there are sex shops outside of the red light district – in green tree districts, even – with windows, that sell local designs and products. Still, right now, sex toys are often a downer, and sex-positive often means green-negative.

One reason, when it comes to toys anyway, is that archaic laws in some American states make it illegal to create or sell anything whose primary use is the “stimulation of human genital organs” (as the law in Texas reads), but allow “novelty” items to be made and sold. Even in Canada, “novelty” items don’t need to be medically tested, and are often made of toxic materials. Eww.

What to do? “Avoid anything with a futuristic name, like phthalate,” says Dobbs. Phthalate – which makes plastic squishy and jelly-like – is banned in baby toys, or in anything for medical use, as it tends to make plastic break down and give off gas. Sexy. And, many lubes have artificial colours, flavours and scents, which contain toxins.

“If you’re going to be putting something into your body,” says Vera Zyla, the co-owner and sex educator at The Art of Loving, another retailer of sex products, “it’s a short little jump into your bloodstream . . . membranes are so soft and permeable.” The good news, she adds is that despite the lack of legislation, the industry is changing; fewer people are buying toxic products, and supply and demand is the most powerful turn-on to manufacturers and retailers.

Zyla says she has recently seen “huge growth” in requests from Vancouver shoppers for healthy materials, especially among people hoping to get pregnant. And she’s also seen a demand for more eco materials such as silicone toys, and organic lube.

However, there’s no such thing as LEED certification when it comes to sex toys, so Dobbs encourages people to zone in on their priorities – health, carbon use, packaging, and so on.

“And oh my god, are they ever over-packaged,” she says. “Like you see a small bottle of lube in a plastic bottle, that’s inside a big clamshell, which is in a plastic sleeve, then in a box wrapped in plastic. It takes you seven hours to get into the box,” she says, laughing. Perfect for those romantic moments.

Womyn’s Wear focuses on sourcing products that are locally designed and locally produced, to save on fuel. The store buys in bulk, and insists on no packaging. And Dobbs looks for motorized toys designed so that you can replace just the motor instead of the whole toy, if it breaks.

If “less is more” doesn’t entirely apply when it comes to green sex, at least it can with the products themselves.

Read Vanessa Richmond’s past columns