Stiftung Warentest is Germany’s leading consumer watchdog group. And it has tested 18 Sex Toys from a variety of price ranges. Some of the results were disastrous as far as the level of harmful substances in the toys was concerned. Only three products were completely free of harmful substances. Overall a mixed picture emerged in which European manufacturers performed relatively well, while the products from the US were found to be contaminated with questionable levels of harmful substances.
Nothing escapes the strict scrutiny of Stiftung Warentest. German companies from all industries fear their verdicts. And many seek their approval as it turns out to be very valuable on the German market. Whenever Stiftung Warentest disapproves of a product though that product might just disappear from the shelves completely as German consumers completely trust the watchdog group.
For the first time, the strict inspectors devoted themselves to the booming sextoy market and subjected 18 products from different manufacturers to a detailed test. The focus was on an examination of possible harmful substances in the products. Since there are hardly any regulations on harmful substances for sex toys worldwide, the industry is largely unsupervised. Reason enough for Stiftung Warentest to take a closer look. The test results by the influential inspectors will likely cause sleepless nights in the industry. In the article on the test, the product testers open: »We did find clean sex toys, but we did also find five products with very high levels of harmful substances. Among them by no means only cheap products.«
European manufacturers perform well in comparison
The good news first: Four sex toys were able to get the testers’ much sought after rating »Sehr gut« (Engl.: Very Good): The Ocean Mini Vibrator from FunFactory (31,00€), the Space Rider 3000 from You2Toys (15,00€), the Siiime Camera Vibrator from Svakom (99,50€) and the Satisfyer Pro 2 Next Generation (42,00€). Products from Lelo, Mystim, Sevencreations and Lovehoney scored well and got the still valuable mark »Gut« (Engl.: Good). Womanizer and Durex got off with a result labeled »Befriedigend« (Englisch: Mediocre). Tested products from Doc Johnson, Joydivision, Pipedream and We-Vibe, on the other hand, were rated as »Mangelhaft« (Engl.: deficient/poor), a harsh verdict that should motivate the manufacturers to take immediate countermeasures.
Germany’s most influential news magazine DER SPIEGEL stated in its article on the test result: »According to Stiftung Warentest, sex toys are often contaminated with harmful substances. Four of the twelve vibrators tested have an ‘inadequate’ contamination level. The same applies to one of the three love balls tested, which are inserted into the vagina and are supposed to train the pelvic floor. The 18 products tested and the accompanying accessories contained, for example, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which are considered carcinogenic, and the plasticizer DEHP, which can adversely affect fertility.«
These are harsh statements for the industry and sex toys in general which, for years now, have been experiencing an immense growth trajectory in terms of consumer interest. The industry should take this verdict seriously and be alarmed.
Sex toys are intimate products, trust is a basic prerequisite
After all, sex toys are not commonplace products. They are placed in the most intimate zones and partially inserted into the body. Sara Wagner Leifhelm was responsible for the testing coordination at Stiftung Warentest. In an interview with Spiegel Online, she points out the unique responsibility of sex toy manufacturers in that the body parts that come into contact with the products are »usually well circulated and can be very sensitive. Pollutants therefore have no place in sex toys.«
Threshold values for comparable products in some cases exceeded a hundredfold
Compared to children’s toys, the threshold values for harmful substances are often massively exceeded, in some cases by a factor of one hundred. The inspectors of Stiftung Warentest have noticed one product from the upmarket price segment in particular as being especially harmful. The We-Vibe is often sold for around 90€. But the product emits so much nickel that it should not actually be on the market. A Pipedream mask is also too dangerous. The legally allowed value of DEHP is exceeded by a hundred times and the level of chlorinated paraffin is also far above the EU recommendation.
Dr. Wolfgang Bühmann is secretary of the Association of German Urologists. He warns: »The brain must not be switched off for the sake of pleasure.« Such statements are very troubling for the industry, as they cast doubt on the positive image of sex toys that have been painstakingly established after years of stigma. It is of little help that the price is apparently not an indicator for toxin-free sex toys. High levels of toxicity were found in both cheap and expensive products, and both cheap and expensive products received very good ratings. Obviously, the manufacturers pay little attention to the lack of harmful substances in their products.
The outcome might be a chance for the industry as a whole
The problems are homemade. The problematic headlines resulting from this, however, are also an opportunity for industry to finally face up to a potential growth obstacle. The industry urgently needs to work towards a legally binding standardization of contaminant levels.
Consumers of sex toys must be absolutely convinced that such an intimate product cannot harm them. Otherwise, the boom in the sextoy industry could suffer. Especially in Germany, where customers are extremely sensitive to potential health risks and poor product quality.
One of the growth areas in which the industry is investing a lot of hope and money is the market for app-controlled sex toys. The poor confidence of the testers at Stiftung Warentest is also evident here. The inspectors come to the conclusion that consumers should completely refrain from sex toys that collect data about them and process it via the app. The concise and catastrophic recommendation: “Don’t create intimate data like this about yourself”. It is high time, therefore, that manufacturers ensure increased consumer confidence and introduce the strictest safety standards for their products.
If you would like to find out more, you can find the link to the Stiftung Warentest test here. For a small fee, you can access the article.