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Can using sex toys lead to sexually transmitted infections?

Sex toys may make you orgasm but it also increases the risk of developing sexually transmitted infections or STIs. Here’s everything you need to know.
Sex toys and sexually transmitted infections
Sex toys can lead to sexually transmitted infections if used carelessly. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Shruti Bhattacharya Updated: 28 Jun 2024, 08:54 am IST
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Medically Reviewed by

Do you use sex toys frequently during intimacy? Be aware of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). However, sex toys themselves generally do not cause sexually transmitted infections. STIs can be transmitted and spread if someone with an STI has previously used the sex toy you are using or their semen, blood, pre-cum, vaginal secretions, and other bodily fluids have come in contact with the toy.
The risk is heightened if the sex toys are not cleaned properly or using they with someone who has an STI. Sharing bodily fluids through a contaminated toy can spread infections. To be safe, clean your toys thoroughly between uses and avoid sharing them with others. If you do share, use a new condom each time. Here is everything you need to know about how using sex toys can spread STIs.

Can sex toys cause sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

Using sex toys can potentially lead to the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) if proper hygiene practices are not followed. Here are some common causes, as explained by a gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr Vinatha Puli.

1. Sharing toys

If you use sex toys with your partner without proper cleaning or protection, they can transfer bodily fluids and pathogens, which can potentially increase the risk of developing STIs.

sex toys risk of STI
Sharing sex toys can lead to sexually transmitted infections. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

2. Use of Condoms

Using condoms on sex toys can significantly reduce the risk of transmitting STIs. The risk is greater if you share sex toys without changing condoms. Change the condom if partners use the same sex toy or for different parts of the body (from vaginal to anal use).

3. Material of the toy

Some materials are more porous than others and can harbour bacteria even after cleaning. Non-porous materials such as silicone are easier to clean and sanitise properly. Silicone sex toys are considered safer than other materials.

Which STIs can be transmitted using sex toys?

Several sexually transmitted infections can be transmitted through the use of sex toys if proper hygiene and safety practices are not followed. Here are some of the STIs that can be transmitted and how they can spread via sex toys:

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1. Human papillomavirus (HPV)

Transmission: HPV can spread through contact with infected skin or mucous membranes, as found in a study published in the StatPearls Journal. If a sex toy contaminated with HPV is used on another person without proper cleaning or a condom, the virus can be transmitted. It can cause genital warts, but many people are asymptomatic. Certain strains of HPV can lead to cancers.

2. Herpes simplex virus (HSV)

“Herpes can be spread through skin-to-skin contact with infected areas, including through sex toys that come into contact with infected genitals,” says the expert. Look out for symptoms such as painful sores or blisters on the genitals, rectum, or mouth.

Also Read: 5 things you should know about living with genital herpes

3. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

HIV can be transmitted through contact with infected bodily fluids, such as blood, semen, or vaginal fluids, according to a study published in the StatPearls Journal. If these fluids remain on a sex toy and the toy is shared without cleaning, the virus can spread. It may initially cause flu-like symptoms but can lead to AIDS if left untreated, severely compromising the immune system.

4. Chlamydia

Chlamydia can be transmitted through contact with infected secretions, as found in a study published in the StatPearls Journal. If a toy used by an infected person is shared without cleaning or a new condom, it can spread the bacteria. Painful urination, genital discharge, and women may experience pelvic pain as well.

5. Gonorrhea

Gonorrhoea can be spread through contact with infected bodily fluids, as found in a study published in the StatPearls Journal. Shared sex toys can facilitate transmission if not cleaned or protected. Painful urination, pus-like discharge from the genitals, and sometimes asymptomatic, especially in women.

6. Trichomoniasis

“This parasitic infection can be transmitted through contact with infected genital secretions. Shared, uncleaned sex toys can carry the parasite from one person to another,” explains the expert. Symptoms may include itching, burning, redness, or soreness of the genitals, and vaginal discharge in women.

7. Syphilis

Syphilis can be transmitted through direct contact with syphilitic sores, found a study published in the StatPearls Journal. If a sex toy comes into contact with these sores and is not properly cleaned, the bacteria can be transmitted. Sores at the injection site, rashes, and later stages can cause severe health problems if left untreated.

How to use sex toys to prevent STIs?

Here are some tips to consider to prevent STIs and other infections:

1. Tips to consider before and after using sex toys

  • Always clean sex toys both before and after using sex toys.
  • Use warm water and mild, unscented soap, or a sex toy cleaner designed for the specific material of the toy.
  • Pay special attention to grooves, ridges, or moving parts where bacteria and fluids accumulate.
  • For non-porous materials such as silicone, you can boil the toy for sanitising, if the toy’s instructions permit.
  • Ensure that toys are completely dry before storing them to prevent mould and bacterial growth.

2. Using condoms with sex toys

Use condoms on sex toys, especially if sharing with a partner or using them on different body parts. This is particularly important for porous toys, which are harder to clean. Also, change condoms when switching the toy between partners or between different body parts to prevent cross-contamination.
Store them properly.

Things to know about condoms
Avoid using condoms on sex toys to avoid STIs. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

Store sex toys in a clean, dry place. Use individual storage bags or containers to keep them separate from each other and dust or dirt. Do not store sex toys in plastic bags, as these can trap moisture and encourage bacterial growth.

Also Read: We ranked 4 sex toys that can help you get freedom from low libido

3. Learn to use sex toys safely

  • Wash your hands before and after handling sex toys.
  • Good personal hygiene reduces the risk of introducing bacteria and other pathogens to the toys and your body.
  • Use water-based or silicone-based lubricants to reduce friction and potential skin microtears, making it easier for infections to take hold.
  • Avoid oil-based lubricants with latex condoms.
  • Check sex toys regularly for any signs of damage, such as cracks, tears, or discolouration.
  • Damaged toys should be replaced, as they can harbour bacteria and be difficult to clean effectively.

4. Avoid sharing

Ideally, keep sex toys for personal use only. If sharing is necessary, ensure rigorous cleaning and use of protection (condoms) to minimise risk.

5. Select the right material

Choose sex toys made from non-porous materials such as silicone, or ABS plastic. These materials are less likely to harbour bacteria and are easier to clean thoroughly. Toys made from porous materials such as jelly rubber, cyberskin, or some types of elastomer can be more challenging to clean and sanitise effectively.

6. Educate yourself!

Keep yourself informed about the best practices for using and maintaining sex toys. Regularly review guidelines and recommendations from reputable sources. Ensure that your partner who uses or shares sex toys with you is aware of and follows these safety practices.

By maintaining good hygiene practices and taking preventive measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of transmitting STIs and other infections through the use of sex toys.

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About the Author

Shruti Bhattacharya is a content writer and editor for over 2 years. She specialises in writing on a variety of topics such as wellness, lifestyle, beauty, technology and fashion. Her current focus is on creating factually correct and informative stories for readers. ...Read More

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