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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Store raises sex-toy safety concerns

VICTORIA - A Vancouver sex shop is blowing the whistle on the sex-toy industry, warning customers that some toys and lubricants may be toxic.

Adult novelty store Womyn's Ware houses a "scary cupboard" dedicated to collecting dangerous dildos and vibrators.

After a few months these toys, which are made from soft plastic or rubber, begin to fragment and ooze.

Most of these products contain chemical phthalates. The chemicals can be released from the product into the body when pressure is applied. Phthalates have been proven to cause liver, kidney and testicular damage in lab rats.

Health Canada pulled child soothers and dog toys containing a high concentration of phthalates off the market in 1997. It did not pull sex toys made of the same materials.

According to an earlier inquiry, Health Canada has no interest in investigating sex toys and maintains there is no grounds for further investigation.

But German chemist Hans Ulrich Krieg disagrees. Krieg tested numerous sex toys, most of which are available in Canada, and found many contained a concentration of phthalates of 243,000 parts per million (ppm). In Canada, a daily exposure of 1,000 to 3,000 ppm is considered safe.

Kass King, retail manager of Womyn's Ware, said Health Canada should reexamine its position on sex toys.

"They care about your kids. That's good. They care about your dog. That's good. But they don't give a damn about your pussy."

Womyn's Ware focuses on women-friendly products. The most recommended toys are made of silicone. Silicone is safe, easy to clean and many products come with a lifetime guarantee. Womyn's Ware also sells latex vibrators but warns customers latex is porous and more difficult to clean.

King explains that latex toys shouldn't be shared or used in both the vagina and the anus because bacteria can be transported.

William Dyson, a doctor with the University of Victoria's health service, also warned about sharing toys.

"There is no difference in sharing a penis and sharing a toy."

STDs can be transferred through toys and some, such as Hepatitis B, can live outside of the body for a long period of time.

Silicone toys must be boiled for more than three minutes or wiped down with a toy cleaner, such as Adult Play Toy Cleaner. Cleaned properly, the toys won't transport bacteria or STDs.

Dyson also warned about spermicide chemical nonoxynol-9, which is used in many lubricants.

"In the test tube it reduced the activity of HIV. The reality has been nonoxynol-9 is extremely irritating."

Many women are allergic to nonoxynol-9. It can cause irritation and burning.

A study done on sex-trade workers in Africa proved women who used lubricants or lubricated condoms containing nonoxynol-9 were 50 per cent more likely to be infected with HIV. Nonoxynol-9 attracts the mucus membrane in the vagina and anus. This causes open sores and kills off natural antibodies.

"All natural protection is lost," said Dyson.

The Ministry of Health released a consumer alert in September 2000, warning of the dangers and ineffectiveness of nonoxynol-9.

Women also need to be aware that most flavoured lubricants contain sugar, which stimulates yeast production in the vagina. Though still safe to use anally or during oral sex, flavoured lubricants should be avoided by women prone to yeast infections.

King believes education can empower consumers to make safe decisions. She said the most important thing is for people to feel comfortable in sex shops.

Womyn's Ware staff are available to help with information books displayed beside products. In addition, the toys are displayed without packaging so customers can touch the product.

"We are whistle blowers because we want to talk about it," said King about the health hazards of sex toys. "We are not taught to talk about it."

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