Pads, tampons, condoms, sex toys—we put them in our bodies regularly, yet sometimes we don’t know exactly what they’re made of. The vagina is the most permeable organ in the female body, which means anyone who has one should be extra careful about the products they use for sex and periods. Unfortunately, most of these products are classified by the FDA as “medical devices,” so manufacturers are not required to disclose a full ingredient list.
Conventional tampons and pads may seem safe, but they likely contain ingredients that can cause itching, rashes, and discomfort. Conventional period products are made up of a mixture of synthetic rayon and cotton that has been genetically modified and treated with pesticides. On top of that, most tampons are dyed white using chlorine.
Many brands of condoms also do not disclose all of their ingredients. Condoms often contain parabens, glycerin, and benzocaine, all of which are used in condoms for reasons such as bacteria control and lubrication, but they can be harmful. Parabens are one of the ingredients used to curb bacteria growth, but they can disrupt estrogen production and are actually banned from cosmetic use in the European Union. Glycerin is used as a lubricant, but when left in the vagina for too long it can increase your likelihood of contracting a yeast infection. Benzocaine is intended to delay male orgasm but often causes irritation if it’s left on the skin for too long.
Luckily, if you want to avoid these problems there are plenty of safer options:
- Seventh Generationoffers a wide range of plant-based products, including organic cotton tampons and chlorine-free pads, and all of their packaging is made from recycled materials.
- LOLApromises “complete transparency” when it comes to their products, according to their website. Through LOLA’s subscription service, customers can choose their own assortment of feminine care and sex products to be delivered discreetly to their doors monthly. Tampons, pads, panty liners, lube, condoms—they have it all, and everything is all-natural.
- Sustaincarries organic, vegan, fair trade products, including condoms, pads, tampons, period cups, and even underwear—all of which are eco- and vagina-friendly.
Sex toys are another category of products that are potentially harmful to vaginal health. They’re classified by the FDA as “novelty items,” which means they aren’t recommended for use and they don’t go through the same regulations as pads, tampons, and condoms. Unfortunately, that means it’s up to you to use caution when shopping for them.
Avoid phthalates, chemicals that can cause irritation and are often used in cheap sex toys. Make sure to purchase sex toys made from non-porous materials only. Silicone, ABS hard plastic, glass, and stainless steel are all safe, but porous materials such as rubber mixtures can harbor bacteria, making it impossible to completely and thoroughly clean them. Watch out for “realistic” sex toys; they’re usually made from porous materials. Finally, try to buy only from reputable brands. Amazon and popular sex toy sites like Adam & Eve and EdenFantasys are known to carry porous and potentially toxic sex toys.
If you’re looking for safer sex toys, there are many brands that make it their goal to provide customers with complete ingredient lists.
- The Smitten Kittenis a Minneapolis-based “sex-positive, education-based, body-safe sex toy store.” They carry only non-porous toys and promise they would feel confident using any of their products themselves.
- Vibrantwas created by Planned Parenthood and every purchase goes toward the organization and their mission. Vibrant has a wide selection of non-porous toys that are free of parabens, phthalates, and everything else that is unsafe to put in your body.
Shopping for these products should be a simple task, but mainstream manufacturers and hidden ingredient lists make it a challenge. The extensive research required just to navigate the menstrual products aisle can be frustrating, but until manufacturers start listing all of their ingredients, it’s important that we find out as much as we can about the products we’re putting in our bodies.