time waits for no one, not even dominants

Phthalates chemical symbolsI’ve done this for a long time.  If I don’t count a bundle of clothesline purchased in 1980 to tie up my girlfriend – I was a senior in high school at the time – the year 2014 marks the 33rd anniversary of my first sex toy purchase.  I’m not sure if that simply makes me old, or if it means that I am now nothing more than a gigantic receptacle of memories, probably a bit of both I suppose.  It’s been an exciting time to be a kinkster, as I’ve been witness to huge changes in everything from how our community gathers and interacts, to how we buy our toys.

Back in that day, just finding the toy was an adventure.  A sex toy expedition usually led to a seedy dive that was almost invariably filled with an overwhelming chemical smell.  Immediately upon walking into the store, my senses would be assaulted by a rubbery plastic smell.  It was an odd odor, it seemed somehow reminiscent of old plastic cling wrap.  The store’s atmosphere always seemed to leave me a little bit nauseous, and definitely short of breath.  I’d feel like I was on the verge of an asthma attack, despite the fact that I’d mostly outgrown my asthma symptoms.  I’m sure the shortness of breath was not caused by excitement, as most of the offerings seemed a little repulsive at that time.

Despite all that, I do remember my first purchase well, quickly buying a modest vibrator made of a fairly pliable plastic.  It had tiny little nubs of plastic that I assumed would be pleasurable for my spouse, (they weren’t.)  And, I’ll never forget the relief my lungs felt upon gasping a few chest-fulls of fresh air upon exiting.  I can also remember that same plastic smell permeating the bedroom when I went to show my ex-wife the purchase.  At the time, I assumed that the toy’s cheap cardboard packaging had somehow absorbed the terrible plastic odor from the store.  With the power of hindsight, I’m quite positive the god-awful stench inside the store was actually stink from the dozens of fake cocks and plastic vibrators that lined the shelves

That was the smell of phthalates.  The stink I associated with those cheap plastic toys was the odor from a family of chemicals used to soften plastic, it was phthalates that made the insertable portion of the vibe “fairly pliable” . . .

phthalates – a PSA (public sexual announcement)

Master: Smell that? You smell that?
slave: What?
Master: That napalm smell, son.  That’s phthalates. Nothing else in the world smells like that.
[kneels]
Master: I love the smell of phthalates in the morning. You know, one time we had a scene for 12 hours.  When it was all over, I walked around.  We didn’t lose one of ’em, not one stinkin’ toy or length of rope.  And the smell, you know that plastic smell, the whole scene . . . Smelled like
[sniffing, pondering]
Master: Victory!
[suddenly walks off]

You need to know that phthalates are in the news these days, and it’s not especially good news either.  Phthalates are being phased out of many products in the United States, Canada, and European Union because of some pretty serious health concerns.  Among those concerns, that phthalates can potentially cause damage to the liver, lungs, kidneys, and (oh no!) testes.  Now, that’s sure to get a guy’s attention, when the subject turns to talking about his nuts!  And the bad news doesn’t stop there, phthalates are also very likely to cause hormonal disruptions.

Yet, because sex toys have historically been marketed as “novelty items”, the entire industry manages to avoid almost all meaningful scrutiny and regulation.  Personally, I believe that the long term solution to the issue is to have all insertable sex toys classified as medical goods or medical items.  Even that measure might not be enough to completely protect us from exposure, as the regulatory process is also a political process in the United States.  Currently, phthalates can even be found in some medical devices.  Anyway, I don’t think that sort of legislation is on the horizon anywhere as we speak.  So, in the mean time, it’s best to become better educated about all the issues surrounding phthalates, sex toys, and our health.

Master: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
slave: Yes, Sir.
Master: Are you listening?
slave: Yes, I am.
Master: Phthalates.

what are phthalates?

Phthalates are a whole family of chemicals used primarily as plasticizers. They are added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, and even durability. For instance, phthalates are often used to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC).  Phthalates are used in everything from perfumes and lipsticks, to medical instruments and sex toys.

One of the biggest problems with phthalates, is the fact that they are not chemically bound to the plastics they soften.  Remember how older soft plastic toys seemed to get hard and brittle with age, seems to me that was an inevitable result, once we consider that the softening agents, the phthalates, commonly “leach” out of the plastics over time.  As the phthalates seep out of the plastic they had been softening, they can be absorbed through human skin and mucous membranes.

A decade old study from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) looking at urine samples from more than 2,500 people, tested positive for traces of phthalates in more than 75% of the participants.  We are so used to hearing news and statistics that I think the brain has a tendency to overlook the details in the stream of numbers.  So, let me restate that for emphasis – three out of four people have plastic softeners in their blood stream – three quarters of the population have a measurable quantity of phthalates circulating through their bodies.

Yikes!  I’m quite positive all those folks didn’t get the chemicals from sex toys, so it should be said that the family of chemicals that fall under the banner of phthalates are fairly ubiquitous in the environment.  I think that far too often, far too many chemicals are used by the people who formulate our consumer products, and even our food.  The chemicals, like phthalates, are used without any real concern for what happens to them once they enter our body.

if phthalates are everywhere, aren’t they pretty safe?

free from phthalatesI do my best to offer truly balanced and fair information, perhaps with a bit of edge or humor, but I try to present all sides.  So, it should be noted that the American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry lobbying group, believes that phthalates are safe.  The chemical industry’s official position is that phthalates are among the most thoroughly studied family of compounds in the world.   The American Chemistry Council would also like you to know that phthalates have been reviewed and approved by multiple regulatory bodies here in the United States.

You are free to do what you wish with that information.  Perhaps it’s enough, on it’s own, to help you feel reassured that phthalates are safe, and that that whole controversy is overblown.  It’s not enough for me, as I am inherently distrustful of industry lobbying groups.  I hope I don’t need to remind anyone that for years the tobacco industry insisted publicly that cigarette smoking was not harmful to a person’s health, despite knowing fully well that smoking causes cancer end emphysema.

The controversy on the safety of phthalates even extends to the sex toy industry.  Good Vibrations, the source of my first mail order sex toy purchase, has been one of the leaders in the march to eliminate phthalates from adult toy boxes has said, “We were the first company to shift away from products containing (phthalates). Our efforts were instrumental in urging the sex toy industry to develop phthalate-free products.”  UK basedLovehoney, another major provider of sex toys, takes the opposite position.  When speaking of “Jelly Rubber”, one of the most common sex toy components to contain phthallates, Lovehoney’s site says, “It has been widely used to make sex toys for years but has seen a dip in popularity due to outstanding confusion surrounding phthalates, chemicals which are added to rubber to make it flexible.”

Call it “confusion” or not, there’s no escaping the fact that the United States Congress banned certain phthalates in children’s toys in 2008.  Phthalates have been banned in children’s toys for even lonver in the European Union, the ban there goes back to 1999. Which leads to the obvious question, if the chemical is unsafe to be put into children’s mouths, what makes anyone think it’s safe to put into other orifices on adults?

can’t you smell that smell

In retrospect, it’s pretty obvious to me why a soft flexible sex toy and ancient cling wrap might smell alike. The same chemicals were probably used to make them both flexible and silky smooth to touch.  It turns out that my lungs knew the dirty little secret of phthalates long before I was ever consciously aware of any problem with the chemical.  When we found several rolls of smelly old cling wrap at Grandma’s house after she passed away, we didn’t want the smell near our food, or even in our kitchen, so we threw it all away. Knowing what I now know about the probable dangers of phthalates, it was a great decision.

This is a topic that will undoubtedly have to be revisited here at the Joy of Kink.  I’m afraid that providing more detail about the health controversy may be necessary.  No matter how we look at it, more discussion will undoubtedly be necessary before the issue is ultimately put to rest.  For now, just let me say this — If you have sex toys made of soft plastic or any jelly like substance, if you have toys that are more than just a few years old, you may very consider throwing them all away too.  At the very least, if you can’t bring yourself to give old toys to the garbage bin, use a condom (latex condoms do NOT contain phthalates) when playing with those toys.  There are plenty of adult toy materials we know are safe, there’s no need to even take chances . . .

(apologies to Robert Duvall, Dustin Hoffman and the writers of “Apocalypse Now” and “The Graduate” – the original sources of the reworked “quotes” that bookend the -PSA (public sexual announcement)- portion of this post. )

Michael's Musings Phthalates – Smells Like Napalm Not Victory
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