Friday, April 27, 2007

No More Toxic Toys

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #311, April 27, 2007)

The Coalition Against Toxic Toys (CATT) wants you to know that toys can be hazardous to your health.

And they aren’t talking about the kind of toy that comes in a Happy Meal.

Based in Minneapolis, CATT is a nonprofit consumer advocacy and education organization dedicated to ending the manufacture, distribution and retail sale of toxic sex toys. The coalition is allied with Smitten Kitten, a retailer of sex-related goods that prides itself on not selling toys that are toxic to people or to the environment.

Far from being the small, fringe industry of yesteryear, adult sex toys today are a $500,000 industry in the United States alone. The biggest market for them are middle-class couples, 35 and older, in a committed relationship.

But this huge market is for the most part unregulated. Medical devices, teething rings for baby, even your dog’s chew toy are regulated by the US Consumer Products Safety Commission. These products can be made only from materials that are certified as safe and pose no health threats.

But dildos, vibrators, cock rings and other adult sexual paraphernalia receive almost no regulation or oversight at all. No government agency is responsible for ensuring that the toys in the drawer of your bedside table are safe and don’t contain hazardous materials. Adult toys avoid regulation by being labeled “for novelty use only.” (Translation: these are gag gifts to be giggled at, not to be put to any actual use. You want to do what with it? Oh, we won’t take any responsibility if you do that.)

What kind of hazards are we talking about? Independent testing has revealed that many toys contain a variety of toxic compounds including cadmium, lead and toluene. On a personal level, some toys (and some lubes as well) contain ingredients that can irritate sensitive tissue. Some plastics leak hazardous compounds. Toys made of porous materials can never be adequately cleaned or sterilized. And then there’s the more global issue of environmental consequences from the manufacture of certain materials.

One of the plastics often used for adult toys is PVC (polyvinyl chloride), a material that is cheap and easy to work with but that has long been decried as unfriendly to the environment during both manufacture and disposal.

PVC used in sex toys is often laced (or loaded) with phthalates, which can create an invitingly soft and flesh-like surface. Some toys are flesh-colored, while “jelly” toys are often brightly colored and stretchy.

The PVC/phthalate combination is not chemically stable, which means the phthalates leach out of the plastic over time. When that happens the toys change color, texture and smell. Some users of these products have reported irritation after using them.

But even if no contact irritation occurs, there might be more serious problems down the road. Phthalate exposure studies in mice and rats have linked the chemicals to reproductive organ damage, liver damage and liver cancer. Four studies have linked high phthalate exposure to a variety of human health problems. However, most of the research on humans and phthalates has involved skin or oral exposure to the chemicals. Very little, if any, research has been done concerning phthalate exposure through sensitive human genital or rectal tissues.

Based on the research that has been done, the United States, Japan, Canada and the European Union restrict the use of certain phthalates in children’s toys. But no such restrictions exist for adult toys. In this instance, at least, our sex-negative government is staying out of our bedrooms—with unhealthy and hazardous results. Right now users of adult toys are, in effect, the government’s guinea pigs. If problems develop and a negative public-health trend emerges, maybe then the government will take action—as it finally did with asbestos and PCBs, substances once thought safe.

In addition to containing toxic chemicals, the plastic used for cheap toys is porous and can never be adequately cleaned or sanitized. Because the pores in the plastic can harbor bacteria, viruses and fungi, toys made with porous plastic can spread disease if shared.

The good news is that you can buy toys that are safe. Toys made out of materials like high-quality glass, medical-grade silicone, high-quality stainless steel, hard acrylic plastics and polished non-porous stone will last almost indefinitely and can be cleaned and sterilized. The bad news is that good toys will probably cost more than cheap, inferior toys.

Not all plastic toys are toxic (although they still may be porous, and thus impossible to clean). Responding to market pressures, many toys are now being marketed as phthalate-free. But remember, this is for all intents and purposes an unregulated industry, and no watchdog is making sure that the claims on product packages are truthful. So don’t blindly trust packaging claims.

When shopping for toys, CATT recommends using the “smell test”: If an item smells perfumey, or like a new shower curtain, it’s giving off chemicals. (Medical-grade silicone, glass, stainless steel, and stone have no odor because they are not emitting chemicals.) A toy should also be considered suspect if it looks shiny or feels greasy.

You can find much more about this subject at CATT’s website, <>.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Leather Lens: Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2007

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #310, April 13, 2007)

Dan Beach captured the Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2007 title and sash Saturday evening, March 30. First runner-up was Rick Burgess, second runner-up was Eric Jensen, and third runner-up was Mark G. The contest was held in The Bolt Bar, next door to the Eagle, and the place was packed.

The evening’s contestants were introduced during the traditional Keg Walk, in which each contestant grabbed a beer keg on stage and paraded it through the crowd. Contestants also did an onstage Q&A session and performed some original and scintillating erotic readings. (The private interview portion of the contest had taken place earlier Saturday evening.)

Longtime friend of The Minneapolis Eagle and Bolt Brian Anderson was back for another entertaining year as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies. Judges were Mark Beckler, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2006; Gregg White, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2003; Sam Carlisle, representing The Atons of Minneapolis; and your humble columnist.

Beach will represent The Minneapolis Eagle and contest co-sponsor 1-800-GAY-LIVE in the 2007 International Mr. Leather contest (<>), Memorial Day weekend in Chicago.

During the Keg Walk: Eric Jensen, Dan Beach, Rick Burgess.

At the microphone: Eric Jensen.

At the microphone: Dan Beach.

At the microphone: Rick Burgess.

At the microphone: Mark G.

Mr. Minneapolis Eagles 2007 Dan Beach and 2006 Mark Beckler.

Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2007 Dan Beach.

Leather Leaders to Gather in Minneapolis

(Article published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #310, April 13, 2007)

A Sneak Peek at Leather Leadership Conference XI

PHOTOS: Barbara Nitke (photo credit: Mike Ralph), John Pendal (photo credit: Steve Lenius)

Minneapolis hosts more than 250 conventions and meetings each year. But the city has never hosted a Leather Leadership Conference. Until now.

After three years of working, planning and dreaming, Minneapolis will host the eleventh annual Leather Leadership Conference (LLC XI) April 20-22. Over 200 members of the leather/BDSM/fetish community are already registered for the conference, being held at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis. They will be coming to Minnesota from across the United States, Canada and even the UK.

The theme of LLC XI is “The Art of Sharing Power . . . a work in progress.” The theme is appropriate, according to LLC spokesperson Stephanie Lynn, because “it acknowledges the cultural foundations of Minnesota’s leather community and its reliance on shared power. We’re a diverse collection of people, clubs and organizations that, rather than competing—or even fighting—with one another, are able to share power and support each other.” The theme also has allowed organizers to tap into the Minneapolis/St. Paul area’s artistic and cultural resources and use them to convey, in a new and novel way, the traditional content of a Leather Leadership Conference.

The plans and arrangements for the conference have now been finalized, and Minnesota is ready to host the leaders and soon-to-be-leaders of the leather/BDSM/fetish world. Here’s a day-by-day rundown of what will be happening at LLC XI:

Even though LLC XI doesn’t officially start until Friday evening (April 20), a Starving Artist dessert/coffee reception on Thursday evening (April 19) will welcome more than 100 conference attendees who have arrived early.

Why so many early arrivals? Because on Friday afternoon, three afternoon-long Pre-conference Institute seminars will be offered. “Event Management” will be discussed by Master Z of Chicago, the man responsible for Chicago’s Kinky Kollege and Sinsations in Leather events. “So you want to be a titleholder!” will be presented by members of the Chicago Leather Kennel Club, an organization dedicated to grooming contestants for leather title competition and supporting them as they hold their title. The third Pre-conference Institute seminar is actually a combination presentation for leather businesses and artists: Master Fred explains “The Draw of Vending,” and noted fetish diva Midori will present “Painted Into A Corner: Freaks Make Art.”

The conference officially starts Friday evening with opening ceremonies incorporated into a Cabaret. Master of ceremonies for the evening will be Patrick Scully, the original creative spirit and driving force behind Patrick’s Cabaret. Featured entertainers will be whipmaster Robert Dante, comedian Matthew Gilman, and performance artist Heidi Arneson.

Also part of the Cabaret will be the opening keynote speech by Barbara Nitke, a noted New York artist, photographer and activist. Nitke was a joint plaintiff with the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom in a landmark court case (Nitke et. al. v. Ashcroft, later Nitke v. Gonzales)challenging the Communications Decency Act, a law limiting freedom of speech on the internet.

Saturday morning (April 21) starts with a breakfast featuring speaker Laura Antoniou, noted author of the “Marketplace” series of erotic novels and editor of the “Leatherwomen” anthologies. Then comes a full day of workshop sessions and panel discussions covering topics such as “When Consent Doesn’t Count,” “Research on Kinky Sexuality,” “You Say Dungeon, I Say Play Space” and “Putting Sex Back Into Leather.” A total of thirty sessions, arranged in six topic areas, will be presented, with conference participants being able to attend up to five different presentations.

A special LLC XI art gallery at the host hotel will be open during conference hours, with a “meet the artists” reception in the gallery after lunch on Saturday. Artists whose work will be on display include Barbara Nitke, Midori and Morgan Monceaux (profiled in last issue’s “Leather Life” column). Also in the gallery will be a show of film clips from the CineKink film festival, courtesy of Lisa Vandever, organizer of CineKink.

No official conference activities are scheduled for Saturday evening, but conference attendees will have many non-conference social activities from which to choose. Among them will be a reading presented by Laura Antoniou at 7 p.m. at Dreamhaven Books.

On Sunday morning (April 22), another round of workshop sessions will be followed by brunch and closing ceremonies. Included in the brunch will be the closing keynote speech by John Pendal, International Mr. Leather 2003. Pendal is a trustee of the UK’s Spanner Trust, an organization lobbying to change a UK law making consensual SM illegal.

After Sunday’s brunch, the conference will conclude with a caucus session. Participants can attend one of six concurrent topic-driven discussions about what they’ve learned at LLC XI and what next steps they can take.

Admission packages to LLC XI, either for the full three-day conference or for single days, are still available. For details visit <>.

(Editor’s Note: Lavender Magazine is a Media Sponsor of LLC XI.)