Are PVC sex toys safe?

Are PVC Sex Toys Safe?

Rose MacDowell

You've got your eye on a brand new PVC dildo and it seems like a great bargain. Maybe you've heard that PVC isn't the best material for sex toys, but nobody would sell it if it weren't safe, right?

Before you click add to cart, there are a few things about PVC you should know. 

PVC is one of the most common and controversial sex toy materials, and it's used for everything from C-rings to anal toys to rabbit vibrators. Why is PVC so popular, and what's behind the debate about its safety? Are some types of PVC better than others?

Read on. We'll dive into the potential health risks of PVC, discuss the difference between porous and non-porous sex toy materials, and show you how to tell a body-safe product from one can that cause infections, lower your sex drive, and even harbor STIs. 

What Is PVC?

PVC, formally known as polyvinyl chloride, is a durable, low-cost plastic polymer commonly used in pipes, cables, siding, and insulation. The material can be combined with different additives that change how it performs.

Most of the PVC used to make sex toys has been mixed with chemicals called plasticizers. The most common plasticizers used in PVC are phthalates. Phthalates are added during the manufacturing process to make PVC softer and more flexible. The addition of plasticizers can also make sex toys more transparent and durable. 

Over 90% of phthalates are used for one reason: to soften PVC. Some are also used to make paint and varnish more wear-resistant. 

Let's look closer at PVC sex toys, and how they can potentially impact your body and your health. 

PVC Sex Toys

PVC is common in all types of sex toys, particularly lower-cost dildos, sex dolls, and vibrators. Also called soft plastic or jelly rubber, PVC has a characteristic shiny, translucent look and slightly sticky feel.  

PVC is porous, which means it contains tiny holes that allow bacteria, viruses, and microparticles of body fluids to enter the material. Once inside, these substances remain there, out of reach of soaps, toy cleaners, and even UV light. 

Health Risks Of Phthalates

Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, which means they can interfere with the production and regulation of hormones in the body. Phthalate-related hormone disruption can contribute to:

  • Early puberty in girls
  • Asthma
  • Obesity. Toxins like phthalates can affect how the body stores fat
  • Allergies
  • Lower testosterone levels and reduced sperm count 
  • An increased risk of cancer
  • Increased estrogen activity. Some phthalates act like estrogens in the body, or block hormones from binding properly to receptor sites 
  • Impaired thyroid function

Because phthalates can impact hormonal health, they may also impact sexual health. Some studies show that PVC treated with phthalates can reduce sexual desire in both men and women. It may also contribute to birth defects, low birth weight, and malformation of the genitals in babies whose mothers were exposed to phthalates during pregnancy. 

PVC sex toys

PVC Sex Toys and Bacteria

PVC sex toys are porous and can harbor infectious bacteria and other pathogens, including sexually transmitted infections. This is a particular problem with PVC anal toys, regardless of how thoroughly you wash or sanitize them. 

The pathogens absorbed by PVC can cause UTIs, yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and even e-coli infections in the GI tract if the toy is used inside the mouth. 

PVC sex toys are vulnerable to mold growth because their porous surface makes them easy to penetrate and difficult to dry completely. Mold spores can grow inside the material and will often appear as blue or black spots on the surface of the toy. 

Cross-contamination is another risk with PVC toys. This occurs when bacteria from one area of the body is transferred to another during play, potentially leading to infections. For example, if a toy is used for anal play and then inserted vaginally, harmful bacteria can be introduced into the vagina even if the toy is thoroughly cleaned. 

Learn more: How To Clean Sex Toys

What About Phthalate-free PVC?

Some sex toy manufacturers claim that their PVC toys are phthalate-free and therefore body-safe. But is it true? Do different kinds of plasticizers make PVC as safe as silicone and other safe materials?

Probably not. First, the sex toy industry is largely unregulated, which means that manufacturers of PVC and other low-quality pleasure products aren't required to back up claims or prove that their products are safe. Many sex toys are considered novelties and receive little or no oversight from government agencies.  

Not only do the manufacturers of phthalate-free toys not specify which plasticizers they use to make their PVC, PVC itself is inherently harmful. According to the Healthy Building Network, "Even without phthalate plasticizers, the lifecycle of PVC has inherent toxicities that cannot be avoided. At its core, PVC relies upon chlorine chemistry that forms toxic byproducts from its manufacture to its disposal."

No matter how the PVC used in sex toys is manufactured, it is not safe to use in or on the body, even if it's made without phthalates.  

PVC butt plugs

Body-Safe Alternatives

To minimize the risks associated with PVC sex toys, look for non-porous pleasure products made from body-safe materials. Body-safe sex toy materials include:


Silicone is non-porous and contains no toxic chemicals or plasticizers. It's hypoallergenic, safe to use in or on the body, and can be sterilized easily. The majority of body-safe sex toys are all types are made from silicone. 

Learn more: What Is Body-Safe Silicone?


Glass sex toys are typically made from break-resistant borosilicate glass. This type of glass is safe to use inside the body, and is smooth, non-porous, and easy to clean.

Learn more: Are Glass Sex Toys Safe? 


Metal sex toys are typically crafted from stainless steel or aluminum, both of which are non-porous and body-safe materials that contain no harmful chemicals.

Be careful of buying metal toys on Amazon or other discount retail sites, as some toys described as aluminum or stainless steel are actually coated with a thin layer of chrome, which can chip, flake off, and cause allergic reactions. 

Learn more: Why You Shouldn't Buy Sex Toys On Amazon

TPE/TPR (Thermoplastic Elastomer/Rubber)

Though TPE is porous, it generally does not contain toxic chemicals. It's considered a safe material for penis toys that stay on the outside of the body and have no contact with the vulva, vagina, or anus. 

Learn more: Are TPE Sex Toys Safe?

ABS Plastic

ABS plastic is another safe material commonly used in making sex toys. ABS plastic is an ideal choice for body-safe sex toys as it's non-porous, easy to clean, and free of phthalates.

How to Identify and Choose Body-Safe Sex Toys

When shopping for body-safe sex toys, look for products from reputable retailers and well-known brands that prioritize the use of safe materials. Here are some tips on how to identify and select safe products:

Read product descriptions carefully

Look for keywords like "phthalate-free," "non-toxic," or "body-safe" when browsing through sex toy options.

Avoid suspiciously low prices

While there are plenty of affordable body-safe options, be wary of extremely cheap sex toys as they may be made from lower-quality materials containing toxic chemicals.

Purchase from trusted retailers

Buy your sex toys from a reputable retailer who sells only body-safe pleasure products. Retailers who sell PVC toys and insertable toys made from TPE are typically more concerned about profits than your safety.

Check reviews and recommendations

Read customer reviews or browse online forums focused on sexual health for advice on reliable brands known for their body-safe products. By taking these precautions, you'll not only protect your health, you'll help support companies that prioritize your safety. 

    Are PVC Sex Toys Safe FAQs

    What are the potential health risks of PVC sex toys?

    The main health risks associated with PVC sex toys come from phthalates, which can cause endocrine disruption and other adverse effects. Porous materials like PVC can also harbor bacteria, increasing the risk of infection or irritation.

    Are there safe alternatives to PVC sex toys?

    Yes, there are several safer alternatives to PVC sex toys. Popular options include silicone, glass, stainless steel, and ABS plastic. These materials are non-porous and free from harmful chemicals.

    How can I tell if a sex toy is made from PVC?

    To determine if a toy is made of PVC or another material, check the packaging for information on its composition. If you're unsure about a product's material or safety features, call or chat with the seller before making a purchase. If you're still unsure, don't buy it. 

    If you already own a toy made from PVC, we suggest you throw it out and choose a body-safe replacement. Unfortunately, PVC sex toys (like most sex toys) can't be recycled. 

    If you're not sure if your toy is made from PVC, look for the telltale signs of this material: a shiny, sticky, often translucent surface, blue or black spots on the material from mold growth, and an odor. PVC toys also tend to lose shape or "melt" when stored on a hard surface or against other toys.  

    Can I use a PVC toy safely if I put a condom on it?

    No. The plasticizers in PVC can penetrate a condom and damage its material. This can allow the toxic chemicals to reach your skin, even if you use a condom on the toy. 

    What should I do if I feel burning or irritation after using a PVC sex toy?

    If you have a reaction to a PVC sex toy, stop using it and get medical attention if necessary. If you feel the symptoms of a urinary tract infection or bacterial vaginosis, see your doctor. Throw the toy out and buy a body-safe alternative to prevent future health issues.