I’m frequently asked about how safe sex toys are. Due to the lack of human interaction, many people still believe that sex toys are completely void of sexually transmitted infections, but this belief is inaccurate. Whether you are sharing a sex toy anally, vaginally, orally, or even externally on the vulva and male genitals, the fact is sex toys can transfer infections and encourage other nasties. Many STIs can be conveyed via the skin surface poress through skin to skin connection, and via exchanging of bodily fluids, this can be true to the pores found within certain sex toy materials housing the STI or fluid containing the infection, becoming in contact with human skin surface.
Yet, you may believe you are completely STI free, but the truth of the matter is that many of us are unaware of being infected. With many of us frequently having multiple partners, and fetish and swinging scenes growing where people will take on new subs, lovers, and even poly relationships, it’s becoming more frequent that STIs are spreading through our sexual play. Many of us still neglect to ask our partners sexual history, and lots of us overlook the important of getting a sexual health MOT. Sex toys can transfer infections and the best prevention when sharing toys is hygiene and using a barrier method per product.
Below you will find a list of STIs which can be transferred via sharing sex toys:
Bacterial vaginosis / Vaginitis / and Thrush: These are not STI’s as such, but infectionscan occur via intercourse and sharing sex toys. It is a bacterial infection which produces and imbalance within the vagina, often resulting in an unpleasant discharge and smell. Certain lubricants can also encourage an outbreak of BV, in particular those with acidic PH balances, and ones with added sugars. BV is treated with antibiotics. Hang on am confused- Thrush is a yeast infection, Bacterial Vaginosis is bacterial and Vaginitis is irritation caused by either or friction. You may want to calrify these.
Chlamydia: Is a bacterial infection transferred via intercourse and sharing sex toys. The bacterium is present in semen and vaginal fluid and can be treated through taking antibiotics. Chlamydia can cause no symptoms although some people will experience unpleasant discharge from the genitals, unusual vaginal bleeding, and painful urination. Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs within the UK, and if gone unchecked it can cause infertility later in life. Prevention method is recommended hygiene and a barrier method during intercourse and sex toy interaction.
Genital Herpes: This is a viral infection known as herpes simplex virus. Once contracted, it’s stuck with you for life. People who suffer from it can often experience outbreaks where the infection is most present and infectious, during this time it is best to avoid sharing sex toys without barrier methods. When using sex products, if the outbreak is particularly painful, a body safe lubrication may be beneficial. Anti viral medication can be used to ease systems during particularly bad outbreaks. Some suggestions have been made that those who suffer from herpes may experience outbreaks due to friction and irritation around the infected area, due to this you may wish to choose a sex toy which causes minimal drag, mild texture, and less intense vibrations. Although many don’t experience any symptoms, many experience blistering, soreness, and itching. It can show-up in the mouth, vaginal canal, and external genitals, due to this, even sharing sex toys orally with someone with the infection can help spread it.
Genital Warts / HPV: Human papillomavirus, is a viral infection which is transferred via external and penetrative contact. During sex and sex toy play, even if sharing external sex toys, a barrier method is recommended. Using dental Dams, latex / nitrile gloves, and detail dams offer the widest coverage during protection. HPV or more commonly known as genital warts comes in various formations, often leading to systems of wart-like or rash-like distortions upon the body. They can take months or even years to show-up, the condition is treatable with creams, in more severe cases a visit to the GUM for surgery may be necessary. HPV can damage the cervix’s natural cells opening-up a greater risk factor to developing other infections and disease such as cervical cancer.
Gonorrhoea: A bacterial infection spread through exchanging of body fluids. It can incubate within the urethra, cervix, and rectum. It can be passed on through intercourse, oral, and sex toys. So sharing sex toys, even orally without washing between uses or changing the barrier method can spread the infection. If you suffer from this infection, you are capable of spreading it to different orifices, so make sure you wash sex toys and change the barrier before hopping from vaginal to anal, and vice versa. Gonorrhoea can produce a nasty looking greeny yellow discharge from the genitals, and pain within the lower stomach cramps in women. New strains of the virus are constantly evolving, although still currently treatable, the bacteria is starting to show resistance to many available antibiotics.
Hepatitis: Is a viral infection which affects the liver. The virus produces flu-like symptoms and the majority of people can fight it off within a few months, however some people suffer from it chronically. There are three main types of this particular infection which can be transferred via sex toys; hepatitis A, B, and C. These are transfer via exchanging of bodily fluids such as blood, saliva, semen, vaginal fluids, and faeces.
HIV: HIV is a viral infection which attaches the body’s immune system, once contracted it sticks with you for life. It can take show signs of symptoms within days, up to years. The virus basically shows-up as a general weakening of the body’s defences and openness to additional infections and disease. Although incurable, it can be managed with various treatments. It can spread via sex toys, and those which incorporate any hard limits into their play which may lead to laceration or sharing blood play implements should play with extra cautious and adopt individual devices rather than shared. HIV’s transition rate tends to be higher when blood is mixed into the affected person’s bodily lubrication. Barrier methods and sex toy hygiene is necessary perorations to prevent spreading it to other sexual partners. There is a higher risk of distributing the infection onto another individual when the contaminated product is used within minutes after being covered in the infected bodily fluids Sex toys which don’t exchange bodily fluids and blood do not spread HIV.
Pubic Lice / Crabs and Scabies: Pubic lice and scabies are parasitic insects which attach themselves to pubic hair, such as bikini lines and underarm hair. They can grow up to a few mm large, although may not always be visible. Symptoms may induce itching, dandruff, and inflammation of the skin. They are often transfer by close bodily contact, although they can also attach themselves to some fabrics, so it is advisable to avoid sharing fabric bondage gear with someone who has infected. Treatment for pubic lice tends to be the application of a lotion, cream or shampoo available from your GP or pharmacies. It is also recommended to wash any fabric garments which may have been infested.
Scabies: See above; Pubic Lice/Crabs and Scabies.
Syphilis: This is a bacterial infection which can be passed on via contact and penetration through anal, vaginal, oral, skin to skin contact, and sex toys. It is transferred through blood, fluid, and direct contact with affected areas and sores. Preventing syphilis can be difficult and even barrier methods such as condoms can be ineffective, although this doesn’t mean you should avoid these precautions. Symptoms will often show-up in the form of sores, these can make affected areas highly delicate and prone to tissue damage. Even after treatment past infected areas may have scar tissue, which will need careful consideration when using a sex toy as well as recommended additional lubrication. The condition requires treatment from antibiotics and if left untreated can be lethal.
Trichomonas: This is a parasitic infection. The parasite (Trichomonas vaginalis) attaches itself to genital tissue and feeds off the body to survive; it can weaken the body’s natural defences against other infections. It often causes symptoms such as soreness and itching and can be treated with antibiotics. Although the risk is rare, it can be spread via sex toys.
Notes on avoiding spreading STIs and re-infection with sex toys:
- Clean your sex toys after each use.
- Get tested! Particularly important if you are multiple sexual partners, whether it be a sub/Dom relationship, swingers, poly, open relationship, if it involves sexual contact get tested before you play.
- Always wash new toys before first use. Sex toys should arrive unused and produced within hygienic environments, but to be on the safe side it’s best to clean products when first opened.
- Returned sex toys are never resold. Companies should never resell used sex toys.
- Inspect your sex toys prior to use for any damaged and difficult to clean areas which may house germs.
- Don’t transfer a sex toy from different orifices without either cleaning the product between exchanges or changed the barrier method used.
- Replace porous toys after an infection – although many STIs have a short life span it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Don’t share toys without a barrier.
- When using multiple toys and playing with multiple partners, use separate barrier methods for each toy per partner.
- When purchasing sex toys aimed for partner play always opt for a product made from non-porous materials such as ABS plastic, silicone, metal, glass, stone, and glazed ceramic.
- Avoid porous materials when sharing sex toys, such as Jelly, TPR, latex rubber, cyberskin, and other polymers.
- When using additional lubrications, particularly when either partner has an infection, apply it to your own body rather than allowing your partner to spread it onto you. Or alternatively use latex or nitrile gloves when massaging lubricant into each other’s bodies.
- Some STIs will leave damaged tissue even after infection has cleared. You may need to consider the type of sex toys used in future to prevent further discomfort. A body safe lubrication will help prevent uncomfortable friction and additional damage.
- Remember that not all STIs show symptoms and if in doubt always contact your doctor or visit a GUM clinic – you can even use drop-in centres anonymously.