SEX Future sexologists will pinpoint the 2000s as the decade in which the sex toy industry finally crawled from its toxic swamp toward the green light. Before now, mainstream sex toys were garish in appearance, sloppily constructed, and intended to be dumped in a landfill after a few months of use. Made in shady overseas factories by exploited workers, many contained chemicals, like phthalates, that have been linked to cancer and were powered by frequently disposed-of batteries. Virtually nothing about the assembly or life cycle of the average sex toy indicated any consideration of consumer safety, labor standards, or environmental sustainability.
Fast-forward to today. Toys are available in a range of medical-grade, recyclable, and body-safe materials that don't threaten users with possible tumors. There are rechargeable, recyclable, hand-cranked, organic, or solar-powered erotic accoutrements for the picking. A growing number of businesses manufacture locally. Retailers are using their influence to spread the natural sex toy word. And the products are actually selling.
The Bay Area has been pivotal in catalyzing these changes. Many of the most influential and promising environmentally-minded sex entrepreneurs, retailers, and advocates are based here we house more green-compliant adult manufacturers than any other city. In a city where the word "sexual" is happily associated with innumerable prefixes homo-, bi-, poly-, pan-, a-, omni- we've earned a new variation: ecosexual.
If you've turned yourself on in the past 33 years, you probably know about Good Vibrations (www.goodvibes.com), the sex-toy juggernaut that evolved from a small women-owned cooperative into a worldwide phenomenon. I met with Carol Queen, PhD and staff sexologist, and Camilla Lombard, publicity manager, at Good Vibes' Polk Street retail location, where large posters announced a new "Ecorotic" line: "Have Sustainable Sex! Kiss uninspired evenings goodbye!" The candy-colored Ecorotic toys, rechargeable and organic, occupied the most prominent display tables and cases.
Good Vibes has influenced some of the industry's most important ecosexual developments. In 2001, the popular German magazine Stern ran the first feature on the harmful effects phthalates in sex toys, and Queen recalled, "The [journalists] stopped at Good Vibrations on their way back from Asia, after having gone to enormous toy factories in China and Hong Kong. They thought they were going to do a Life magazine-type spread on sex toy factories there. But their photographer was a medical doctor and when he smelled the air in the factories, he knew something was wrong. So they came to us the day after they got off the plane from Asia looking for alternatives. We started that conversation well over 10 years ago." (More than 70 percent of the world's sex toys are still manufactured in China, where safety and environmental standards can be sketchy.)
Good Vibrations was among the first major retailers to phase phthalates out of their inventory, but they are, to this day, among the minority to do so. Included in this minority is Libida (www.libida.com), which like Good Vibrations is a local, women-centered adult e-boutique. Libida's founder, Petra Zebroff, has a doctorate in human sexuality. (While most cities can't boast of a single sex shop with PhD-certified sexologists on staff, San Francisco, perhaps unsurprisingly has several). I asked Petroff for advice on choosing a safe product.