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New treatments restoring sexual pleasure for older women


By Tara Bahrampour

When the FDA approved Viagra in 1998 to treat erectile dysfunction, it changed the sexual landscape for older men, adding decades to their vitality. Meanwhile, older women with sexual problems brought on by aging were left out in the cold with few places to turn besides hormone therapy, which isn’t suitable for many or always recommended as a long-term treatment.

Now, propelled by a growing market of women demanding solutions, new treatments are helping women who suffer from one of the most pervasive age-related sexual problems.

Genitourinary syndrome, brought on by a decrease in sex hormones and a change in vaginal pH after menopause, is characterized by vaginal dryness, shrinking of tissues, itching and burning, which can make intercourse painful. GSM affects up to half of post-menopausal women and can also contribute to bladder and urinary tract infections and incontinence. Yet only 7 percent of post-menopausal women use a prescription treatment for it, according to a recent study.

The new remedies range from pills to inserts to a five-minute laser treatment that some doctors and patients are hailing as a miracle cure.

The lag inaddressing GSM has been due in part to a longstanding reluctance among doctors to see post-menopausal women as sexual beings, said Leah Millheiser, director of the Female Sexual Medicine Program at Stanford University.

“Unfortunately, many clinicians have their own biases and they assume these women are not sexually active, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth, because research shows that women continue to be sexually active throughout their lifetime,” she said.

With today’s increased life expectancy, that can be a long stretch – another 30 or 40 years, for a typical woman who begins menopause in her early 50s. “It’s time for clinicians to understand that they have to bring up sexual function with their patients whether they’re in their 50s or they’re in their 80s or 90s,” Dr. Millheiser said.

By contrast, doctors routinely ask middle-aged men about their sexual function and are quick to offer prescriptions for Viagra, said Lauren Streicher, medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause.

“If every guy, on his 50th birthday, his penis shriveled up and he was told he could never have sex again, he would not be told, ‘That’s just part of aging,’” Dr. Streicher said.

Iona Harding of Princeton, New Jersey, had come to regard GSM, also known as vulvovaginal atrophy, as just that.

For much of their marriage, she and her husband had a “normal, active sex life.” But after menopause sex became so painful that they eventually stopped trying.

“I talked openly about this with my gynecologist every year,” said Mrs. Harding, 66, a human resources consultant. “There was never any discussion of any solution other than using estrogen cream, which wasn’t enough. So we had resigned ourselves to this is how it’s going to be.”

It is perhaps no coincidence that the same generation who first benefited widely from the birth control pill in the 1960s are now demanding fresh solutions to keep enjoying sex.

“The Pill was the first acknowlegement that you can have sex for pleasure and not just for reproduction, so it really is an extension of what we saw with the Pill,” Dr. Streicher said. “These are the women who have the entitlement, who are saying ‘Wait a minute, sex is supposed to be for pleasure and don’t tell me that I don’t get to have pleasure.’”

The push for a “pink Viagra” to increase desire highlighted women’s growing demand for sexual equality. But the drug flibanserin, approved by the FDA in 2015, proved minimally effective.

For years, the array of medical remedies has been limited. Over-the-counter lubricants ease friction but don’t replenish vaginal tissue. Long-acting mosturizers help plump up tissue and increase lubrication, but sometimes not enough. Women are advised to “use it or lose it” – regular intercourse can keep the tissues more elastic – but not if it is too painful.

Systemic hormone therapy that increases the estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone throughout the body can be effective, but if used over many years it carries health risks, and it is not always safe for cancer survivors.

Local estrogen creams, suppositories or rings are safer since the hormone stays in the vaginal area. But they can be messy, and despite recent studies showing such therapy is not associated with cancer, some women are uncomfortable with its long-term use.

In recent years, two prescription drugs have expanded the array of options. Ospemifene, a daily oral tablet approved by the FDA in 2013,activates specific estrogen receptors in the vagina. Side effects include mild hot flashes in a small percentage of women.

Prasterone DHEA, a naturally occurring steroid that the FDA approved last year, is a daily vaginal insert that prompts a woman’s body to produce its own estrogen and testosterone. However, it is not clear how safe it is to use longterm.

And then there is fractional carbon dioxide laser therapy, developed in Italy and approved by the FDA in 2014 for use in the U.S. Similar to treatments long performed on the face, it uses lasers to make micro-abrasions in the vaginal wall, which stimulate growth of new blood vessels and collagen.

The treatment is nearly painless and takes about five minutes; it is repeated two more times at 6-week intervals. For many patients, the vaginal tissues almost immediately become thicker, more elastic, and more lubricated.

Mrs. Harding began using it in 2016, and after three treatments with MonaLisa Touch, the fractional CO2 laser device that has been most extensively studied, she and her husband were able to have intercourse for the first time in years.

Cheryl Edwards, 61, a teacher and writer in Pennington, New Jersey, started using estrogen in her early 50s, but sex with her husband was painful and she was plagued by urinary tract infections requiring antibiotics, along with severe dryness.

After her first treatment with MonaLisa Touch a year and a half ago, the difference was stark.

“I couldn’t believe it… and with each treatment it got better,” she said. “It was like I was in my 20s or 30s.”

While studies on MonaLisa Touch have so far been small, doctors who use it range from cautiously optimistic to heartily enthusiastic.

“I’ve been kind of blown away by it,” said Dr. Streicher, who, along with Dr. Millheiser, is participating in a larger study comparing it to topical estrogen. Using MonaLisa Touch alone or in combination with other therapies, she said, “I have not had anyone who’s come in and I’ve not had them able to have sex.”

Cheryl Iglesia, director of Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington D.C., was more guarded. While she has treated hundreds of women with MonaLisa Touch and is also participating in the larger study, she noted that studies so far have looked only at short-term effects, and less is known about using it for years or decades.

“What we don’t know is is there a point at which the tissue is so thin that the treatment could be damaging it?” she said. “Is there priming needed?”

Dr. Millheiser echoed those concerns, saying she supports trying local vaginal estrogen first.

So far the main drawback seems to be price. An initial round of treatments can cost between $1,500 and $2,700, plus another $500 a year for the recommended annual touch-up. Unlike hormone therapy or Viagra, the treatment is not covered by insurance.

Some women continue to use local estrogen or lubricants to complement the laser. But unlike hormones, which are less effective if begun many years after menopause, the laser seems to do the trick at any age. Dr. Streicher described a patient in her 80s who had been widowed since her 60s and had recently begun seeing a man.

It had been twenty years since she was intimate with a man, Dr. Streicher said. “She came in and said, ‘I want to have sex.’” After combining MonaLisa Touch with dilators to gradually re-enlarge her vagina, the woman reported successful intercourse. “Not everything is reversible after a long time,” Dr. Streicher said. “This is.”

But Dr. Iglesia said she has seen a range of responses, from patients who report vast improvement to others who see little effect.

“I’m confident that in the next few years we will have better guidelines (but) at this point I’m afraid there is more marketing than there is science for us to guide patients,” she said. “Nobody wants sandpaper sex; it hurts. But at the same time, is this going to help?”

The laser therapy can also help younger women who have undergone early menopause due to cancer treatment, including the 250,000 a year diagnosed with breast cancer. Many cannot safely use hormones, and often they feel uncomfortable bringing up sexual concerns with doctors who are trying to save their lives.

“If you’re a 40-year-old and you get cancer, your vagina might look like it’s 70 and feel like it’s 70,” said Maria Sophocles, founding medical director of Women’s Healthcare of Princeton, who treated Mrs. Edwards and Mrs. Harding.

After performing the procedure on cancer survivors, she said, “Tears are rolling down from their eyes because they haven’t had sex in eight years and you’re restoring their femininity to them.”

The procedure also alleviates menopause-related symptoms in other parts of the pelvic floor, including the bladder, urinary tract, and urethra, reducing infections and incontinence.

Ardella House, a 67-year-old homemaker outside Denver, suffered from incontinence and recurring bladder infections as well as painful sex. After getting the MonaLisa Touch treatment last year, she became a proslyter.

“It was so successful that I started telling all my friends, and sure enough, it was something that was a problem for all of them but they didn’t talk about it either,” she said.

“I always used to think, you reach a certain age and you’re not as into sex as you were in your younger years. But that’s not the case, because if it’s enjoyable, you like to do it just as much as when you were younger.”

Complete Article HERE!


How to Do Prostate Massage (For Better Sex)



Men who are suffering with prostatitis or an enlarged prostate (aka, benign prostatic hyperplasia, BPH) or who want to promote better sexual health can often benefit from prostate massage therapy (aka, prostate milking). If the thought of doing a prostate massage for yourself or having a partner do it for you is uncomfortable, you should know that learning how to do prostate massage or having it done for you could provide significant symptom relief and be highly beneficial for your sex life and sexual performance.

Historically, prostate massage has been used over the centuries to enhance a man’s sexual prowess. Men who had many partners or who were very sexually active used prostate massage to help ensure they could maintain their sexual activities. The benefits of prostate massage have now been expanded to include therapeutic advantages for men who are living with common prostate conditions as well as enhance orgasms and erectile function.

Please note, however, that you should not attempt prostate massage until you have consulted with your healthcare provider to ensure it is safe for you to do so.

How to do prostate massage manually

Prostate massage therapy can be performed in two basic ways: externally or internally, and each of these methods can be done manually or using a special prostate massage device. Some men prefer one approach over another, while others switch between them. In any case, prostate massage can improve blood flow in the treated area, enhance urinary flow, and help promote the integrity and health of the prostate tissue.

To prepare for a prostate massage, first empty your bowels and bladder. If you are going to have the massage done by hand, get a nonlatex glove or a condom and some lubricating gel, such as KY jelly. You can either lean over a table or get on all fours on the floor or a bed. Now you are ready for a self-prostate massage or one done by a partner or health professional.

Here is how to do a manual prostate massage using a finger:

  • Insert the lubricated finger into the anus and gently probe for the prostate. The prostate feels like a small round ball.
  • Once the prostate has been located, apply light pressure for several seconds, then pull back slightly to release the pressure.
  • Advance the finger again and apply gentle pressure on the same or a different spot if you can. Hold for several seconds and then release. Application of pressure to the center of the prostate releases fluid to the tip of the penis.
  • Repeat this massage process five to ten times. You may experience an erection, which is normal.

Another manual approach using a finger involves applying pressure to the perineum, which is the area located between the scrotum and anus. You can choose to use or not use a glove or condom with lubricant. Massage the entire length of the perineum for several minutes.

Here is how to do a manual prostate massage using a finger:

  • Insert the lubricated finger into the anus and gently probe for the prostate. The prostate feels like a small round ball.
  • Once the prostate has been located, apply light pressure for several seconds, then pull back slightly to release the pressure.
  • Advance the finger again and apply gentle pressure on the same or a different spot if you can. Hold for several seconds and then release. Application of pressure to the center of the prostate releases fluid to the tip of the penis.
  • Repeat this massage process five to ten times. You may experience an erection, which is normal.

Another manual approach using a finger involves applying pressure to the perineum, which is the area located between the scrotum and anus. You can choose to use or not use a glove or condom with lubricant. Massage the entire length of the perineum for several minutes.

When using an internal prostate massage product, you must lubricate it well before inserting it. Those with a vibration feature will vibrate when pressed against the prostate, which will help reduce inflammation, improve blood flow, and relax the gland.

External prostate massage products are designed so you can sit on them, which applies pressure to the perineum.

Regardless of which prostate massage approach you choose, you need to be patient. It typically takes several weeks before you will notice appreciable benefits of daily prostate massage therapy.

Complete Article HERE!


A new prescription for tackling sexual violence


How some advocates are looking to dismantle rape culture using public health strategies.


When Tahir Duckett talks about consent with elementary and middle school boys, he often talks about video games first.

“If I just hop on your Xbox without your consent, what’s your response?” Duckett says he asks the boys. Almost always, the young boys he’s talking to say they’d fight him.

“They recognize something about their consent has been violated,” he says, speaking with ThinkProgress. “We ask them to interrogate how it feels to have your consent violated. Is that anger? Are you hurt? Are you betrayed?”

And usually, that’s exactly how the boys say they feel. The question, then, is why those answers often change when Duckett presents a romantic or sexual situation where someone doesn’t consent.

“A lot of times we’ll talk about it in those types of concepts, and then we’ll shift to maybe saying, ‘OK, you’re going out with someone, your partner for two months, and [they invite] you over to their house, right? And their parents are out of town, have they consented to anything?’” Duckett says. “That’s where you’ll start to get more pushback.”

When presented with this situation, Duckett says the boys sometimes start to say things like, “Well, she knows what she’s doing by going over to his house while his parents are out of town.”

“And then you can dig in, and…talk about what we were just talking about,” Duckett says. “What’s the assumption, can [you] still say no?”

Duckett is the founder and director of ReThink, a group that works with adolescent boys (and, in some cases, older men) to help them rethink cultural norms about toxic masculinity and rape culture. The group has been working in schools in the Washington, D.C. area, holding sessions in which the ReThink team spends several days with adolescent boys talking about rape myths, consent, and toxic masculinity.

In recent weeks, their work has begun to feel prophetic.

Last month, a wave of allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein opened the door for a subsequent avalanche of accusations against other powerful men, including James Toback, Mark Halperin, Charlie Rose, Roy Moore, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), just to name a few. While a few have been punished or reprimanded, the majority have been able to escape any major consequences.

Additionally, a recent study done by researchers at Columbia University makes clear that the issue isn’t confined to rich and powerful titans of industry. The study found that 22 percent of students surveyed had experienced sexual assault since starting college, with particularly high rates for lesbian, gay, and bisexual students, as well as for gender-nonconforming students and those who had difficulties paying for basic necessities.

In other words, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, backtracking after defending Conyers on Meet the Press Sunday, we’ve reached “a watershed moment on this issue.” It’s also prompting questions about what comes next, what avenues are available for justice, and how to cut rape culture’s long, toxic tentacles — which is exactly what ReThink is trying to do, starting at adolescence.

A public health approach

ReThink uses traditional public health strategies — data collection, treating high-risk individuals, changing behavioral norms — to address sexual violence with young boys, working to control the “disease” and change behaviors and beliefs of those who might catch it.

It’s a strategy that the authors of the Columbia study recommend, based on their findings.

“Our findings argue for the potential of a systems-based public health approach — one that recognizes the multiple interrelated factors that produce adverse outcomes, and perhaps particularly emphasizes gender and economic disparities and resulting power dynamics, widespread use of alcohol, attitudes about sexuality, and conversations about sex — to make inroads on an issue that stubbornly persists,” the authors write.

When ReThink visits schools, one public health-style tool they use is the Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale (IRMA). IRMA presents different situations and myths to students, such as, “If girl is raped while she is drunk, she is at least somewhat responsible for letting things get out of hand”, or “A lot of times, girls who say they were raped agreed to have sex and then regret it.” Students are asked to rate the rape myths from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

“If you accept all these rape myths you’re more likely to commit an act of sexual violence,” Duckett says. “When we work with boys, after we do these exercises…[and] consent education, breaking down stereotypes, working on a wide range of healthy masculinity ideas…they reject these rape myths at much higher rates.”

This finding, Duckett says, is both discouraging and encouraging.

“We do pretests and posttests, and the pretests show the extent of the problem,” he says. “This is the kind of stuff that our culture has taught them… It’s everywhere, it’s in the TV that we watch, it’s in the music that we listen to.”

“To be completely honest we’ve failed a lot of these boys,” Duckett adds. “Very few even comprehensive sex ed programs have serious conversations about consent, what consent looks like and doesn’t look like, how to ask for it, how to listen for it, [and] how to look for it.”

ReThink’s mission, in public health terms, is primary prevention: trying to stop sexual violence. But, Duckett says, there’s still much more that needs to be done.

“I’ll tell you what,” he says, “I believe strongly, if we invested in sexual violence prevention as a public health issue — like we did with drunk driving campaigns, anti-smoking campaigns, teen pregnancy campaigns — if we put that type of money and emphasis into sexual violence prevention work, I strongly believe that we could cut our rates in half in a generation.”

The good news is that Duckett and ReThink aren’t alone in their efforts. Jessica Raven, the executive director of Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS), is working to address sexual violence as a public health issue as well.

CASS has a partnership with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to run awareness campaigns about harassment and assault on public transit; it’s also working on the Safe Bar Collective, which is a program that trains bar staff to recognize sexual harassment and stop it before it turns into assault.

Raven tells ThinkProgress that it’s not enough to call out and take down powerful men in Hollywood. “We have all had these experiences where we witness incidents of harassment,” she says in an interview. “It’s our responsibility to call that out in our friend groups, in our families, in our neighbors.”

Raven says it’s crucial to implement more programs like CASS and ReThink, which work with men to unpack preconceived notions of rape culture and masculinity, as well as safe rehabilitative spaces for aggressors.

“There are really no services for these men to heal,” she says, explaining that it’s vital to “create an environment where they’re able to be open about the changes they’re going to make.”

It’s important to treat the problem like any other disease, Raven adds. “How are we going to address alcoholism without providing rehabilitative services to alcoholics?” she says.

The problem with prisons

While Raven believes in providing more rehabilitative spaces, those spaces shouldn’t be inside prison walls, she says.

Both Duckett and Raven have chosen to focus on public health strategies to address the epidemic of sexual violence rather than the criminal justice system for several important reasons.

“I think we have to be really, really, really careful about our kind of knee-jerk [conclusions]…when it comes to some of these particularly tertiary sort of prevention questions, like increased incarceration, tougher sentencing,” Duckett — a lawyer himself — explains. “There’s not much about our incarceration system that is feminist.”

Prisons, Duckett notes, are one of the major centers of sexual violence in the United States. According to the Bureau of Justice, about 80,000 people are sexually abused in correctional facilities in the United States every year.

The actual number is almost certainly higher than official tallies. Just as a significant majority of rapes and sexual assaults in the United States go unreported, it’s highly likely that the same is true in the prison system. Statistics do suggest that rates of rape and sexual assault are higher among male inmates than female inmates; the same is likely true among African American inmates, who statistically experience higher rates of sexual assault than Caucasian inmates.

“The prison system is and will forever be biased against black bodies and to the extent that we create tougher sentencing laws,” Duckett says, adding that people of color will ultimately be punished much more harshly than their white counterparts.

“Sending someone to prison as we understand it right now, I have a hard time thinking of that as an objectively feminist act,” Duckett argues. “It’s not to say that someone who causes trauma and pain shouldn’t face consequences, but just from a prevention standpoint, I don’t think that prison is the answer there.”

Raven is of the same mindset. “CASS has always had an anti-criminalization position. We don’t see the criminal legal system as a strategy,” she says.

“For starters, we recognize that the communities most affected by gendered and sexual violence are the communities most affected by police violence,” she continues, specifically mentioning women, people of color, gender minorities, and LGBTQ people among those communities. “Prison is punishment, but it’s not accountability, [and] there are no studies that show that prison is increasing safety. The public health approach actually tackles the problems at the root.”

Expanding legal avenues

As ReThink and CASS work toward furthering progress on a public health front, other advocates are looking to expand legal avenues for victims, including abolishing statutes of limitations and expanding affirmative consent laws.

“The abolition of the statute of limitations is a tool,” Jill Stanley, a former prosecutor and district attorney who now focuses on celebrities and the legal system, tells ThinkProgress.

As Stanley explains, “We understand that there are times you can’t recall [an incident]. When you are strong enough or when you have a clear picture of who your assaulter is, we can have evidence.” At that point, Stanley says, no matter how long it’s been since an assault took place, the victim should be able to go to law enforcement.

Stanley also points to the expansion of affirmative consent standards as a possible way of strengthening legal avenues for victims. At present, affirmative consent — a “yes means yes” standard rather than “no means no” standard — applies only to certain colleges and universities.

“[Affirmative consent standards] are very narrow,” Stanley says. “It only applies to state-funded colleges in New York and California.”

Some private universities — including each of the Ivy League schools other than Harvard — have adopted the standard, but so far, New York and California are the only states to have enacted laws mandating all state funded universities use the affirmative consent standard.

Stanley notes that the expansion of affirmative consent laws could be especially valuable because victims often don’t have the capacity to consent.

“The bigger issue in all of these laws is that we need capacity to say no,” she says.

While she believes such a standard could be helpful, Stanley doubts changes will come on a national legislative level. “The country is very slow,” she says.

One way she believes affirmative consent could become the standard? By putting it in employment contracts.

Here, California State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D), who co-authored California’s affirmative consent law, agrees.

“That might be a great thing,” Jackson tells ThinkProgress. Like Stanley, she has her doubts, but remains optimistic. “Could we get that passed? We could try!” she says.

Jackson also believes it could be beneficial to pass laws aimed at making educational initiatives — similar to ReThink’s curriculum — the standard for children, starting from a young age.

“What we really need is…education, whether it’s in the workplace or with our youngest children,” Jackson says. “Our culture has frequently rewarded men behaving badly…. We have to change it.”

Complete Article HERE!


Children raised by same-sex parents do as well as their peers, study shows


Comprehensive review in Medical Journal of Australia concludes main threat to same-sex parented children is discrimination


Rainbow Families lobbying against a plebiscite on same-sex marriage in September 2016.


As the marriage equality vote draws toward its close, a comprehensive study published in the Medical Journal of Australia shows children raised in same-sex-parented families do as well as children raised by heterosexual couple parents.

The review of three decades of peer-reviewed research by Melbourne Children’s found children raised in same-sex-parented families did as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers.

The study’s findings will undercut one of the arguments that have been used by the No campaign: that children need both a mother and a father to flourish.

The study’s authors said their work aimed to put an end to the misinformation about children of same-sex couples and pointed out that the results had been replicated across independent studies in Australia and internationally.

Titled The Kids are OK: it is Discrimination Not Same-Sex Parents that Harms Children, the report comes as the postal survey voting period enters its final days. Votes must be received by the Australian Bureau of Statistics by November 7 and outcome will be announced on November 15. So far polling has indicated that the Yes campaign is headed for a convincing win.

Among the studies reviewed were the 2017 public policy research portal at Columbia Law School, which reviewed 79 studies investigating the wellbeing of children raised by gay or lesbian parents; a 2014 American Sociological Association review of more than 40 studies, which concluded that children raised by same-sex couples fared as well as other children across a number of wellbeing measures; and the Australian Institute of Family Studies’ 2013 review of the Australian and international research, which showed there was no evidence of harm.

“The findings of these reviews reflect a broader consensus within the fields of family studies and psychology. It is family processes – parenting quality, parental wellbeing, the quality of and satisfaction with relationships within the family) – rather than family structures that make a more meaningful difference to children’s wellbeing and positive development,” the researchers said.

The researchers said that studies reporting poor outcomes had been widely criticised for their methodological limitations. For example the widely quoted Regnerus study compared adults raised by a gay or lesbian parent in any family configuration with adults who were raised in stable, heterosexual, two-parent family environments, which may have distorted the outcomes.

However, the study did find that young people who expressed diversity in their sexual orientation or gender identity experienced some of the highest rates of psychological distress in Australia, said the study’s senior author, Prof Frank Oberklaid.

“Young LGBTIQ+ people are much more likely to experience poor mental health, self-harm and suicide than other young people, “ he said.

“Sadly, this is largely attributed to the harassment, stigma and discrimination they and other LGBTIQ+ individuals and communities face in our society,” Oberklaid said.

He warned that the debate itself had been harmful.

“The negative and discriminatory rhetoric of the current marriage equality debate is damaging the most vulnerable members of our community – children and adolescents. It’s essential that we recognise the potential for the debate about marriage equality to cause harm for our children and young people,” Oberklaid said.

He said there was solid evidence in countries that had legalised same-sex marriage that it had a positive impact on the mental health and wellbeing of same-sex-parented families and LGBTIQ+ young people.

“As part of the medical community we feel a duty of care to all groups in our society, particularly to those who are vulnerable. Our duty extends to making sure that accurate, objective interpretations of the best available evidence are available and inaccuracies are corrected in an effort to reduce the destructiveness of public debate,” Oberklaid said.

He called for an end to the negative messages that could harm children in the final weeks of the voting period.

Melbourne Children’s is made of up of four child health organisations – the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, the Royal Children’s hospital, the University of Melbourne, department of paediatrics and the Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Complete Article HERE!


It’s Surprisingly Hard to Ban Toxic Sex Toys


But Here’s How to Protect Yourself


These days, most of us will carefully check ingredients lists for gluten and trans fats, demand that our water bottles be made without BPA, and seek out paraben-free, body-safe cosmetics. But the average person can’t tell you what a toxic sex toy is—or even that they exist. Unfortunately, in the unregulated sex toy industry, plenty of sex toys are potentially rife with products that can hurt you (and not even in the fun, kinky way).

Perhaps the most well-known offender in terms of toy toxicity is a group of chemicals known as phthalates, a plasticizer that can be blended with other substances to make them softer and more flexible. A spotlight’s been shone on phthalates in recent years, as publications like Bustle and Bitch, and feminist-oriented sex shops like Good Vibes and Babeland have spoken out against them.

So why all the hullabaloo? It turns out that phthalates may have side effects when they come into contact with your body that could potentially be terrible for you—and aren’t disclosed by most sex toy manufacturers. According to Amanda Morgan, D.H.S., a faculty member at the School of Community Health Sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who wrote her master’s thesis on harmful sex toy materials, phthalates are known endocrine disruptors that can cause health problems. “[Phthalates] mess with your hormones; they can cause birth defects, or other things related to liver or kidney functioning,” Morgan told me, referencing studies that have linked phthalates to irregular fetal development, early-onset puberty, and lower sperm counts, among other issues. “They can really mess you up because they pretend to be your hormones, and so your body’s hormonal cycle gets knocked out of whack from exposure to these things.”

When you hear horror stories about sex toys, though, it’s not necessarily phthalates that are to blame. One of the most common anecdotal complaints about toxic toys is that they cause skin irritation: “I first thought [it] was a yeast infection or BV, because of extreme itching and burning on my inner labia,” reports one reader who wrote in to sex toy review blog Dangerous Lilly. “My ass suddenly felt like it was on fire. A burning sensation spread throughout my butt,” recalled sex educator Tristan Taormino about a questionable dildo she used. One Playboy story described a dildo that caused a woman “such severe pain that she could barely speak.”

I asked Emily S. Barrett, Ph.D., a professor at the Rutgers University School of Public Health who has done extensive research on the prenatal effects of endocrine disruptors like phthalates, whether these reported burning sensations fit with her understanding of the chemicals. She told me she hasn’t seen evidence that phthalates irritate the skin in this way, and that they tend to “act on a much more subtle level most of the time.”

So what is causing these health problems? According to Amanda Morgan, phthalates aren’t the only sketchy ingredient still getting into our sex toys. As part of her thesis research, Morgan tested 32 sex toys to determine their chemical makeup. What she found was pretty scary: The toys she tested typically contained 30 to 35 percent chlorine. She said PVC, a material commonly used to make inexpensive sex toys, always contains chlorine (hence the chemical name “polyvinyl chloride”). Even scarier, in 2006,—an organization that, full disclosure, is linked to pro-toy-safety sex shop The Smitten Kitten—ran lab tests on four popular sex toys. They found that two of them were made of PVC and contained “very high levels of phthalate plasticizer.”

“We use chlorine to kill bacteria in things,” Morgan said. “If you are being exposed to this high level of chlorine, especially in a sensitive membrane area [like the vagina or rectum], we could definitely chalk that up to causing irritation, burning, or messing up the environment by exposing it to something that is, as we know, a sterilization product.” So with the short-term burning effects of chlorine and the long-term endocrine effects of phthalates, PVC is, Morgan said, “definitely one of the worst sex toy materials we’ve seen.”

Now, you might be thinking, “OK, great to know! I’ll just buy only safe toys from now on!” Well, it’s not so simple. Since the sex toy industry is unregulated, it doesn’t fall under the current purview of the Food and Drug Administration. According to FDA press officer Angela Stark, that’s because the agency “does not regulate devices meant purely for sexual pleasure. It does, however, regulate genital devices that have a medical purpose such as vibrators intended for therapeutic use to treat sexual dysfunction or to supplement Kegel exercises.” Of course, the vast majority of sex toys don’t fall under this “health aid” umbrella.

The responsibility of regulating sex toys could potentially fall to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but Morgan told me the understaffed CPSC is already in charge of regulating over 15,000 types of products—not to mention the products themselves. The complex issue of sex toy regulation would be a big ask on top of all that.

Add to all of this the fact that the current Congress likely wouldn’t rush to make a bold, sex-positive statement by mandating sex toy safety, and there are plenty of reasons your sex toy might not meet body-safe standards. “Our government doesn’t generally like to talk about people pleasuring themselves,” Morgan pointed out.

Beyond that, though, Morgan adds that regulating the sex toy industry might not even be the best solution to getting rid of toxic toys anyway. “If something is federally regulated, that means that the federal government—depending on where they are in their political leanings at that time—could potentially make it illegal to have these products, by saying they are ‘dangerous’ and then regulating them out of existence,” she reasoned. “You get certain types of people in power, and they may not believe in sexual health, wellness, [or] self-pleasuring. It might go against their core values, and therefore they [might] use their political agenda and the federal regulation system to regulate these products out of people’s hands.”

It’s a conclusion that Zach Biesanz, a legal assistant in the office of New York’s Attorney General, came to in his 2007 paper in the journal Law & Inequality: “Special regulation of the sex toy industry would be unreasonably burdensome from a regulatory standpoint,” he wrote. “Only banning these toxins outright will suffice to protect consumers from phthalates’ harmful and even lethal effects.”

In the meantime, how do you tell if a toy is safe? Sex toy experts like Morgan, Smitten Kitten founder Jennifer Pritchett, and seasoned sex toy reviewer Epiphora all recommend buying toys made of phthalate-free, body-safe materials like pure silicone, stainless steel, glass, and hard plastic. Still, it’s difficult to know what’s what in an industry that mislabels its products so frequently. “Sniff your sex toy,” said Morgan. “That’s the easiest thing you can do. If you smell these products and they don’t smell like anything, then it most likely is a stable chemical compound like silicone.” Phthalates and PVC, however, smell “like chemicals,” according to Morgan, “like a new shower curtain,” according to Epiphora, and “like a headache,” according to Pritchett. The sex toy smell test might sound a little weird, but it’s a pretty good first line of defense.<

Morgan also recommends buying toys made by “companies that take a lot of pride in making good-quality, body-safe toys,” citing Tantus and Jimmyjane as examples. Other companies that proudly declare their products body-safe include We-Vibe, Fun Factory, Vixen Creations, and Funkit Toys.

And when in doubt, find a reviewer you can trust. Sex toy review blogs abound on the internet —Epiphora, Dangerous Lilly, and Formidable Femme, to name just a few—and while you’d be wise to take claims about sex toys with a grain of salt in this unregulated industry, sometimes the preponderance of good or bad reviews about a particular company or toy can suggest conclusions about its safety (or lack thereof).

Most important, though, demand body-safe sex toys by buying only from companies you can trust. “Consumers vote with their pocketbook,” said Tantus founder Metis Black. “Support the businesses that make safe toys a priority, that use their resources to educate, that take a stand and advocate for consumers.” She added that while pure silicone toys are expensive now—especially in comparison to PVC toys, which can often be under $30 a pop versus $100+ for silicone—more consumer demand for body-safe toys will create a larger supply at lower prices, as bigger companies with more resources start making nontoxic toys in larger quantities. That’s just sex toy economics.

Bloggers, consumers, and ethical toymakers alike all dream of a future in which no sex toys will burn your junk, give you infections, or cause long-term bodily harm. It seems reasonable enough. And if we keep fighting for it, maybe one day it’ll be reality.

Complete Article HERE!