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How Often Should You Replace Your Vibrator?

How Often Should You Replace Your Vibrator?
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Some gadgets withstand the test of time, but if you’re still using a vibrator you rushed out to buy after watching Sex and the City Season One, it’s probably time to replace Old Faithful.

“A vibrator is more like a kitchen utensil than a toothbrush—there’s no set amount of time until it goes bad,” says Janet Lieberman, cofounder and chief technology officer at Dame Products, a female-founded sex toy company. Some vibes last a few months, others years. But that doesn’t mean you should have lifetime loyalty to one toy. Time can affect the quality and safety of the material, how well the electronics function, and, above all, how much pleasure it brings you.

Below, the risks you run in holding on to an old vibrator—and how to tell when it’s time to replace it.

The plastics might break down.

“A toy purchased 10 years ago is probably less safe than one bought today,” says Lieberman. “There’s a good chance you weren’t thinking too hard about material safety a decade ago. And even if you were, the industry’s ability to deliver on that concern has really matured since then.”

The life span of your device depends largely on what it’s made out of, says Lisa Finn, sex educator at sex toy company, Babeland. Glass, stainless steel, gold, and ABS plastics (which make hard toys vs. jelly ones) will all withstand the test of time. “We tell people these last through relationships, moving apartments, dry spells, and any marker of time,” Finn says. “Because they’re nonporous, they’ll never break and never degrade.”

Silicone toys are where things start to get tricky. If it’s 100 percent medical-grade, platinum silicone—meaning it’s pure silicone to the core, not blended—you’re good. “That is a material that will probably outlast the human that’s using it, as long as it’s taken care of properly,” Finn says. It won’t degrade unless it’s exposed to other silicones, i.e., using it with silicone lube, leaving a lubricated condom on it or touching it, or leaving it in a bag with other silicone toys near heat.

But a lot of silicone toys are blended with things like thermoplastic rubber (TPR) or PVC (yep, the same stuff plastic plumbing is made out of) so they can be sold as “silicone” toys but at a cheaper price. “The unfortunate reality is: How much did you spend on that toy? If two similar toys both say they’re silicone, but one is $20 and one is $80, one is pure silicone and the other is not,” Finn says.

The problem: One way you turn a hard material like PVC into something that feels like rubber is by introducing phthalates to keep the molecules from bonding to one another. Because it keeps molecules loose, that means they can and do fall out over time (that’s the literal flaking of plastic you can see). This deposits those phthalates directly into your body, Lieberman explains. The Centers for Disease Control says we need more research on the health risk in humans, but studies have found that this chemical affects the reproductive system of lab animals—and that adult women already have higher levels of exposure since phthalates are also in body washes, cosmetics, shampoos, and other beauty products.

Outside of the risk of phthalates themselves, the addition of these other plastics turns nonpermeable pure silicone into a porous material, so blended silicone will break down a lot faster, Finn explains. This isn’t explicitly dangerous for your health, but as they break down over time, they can leak chemicals that aren’t necessarily good for your body, she adds. Lieberman backs this up.

The telltale sign of a chemical reaction: If your toy begins to smell different, feel different, or change colors, it’s time to replace it.

Porous material can harbor bacteria.

If you don’t clean your toys properly (like some 14 percent of women), you risk bacteria and fungus growth. That’s particularly a problem with cross-contamination of toys from anal play into the vagina, which can lead to sticky, smelly discharge, potentially a bladder infection, and/or other irritation, says Maureen Whelihan, M.D., a gynecologist in Palm Beach, Florida. 

If you’re sticking to fun in the front, the health risk of a sub-par clean depends on the material. With high-quality, nonporous toys like 100 percent medical-grade platinum silicone, glass, stainless steel, and gold, you probably don’t have to worry. “Any bacteria or fungus you miss on the surface would get dried out when you leave a toy in a drawer,” adds Dr. Whelihan.

But vinyl toys—like the head of the original Magic Wand—or blended silicone are both porous. So even if you scrub them down, over time they can harbor bacteria, says Finn.

Still, it’s not that big a health risk. “The vagina is quite resilient,” says Dr. Whelihan. “Consider all of the possibilities we expose the vagina to when someone’s mouth goes on it—the acidity of the saliva, the contents (bacteria and food) of the mouth, and potential infections like herpes. An old vibrator would be of least concern.”

But bacteria in your toy will make the material break down faster, so while it likely won’t affect your hoo-ha’s health beyond a potential low-key rash, it will cause your toy to turn colors and start smelling a lot earlier.

The motor will probably break.

“Vibrators are electronics, so they wear out like an electric razor, a cell phone, or like any other electronic,” says Lieberman. Batteries stop operating as consistently, motors wear out, and user interface points (buttons, charging ports) can start to show physical damage from repeated use, she adds. Sure, you can still use it, but if your vibe no longer holds a charge, well, then it’s not much of a vibrator anymore.

You may be missing out on some serious pleasure.

“The biggest health risk is boredom! That sets in with a toy long before it becomes dangerous,” says Dr. Whelihan. It may seem like NBD to reach for the same toy for months or years, but the whole point of enjoying a solo sesh or partner play is to experience pleasure and indulge your libido. If you stuck with missionary every time you had sex with your partner, chances are the passion would fizzle pretty quick—and the same goes for your vibe. “It’s healthy to expand your sexual boundaries and prevent sexual boredom,” Dr. Whelihan adds.

Doubtful a top-of-the-line toy is really all that special? You’re not just buying a 2017 production date. The toys Samantha and Charlotte loved back in the early 2000s actually aren’t as erotically ergonomically designed as one put out this year.

“We live in a tech age so everything is getting better and better—and that includes sex toys,” says Finn. Think of your phone: If your flip phone still charges and that’s all that matters, great. But if you also want to take photos, access the internet, and video chat, you need to upgrade. “Your first Rabbit might still work, but there are other products on the market that can probably give you a better experience,” Finn says.

“Culturally, vibrators to try, compared to the options available even just five years ago.”>You don’t need to go too far from your comfort zone, either. It’s super common now for brands to release new editions of their anchor toys. Between materials, motors, fit, flexibility, remote controls, smartphone compatibility, charging method, and waterproof designs, companies are listening to consumer reviews and making changes to features that didn’t work and asking what women want now, Finn adds.

What’s the verdict?

If you’re still canceling Friday night plans for an evening in with a toy you bought a decade ago, power to you. But if the material is starting to flake, change colors, smell, or feel different, that’s a sign the material is breaking down and/or harboring bacteria and it’s time to replace it. And if your solo sessions don’t rev you up like they used to, a little novelty could definitely help.

“If it’s been more than a few years since you last explored your options, you should consider trying something new, even if your old vibrator is still working. There’s a real chance there’s something on the market that would upgrade your experience through new features or more thoughtful design,” Lieberman says.

“Just because your toy has worked well for you for years doesn’t mean there isn’t something else out there that’ll do the same or even better,” Finn adds.

 

Author Since: Jul 26, 2018