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Fear-based Sex Toy Marketing Hype

Dr. Lisa Lawless

Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert

sex toys, candy

As a holistic company, we focus on an integrative approach to your sexual health by encompassing the physical, mental, emotional, and environmental aspects of your life. We specialize in the healthiest sexual products available, and we provide science-based education to help empower consumers. Because we value integrity and providing factual information, we want to address some of the holistic marketing hype out there based on insufficient or unexamined evidence.

Where Most Health Companies Go Wrong

Everyone loves the idea of doing something good for themselves by getting the best quality, healthiest products available. Sadly, there are far too many companies out there using terms like holistic, all-natural, organic, nontoxic, and more to lure you into buying their trendy products when in reality, they may be misleading you inadvertently or intentionally. Many natural, holistic products may be healthier, but sometimes it comes down to marketing hype, and in other instances, you may be getting products that are far from healthy and that are downright bad for you.

Preying On Your Good Values

While we have a strong love of nature, nutrition, and holistic approaches, we also value integrity. Unfortunately, many people who promote natural and healthy products do not hold themselves to giving science-based, factual information. This means that many of them use fear-based marketing tactics to get you to think they are in line with your values when they are either uneducated about what they are selling or simply being deceptive.

Understanding that just because something sounds correct and logical does not mean it is. There are so many examples of misinformation about lubricants and sex toy safety on the internet that we have compiled a comprehensive collection of sex toy education guides to address some of these myths. Furthermore, information is constantly changing because of advancements, new studies, and other factors, which is why having the most up-to-date information is always best and something we strive to provide.

Some of our sex toy guides are quite scientific, but we would rather accurately educate you than offer you nothing but superficial, clickbait-style articles. Sure, titillating hype sells sexual products, but we care about you, and more than anything, our mission is to provide a trustworthy resource for your sexual health.

Health Washing Sex Toys & Lubricants

Health washing is a term that means that companies are marketing beneficial aspects of their products when their products are not as healthy as they may seem. In some cases, they may not be healthy at all. The term health washing is most commonly found in the food industry, where items are marketed as low fat, low calorie, sugar-free and natural, to name a few examples.

An example of a food myth is that nuts are always healthy for you. However, this is not correct with regard to roasted nuts. When you roast nuts and seeds, the heat can cause them to have fewer antioxidants and vitamins. Some of the healthy fats may also become damaged or oxidized, leading to harmful free radicals, which can damage your cells. The higher the heat and the length of time the heat was applied impact how healthy a nut is, and some manufacturers take what starts as a healthy nut and turn it into something that is not as healthy as consumers think.

Another common holistic myth is that local honey and bee pollen helps your immune system deal with seasonal allergies, but this is incorrect. This is because wind-pollinated plants are what cause allergies, and it is rare when animal-pollinated plants are allergenic.

Myths like these also apply to lubricants and sex toys. Just because a sex toy is phthalate-free does not mean it is free of other toxins, nor is a paraben-free lubricant the healthiest option. Various factors in manufacturing, materials and ingredients used can make a sex toy or lubricant healthy or not healthy. 

For example, a peroxide-cured silicone sex toy can be body-safe if it is post-baked properly. If it is not, then it can contain harmful chemicals. Another example might be a paraben-free lubricant that uses an unhealthy pH level or osmolality levels. Just because something claims it is free of something that is not body-safe does not mean it is free of all harmful things. 

Sex Toy Misinformation

In just one of many examples of online falsehoods, some "sex toy experts" claim that anything not made with medical-grade silicone, stainless steel, or glass is toxic, which is absolutely not true. Let's explore why:


Silicone

There are a couple of high-quality nontoxic grades of silicone. There are medical-grade and food-grade silicones that are safe to use as sex toys, as well as a platinum curing process, which determines how well made the silicone sex toy will be. This is a complex topic, so if you really want to know about silicone, check out our Silicone Sex Toys Guide for more information.


Glass

Glass products that are not properly annealed are quite dangerous, and big-name brands are actively selling many. This is also a complex subject, so check out our Glass Sex Toys Guide to find out more.


Stainless Steel

There are cheap grades of stainless steel sex toys being sold, which can easily rust. That is why we only sell 316-grade stainless steel, which provides superior corrosion resistance, and added strength and toughness. Furthermore, gold, silver, and aluminum are also safe metals for sex toys.


Other Safe Sex Toy Materials

There are plenty of other sex toys on the market that are nontoxic, each with their own complexities and safety concerns, such as ABS Plastic, TPE, TPR, wood, etc. We have two guides that are excellent resources on this:


Myths About Elastomer Sex Toys Such As TPE

There are a lot of sex toy activists alarming people about TPE (Thermo Plastic Elastomer) sex toys. Some insist that they are always toxic and should never be used; however, that is not necessarily true. There are different types of TPE materials, and while some contain harmful plasticizers and other chemicals of concern, others are quite safe. FDA-approved medical and food-grade TPE products are used in baby spoons, medical procedures, dental guards, bottle cap liners, and sippy cup spouts for babies. So before you demonize all TPE sex toys, it may be worth determining what type of TPE was used as it may be perfectly healthy to use. 

In addition, we have seen some retailers promoting elastomer sex toys as recyclable. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The reality is that these items are not recyclable, and consumers must be educated to prevent further environmental harm by trying to put them in with recycling. By raising awareness and promoting transparency, we can ensure that consumers make informed decisions about their purchases and work towards a more sustainable future.

Please see our Elastomer Sex Toys Guide for more information.


Concerns About PVC

PVC has been on the naughty list for many sex toy purists because it contained harmful plasticizers such as phthalates despite being a nonporous material. However, times have changed, and because of lawsuits regarding phthalates and the Prop. 65 Act, many PVC sex toys now have body-safe softeners in them.

sex toys on bed

Made In The USA Is Not Always Safer

As patriotic Americans, we care about our country and love carrying products made in the United States. We want to support fellow American business owners and do so whenever possible. However, there is a great deal of xenophobia and distrust of products made in other countries, and while there are certainly some valid concerns, not all products made outside of the USA are bad or unsafe. In addition, many products made in the USA are assembled with parts and materials produced in other countries.

For example, the idea of buying from an artesian who handcrafts sex toys in the US may sound appealing. So when you read that a sex toy is hand-poured silicone and made in the USA, most people think that means it is nontoxic and a quality product. However, the business that is hand pouring silicone may be using toxic additives, pigments, and low-quality silicone, so just because they are in the United States does not mean they know what they are doing to make a safe sexual product. Because the sex toy industry is not regulated for health, there is no way to verify if that sex toy is safe to use. That is why you need to be educated about the sex toys you buy and ask a lot of questions or simply use a reputable sex toy retailer that researches these products for you.


What You Need To Know About Sex Toys Made Outside The USA

It is nearly impossible to find sex toys with mechanical components made in the US. If you want a vibrator, you will likely have to get one made by a manufacturer in another country. Even if the brand you are buying is based in the United States, the products are most often made in another country like China who makes 70% of the world's sex toys.


Who Decides Safety Standards In Non-US Manufacturing

When reputable sex toy companies have their products made in China, it does not mean that they have no quality control or safety protocols over their products. They can determine the quality of materials and mechanical components and even independently lab test them for safety. Thus, it is more a matter of brand quality that you should be concerned about regarding health rather than where a sex toy is made.

Reputable name-brands require their products to be made with quality controls and safety protocols that make their sex toys safe to use. After all, their reputation and liability are on the line. But when you go to sites like Amazon, eBay, which sell knock-offs, and even sex toy retailers that private label cheap sex toys, you may find that what you're getting is not only of poor quality but may be unsafe.

Safe Sex Toy Testing

Many online bloggers are unaware of the formal testing that can be done on sex toys or how they are processed through customs. Furthermore, there are fake, counterfeit labels to be concerned about when it comes to this type of certification which also seems to escape many sex toy activists. Red flags of improper logos and sequencing of numbers can help you identify fake certification labels. 

Reputable sex toy companies will have their sex toys tested in third-party labs to analyze the chemicals in their sex toys to ensure that what they are selling is safe. This is an affordable option even for small sex toy companies and should be done to ensure consumer safety. There should always be certification such as these types:

  • Chemicals & Heavy Metals Test Reports
  • Electrical Safety Test Reports
  • Flammability Test Reports

There are also more elaborate and costly safety checks that companies can get through testing certifications.


Examples of Testing Certifications

  • REACH, the European Community Regulation on chemicals.
  • RoHS and electronics standards to reduce hazardous materials.
  • CE, which meets requirements of relevant European product directives.
  • UL Certified labels (Enhanced Mark Labels) allow consumers to scan the label to look up the various safety standards for testing and certification.
  • ISO certification is another way to certify sex toy safety which provides a third-party seal of approval.
  • FDA Certifications for medical-grade materials and medical devices.


What About The Small Sex Toy Business Owner?

Even if there is an artesian hand pouring silicone and making custom dildos, they should be only using materials that have been tested in advance to ensure that what they are using is body-safe. Furthermore, they should understand chemistry enough to know how the materials will interact and if they will remain nontoxic and body-safe once combined.

Where You Find Cheap & Unsafe Sex Toys

There are four main types of problematic sex toys regarding quality and health:


Brands That Do Not Care

There have long been sex toy manufacturers that just don't care about quality and health. They value profits over anything else, and they don't understand that it can be a mutually attainable goal to provide safe, well-made sex toys while still being quite profitable. The bottom line is they just don't care. That is why choosing a reputable brand from a reputable retailer is ideal.


Private Label Brands

When a business owner decides they don't want the burden of being a sex toy manufacturer, they can buy private label sex toys and sell them. Private label sex toys are just sex toys already made by overseas manufacturers (often found on Alibaba and AliExpress). They are then put into customized packaging to make them look like a brand. Typically there is no quality control or safety protocols in place as the sex toys are not being custom made to order; rather, they are already made without any influence from the business owner buying them other than custom packaging. You will see these often sold on sex toy retail sites where the sex toys are marketed as their own brand. At home, sex toy party companies are well known for doing this as well.


Counterfeit Sex Toys

This is a real problem for reputable brands who have their profits and good reputation stolen from them by a seedy company (usually an overseas manufacturer) stealing their reputation and illegally selling sex toys under their name. Believe it or not, this happens more than you might think which is why choosing a reputable retailer is so essential. Reputable retailers go through the proper channels to get authentic sex toy brands. Legal paperwork is often signed between the brand name manufacturer and the reputable retailer to abide by brand policies such as MAPs. MAP stands for Minimum Advertised Price and is a price that all sellers agree not to advertise below. If this is violated, a retailer can lose the ability to sell that brand. As a consumer, if you see prices that seem too good to be true, they probably are, and you most likely aren't getting what you think.


Knock-off Sex Toys

These sex toys are made to look just like reputable brands but often use cheaper components and materials. They also tend not to use body-safe materials, making them potentially toxic to use. These knock-off sex toys are sold all over the internet and are seen quite often on Amazon, eBay, and other big retailers that have no quality controls in sexual health.

Learn more through our Sex Toy Scams Guide.

Natural Is Not Always Healthier

We love to celebrate nature; after all, it is incredible, and there is so much to appreciate. However, nature is not always harmless. In fact, two of the most toxic chemicals for humans are natural (botulinum and tetanospasmin). Many natural products can contain high concentrations of botanical extracts that are known irritants that can cause dermatitis and photosensitization. It is simply not true that manufactured is always bad and natural is always good. For example, those who love organic products as we do might be surprised to find out that organic farmers can use synthetic pesticides as well as natural ones as outlined in the USDA's list of Materials for Organic Crop Production.

There is also a fundamental misconception that synthetic copies of natural chemicals are not as good for us. However, sometimes they are the same or better. For example, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), when synthetically produced, will taste, smell and function the same way in your body as natural Vitamin C. In the case of synthetic Vitamin E, it is 1.4 times more effective than naturally derived Vitamin E. And synthetic melatonin is molecularly the same as natural forms. However, it is much safer because the natural form comes from the pineal glands of animals, which may contain harmful viruses.

Another example goes as far back as the Middle Ages when butterbur was used for plague and fever because it contains an anti-inflammatory compound called petasin. It was also used as a natural remedy for migraine treatment and prevention. But butterbur also contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) that can cause severe liver damage, and thus butterbur extract must be purified to remove the PAs. Another example of how chemistry can enhance natural products and make them safer for us to use.

Also, it is essential to understand that not all synthetic versions are the same, and variations of additives, by-products, fillers, and additional naturally extracted chemicals should also be considered when exploring how healthy something is.


Chemistry Provides Helpful Controls

Thankfully, chemistry allows us to control the good and bad of substances in synthetic or natural ingredients. While there are undoubtedly harmful synthetic or artificial chemicals in products on the market, some are beneficial and can actually keep us safe from harmful bacteria, mold, and fungi. The trick is knowing what to avoid and what to embrace.

Without understanding the complexities of chemistry, it can be challenging to understand what is healthy and what is hype. This is why we depend on the chemists we work with who value health to help us choose quality products. After all, you have a right to know the truth rather than fear-based hype and deceptive marketing.

sex toys on bed

What Qualifies Someone To Be A Sex Toy Expert?

With all the misinformation out there, you may wonder what qualifies someone to call themselves a sex toy expert. Unfortunately, there are no accredited sex toy degrees, and most sex toy experts don't have any formal education related to sexuality. We have worked with many professional sex toy business owners through our organization, The National Association for the Advancement of Science & Art in Sexuality: NAASAS.org. Unfortunately, many business owners who sell sex toys know very little about the products they sell when it comes to their chemistry and safety. That is why we work closely with various well-trained chemists and labs to verify the information we share with professionals and consumers to ensure accuracy.

Many sex toy retailers use marketing buzz words to entice you to buy from them. Words like body-safe and nontoxic mean nothing if you buy from a sex toy company that does not even know how to determine what materials the sex toys have in them, let alone their compatibility with lubricants and other essential considerations.


Lack Of Accurate Chemistry

Many self-proclaimed sex toy experts also typically have no chemistry training and have so much misinformation on their websites that it is downright alarming. However, if you don't know about chemistry or how sex toys are made, they can sound quite compelling.

Because sex toys are not regulated in the US, they can keep saying whatever they like. Those promoting this riveting yet misinformed fear-based marketing hype are either uneducated or deceptive. The power of their enthusiasm can scare you into submission, and you may be buying products that are a waste of your money or even harmful to your health while thinking you are doing something beneficial.

Most sex toy experts are usually well-meaning people, but they tend to over-rely on logic. The problem is when their logic contains no fundamental understanding of the complexities of sex toy chemistry, they can be absolutely wrong. Unfortunately for consumers, finding a sexual website with no misinformation about sex toys can be challenging.

More Expensive Is Not Always Better

You can get quality sex toys and products at reasonable prices. Just because something is more expensive does not always mean it is better. Many companies are making affordable sex toys that are body-safe and nontoxic. We should know; we carry them.

Question Anecdotal Evidence

Misinformation is often presented through anecdotes, which are personal stories designed to convince you that because it was good or bad for one person, it will be the same for you. Anecdotes are often used in marketing as well as by politicians, the media, and other people in power to make content relatable.

For example, Jane used this sex toy and had multiple orgasms and experienced female ejaculation the first time she used it, which is why you should believe the same will be true for you.

However, it is essential to pay attention to anecdotes because they can be used as a form of manipulation to convince you that someone's points are valid when they are not.

It can be a manipulative technique that adds importance to their claims by using this person's story as "proof." Yet, anecdotes in cases of manipulation are often a rare example rather than the norm.

While it may be true that a person felt a sex toy was great for them, it certainly does not mean it will be the best for everyone. In fact, it may be a rare person who enjoys it.

Using critical thinking and knowing yourself and your specific needs is the best place to start when determining what will be ideal for you concerning anything. Be educated and empowered.

Look for companies that help you explore your particular needs and desires rather than those that make grand promises. It is better to have a realistic understanding of what something is really about rather than get convinced by superficial hype that does not serve you.

Greenwashing

Being a green company and caring about the environment we live in is an admirable way to do business. We do our best to take care of the earth and have various policies that make us as eco-friendly a sex toy company as we can be.


Recycling Sex Toys

We would love to give you good news and tell you sex toys are easily recycled, but sadly, it is not typically an option. However, that does not stop sex toy companies from trying to tell you that it is. Greenwashing makes things sound more environmentally friendly than they really are, and unfortunately, that occurs in the sex toy industry.

In some instances, packaging that is claimed to be recyclable is not. Furthermore, much like your regular recycling, you would be shocked by how much is rejected at recycling plants and goes into landfills. Recycling companies won't even consider dirty (uncleaned) recycling, which certainly applies to sex toys which in some cases can be regarded as bio-hazardous.

Companies that greenwash their products to make them more attractive to conscientious shoppers may tell people they can recycle sex toys. The problem is that there are minimal ways to recycle sex toys, and currently, we are not aware of any in the United States that takes any sex toy, especially not mechanical ones.

There are even some companies that claim they will recycle your sex toys and that you can pay them to do it or trade it in for a new sex toy. However, we have not been able to verify the recycling centers in the United States that actually do this.

An example of subtle greenwashing can be seen in the marketing of bioplastic sex toys. You will often see sex toy sellers tell you that the bioplastic sex toys they sell are biodegradable and compostable. While this is true, what they often leave out of that marketing is that they must be recycled at an industrial composting facility. Many Americans do not have access to one, making this immensely challenging at this time. To learn more about this, see our Environmentally Friendly Sex Toys Guide.

sex toys on bed

Bold Manipulation

The reason that fake news is so rampant is that the people using false information to manipulate people are clever. They use a variety of tactics to mislead you into thinking they are a legitimate source of information. They use fake pictures, testimonials, and information and do it all with the psychological tools to create an emotional response from you.

The attempt to manipulate consumers by some companies is so bold that we have seen sites post links to studies to prove ingredients in their product work. However, when looked into, it turns out that the studies had nothing to do with the ingredients at all. They hoped that consumers would simply be impressed with the links to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and not bother to read the studies.

Is The Source Reputable?

When reading an article, it is easy to get lost in passionate words but ask yourself before you get past a few sentences if what you are reading is someone's opinion or based on factual information. Anyone can post anything they want online and sound convincing.


Information Literacy

Identifying credible news and information sources is essential; thus, it is vital to know how to fact-check. Most people get their news from social media now. Individuals must learn to think critically and understand what tools are available to navigate this media-rich environment to avoid being misled effectively. Furthermore, it is important not to share misinformation with others.


Below are things you should look for in a reputable website:

  • References studies and academics in the field to provide supporting evidence.

  • Works with physicians, chemists and experts in the field.

  • Suggests you explore this topic for yourself through reputable resources.

  • Encourages you to ask questions.

  • Suggests consulting with healthcare providers.

  • Encourages you to have your healthcare provider contact and work with them.

  • Provides transparent information about their qualifications to speak about the topic.

  • If the source you are reading sells products, look for a company that does not pressure you to buy anything and uses straightforward descriptions of products rather than preying on your emotions.


Check URLs

When reading an article, you pay attention to what website you are reading it from, such as whether or not they are from a website known to have misinformation or is not an official site.


Observe Images

Images can be manipulated to make you think that what you see in a picture or video is real when it is not. Look for odd angles that don't line up and lighting that does not match the scene's context.


Pause Before Sharing

Before you share anything online, ask yourself how valid the source of information is and if you have done your due diligence in ensuring that it is truthful information.

Avoid Overly Biased Information

Keep in mind that studies can be swayed by the company that does them, and product data can be financially influenced. So a study done by a manufacturer who is, of course, going to benefit from data that supports their products financially may have a more biased study.

Also, understand that confirmation bias is a serious problem, especially with so many voices being given a platform on the internet. Confirmation bias is when someone looks for something to confirm their already existing beliefs about something.

For example, someone who believes that any sex toy not made of medical-grade silicone is toxic might search for articles by typing in a search "are medical-grade silicone sex toys safe" and read articles by people that agree with this idea. However, had they searched for other data that might provide them with a more comprehensive understanding of what makes a sex toy safe, they may have found all kinds of information that would show them that many sex toy materials are body-safe and nontoxic.


When "Do Your Research" Really Means A Simple Internet Search

Google, Bing, Yahoo or other internet searches are not research. What constitutes research is unbiased, peer-reviewed studies. General internet searches will typically only help you find biased information because most content on the internet is biased. Furthermore, because algorithms know your preferences, you will most likely be provided with information that already supports your current beliefs. Understand that anything you are reading on the internet will have some bias to it. If you want to find good resources that offer less biased, scientifically based information, the following are good resources:

  • Google Scholar
    Offers peer-reviewed studies and provides access to scholarly literature.

  • ResearchGate
    Discover scientific knowledge and stay connected to the world of science.

  • Pubmed
    Pubmed is a free medical database search engine with references and abstracts on life sciences and biomedical topics. The United States National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health maintains the database.

The Importance Of Critical Thinking

To be empowered as a sex toy consumer and, in general, requires critical thinking. Try following these tips to be a more empowered consumer and critical thinker:

  • Ask questions and understand that the world is complicated, and not everything can be summed up with a simple answer and black and white thinking.

  • Question the status quo and don't accept that because we always have thought certain things means they are true.

  • Be aware of your biases and what you want to be true.

  • Try reversing things by asking yourself, what might I learn if I searched for an opposite claim?

  • Don't follow the crowd; learn to think for yourself.

  • Understand that no one thinks in an unbiased way all of the time. To be a critical thinker takes a great deal of effort and discipline.

In Closing

We hope you found this information helpful as we want to ensure that we provide you with the most accurate information on sexual health and sexual wellness products. Make sure to check out more of our helpful guides such as:

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