How to regulate a sex toy

For the first time a universal international standard for sex toys is being considered. Emily Writes goes balls deep to see what New Zealand’s biggest adult retailer and  the observer to the Project Committee thinks.

Stats on just how many people own sex toys are hard to come by (no pun intended). But there’s no doubt about the enthusiasm in New Zealand. I’ve been working recently with Adult Toy Megastore, who have just moved into a 3,500 square warehouse – ten times the size of the previous site – in Grenada North.

A 2009 study found that nearly half of all US men and over half of heterosexual women said they had used a vibrator. Another study found that 79% of gay or bisexual men reported having used a sex toy, while 70% of lesbian women and 79% percent of bisexual women said they’d used a vibrator.

American outlet Adam & Eve have said that people spend US$15 billion a year on sex toys in the United States alone.

But are they safe?

Back in 2013, in the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law, and Justice, the question was asked: How do you regulate the sex-toy industry? Granted, the commentary was in an American context, but the analysis is still appropriate closer to home.

“While administrative agencies … regulate thousands of other consumer products for dangers such as toxic chemicals, harmful design flaws, and inaccurate or misleading packaging, sex-toy manufacturers remain free to engage in all three practices. Although the Food and Drug Administration classifies vibrators as obstetrical and gynaecological therapeutic medical devices for treating sexual dysfunction and improving pelvic-floor muscle tone, most consumers use vibrators and other sex toys purely for pleasure. In order to try to avoid adhering to the FDA regulations imposed on medical devices, manufacturers frequently label vibrators and other sex toys ‘for novelty use only’.”

It’s not too dissimilar in New Zealand, and for the first time, The International Standardisation Authority has established a new project committee to develop a standard on sex toys design and safety. Standards NZ facilitates New Zealand involvement in the Project Committee ISO/PC 325  Sex toys – Design and safety requirements for products in direct contact with genitalia, the anus, or both.

Adult Toy Megastore is the New Zealand observer to the Project Committee.

A lot of sex toys.

Nicola Relph opened Adult Toy Megastore in 2009. She says the industry says the industry should welcome and would benefit from more regulation.

“We have always taken the approach that we want to protect our customers so we have always put their safety first despite the lack of standards and regulation. This involves only importing products from organisations that are reputable and safe.”

“We see a lot of people wanting the cheapest product possible so they’re going to places like Wish and Aliexpress – where you can’t necessarily trust the manufacturer you’re getting it from. And there’s no recourse if something was to happen.”

“You have to use trusted retailers and manufacturers – a toy you buy for 50c or $1 – well, that’s a real gamble.”

And it’s not just toxic materials that are a risk to consumers. It’s the design of toys. “Toys that are properly made won’t malfunction,” says Relph. “If you’re putting it in your body you need to make sure it’s safe. You need to be confident that a toy labelled as waterproof is in fact waterproof – you don’t want any type of shock!”

“Using an anal toy that doesn’t have a flared base could mean your toy can’t be extracted. It’s really dangerous and can cause serious injury. Using a glass toy that isn’t made for the purpose it’s being used for – it could really hurt you.”

There can be severe consequences to unsafe toys. “You need an intermediary – a store that’s dedicated to only selling toys – that’s willing to stake its reputation on what’s being sold.”

Sex toy safety doesn’t begin and end with the quality of the product either. Safe use is vital and unfortunately, some people don’t know how to use toys safely.

Sophie McGrath and heaps of sex toys.

Sophie McGrath, the customer satisfaction specialist at the retailer, says it is important toys are washed well after every use. “Toys need to be kept clean. We encourage people to wash their toys in warm soapy water after use and then to use a toy cleaner. You need to dry it thoroughly or let it air dry well before putting it away to avoid mould. If your sex toy isn’t waterproof, don’t allow water to get anywhere near the motor or battery compartment.”

You need to be careful when you’re using toys too. “Using a condom on a toy is a good idea if you’re transferring it between partners or body parts. Sexually transmitted diseases may be passed on through shared use of toys.”

“If you take it out of your vagina and want to put it in your anus, put on a new condom. You don’t want to transfer bacteria.”

Many sex toys come with specific storage or care instructions, so make sure to look out for anything unique to your toy that these tips might not cover. “Even the best sex toys don’t last forever. If your sex toy is looking a little worse for wear, or if they’re no longer holding their charge for long, it’s time to upgrade. If the sex toy is within warranty, make sure you organise a replacement.”

Ultimately, Nicola Relph believes regulation and standard setting along with continued education on the safe use of toys would be helpful.

“Everyone deserves a healthy sex life and sex toys are definitely mainstream now. I’m personally thrilled that standards might be set, continued improvement in any industry is always a good thing in my opinion. When you’re a retailer, no matter what you’re selling, you have an obligation to your customer to keep them safe.”

Emily Writes is working with Adult Toy Megastore in her official capacity as a horny dirtbag.

The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.