This Company Is Selling Used Sex Toys. Are You Buying?


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Jul 01, 2023

This Company Is Selling Used Sex Toys. Are You Buying?

By Chloé Valentine Toscano Like many others who were trying to feel something

By Chloé Valentine Toscano

Like many others who were trying to feel something good while quarantining, I purchased my first sex toy during the pandemic. As a germaphobe, physical contact with others has always been something I've engaged in reluctantly, so some pandemic-prescribed distancing turned out to be a relief. But I also decided to explore enjoying intimacy in the absence of somebody else.

My first purchase was a little lavender vibrator with a smiley face on the end. It cost $60, a mild expense compared with other vibrators I'd seen while researching — some were upwards of $350. Vibrators, dildos, and other intimate accessories may be more kink-inclusive than ever, but the steep cost of these higher-quality toys means they are not as accessible for everyone, especially if you want to purchase from a luxury brand that offers state-of-the-art sexual innovation.

Some consumers, though, have found an alternative to snapping up pricey products — and it may be more taboo than any toy on the market: Enter the world of sex toy thrifting.

Yes, we're talking about used sex toys. When I found Squeaky Clean Toys (SCT), a platform for buying and selling pre-owned sex toys, my first instinct was to think, Ew. But when I read about SCT's strict sterilization, sanitizing (yes, there's a difference, and more on that later), and safety policies, I wondered if this concept could make options for sexual wellness more widely available.

Sure, used sex toys are also up for grabs online through forums, groups, and private sellers on sites such as Facebook, Craigslist, Reddit, and Etsy, but none of these places have any sort of guidelines to help protect the buyer from scams or safety issues. Squeaky Clean Toys, an established website with strict policies to protect buyers and sellers, hopes to put these devices within the reach of anyone who wants them.

"We wanted to create something professional," says Lisa, a cofounder of SCT who prefers to use a pseudonym for privacy. "Many knock the adult marketplace for being full of scams — and it is — but our goal was to bring professionalism into it and strip out the innuendos and misinformation to promote sexual aids as functional and beneficial items."

The potential health implications of buying pre-owned vibrators are obvious: Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can easily be spread from person to person, as well as from toy to person if not cleaned properly. When done the right way, however, might sex toy thrifting and resale actually make the industry more accessible?

The lofty price tags on today's most innovative and durable sex toys potentially exclude a large swath of the population who deserve access to them. For instance, such toys are incredibly important in enabling sex for some people with disabilities who use toys to adapt. But many people with disabilities live below the poverty level. Or, take someone like me, who's looking to explore on their own for the first time: It can be daunting to drop so much money on something that may not be enjoyable.

Yes, there are plenty of brand-new vibrators that don't come with a hefty price tag. But a lower price often means lower efficacy or poor construction. Shahnoz Rustamova, MD, OBGYN, founder and CEO of Central Park Medical Practice, New York, and Power of Health and Wellness, Florida, heavily stresses the importance of buying quality toys — and mentions a patient who came in with a cheap toy that had broken inside of them. Yikes!

While none of the health care experts I spoke with for this story were comfortable recommending the purchase of a truly, shall we say, pre-loved toy, that doesn't mean you can't browse and potentially get lucky (bad pun intended) with a pre-owned toy. On Squeaky Clean Toys the word "used" doesn't always mean a product has also been "enjoyed," more that it has been in someone else's possession. The company does list used items, but SCT also offers listings for products that are new and boxed in original packaging. (There are listings like this on other resale sites too, but as mentioned, it's harder to verify the truth of those claims.)

"With an expensive sex toy, you usually can't return or exchange it unless it's defective, and certainly not if it's been opened," says SCT's Lisa. Some retailers, such as Lelo, will honor a refund if the item is unopened and untouched. But Sephora, for example, has a policy that all vibrators are final sale. So SCT makes for a good option if you find yourself with an unreturnable product in your possession.

While I was browsing the Squeaky Clean marketplace, I found some very interesting listings, including an unopened Lelo toy for $45 that normally retails for $150 and a brand-new $25 Satisfyer Cutie Heart, which usually retails at around $50. Both of these toys are from reputable — in Lelo's case, luxury — brands at more attainable price points.

Bob, who asks to use a pseudonym here for privacy, is an experienced buyer and seller in the used sex toy market and says their (perhaps fairly obvious and overly optimistic) advice is to buy from a reputable seller. But that can be difficult to assess from a one-off on Craigslist. A controlled and standardized approach to reselling something as intimate as a sex toy is a new concept, which makes Squeaky Clean Toys, the first and, at present, only platform of its kind.

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Bob speaks highly of their experience as both a buyer and seller with Squeaky Clean Toys: "I've purchased a couple dildos from SCT. They were barely used, came cleaned, and I saved about $100 per toy. I've sold about 25 toys on their site as well. I think it's much safer and more professional how Squeaky Clean Toys has its business model set up. On Facebook, it's a shot in the dark."

The standards SCT has brought forth are vital in setting up a safer practice. All listings must undergo a rigorous approval process before going live, unlike eBay, where nearly anything is fair game to be listed. Lisa estimates that, currently, about 65% of listings are rejected. But as the site grows and people start to understand the rules, she points out, the rejection rate is steadily decreasing.

Squeaky Clean Toys manually approves or rejects every listing that is submitted. That only a minority of products get the green light is not to punish sellers, but to keep buyers safe from harm. SCT features full coverage of listing criteria and reasons for rejected listings on its website, but there are several crucial checkpoints.

The company does not allow sellers to post toys with any parts made of materials that are toxic (like jelly or PVC) or porous (like medical TPE, a blended rubber that's not 100% silicone despite sometimes being marketed as nonporous). "Toys made of porous materials cannot be reliably disinfected and should be avoided, especially in the context of a previously used product," says Rebecca Nelken, MD, a Los Angeles-based, double board-certified OBGYN and pelvic surgeon. For SCT, there are no exceptions to this rule. It applies to the whole or part of an insertable toy, even for new and unopened toys.

If a toy is broken or missing accessories that can't be obtained outside the marketplace, SCT won't list it. "We recently rejected a sex machine because the seller misplaced the attachments," Lisa says. "Unfortunately, the brand didn't sell the parts separately, so a buyer would have to repurchase the whole thing anyway to get it to work."

Not all models from a brand will be accepted, but toys that do make the cut must all come from a reputable brand (no unbranded toys from mass sellers and marketplaces such as Amazon) to keep the selection quality up to SCT's standards. When going through the listing process, hopeful sellers can select where their toy is from by browsing a list of approved brands. Anyone can look up currently accepted brands by visiting the SCT marketplace and sifting through the filters on the left. If a brand is not listed, the seller may add details explaining where the toy is from and that information will be reviewed. There are also rules regarding cost: Used toys should be at least 25% off the best retail price from reputable stores at the time of listing.

"STIs can be transmitted through any sexual behavior that results in an exchange of bodily secretions," says Dr. Nelken. "This includes sex toys." For SCT, that means that after a product passes the previous three criteria, it absolutely must be properly cleaned and sterilized.

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Scrubbing down a dildo with some dish soap isn't going to cut it: Sterilization is essential. Sanitizing or disinfecting equals a preliminary level of cleaning that can kill some bacteria but does not eliminate bacterial spores, says Dr. Rustamova. "These spores are called anaerobic bacteria, which means they don't require oxygen to grow." Since the vagina is an area with little oxygen, it's a great place for these spores — which can only be removed by sterilization — to thrive. Although Dr. Rustamova personally recommends against used sex toys, she insists that, if you decide to take the leap, it should be clear and proven that the toy has been sterilized.

Squeaky Clean Toys tries to facilitate that proof by requiring all sellers to upload video content of every listed toy being put through an approved sterilization process. As is detailed on the SCT site, there are three ways to go about sterilization: with heat (boiling a toy, which only works for nonmotorized products), bleach (better for toys that vibrate, though the process is more complex and therefore easier to mess up), or with a UV-C ray surface sterilizer specifically made for sex toys (like B-Vibe and UVEE Clean).

Even if a used toy is made of nonporous material like silicone, there's no way to know if it's been cleaned thoroughly enough to remove all bodily fluids, cautions Javay Frye-Nekrasova, an Oregon-based sex educator at Lovehoney. This means that buyers should approach purchases with the mindset that the toy's cleanliness is as much their responsibility as it is the seller's.

SCT's guidelines for sellers are quite strict, but Lisa still recommends cleaning a toy upon receipt and before using it. Dr. Nelken goes one step further: Since some viruses, such as hepatitis, can live for weeks outside the body, she advises that previously used penetrative toys be used with a condom.

Suppose there's information not mentioned in the listing that you’d like to have before committing to a purchase. In that case, Squeaky Clean Toys allows buyers to communicate with sellers via a nonpublic chat, monitored only by SCT. If anything feels iffy, inappropriate, or unclear, or you simply need help communicating, you can reach out to Squeaky Clean Toys to have someone from the team join in and facilitate the conversation.

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If you need information that is not present on a listing, experts recommend asking a few key questions:

Frye-Nekrasova insists that inquiring about toy material is one of the most important questions to ask. "Look for products made from CleanTech silicone or ISO-compliant silicone (ISO, or the International Organization for Standardization), which are used for Arcwave products like the Ghost and We-Vibe products like the Chorus. The better the silicone, the less porous and more hygienic it is."

"With used toys, you can't ensure how well it was taken care of, so testing the functionality is essential," advises Frye-Nekrasova. In this case, "testing" doesn't mean a free trial run (thank goodness), but even if a seller says it turns on and works, it could be a good idea to request video footage of the toy being switched on and running for a few minutes or confirmation in writing.

This may at first seem like an odd question, but as some lubes are more likely to grow and hold onto bacteria, it's helpful to know if you want to make a fully informed decision.

Explains Alex Padgett, a Dallas-based cosmetic chemist with experience developing sexual wellness products, water-based lubes leave a more significant amount of residue when they dry. What does this mean in the context of buying used sex toys? "When they're not cleaned, this can absolutely harvest bacteria," Padgett says. "Whereas a silicone-based lube is unlikely to grow something because there's no water."

It's good to check with the seller to see what products they've been using with their toys to make sure they've been treating them well, not harming the device, and to ensure they’re taking extra care to clean and sterilize crevices where any potential bacteria-harvesting product could've settled.

Usually, when you purchase a sex toy from a retailer, there is an indication that the brand or website will use discreet packaging to maintain your privacy. Your purchase need not be announced to anyone and everyone who handles your mail. This also ensures that items will be packed well, as you don't want your new vibrator shipped in a paper envelope that arrives beat up, torn, and retaped by the carrier.

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But if you’re buying from a private seller, how do you know they won't toss your new intimate accessory into flimsy packaging and paste a sticker of a dildo on the side? Says Lisa, this isn't something Squeaky Clean Toys has encountered problems with, as sellers tend to automatically indicate on the listing that packaging will be discreet.

Buyers also have the option to remind the seller to pack discreetly via chat. In addition, SCT provides guidance on its site for the best way to securely package a toy, including that the parcel exterior should not reveal what's inside. "The clever thing about buying from another individual like yourself is that they already completely understand that you would want it to be as discreet as possible," Lisa notes.

Aside from providing an outlet to help declutter your nightstand, hidden shoebox, sock drawer, or wherever else you might stash your sexual wellness products, Squeaky Clean Toys wants to make sexual development more accessible.

Explains Lisa, "When you buy an expensive sex toy and it doesn't work out for you, you put it away, and with that, you also put away your ability to move on and find something more suitable. So your sexual development suffers." She continues, "We wanted to help make it affordable, enable people to restart their sexual journey, and help the environment."

In these ways, Squeaky Clean Toys hopes to enable buyers to try things they couldn't — or wouldn't — have tried before. "If they don't like it, they can even sell it again," Lisa says, "and the environment can breathe a little as we continue to grow this new method of ‘recycling.’"

Read more stories about sexual wellness:

I Have a Fetish, and I Am Tired of Being Kink-Shamed For It

What It's Like to Try an Open Marriage After 10 Years of Monogamy

Would You Pay $15,000 for a Bigger Penis?

used sex toys A Case for Used Sex Toys The Squeaky Clean Toys Experience The Safety Precautions SCT Has in Place More Questions to Ask Your Sex Toy Seller A Mission to Aid in Sexual Development Read more stories about sexual wellness: