Within certain contexts, having a plastic life means to speak of triviality, a waste-of-life. Someone living a plastic life would be, according to this perspective, someone who doesn’t care about the really important matters of life. This kind of assertions assume that plastic objects have less durability, or that they have less quality than objects made from other materials. This pejorative sense of the word, however, doesn’t change the fact that there is an overwhelming amount of plastic things wrapping us: bottles, hoses, tubes, sex toys. Our daily interactions are now surrounded by this shallowness covering life. Here we want to restrict the field of what plastic life encompass, to talk about the material of which our dildos, vibrators and other sex toys are made of.
The production of sex toys comprehends several materials; some of the most popular are glass, wood and of course, one of the plastic variants: silicone. It’s important to clarify that this silicone, that sex toys are made from, is not the same as the chemical element silicon. The material that we commonly known as silicone is a compound of, among other things, silicon (the chemical element), but given that it contains many others substances and processes, it’s in no way equivalent and cannot be reduced to this element.
It’s not our intention to invisibilize the organic alternatives to silicone, for example the fruits and vegetables that have been used in a parallel way to technological sex toys. Nor do we think that we should deny movements like the DIY community, that promotes the making of homemade toys, or try to present alternatives to the smart dildos companies, that store of our data when we plug our vulvas and anuses to their nets.
We don’t deny all these material options of the possibilities of sexual encounters with non human beings, however, what really interested us here is to explore the shallowness that surrounds silicone, that becomes evident every time an erotic encounter with a sex toy takes place. What are the relations being produced between the plastic silicone and the skin? What is the singularity of this kind of pleasure production?
Amongst ecologic circles, plastic has become an unpopular material. After decades of an exorbitant use, with no concrete solutions to its long overlooked disposal, finally the efforts to reduce the environmental damages caused by the long decomposition cycles of plastics have began. However, rejection to these compounds hasn’t deter the big (and small) companies that produce sex toys from making and advertising products made with all kinds of plastics. As a result, a discourse that serves both to stimulate consumption, and to justify the use of dangerous materials within these products, is articulated.
It’s really important to point out that we will not talk here about sex toys made of materials that are, from the manufacturing process, aggressive and incompatible with the human body. These objects do exists, but we think that the toxicity they manifest is of a different type, since the toxicity that dildos and other toys made out of silicone can have is potential; and not factual, as is in the case of the toys that simply should not come into contact with the body.
Silicone’s popularity in the sex toy market is related mainly with two discourses: 1) the mimesis discourse and 2) the hygiene discourse. According to mimetic logic, silicone provides plastics with a quality similar to the biological materials of our bodies. In relation with this discourse we can find, for example, the development of materials like cyberskin, of which silicone is a component, whose main end is to gain the maximum similarity to the texture of the human skin. Cyberskin has given place to creepy sex toys, that very much look like mutilated human bodies: torsos that isolate the upper middle part of the human body as an erotic dispositive, women’s heads that can be filled with warm water to simulate a blowjob’s temperature, etc.
In the other hand, the hygiene’s discourse argues that silicone sex toys are amicable with body, since they do not expose us to the risk of infections and diseases. Their maintenance and cleaning are supposed to be easy and affordable to anyone who wishes to use them. Tags such as “Medical Silicone” and “body-friendly” have become indicators of sex toys that don’t contain materials that cause a porous texture. Porousness is problematic because it makes cleaning more difficult, and that leads to an increase risk of harboring bacteria that produces diseases and infections. These risks are the reason why many sex toys boxes have some kind of indicator about the toy being made of materials 100% suitables for medical use.
The “Medical Silicone” tag works as an interface displaying a sign to the users, assuring them that the toy is suitable to enter into contact with their skin. However, despite what it looks like, these kind of tags do not provide us with clear and detailed information regarding the components of the type of silicone used for the production of a specific object. Furthermore, the sex toys industry lacks proper regulations within the national and international scopes. This allows for the existence of toys that, despite being marked with the “Medical Silicone” safety tag, contain potentially dangerous elements, like the PVC (Polyvinyl chloride).
The conflict with the production of silicone sex toys is the clash of the two previously mentioned discouses. On the one hand, there is a demand for all objects engaged in a sexual process involving human bodies to have some similarity with those bodies. When talking about silicone, this similarity is in texture (but not necessarily in colour), as mentioned above. Silicone seems to work well towards this aim. On the other hand, the materials with which that similarity is achieved are toxic in a global and environmental scale, given the well known problems dealing with plastic waste. Nevertheless, toxicity can be also found in a singular and microscopical scale, where we find bacterias in a porous, silicone made, toy. Being potentially toxic, in a global or singular scale, is characteristic of the pleasure produced by silicone made sex toys. What alternatives do we have to this situation? Could we speak of toxic and plastic sexualities?
The consequences of having engaging in sexual activity with toxic, or potentially infectious sex toys, are concrete. We are not willing to deny them. Still, plastic is out there, inhabiting our surroundings and having erotic encounters with our bodies. Massive production of vibrators, dildos and butt plugs doesn’t stop. While local efforts to break away from this market keep growing, large sex toys producers define, to a great extent, the materials through which our bodies become pleasure machines.
How are we to explore this toxic sexualities we are now embedded? Can we learn something from toxicity? What is our role while we traverse the cosmic toxic line connecting the planet to our clitoris? Toxicity, as shallowness, is often evaluated in a negative way. This evaluation matches its location within the cases we have mentioned, both in the environmental level and in the concrete cases of infections produced by the use of porous materials. We urgently need to demand products that do not harm us. But, is this urgency incompatible with the acknowledgment and demand of a cosmic sexuality? Our bodies are imbricated with the virtuality of infectious bacterias and the ancestral time belonging to the petroleum of which plastics are made.
Maybe of all the damage produced by toxicity, and actualized by the encounter of the porous plastic and our bodies, we could learn that our vulvas are connected to a wider system than the one that, at first sight, looks to constrain to an intimate encounter between dildo and skin. Toxicity shows us that in every interaction there is more at stake than a relation between a toy and a human body. From plastic sexualities we could learn how to build cosmic sexualities, how to profoundly understand the systems taking place within erotic encounters occurring with masturbatory technologies. Understanding the complexity of the materiality involved in sexual processes is one path toward a politics of the production, advertising and marketing of sexuality. But maybe this is only a trivial conclusion.