Can STIs be transmitted via sex toys?

Sex toys are an exciting thing to add to anyone’s bedroom repertoire. They are great for exploring new types of sex and good for getting used to different kinds of stimulation. But does using them with a partner expose you to the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

While there haven’t been large-scale studies investigating the transmission of STIs from sex toys, we know that theoretically, as long as there is an exchange of bodily fluid like semen or traces of blood, the risk is present.

So with that in mind, it’s plausible to say that sex toys could transmit STIs, but maybe some STIs may be more susceptible to transmission than others (such as shigella which is transferred by contaminated faecal matter). All it may take is for an STI to be present in a bodily fluid, then come into contact with a sex toy, and then someone who is STI-negative to handle the toy straight afterwards.

How long does an STI live outside the body?

STIs can’t live outside the body for very long, so there’s nearly no chance of catching one from a toilet seat (a common misconception).

But, if you’re switching sex toys between people during sex (and not using and replacing condoms each time), then the risk increases as the sharing of bodily fluids occurs, especially if direct contact with the genitals or anus is involved.

Golden rules for using sex toys safely

There are some things you can do and be aware of to make sure the use of sex toys is as free of STI transmission as possible.

  1. Keep your sex toys clean: When we say keep them clean, we mean really clean! If the toy came with instructions, it should tell you the best way to clean it; this could be hot soapy water, disinfectant wipes, or even the dishwasher (yes, some sex toys are dishwasher safe!). If you’re cleaning with soap, opt for unscented, as perfumed products might irritate the skin.
  2. Use condoms if you’re sharing: In the same way, condoms can help stop the transmission of STIs when used on a penis, they can also prevent the transmission of STIs on sex toys. Importantly, you’ll need to use a new condom whenever you switch people or holes. If you’re using a sex toy that’s not quite right for a condom (like some styles of anal beads), consider only using your own, separate toys or wash and dry them thoroughly between uses.
  3. Get yourself some lube: Use an ample amount of lube when using a sex toy, especially for anal play. Doing this will reduce friction and help stop the skin from tearing while increasing your pleasure. And consider the type of lube you use as well, for example, some silicone-based lubes can be an issue when paired with toys made of silicone, as this will cause the toy to deteriorate.
  4. Avoid household objects: Insertive sex toys are specifically made to be inserted into the anus and front hole. A hairbrush/cucumber/remote control/deodorant bottle (or anything else you might think of) isn’t. Batteries might not be adequately secure, lids might come off, and there are plenty of other hazards. We’ve all heard the stories.
  5. Consider reviews and buy from a reputable manufacturer: When something is going into your body, you want be sure it’s safe while giving the user experience you’re after. Find out if the sex toy you’re interested in has online reviews. If a product stands up to customer reviews online and can be bought from a reputable source, you are more likely to get a better quality product.
  6. Play Smart: Sometimes, when things start heating up, it’s easy to get carried away. Common sense and not being afraid to put a pause on pleasure if needing to give your dildo a quick rinse can go a long way. You’ll thank yourself later! And always know the risk of STI transmission so that you can blissfully go as hard or as long as you like.

If you have any questions about STIs and are in NSW, you can call the NSW Sexual Health Infolink on 1800 451 624 to speak to a sexual health nurse.