Lorax Of Sex

Sex Utensil Materials: Silicone (aka the Epic Silicone Post)

March 15, 2014 education 10 Comments
Lovely line of dildos

Silicone is one of the best materials for sex utensils, especially for so-called “soft toys”, but there can be some (understandable) confusion. Misconceptions and out-dated information gets tossed about on the internet, companies have vague or misleading packaging, and the utter lack of regulation in the adult industry can make figuring it all out rather difficult. I see a lot of questions and misinformation on a regular basis, so here’s a handy guide to put all the information in one place.

PolydimethylsiloxaneFirstoff- what is silicone anyhow? Silicone is a chemically-inert mixed organic-inorganic polymer compound typically comprised of silicon, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. For the science nerds out there (or those who just like to be technically correct), silicones are more precisely called polymerized siloxanes or polysiloxanes and have the backbone chemical composition of [R2SiO]n. Due to the variability  in the length of this backbone chain, it’s organic groups, and how they crosslink, silicone can take on a wide array of consistencies from fluids and gels, to rubbers or hard plastics.

What does that mean? It means it’s an awesome material that can come in a lot of textures which is non-toxic, is non-reactive and is not prone to microbial growth. In the sex utensil world there are generally two main forms of silicone which you’re likely to find: silicone oils (lube) and silicone rubber (utensils).

I won’t go super in-depth into silicone oils in the form of lube here, as that’s fodder a different post entirely, but there are a few things to mention. Silicone can be found in lubes, in pure-silicone and in hybrid water-silicone or oil-silicone blends. The important thing to remember here is to check your lube for ingredients that end in either -cone or -oxane as that will indicate the inclusion of silicone oils in the product. Silicone is totally safe and actually pretty awesome in lube but, because of the nature of silicone bonding only to itself, silicone in your lube can interact with the solid silicone causing the texture to change and the exterior of your beloved sex utensil to deteriorate. It’s the old “like dissolves like” rule. Yes- there are high-quality silicone lube companies out there (and silicone sex utensil companies) who tout their products as being cross compatible. These are usually companies who have higher standards as to the sourcing and chemical composition of the silicone oils they use, and thus a guaranteed consistency of product. I still don’t recommend silicone lube on softer silicones or dual-density silicones, but if you want to try it on a single-shore utensil, do a patch test on the base first. Most people say you’ll see/feel a reaction immediately but I actually prefer to leave it sit for a few minutes, give it a rub, clean it up, and then check back tomorrow. I’ve found some silicones have retained changes such as fingerprints following this type of patch-test, which never felt “sticky” or “gummy”.

Dildo allsortsSolid silicone used for sex utensils come in pretty much two camps: firm and soft. This is where you hear folk talk about “dual-density”, “single-density”, “VixSkin“, “O2“, “Super-Soft” and similar terms. Density in this case is a bit of a misnomer, the actual term here is shore strength or durometer. So-called “single density” utensils are the most common, where the item is comprised of the same shore silicone the whole way through. Think about filling your grandmother’s Jell-O mould with all one flavour. This is going to be the case for most dildos and butt plugs. The silicone exterior on vibrators is also in this category, though the process on those is a little different in the casting.

“Dual-density” is a little different. These are a core of firm silicone with a softer shore silicone on the outside. This gives them that nice squeezable and often more “realistic” feel, and is generally accomplished by formulating the silicone with a higher volume of silicone oils to solids. Think about the difference between making regular Jell-O vs. Jell-O Jigglers, the less water you use the firmer your dessert came out. That’s kinda how the difference between the two silicones works, and also how “super-soft” silicones work.

So that brings me to the question that sex-bloggers everywhere get constantly asked: how do they compare? The convenient thing about having a large sex-utensil collection, and friends with equally large collections, is that I can sit poke and prod the various textures to compare side-by-side. Consider this a Mohs Scale for dildos. Remember, these differences in sex utensil textures and how they feel when used in a vulva or anus will vary from human to human.

List of common objects shore strengthsSo, in orders of perceived shore strengths on silicones, hardest to softest:

  • Tantus handled toys and paddles
  • Early PleasureWorks realistics
  • Jollies
  • Fuze
  • Tantus plugs/dildos
  • Vamp RegularSkin
  • FunFactory
  • Vintage Vixen Creations (Circa 90′s/early 00′s)
  • Doc Johnson Platinum
  • PleasureWorks
  • BS Atelier
  • Tantus O2
  • Vixen Creations
  • Bad Dragon 8
  • Tantus “Cowboy Line” (Circa 2014 and onward)
  • Tantus SuperSoft
  • Dils4Does
  • Vamp SoftSkin
  • Bad Dragon 5
  • New York Toy Collective
  • VixenVixSkin with core
  • Bad Dragon 3
  • Vixen VixSkin without core

I find VixSkin to be softer/more malleable than Bad Dragon’s #3, but it depends on if you’re talking a through-and-through #3 or not, since VixSkin is generally cored. Tantus has a few different shore strengths that they work with, so that really depends on if you’re looking at a standard, an O2, or a SuperSoft model. Their (often but not always) matte silicone as used for things like Anaconda, paddles, G-Force, etc. tends to be a bit firmer, and the silicone used for the “Cowboy” line (Hoss, Cowboy, A-Bomb, etc.) has recently been reformulated to be slightly lower shore strength. Same thing with the Tantus O2 line- they’re cored a lot firmer than a standard single-shore but then have the softer skin, giving them a combined tactile feel of something in-between.

You’ll notice that I didn’t include vibrators up there. Silicone vibrators are a little different, and generally come in two styles: those that have a silicone skin over the mechanics, and those that are powered by a removable bullet. The latter fall into the above scale, where the former tend to take on the firm properties of the hard plastic which they encase (LELO is a great example of this). There are a few exceptions to this, and they are as follows (in no particular order at this time[1]):

  • FunFactory
  • JimmyJane
  • Iroha
  • Leaf
  • WeVibe
  • JeJoue
  • Jopen Vanity
  • Crave

Now the next big question, or piece of misinformation that is out there: can you store silicone sex utensils together? YES! I’m not entirely sure where this fallacy came from, but it’s been taught and re-taught since time immemorial. I’ve even seen it taught to folk in the so-called progressive sex-positive shops by progressive sex-positive educators. You most definitely CAN store your silicone sex utensils all together, in a jumble, if you like. A lot of folk still opt to bag their various dildos and plugs separately for ease of cleaning, to prevent lint and pet hair accumulation, and just to keep things a little more organised. That’s totally cool, you just don’t HAVE to. Vixen’s VixSkin products are best kept standing-up, so keeping those separately is a wise idea. They won’t melt or break down if stored with other silicone, but they may go a little lopsided if stored bent at all for a long period of time.

Questionable product packagingSilicone?Silicone "grade"?

Ok, I lied. I have an idea of where this “don’t store silicone with silicone!” business came from- products that are labeled as silicone, “silicone quality”, “silicone like”, or have confusing terms such as “sil-a-gel” on the packaging but which aren’t actually silicone. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that the adult product industry is still by-and-large unregulated[2]. This means that no one is overseeing what goes into products or how companies label said products. There is no “10% rule”[3] that sometimes gets talked about. There is no oversight preventing phthalates, VOCs, heavy-metals, or other toxins (many of which are banned in other household products, items for children or pets, or which consumers actively avoid) from finding their way into sex utensils and thus into your body. Scrutinise the packaging- something that says it’s silicone may later say it’s non-descript elastomer or TPR[4]. Does it say it’s silicone, or “silicone-grade”? Is it optically crystal-clear (not just translucent)? I often hear folks say they don’t want something silicone because of the “silicone smell” or “silicone taste” which- after much discussion I determine that what they’re talking about is PVC that is labeled with the misleading[5] “Sil-A-Gel” which technically isn’t a material at all but rather:

Sil-A-Gel is an ingredient that we add to all of our PVC material during the manufacturing stage. It is not a material unto itself. It is anti-bacterial, cadmium and latex free and utilizes ingredients that are on the FDA Safe Ingredient List….that is where the SIL stands for. This was not meant to trick anybody into thinking that this was a silicone product. – Doc Johnson’s Director of Product Development and Licensing

Burn!I’d also like to briefly address the “flame test”[6] that has been the standard for many sex utensil testers and sex bloggers for some time now. When this test first began being used, the methods of silicone production were mostly open-ended one-piece moulds into which the silicone was poured. Think again about that Jell-O mould, or a popcicle mould. Like that. More recently, two-part moulds have come into use with injection moulding (LIM[7]) which has necessitated a slightly different formulation to the silicones. These are still 100% silicone utensils (when from reputable companies) but when put to the “flame test” may appear to fail. There are a variety of reasons for this, which all come down to chemistry. The softer shore silicones may also smoke, ash, and/or go brittle in weak or thin areas due to the high volume of silicone oils used to create that texture. Does this mean that the “flame test” isn’t a good metric? Not exactly. Boiling and “flame testing” are still the most accessible means of investigating materials that most consumers have. Reverse engineering is still going to be the most accurate, but it’s prohibitively expensive even for professionals in the field.

Stained silicone dildosSo once you have your nice silicone sex utensil, how do you take care of it? I already mentioned avoiding silicone lubes (at least until after you do a patch test and determine if the lube you’re using is compatible). One of the reasons silicone is used for both sex and food applications is that it’s really easy to clean, and it doesn’t readily absorb things. People will say that silicone is non-porous and non-staining. These are true to a point- silicone, just like really everything in the world, is permeable by something. What we’re really talking about is the size of the pores in a material, the depth of that pore network, and the ability for those pores to create a dark and damp environment perfect for bacterium and fungi to grow combined with the ability to expose the material to a hostile environment. Generally the hostile environment of choice at home is boiling water. Because the surface of silicone is not very habitable to microbes, and it is a material that is easily cleansed to a safe degree using good old-fashioned hot soapy water, you don’t need to boil it every time you use it. I do recommend doing so if you’re using it both anally and vaginally, or if you’re sharing with someone else. Similarly, if you draw on your silicone with an indelible marker? You’re going to stain it. That’s how indelible inks work. I’ve also had the softer silicones stain from contact with more unstable non-silicone materials, so do be careful there. I personally don’t use toy-cleaner sprays because they are essentially room-temperature soapy water in a spritzer, but if you’re in a situation where you can’t readily wash up and you want to do a quick clean-up? Go for it. I’d still give it a go in the sink with some hot water later. Think of it like your cooking utensils (now do you see why I favour that term?).

Bathtime for dildos!A quick word terms of cleanliness- sanitising, disinfecting, and sterilising are not quite as interchangeable terms as they often are used to imply. All three of these are cleaning, but to increasing degrees of meticulousness. Sanitising is what you do when you wash something with soap and water. This removes surface debris and microbes. Don’t worry too much about so-called “antibacterial” soaps here, as all soaps are antibacterial in that when combined with hot water, they help remove bacteria from surfaces. Antibacterial soaps are not disinfectants, and I recommend against the use of soaps or cleansers that are abrasive as these could damage your item. Disinfecting means pretty much what it says – it removes most of the organisms present on the surface that can cause infection or disease. Sterilisation, on the other hand, is the killing or removal of all disease causing organisms. Boiling, using a bleach solution or a hospital-grade solution such as Cavicide are the big guns of cleaning, and each has their own varying effectiveness against various human-bourne pathogens. While this isn’t something that most average sex utensil users will ever have to deal with, it may be pertinent if you are engaging in high-risk activities such as blood-play or scat-play, or if you are using the same toys with a variety of people (often the case for sexworkers). Research the best method of disinfection and sterilisation for your given situation if this applies to you.

A huge thank-you to everyone who helped me by sending me things or letting me squeeze their cocks. A special thank-you to SheVibe for my first BS Atelier, Fuze for contributing a Tango (which will make another appearance in a future Epic Guide), and ArchVixen for access to the newer softer PleasureWorks.

  1. Check back in the next week or so, and these should be listed hierarchically too. I’m still doing a bit of research on these ones []
  2. Condoms are FDA classified as a Class II Medical Device, mostly due to the disease-control aspect, however some companies are moving towards getting their sex utensils and/or lubes classified in this way as well. []
  3. A fake rule of unknown origin purporting that a product may contain as little as 10% silicone in order to be labeled as such. No such regulation exists in this industry. []
  4. Not to say that TPR or TPE are particularly “bad”. I have menstrual cups made from TPE. These materials are simply not silicone and thus shouldn’t be marketed as such. Methods of cleaning and product life change based on material []
  5. Whether or not it is the intention of this term is irrelevant at this juncture []
  6. Taking sex utensils to a flame or bunsen burner in the assumption that 100% silicone products will not ignite, burn, or otherwise be damaged by standard low-heat flame []
  7. Liquid Injection Moulding []
  • gardenlobster

    All that chemistry and no real look into cleansers? I need to correct the chemistry on this point. They are not soaps in the traditional sense. I cringe when I see the suggestion to use soap & water because, especially with hard water, soap scum and hard water deposits together can cling to any surface – just look at your glass shower doors after a while. Most people don’t have a water softener and when they see “mild soap” they reach for the bar of soap by the bathroom sink, not the Ivory or baby wash. Regular soaps are detergents and surfactants. They are at a basic pH and do leave behind an anti-oil film. Hard water deposits mainly lime salts. Both of these deposits can cause vaginal pH disruptions, much like a glycerin lube will cause a yeast infection in a sensitive vagina. In addition, they can degrade softer TPE sleeves for men (a Tenga egg is going to last longer when a cleanser is used rather than soap, although soap is not going to give a penis an infection and it’s 100% ok to clean penis toys with soap – sorry ladies, it’s a pH thing).

    Most commercial cleansers contain water, some sort of phospholipid (usually coconut-derived), an alcohol, a chelating agent or preservative, citric acid, and/or fragrance in various combinations depending on the brand. The active cleansing agents are going to be your phospholipids and your citric acid. Phospholipids are emulsifiers, not surfactants. They’re not harsh like soap although they sometimes “suds” up. All of these have antimicrobial properties without introducing a basic pH (salts & soaps) to an acidic pH environment (the vagina).

    This is the value of cleansers and it’s highly underrated and understated, and again comes down to basic chemistry (OK, not basic chemistry – organic chemistry is a full year of junior-year hell in undergrad and after that it’s magnified like the student loan that’s getting you through graduate or med school).

    HOWEVER, I will say the following:
    1. It’s not as big a deal with non-porous or nearly non-porous materials like silicone, although hard water build up should be watched closely and a liquid hand soap is better than a hard bar soap.

    2. You can get the same antimicrobial results with white vinegar & water in equal parts, which will take care of hard water deposits, too. THIS is the clean little secret toy cleanser makers and toy shops don’t want you to know, but you do pay for convenience and vinegar isn’t pleasant to smell, so I personally do pay for convenience.

  • http://missytalkstoys.blogspot.com/ Missy

    Thank you for sharing this with me on my Twitter. I am book marking this for future reference. It was very useful in my search for information.

  • http://www.redheadbedhead.com/ The Redhead Bedhead

    WOOO!!!! Love. This. This is amazing.

    Sorry it took me so long. I was hiding from the internet.

  • http://HeyEpiphora.com Epiphora

    Slow

    motherfucking

    clap.

  • http://arollinthehay.com/ arollinthehay

    Thank you, THANK YOU so much for clearing up some common misconceptions.

  • Bex

    Woo! Only took me about 24 hours but I finished it! It could have gone faster but I had some people distracting me :P

    Thank you so much for doing all the science for us bloggers and sharing everything you learned. Silicone is so difficult because there are so many different shores and so many other things pretending to be silicone. I have the feeling that this is a post we will be referenced and linked to often!

  • Jenna Clark

    Two things: “Sex utensil” is indeed a fantastic term, I leave it to you and your colleagues to get this into the lexicon as fast as possible. (And please get rid of “dong”…I hate that one.)

    Also – WTH happened to your Vamp & Rev in that photo? You’ve piqued my interest.

    • http://loraxofsex.com/ Lorax Of Sex

      I tossed all my gear into a bin after teaching a sex utensil safety class and forgot about it. They snuggled up to a gross toxic toy I’d used as an example and got stained. So sad, because you can’t get Revolution any more and mine is all tainted now.

  • http://www.shevibe.com/ Sandra

    Really spectacular post – I will refer to it often!

  • Mr. Will

    First: I’ve really come to adore your use of the term sex utensil because they are more than toys. I find it incredibly awesome that you (at least I think you do) see them as more than just fun accessories.They are tools, enhancers, and adjustment devices that make different acts easy for different folks, not wonky doodads designed for cheap thrills.

    Second: Fucking epic post! Great job!!!