The sex issue 

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Play time

Sex toys take a turn toward safety and the environment

In April, a sex toy company called Lelo announced a new eco-friendly vibrator called the GÄSM. Features included a rechargeable battery with a manual hand-crank and a casing made from 100 percent recycled material colored in a “lush shade of forest green.” As it turns out, it was a fake GÄSM. Lelo was making an April Fool’s joke. Yet, six months later the company still receives requests for the nonexistent product and has had to post a disclaimer on its website for would-be buyers.

A few silly details about the GÄSM should have given the joke away. For one, you had to assemble the product yourself to save on production costs. And the recycled material was wood particle. But other features—like the rechargeable battery and hand-crank—are similar to those being incorporated into an emerging market of natural sex toys. In recent years, sex toy safety advocates have popped up to demand better designs, and young, hip consumers in cities like Portland and Minneapolis have opened up the conversation on sex toy usage, making it a less verboten subject. The sex toy industry has reacted with new products like Earth Angel vibrators, which don’t require batteries and essentially work like wind-up toys, and the Solar Bullet, a vibrator powered by the sun.

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  • Cathrine L. Walters

In eco-aware Missoula, sex shops are starting to carry a few lines of sustainable and non-toxic toys. At Fantasy For Adults Only on Main Street, a case of high-end rechargeable battery designs includes vibrators from a green company called Leaf, which is endorsed by outspoken vegan and Clueless star Alicia Silverstone. The Leaf line has a distinct look to it, featuring bright green rubber and curvy, ergonomic shapes that make them look more like trendy kitchenware than anything overtly sexual. One of the Leaf vibrators is called “Touch” and resembles a plant leaf designed to “hug nipples or outer vagina.” Another “G-spot” stimulator called “Bloom” resembles a flower.

At Adult Avenue, also on Main, you’ll find glass dildos and all-natural lubes among the usual array of plastic and dyed rubber items. Glass dildos are considered green because you rarely have to replace them like you do with more traditional toys. They’re considered healthy because they’re easy to clean—in the dishwasher, no less—and glass prevents bacteria.

Adult Avenue owner Shane Madsen says he’s seen the sex toy industry change over the past decade. When he and his wife, Jessica, started their shop in 2002 in the Montana Center before moving downtown, they were hearing of some wild and disturbing sex toy disasters.

“When I first opened, a lot of the materials for softer products like the rubbers and jelly coatings they would use on toys sometimes had toxic chemicals in them,” he says. “You had to be careful back in the day because the materials were less stable. You couldn’t have certain material touching other ones. You’ve got a toy box and you’ve got two different kinds next to each other in the box and the chemicals would interact and melt down.”

click to enlarge Missoula Independent news
  • Cathrine L. Walters

Nowadays, even sex toys that aren’t marketed as eco- or body-friendly are made with safer materials like thermoplastic elastomer and silicone.

“The industry has really cleaned itself up in that aspect,” Madsen says, “and it’s a good thing too. There were really toxic ingredients like cadmium in the old vibrators. They made these things mass-produced in China, and they still do, but at least they have industry standards now. Of course you still want to be a label reader. You’ve got to be educated about what you’re buying, but you don’t have to worry as much.”

Progressive sex toys are part of a larger attitude change within sex stores. Seedy porn shops still exist, but progressive sex and “intimacy” shops are on the rise. Brightly lit sex boutiques have opened up in trendy metropolitan neighborhoods across the country. These are often billed as woman-owned and/or woman- and couple-friendly, and they offer a more curated, stylized environment with enlightened attitudes about toys. Smitten Kitten in Minneapolis, for instance, offers “earth-friendly strap-ons” as well as ethical porn. The company description on its website says it all: “The knowledgeable and supremely uncreepy staff makes browsing a fun, exploratory experience—no trench coat required.”

Similarly, there’s the woman-friendly shop Babeland, in Seattle, which opened in 1993 and was one of the first shops looking to sell progressive sex toys. And Feelmore in Oakland takes the sex shop boutique idea a notch further by offering vintage sex magazines, erotic art and other sex antiquities.

Missoula’s newest sex shop, Adam & Eve, isn’t a boutique, but it does offer a different type of shopping experience. It’s housed in a large, brightly lit building on West Broadway and has the atmosphere of a department store. Employee Amy Martzolf says the store is trying to shift away from the stereotype of a sketchy sex shop. It offers a few brands of eco-friendly sex toys, including colorful glass dildos from Don Wand and Blow. The store also stocks rechargeable vibrators made by the April Fool’s jokesters at Lelo.

“We try to cater more to women and couples and make it more of an intimacy shop rather than a porn shop,” she says. “We do research for people and order things based on their needs. And people come in and talk about their personal problems and life and we try to listen.”

Missoula is forward-thinking in many ways, but is there a market for progressive sex toys? And if so, will Missoula follow in the footsteps of Portland sex boutiques?

“I think there’s a lot of people in Missoula who would be okay with that,” Martzolf says. “But sometimes I have to go open the back door for people who won’t get out of their cars until I do so. I think we would lose a lot of customers if we were more open about it, but I personally think that would be cool. It would be healthier.” (Erika Fredrickson)

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