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Sex Toys 101

Updated: Jan 30

Introduction to Sex Toys

Did you know that vibrators were very popular in the early 1900s?

The individual credited for the invention of vibrators, Mortimer Granville, believed that our body’s nervous system had certain levels of vibration that caused illness when thrown off balance. He claimed that the electromechanical devices he invented would help restore the balance.

Vintage Ad Promoting the Electric Massager (Image Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Vintage Ad Promoting the Electric Massager (Image Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The device was not advertised explicitly for sexual pleasure but as an electrotherapeutic device. Companies marketed the device as a cure for ailments such as obesity, floating kidneys, and even spinal curvature. These claims were merely pseudoscience at best and bad marketing at worst. The rest of the medical community soon realized that Granville’s claims were wildly exaggerated, so the device was rebranded as a consumer appliance.

The vibrator grew in popularity as companies continued to push its use for health reasons, using subtle imagery hinting at the vibrator being used for a more personal matter. The vibrator was marketed towards upper-class men and women who had spare capital and access to electricity. It wasn’t until much later on that feminists rebranded the vibrator as a sex toy.

Fun fact: The electromechanical device was nicknamed “Granville’s Hammer.”

Let’s Talk About Modern Sex Toys

Since the sexual liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the conversation around sexuality, interpersonal relationships, and self-pleasure has improved. However, there is still stigma around the topic.

Sex toys come in all different shapes, sizes, and utilities. Some are more geared toward self-gratification while others can be used to enhance the experience of partnered sex. But, before you open up the private tab on your phone, there are some things you should know about sex toys.


The sex toy industry goes largely unregulated in the United States—the materials that most common sex toys are made from have been linked to various illnesses, including cancer. You should be aware of what comes into contact with your body. So, let's talk about what materials to look out for when shopping for sex toys.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is one of the most common sex toy materials. Most toys labeled “jelly” or “jelly rubber” are likely PVC, but without any federal regulation, there is no guarantee. PVC is known to break down over time and leach phthalates, a chemical known to disrupt your endocrine system and damage reproductive organs.

Silicone is a material seen often in food and medical settings. There are different grades of silicone, but not all are body-safe. Medical-grade silicone is used for implants and contacts, so it is one of the safest materials used for sex toys. Silicone is also more expensive, so most low-cost sex toys use other materials. Here are some tips for spotting real silicone:

  • Real silicone is cloudy—never see-through.

  • It has no smell.

  • Medical-grade silicone is non-porous, making it easier to clean and less likely to harbor harmful bacteria.

Other materials like stainless steel, borosilicate glass, and polished natural stone are body-safe and non-porous. But, always research the material if you have any reservations or are unsure what the toy is made of.

Safety and Hygiene

Just like sex with your partner, preparation and cleanliness are very important when it comes to having a safe and enjoyable experience. Condoms are a great way to be safe when it comes to using sex toys. STIs can be transmitted between people if they share toys, so condoms can prevent the spread of infections.

Lube helps make the experience more comfortable. Keep in mind that like with condoms, not all lubes are compatible with all sex toys. For example, silicone-based lube is not recommended with silicone toys as it can cause the toy to break down. There are a few types of lube: silicone-based, oil-based, water-based, and some hybrid ones. They each have their own pros and cons to fit your preference. When using condoms, you should only use silicone or water-based lube.

When it comes to sanitation, most toys come with their own cleaning instructions. There are also cleaners created specifically for cleaning toys. Warm soap and water will do the job for most sex toys, but always refer to the toy’s care instructions.


While sex toys can enhance the sexual experience, they can also be quite problematic when improperly cleaned, used, or stored.

Be sure to read the storage and cleaning instructions. When purchasing sex toys, search reputable sites to ensure quality and safety. Many credible sites offer options that are body-safe (although they are more expensive). There are also reputable sites that cater to queer individuals—just double-check the reviews and credibility. There should be no shame around the topic of safe sex—safety should be the top priority. Remember to discuss boundaries with your partners when it comes to sex toys, and always establish informed consent. And don’t forget to have fun!



Adams, K. (2020, June 8). Vibrators had a long history as medical quackery before feminists rebranded them as sex toys. The Conversation. Retrieved April 24, 2022, from

Lieberman, H. (2016, March 16). Selling Sex Toys: Marketing and the Meaning of Vibrators in Early Twentieth-Century America. Cambridge University Press.

Mortimer, G. J. (1883). Nerve-vibration and excitation as agents in the treatment of functional disorder and organic disease. London,Churchill.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) | Uses, Benefits, and Safety Facts. (n.d.). Chemical Safety Facts. Retrieved April 24, 2022, from

White, H. (n.d.). It's time to talk about toxic chemicals in sexual health products. Made Safe. Retrieved April 24, 2022, from

File:White Cross Electric Vibrator ad NYT 1913.jpg. (n.d.). Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved April 24, 2022, from


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