Sex toys are truly a wonder; they do more than just offer up orgasms left and right. In a society that doesn’t want you to learn about your body, sex toys can be the key to figuring out your body’s pleasure potential—regardless of the sex organs you possess.
At the same time, we still have a lot of deep-seated discomfort around these motorized gadgets. We live in a world that is at once obsessed with sex and disgusted by it. We don’t want to inform young people about safer-sex practices or sexual ethics, and yet free gangbang porn is available with a simple Google search.
I have nothing against gangbang porn, but this does highlight one very important outcome of our backward notions about human sexuality: We don’t have good, solid information on essentially anything to do with sex, toys included.
Don’t get me wrong, if you go onto (almost) any major magazine’s website you will find articles on sex toys, how to use them, and what to buy. However, as a certified sex educator, I’ve noticed a key component that is missing from these positive editorials: how to use sex toys while avoiding sexually transmitted infection (STI) transmission.
Sex toys offer up a host of ways to explore yourself, whether on your own, with one partner, or with multiple partners. However, this doesn’t mean sex toys are some free pass to skipping safer sex. “Some folks may assume that sex toys are completely safe to use repeatedly and with different partners, simply because they are inanimate objects,” Kamil Lewis, AMFT, a somatic sex therapist, tells TheBody.
This thinking is incorrect. Sex toys absolutely can facilitate the spread of STIs if the user ignores proper sanitation, doesn’t consider a toy’s materials, and doesn’t use barrier methods. We need to get this information out in order to take charge of our sexual health.
Here is how you can avoid STI transmission if you’re using sex toys, in five simple steps.
Step 1: Know Your Materials
Only use toys with materials that are “body safe” (unless using a masturbation sleeve; see below). What does this mean? It means only purchasing sex toys that are made of materials that are unlikely to be breeding grounds for bacteria.
Taylor Sparks, an erotic educator and founder of the sexual wellness brand, Organic Loven, tells TheBody that this is one of the main misunderstandings around toys: “Most people do not know how porous the materials that their toys are made of [are],” she says.
Porous materials hold onto and “soak up” bacteria, making them very difficult to fully sanitize. Common porous materials that sex toys are made of include rubber or thermoplastic elastomer/rubber (TPE/TPR).
You might be wondering why you need to consider this at all. Like, aren’t there government agencies designed to not let companies make sex toys out of harmful materials? Nope. Sex toys are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. This means that companies can basically make sex toys out of whatever they want. You need to be your own advocate. I know it sucks, but that’s the world we live in.
Stick to toys that are made of body-safe silicone, ABS plastic, glass, metal (like stainless steel), or wood. These materials are non-porous and are therefore much safer to use on multiple bodies.
As mentioned above, the only time porous materials are hard to avoid are with masturbation sleeves (such as a Fleshlight). These are made from TPE/TPR, a soft material that gives them their realistic feel. Do not use masturbation sleeves with multiple partners under any circumstances, unless you know their STI status.
Step 2: Sanitize Your Sex Toys After Every Single Use
You should be fully sanitizing your sex toys after every single use, whether you’re alone or with a partner or partners. How you clean each toy will depend on the toy’s material. Read the directions for each toy you use before you ever use them. In most instances, warm water and a mild soap will do. In the case of glass and metal toys, you can often stick them on the top rack of a dishwasher for a full sanitization.
Listen to me: Read the directions.
Sparks says you can opt for a sex-toy cleaning spray for a quick fix. “Use an organic toy cleaner such as Intimate Earth Green Foaming Cleanser, which contains natural tea-tree oil and guava bark, both antibacterial.” This method of cleaning should not replace fully washing your sex toys between uses, but it can be useful if you’re having sex with multiple people at once or want to wait until the morning to wash your toys after a pre-bedtime sex/solo sesh.
3. Be Mindful of Where You’re Putting Your Sex Toys in and on Your Body
One of the problems with mainstream porn is the obsession with going from anal to vaginal penetration and vice versa. When people see these films in lieu of proper sex education, they are led to believe that moving between orifices is an OK thing to do. This is absolutely not the case—whether you’re using a penis, hand, or sex toy.
One “thing people get wrong is moving toys between oral, anal, and vaginal areas without cleaning the toy,” Lucy Rowett, a certified sex coach and clinical sexologist, tells TheBody. “Never go ‘back to front,’ [as in] move anal bacteria to the vaginal or oral areas, because this can create an infection. Basically, don’t move a vibrator or a dildo from somebody’s anus to their vagina”—ever.
Step 4: Use Condoms With Your Sex Toys
If you want to avoid the spread of STIs, put a condom on your sex toy. Using condoms with your sex toys is less complicated than you might imagine. If you’re using something like an anal plug or a vibrator, simply grab a condom and roll it on the way you would a for a penis. It won’t affect the power of vibrating toys.
“Using a barrier method like a condom with multiple partners applies to sex toys too, because you are spreading bacteria between partners when you cannot be 100% sure of the STI status,” Rowett says.
If you’re using sex toys with multiple partners in one sex session, you need to change the condom every time the toy changes bodies in order to avoid spreading STIs. If you don’t switch, there is no point in using the condom at all.
Step 5: Get Tested Regularly
Lastly, and possibly most importantly, no matter what kind of sexual activity you engage in, get tested regularly for STIs. This is crucial to your sexual health and the sexual health of your partners. If you don’t know the STI status of your partner, use barrier methods.
We all need to safeguard our sexual wellness in any way we can. You are in control.