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Why Are Sex Toys Called Adult Novelties?

Dr. Lisa Lawless

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

Flowers, Sex Toys, Adult NoveltiesSex Toys Classified As Adult Novelties

You may have noticed that some sex toy manufacturers refer to their products as adult novelties. The term novelty is used mainly because of export and tariffs, but there can be other reasons for classifying a sex toy in this way. The most important thing to understand is that it does not indicate the quality of a sex toy.

Exports & Tariffs

As mentioned, one of the primary reasons that sex toys are listed as an adult novelty is concerning importing or exporting them. Currently, China makes 70% of the world's sex toys, with South Korea, Thailand, and Germany being examples of other countries where sex toys are mass-produced. The sex toys that are made in the United States are typically those that are hand-poured silicone dildos with no mechanical components.

It is important to note that just because a sex toy is made outside of the U.S. does not mean it is made of cheap materials or poor quality. What makes the difference is the brand of the sex toy, not the origins.

Each country has specific regulations that require various packaging or product descriptions. Everything imported or exported in the United States is under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) code, a 10-digit import classification system. HTS codes are assigned by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), and these codes determine the customs fees and duties. They are based partly on the product's materials and the intended use.

Manufacturers may face additional customs fees, duties, and taxes if the term novelty is not used. This may occur when they require classification under The Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA), which requires additional environmental documentation, testing, certification (TCO Certified), and fees. Even if a sex toy has gone through independent testing or passed testing using European Union guidelines for RoHS and WEEE, it may still be labeled as a novelty for these reasons.

To learn more about what makes a sex toy nontoxic and safe, please see our helpful Fear-based Sex Toy Marketing Hype Guide.


A myth that often comes up when exploring the novelty labeling of sex toys is the assumption that sex toy manufacturers use it to avoid the legal liability of their products. However, labeling a sex toy a novelty does not omit a company from legal liabilities.

Toxic Sex Toys

Another myth surrounding sex toys is that the term novelty is used to hide toxicants in sex toys. Because many sex materials are not regulated regardless of the classification of novelty, this is not correct. To learn more, please see our Avoid Toxic Sex Toys Guide.

Obscenity Laws

Most sex toys were illegal under the Comstock Act of 1873, which made it illegal to send obscene, lewd, lascivious, immoral, or indecent publications through the mail. This is why many companies classified them as marital aids or novelties to avoid the federal obscenity laws that nearly every state had varieties of regarding such products. Learn more about this through our article, the War Against Sex Toys.

Medical Devices

Most sex toys are not classified as medical devices. This is due to the required extensive testing, massive costs of medical classification, and the much higher tariffs when they go through customs. Making sex toys classified as medical devices would make them unaffordable to produce for most manufacturers and for consumers who wish to purchase them. 

Medical Grade Silicone

If you see a sex toy manufacturer claiming they are selling medical-grade silicone with color (pigmentation), it is doubtful that it is medical-grade. This is because any added color would change the classification. To learn more, please see our guide: Silicone Sex Toys: Is Yours Real & Safe?

ISO Safety Standards

In September 2021, the International Standards Organization (ISO) approved the development of new voluntary safety standards (ISO 3533:2021) for the quality of sex toys. It pertains to products that directly contact the genitals, anus, or both. Thus, sex toy companies can volunteer to set standards to meet the ISO's definition of safe, reliable, and good quality.

These standards address things such as making anal and vaginal sex toys more easily retrieved and free of anything that may be sharp or abrasive. In addition, packaging will have better safety seal protections for consumers.

Under the ISO Safety standards, sex toys can still be classified as an adult novelty; again, such a classification does not indicate safety or quality.

In Conclusion

A sex toy can be made with body-safe materials and be of the highest quality and still be classified as an adult novelty. To learn what you should be most concerned about as a consumer, please review our helpful educational article, the Body Safe Sex Toy Guide.

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