Material Matters: What Goes into the Toys That Make Us Twitch?
As you take on more and more adult toys in your store, the various product materials and their differences may begin to confuse you. What’s TPE? What’s TPR? What’s silicone? What’s the difference between them?
Let’s begin with the TPE/TPR variety. Briefly, TPE and TPR are very similar in that they are both are rubber—or at least, take the appearance of rubber. “TPE” stands for thermoplastic elastomer; “TPR” is thermoplastic rubber. You’d likely be hard pressed to determine the difference between “elastomer” and “rubber”—and that’s perfectly fine. Leave that to the PhD chemists. For our purposes, TPE is most commonly used as a coating, while TPR is the material that comprises many of our favorite toys, including the ever-popular Fleshlight and similar strokers.
Other materials, like PVC (polyvinyl chloride) – yes, that inexpensive and often unpleasant-smelling PVC – are available, but there are worries about its safety for bodily use. It’s always advisable to let the customer make their own decisions about what materials they’re comfortable using. As a guide, you can direct them toward more agreeable choices.
An additional point to note, especially if you’re reading this with concerns about potential latex allergies, is that latex has been largely phased out of sex toy production. This is due in part to alternatives like TPR, TPE, and silicone, which are not only cheaper to produce but also considerably easier to mold.
In the diverse world of sex toy materials, silicone is unparalleled in terms of hygiene and satisfaction. So what exactly is silicone and what makes it so great?
Silicone is a pure rubber that can vary in hardness depending on the individual formula. Some silicone toys can be squishy, while some can be very firm. In some instances, silicone is used as a thicker coating around a hard plastic toy (think ABS plastic), to give it a softer, more skin-like texture.
The most remarkable quality of silicone is that it is non-porous, meaning with proper cleaning, it won’t hold on to any germs. Take care when using and cleaning your silicone products to avoid surface damage—which risks giving those pesky germs a place to hide. This should go without saying, but keep it away from cats, dogs, teeth, zippers and ferrets. Yep. Ferrets. They love chewing on rubber products, as do rabbits. I kid you not.
There’s often talk of “medical-grade silicone” from various manufacturers, of which I am just a little skeptical. Given the broad manufacturing landscape, it’s hard to even verify where some products are made, let alone the grade of silicone.
The early 70s saw silicone making its debut in the sex toy industry (indeed, that far back), thanks to Gosnell Duncan. Fascinatingly, Duncan initially created them as prosthetic devices after an industrial accident cost him the sensitivity in his penis. Thus, our collective fascination with silicone dildos was born, all thanks to him! Fast-forward to the late 90s, and two notable silicone dildo manufacturers emerged—Tantus Silicone and Vixen Creations. Today, they are both flourishing and going strong. A round of applause for them!
The early 00s saw a significant shake-up when Asian manufacturing penetrated the silicone dildo market. Domestic sex toy “manufacturers”—better referred to as “importers”—then started bringing these foreign-made silicone dildos onto our shores.
There were initial concerns about the quality and purity of the silicone rubber, but those doubts soon quieted down as domestic “manufacturers” got choosier about their overseas partners and addressed quality control issues with tighter protocols.
Today, the vast majority of pleasure products are crafted from silicone, which provides both you and your customers with peace of mind regarding quality and hygiene. Want to know more about what materials are used in your products? Just ask your distributor. If you’re keen on stocking only body-safe silicone items, rest assured—there’s a vast array of exciting devices waiting to delight your adult toy shoppers!