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The short answer: Yup!
But try not to freak out too much, you can’t spontaneously get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) from a sex toy.
To get an STI from a sex toy, it has to have been used by a person who had an STI and then not properly cleaned before you used it.
“It’s not that the sex toy itself gives you an STI,” explains clinical sexologist Megan Stubbs, EdD. “It’s that the sex toy is a vector for infection.”
Here’s everything you need to know.
Any STI that can be transmitted through sexual activity can be spread via a shared sex toy — including STIs that are spread via bodily fluids and those spread through skin-to-skin contact.
If there’s blood, semen, pre-cum, vaginal secretions, or another bodily fluid on the sex toy of person A with a fluid-borne STI, and then the sex toy comes into contact with the mucus membranes of person B, person B can contract the virus.
While there’s been no research on the topic, STIs that spread through skin-to-skin or genital-to-genital contact can also be spread via a sex toy.
For instance, if a partner with a herpes outbreak used a sex toy, and then a few minutes later you used the same sex toy, there’s a chance that the virus would be transmitted to you.
It’s not just STIs that can be transmitted through sex toys.
“You can also get a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or urinary tract infection from a sex toy,” says Stubbs.
Sometimes this happens because you used a sex toy that a person with bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection used without it being properly cleaned before use.
But even if the other person doesn’t have one of these infections, if you have a vagina, the bacteria from their bits can throw off your vaginal pH and lead to an infection.
If you use a sex toy in your butt and then use it in your own vagina (or around your penile opening), this can also result in one of these infections.
Fecal matter and fecal residue is a universally acknowledged risk of anal play.
According to the
- hepatitis A, B, and C
- parasites, including Giardia lamblia
- intestinal amoebas
- bacteria, including Shigella, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli
That makes these infections a risk of anal sex.
And these risks don’t go away if a sex toy is being used to pleasure your derrière, as opposed to a penis or finger. (Though the risk of using a sex toy is lower compared to the risk of using your mouth).
Let’s say you get bacterial vaginosis, use your vibrator, don’t properly clean it, go on antibiotics for the infection and it clears up, and then use the sex toy again… it’s very possible to reinfect yourself with the toy.
The same applies for bacterial STIs. For example, if you have vaginal gonorrhea, use a toy vaginally, and then immediately use it to stimulate your anus, it’s possible to give yourself anal gonorrhea. Ugh.
Whether or not you can transmit an STI through a sex toy depends, in part, on whether you can completely clean the toy when you wash it.
What you need to know about porous and nonporous sex toys
“Sex toys made out of porous materials have little tiny microscopic holes that can hold onto bacteria, dust, soap, and perfume even after you clean it,” explains pleasure expert Carly S., founder of Dildo or Dildon’t.
Translation: Even soap and water can’t get porous sex toys completely 100 percent clean. Yikes.
Porous materials include:
- thermoplastic rubber (TPR)
- thermoplastic elastomer (TPE)
- polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
- jelly rubber
Nonporous sex toys can — if you clean them properly — be completely cleaned.
“A good rule… is that if it’s safe to eat off with and cook with and you could find it in the kitchen, it’s a safe, nonporous material for a sex toy,” says Carly S.
Nonporous materials include:
- ABS plastic
- stainless steel
If you’re sharing a sex toy, make it a nonporous sex toy
That way you can wash the toy between every party using it.
“You can also throw a condom over the toy and put on a new condom before the next partner uses it,” says sexologist and naturopathic doctor Jordin Wiggins.
Don’t worry: “You don’t have to sell an arm and a leg to get a nonporous toy,” says Carly S. Blush Novelties, for instance, makes some high-quality, lower price point products.
If you’re going to use a porous toy, use a condom
Whether you’re using it alone or with a partner, throw a new condom on that bad boy every time it’s about to touch a new person — specifically a latex, polyurethane, or polyisoprene condom.
Condoms made from animal skin don’t protect against STIs.
Admittedly, for sex toys that aren’t phallic-shaped, putting a condom on top can be… awkward.
“Try to tie the condom off the best you can to avoid excess slack,” says Carly S. “Or you can use a glove, or non-microwavable saran wrap (the microwavable one has little holes in it).”
For certain sex toys like penis-strokers, however, your best bet is probably to get a separate toy per user.
“Most strokers are made out of a porous rubber material because it’s very, very soft, and most people wouldn’t want to stroke their penis with something that feels like a brick,” says Carly S.
While couples who are fluid bonded — AKA intentionally, consensually, and purposely sharing body fluids — can share a stroker no problem, if you aren’t fluid bonded you need to get two separate toys.
Another option: Try the Hot Octopus Pulse Duo, a stroker made out of silicone and ABS plastic.
Regardless of the material of your toy, you should be washing that baby before and after each use. How you wash it depends on the material.
|Material||Porous or nonporous||How to clean||Other notes of use|
|Silicone||Nonporous||Motorized: Warm water and soap |
Non-motorized: Can also use boiling water
|Don’t use silicone-based lube.|
|Glass and stainless steel||Nonporous||Warm water and soap or boiling water||Glass can be sensitive to temperature changes, so after boiling the toy, let it cool naturally.|
|Pyrex and ABS plastic||Nonporous||Warm water and soap||Most of these toys are water-resistant, not water-proof. Don’t submerge them under water.|
|Elastomer, latex, jelly rubber||Porous||Room temperature water and a soapy washcloth||Even if used alone, these should be used with a condom.|
“Make sure the soap is gentle and nonscented,” says Wiggins. “Other products could be irritating to your genitals.”
For nonporous, non-motorized toys, throwing the toy in the dishwasher is also a possibility, according to Stubbs.
“We’re not talking about putting the toy in with last night’s lasagna dish,” says Stubbs. “Do a load for just your sex toys.”
Oh, and don’t use detergent! Just let the warm water run.
“Dishwasher detergent can contain harsh chemicals and fragrances that lead to irritation or infections for folks with sensitive bits,” says Carly S.
According to Carly S., “It may actually be better to use a water-based sex toy cleaner than to wash them with the soap you have, because these cleaners tend to be even more gentle than most hand soaps.” Good to know!
The sex toy cleaners she recommends:
Zoe Ligon (known as Thongria on social media), sex educator and owner of SpectrumBoutique.com, an educational sex toy store, recommends if you use a cleaner, rinse the toy off with water before using it to avoid any possible irritation.
“Bacterial colonies love moisture so after you clean a toy, dry it thoroughly,” says Stubbs. Simply blot the toy dry with a clean towel or leave the toys out to air dry.
Then store it away properly. Nowadays, most sex toys come with satin stowaway pouches, so if your toy comes with one, use that.
That bag will protect the toy from collecting dust, debris, and animal fur between uses.
Don’t have a special sex toy pouch? Consider investing in one of the below:
Ideally, after and before use.
“If you and your partner are fluid bonded, you can wait until you’ve both used it to wash it, so long as one of you isn’t super sensitive to yeast or urinary tract infections,” says Carly S. “Otherwise, wash it between each of you.”
Washing it before use might sound excessive, but consider this: “Even if a toy has already been washed, it’s always a good idea to give it another cleaning before playtime,” says Ligon.
Doing so can stop your dog fur from getting all up in your bits!
Yep, health and ethics are at play here!
Don’t use porous toys
As a general rule, porous toys shouldn’t be used with more than one partner. And they should only be used with partners you’re fluid bonded with.
Wash nonporous toys
This should be a given, but if you’re going to use a sex toy with Karen that you just used with Mary, you need to wash it ahead of time.
Failure to do so can result in STI transmission.
Talk to your partner(s)
“This isn’t just a sanitary and health issue,” says Carly S. “It’s also an emotional one for some people, and is required for the consent of all parties.”
Not sure how to bring up sex toy sharing with your partner? Try the following:
- “I know that we’ve already used my Hitachi together, but before we do that again I wanted to check in with your comfort level around me using that toy with my other partners.”
- “I would love to use my Womanizer on you if that’s something you think you might like. But before we try it in real life, you should know that I’ve used that toy in my past relationships, too.”
- “I know that we both have a collection of sex toys that we’ve used with our previous partners, but now that we’re in an exclusive relationship, I’d love to buy some sex toys that are just ours.”
- “We’ve talked about you f*cking me with a strap-on before. I know you have a cock, but I was wondering if you would be open to splitting the cost of a new one that you’d only use with me?”
Ideally this conversation will happen before the heat of the moment. Meaning, please be completely clothed when you bring this up!
Go get tested! “Mention what you were exposed to and request a full panel of tests if you have the means,” says Ligon.
If you don’t know what you were exposed to, tell your doctor that, too!
Then, “get tested again in 2 to 3 weeks or however long the doctor tells you to wait, because some STIs can’t be tested for immediately after exposure,” she says.
Friendly reminder: Most STIs are asymptomatic, so even if you’re not experiencing symptoms, you should be getting tested once a year and between partners, whichever comes first.
If you can get pregnant and you share a sex toy with a person with a penis, pregnancy is technically possible if any pre-cum or ejaculation is present on the toy when you use it.
If you want to avoid pregnancy, talk to your partner about birth control options and before sharing the toy. Or, clean it or use a new condom before you each use it.
Anytime you sexually engage with someone who has an STI or whose STI status you don’t know, STI transmission is a risk. And that includes using or sharing a sex toy together.
You can can help reduce the risk of transmission by:
- chatting about their STI status and what safer sex practices you want to use together
- using a new condom over the toy for every new user
- using a nonporous sex toy and cleaning it between partners
- having your own individual sex toys
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.