We now know that masturbation isn’t bad for you like it was purported to be all those years. It won’t make you go blind or develop hairy palms, nor does it decrease sensitivity or your ability to reach orgasm, either with or without a partner. However, certain sex toys on the market are known to contain shockingly high levels of the potentially dangerous toxic chemical family called phthalates.

Phthalates are added to vinyl compounds to make them more pliable and flexible as well as help them hold colour and scents. They show up in a wide range of products including paint, adhesives, cosmetics, shampoo, detergent, food packaging, air fresheners, soap, flooring and rocket fuel. Over time, these phthalates can leak out of their source in a process known as “off-gassing” and release chemicals like lead and cadmium, which can then be absorbed into the body.

The presence of phthalates in sex toys was first brought to light by the German magazine Stern, which found alarmingly high concentrations of phthalates that exceeded the European standard by 100 times. A 2006 study commissioned by Greenpeace Netherlands found that seven out of eight of the tested vibrators and dildos contained phthalate concentrations ranging from 24 to 51 percent.

While the extent of their harmful effects is unknown in humans, phthalate exposure in rodents has been linked to hormonal problems, liver and kidney damage, tumors and infertility.  A 2008 study by the University of Rochester found that boys born to mothers exposed to high levels of phthalates during pregnancy had a range of reproductive-linked issues including smaller penises and incompletely descended testicles. Last year, Health Canada announced new regulations to severely restrict the use of phthalates in children’s toys, while other places like the state of California banned them in similar products aside from minute residual quantities.

When shopping for a safe new pleasure object, look for toys made of pure silicone, steel or glass as these materials are guaranteed to be phthalate-free. Certain companies like the Swedish-based Lelo use phthalate-free as a selling point on their high-end sex toys. Avoid jelly rubber products with that “new plastic” smell that is indicative of the presence of phthalates. Since sex toys are sold as novelty products, manufacturers are not required to list their compositions, and their products don’t have to adhere to any regulations.

Silicone is a fantastic material for sex toys, since it is hypoallergenic, non-porous and non-absorbent. It warms to the body and carries vibrations like a dream. Furthermore, it can be disinfected in boiling water in approximately five minutes. Another popular material in the sex toy world is elastomer. Like silicone, it is durable, hypoallergenic and latex-free, but since it is slightly porous, it cannot be disinfected, though elastomer toys are easily cleaned with soap and water.