Establishing an International Safety Standard for Sex Toys

It seems almost like a no-brainer that sex toys would have an international safety standard (ISO¹) – especially since it is used in direct contact with one’s most intimate areas. However, until now, there have been no standards to guide manufacturers in designing these products to maximise their safety and minimise the risk of potential issues such as allergic reactions. Moreover, the non-existence of manufacturing regulations for sex toys allows manufacturers to develop female and male-centric products without any requirement to list the material or chemical used. As such, consumers face a huge range of products and brands, but little guidelines on what to look out for.

The global sexual wellness market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 8% from 2021 to 2028, and the market was valued at US$34 billion in 2020 with expectations to increase to over US$52 billion by 2028². As such, there is a need for an ISO for sex toys and We-Vibe, the world’s largest sexual wellness company, has taken the initiative to fund and be part of shaping the very first international safety standard, which came into effect at the end of September this year.

Swedish surgeon imagined it, We-Vibe and industry experts did it

Dr. Martin Dahlberg, a Swedish surgeon at Stockholm South General Hospital, initiated the standard. In 2018, he recognised that he was increasingly performing operations to remove sex toys lodged in the rectum. He approached the Swedish Institute for Standards (SIS), the non-profit association contributing to the development of standards in various sectors, and suggested establishing a standard specific to sex toys.

Dr. Dahlberg explains, “At our hospital about 40% of cases of retained foreign objects are due to sex toys. I contacted the consumer protection agency in early 2018 to find out if there was any regulation in the sex toys market, but there was not. Yet, several possible injuries can result from the wrong use of sex toys. I am pleased with the fact that the early work convened by the representatives from producers, manufacturers, and retailers in the SIS Stockholm Office has come this far.”

As safe and high-quality toys are essential for Lovehoney Group, the parent company behind the premium brand We-Vibe, it did not take long for the company to join the SIS to fund and participate in the creation of this new standard. We-Vibe Quality Team partnered with 75 industry experts, testing labs and standardization specialists from 19 countries, to lead the draft and develop this standard. Halfway into the development process the draft was circulated on a public consultation, which enabled stakeholders outside the ISO-group to provide comments and input. These comments have been integrated in the final document and after almost two years of work the ISO 3533 standard came to life.

This international standard aims to ensure:

  • that their design minimises the risk of injury to the user during reasonable and predictable use.
  • that body-safe materials in the event of contact with the genital and anal areas are used.
  • that the information provided to the user is sufficient and correct.

Clear guidelines for manufacturers, more safety for customers

The ISO 3533 standard contains many requirements for different types of sex toys as well as the development and design process. As many products come in contact with the most sensitive parts of the body, all materials that are used need to be biocompatible. The ISO standard also lists materials to be avoided in the design and manufacturing process, such as phthalates, alkyl phenols or cadmium. Until now, while consumers would assume that the silicone or plastic used was body-safe, there was no guarantee to that. With the new ISO standards, manufacturers have clear guidelines on material safety and what to include in the user information.

Further, the standard gives tips on product design. For instance, sex toys for anal use must have a specific design and mechanism so that they cannot be inserted further into the rectum than originally intended. For those that are designed with removable parts and can pose a risk when not properly secured, they must have a locking mechanism to ensure that the parts remain in place during use. For sex toys that can be controlled remotely by someone else, the user in contact with the toy must be able to switch it off easily.

An ISO 3533 compliant sex toy is a sign of confidence for consumers and other stakeholders, but it is not mandatory for manufacturers. An ISO standard only provides guidelines to ensure better consumer protection and experience.  It is now up to the country’s regulators to use international standards as the basis for a law, so that the application of these standards becomes mandatory.

Eyal Bar-Or, Quality & Compliance Manager at Lovehoney Group, explains, “This is an important step for the whole industry to ensure the consumer’s safety and well-being. Most of We-Vibe’s products are already tested and ISO 3533 compliant in terms of design and material, including its bestsellers Chorus, Melt, Nova 2, as well as We-Vibe Bond, the latest addition to our product portfolio. Given the intimate nature of our products and their use, their safety and quality has always been a priority for us. We hope that the entire industry is going to take this new standard into consideration from now on when designing their products. We are ready to lead by example and shape the future of our industry”.


¹ISO is an independent, non-governmental international organization. It develops and publishes international standards. Standards are like a formula that describes the best way of doing something. It could be about making a product, managing a process, delivering a service or supplying materials – standards cover a huge range of activities. Standards are the distilled wisdom of people with expertise in their subject matter and who know the needs of the organizations they represent – people such as manufacturers, sellers, buyers, customers, trade associations, users or regulators. Source: iso.org

²https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/sex-toys-market and https://bedbible.com/state-of-sex-toys-industry-statistics/

Images: Envato

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