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Dangerous Toxins in Sex Products

Sex is a natural part of being human, but the reason it’s so pleasurable, well — that’s based in science. When you have sex, your brain releases chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin, which results in a laundry list of mental and physical benefits. A healthy sex life with a consenting partner has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep, make you more confident, and can even help you live longer. If we’re talking about sex, though, we need to address an often-overlooked problem. Many condoms, lubricants, and sex toys contain toxic chemicals and harmful ingredients that you may be unknowingly introducing into the bedroom — and your body. 



Some Condoms Are Full Of Toxins

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Condoms come in a variety of materials, including latex, polyurethane, and lambskin. You should always use a condom when practicing safer sex, but if the brand you’re slipping on doesn’t explicitly say their product is non-toxic, you’re likely exposing yourself — and your partner — to harsh or dangerous substances. 


For additional protection, some manufacturers coat the outside of their condoms in spermicide, the most common of which is nonoxynol-9. Prolonged exposure to nonoxynol-9 has been linked to inflammation of the vagina, cervix, and rectum. It doesn’t stop there. Parabens, glycerin, casein, and benzocaine have all been found in popular condom brands. Parabens are used in lubricated condoms due to their antimicrobial properties, which prevent the growth of bacteria. That might seem logical, but studies show paraben chemicals are hormone disruptors and have the potential to cause infertility problems, reproductive harm, birth defects, and an increased risk of cancer



Meanwhile, glycerin, a preservative that’s also used as a lubricant as well as in flavored condoms, can transform into sugar if left in the vagina for an extended period and act as a catalyst for a yeast infection. Casein is a milk protein used in latex condoms to help make them smoother — which presents a problem if you’re vegan or have a dairy allergy. Then there’s Benzocaine, a topical anesthetic known to cause irritation, inflammation, and dryness.       


Many Lubricants Include Synthetic Substances

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Like condoms, glycerin, parabens, and benzocaine are widely-used in sexual lubricants. Petrochemicals like propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol, aka ingredients made from crude oil, are also prevalent. That description alone is scary. Even scarier — the side effects these substances have on the human body. 



These chemicals can throw off the pH balance of the vagina, increasing the risk of bacterial vaginosis, and cause vaginal, cervical, and rectal tissue damage. Lubricants made with synthetic ingredients also typically have a high osmolality, or a substance’s ability to draw out moisture from a tissue or cell. A high osmolality can dry out vaginal tissue and cause irritation, discomfort, and a higher risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). 



You should also be wary of flavored and fragranced lubricants from brands who aren’t transparent about their ingredients. By adding a pleasant smell or taste to lubricants, companies are able to sneak in additives like carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and allergens into their products without disclosing it to the consumer.               



Sex Toys Aren’t Free Of Chemicals

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Yep — there are even toxic chemicals lurking in your sex toys. The sex toy industry is sort of like the wild west in that it’s not very well regulated. Because of this, there are a lot of products out there made of “jelly rubber” or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which, according to studies, contain extremely high levels of phthalates — endocrine disrupting plasticizing chemicals — that leach out of the PVC, get absorbed by the skin, and end up in your body. 



Trimethyltin chloride, used to manufacture plastics like PVC, can be especially harmful to women that are pregnant or nursing. It has been connected with reproductive hazards as well as neurotoxicity issues in development and learning impairments. Similarly, the petrochemical solvent toluene has been shown to cause reproductive and developmental toxicity.    


Look For These Safer-Sex Products

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Luckily, there are plenty of non-toxic products out there. Here are some great options to look for. 


  • GLYDE specializes in certified non-toxic, vegan, Fair-Trade condoms.
  • Sustain Natural is a certified B Corp offering Fair-Trade and FSC-certified latex condoms as well as USDA-certified organic and petroleum-free body and massage oils. 
  • Good Clean Love is a clean ingredient-focused company selling water-based lubricants made with 95% certified organic aloe, along with feminine hygiene products.  
  • Sliquid is an eco-friendly lubricant brand featuring only clean ingredients. 
  • Loveability offers sustainable, body-safe products including lubricants, condoms, and more.
  • We-Vibe is sex toy company offering products that are free of phthalates and BPAs.
  • Fun Factory offers high-quality, responsibly- and ethically-manufactured toys made with body friendly materials. 


A good rule of thumb is to avoid anything flavored or scented, seek out certified organic lubricants, and buy only from manufacturers that disclose all the materials they use. Sex should be fun and enjoyable, without the stress of exposure to harsh and harmful chemicals. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in. But, it’s good to know there are safe, non-toxic options out there — you just have to do a little extra research and label reading.



meredith oconnor

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