Rules of Play


Woman Gets Vibrator Stuck in Bladder in Sex Romp Gone Wrong. Mortified Woman Rushed To Hospital With Sex Toy Stuck Up Bum. Americans love sex injury stories. Underlying the grimaces and shudders, these stories point to a larger problem. Sex toys — their size, shape, and what they are made of — go largely unregulated.

Administrative agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) keep careful tabs on consumer products. These agencies regulate thousands of consumer products for dangers such as toxic chemicals, harmful design flaws, or inaccurate and misleading packaging. Yet, sex toy manufacturers remain free from scrutiny.

The FDA oversees consumer products that are designed to put on or in our bodies- like food, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices. In a few select cases, sex toys have therapeutic uses and fit the FDA’s criteria for medical devices. To dodge stringent medical device regulations, manufacturers label their products “for novelty use only.” Sex toys are subject to the CPSC’s novelty regulations which do not require need extensive testing to ensure they’re safe for prolonged mucous membrane contact.

Without size and shape specifications, sex toys can pose significant injury risk. The woman whose vibrator made its way to her bladder? The toy in question was the size of a pencil. Butt plugs need flared bases to be safe, but some don’t have them. Furthermore, most sex toys do not come with operating instructions. By offering instructions for use, manufacturers open themselves up for potential regulation and limitations on where they can sell.

Sex toys — their size, shape, and what they are made of — go largely unregulated.


Some sex toy materials have been linked to long-term health problems. Phthalate plasticizers have been linked to breast cancer, developmental delays, decreased fertility, birth defects, and obesity. Children toys can’t contain phthalates at concentrations over 0.1% because children put them in their mouths. In a CPSC sample, plastic sex toys contain phthalates at an average 39% concentration. The worst offenders were made up of 77% phthalates. Sex toys, like children’s toys, are often in close contact with mucous membranes. Why don’t the same regulations apply?

This isn’t a niche issue. Over 50% of adults have used a sex toy, and numbers are even higher among women and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The road to government regulation has been slow. Another way forward is for the sex toy industry to regulate itself, much like CBD markets have. Some companies already commit to using “body safe” materials like silicone, stainless steel, and glass and testing their toys. By educating consumers and flooding the market with tested products, companies can drive the movement towards safer toys. But self-regulation have not nudged the wider market toward adequate safety.

Sex toys should be regulated like any other consumer good. Though comprehensive sex toy regulation is still distant, progress is being made. The American public deserves to be safe from toxic chemicals and hazardous design flaws in workplaces, public spaces, and the bedroom.

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