Many sex toys for stimulating the penis are made of the material TPE. But what kind of material is it and is it safe?
What is TPE?
Thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) is also called technical rubber, synthetic rubber or elastoplastic plastic. It is a collective name for plastics that are elastic and stretchable at room temperature. It is a mixture of plastics and rubber.
TPE is related to TPR (thermoplastic rubber). The major difference between the two is that TPE consists of SEBS (styrene-ethylene-butadine-styrene) and TPR of SBS (styrene-butadine-styrene). In other words, the molecular composition differs and the addition of ethylene makes TPE stronger than TPR. TPE lasts longer, does not discolour over time and visually resembles silicone. TPR is visually gel-like and feels more like rubber.
Unlike other types of soft plastic, TPE does not contain plasticisers. Plasticisers are notorious for being carcinogenic. So TPE is not!
Other names for TPE
Some manufacturers invent their own names for the material their sex toys are made of. For instance, TPE is also often referred to as ‘fantaflesh’, ‘Elastomer’, or ‘CyberSkin’. These are marketing names that try to indicate than the material feels like real skin. However, it does not detract from its chemical composition.
Precisely because of its elasticity, TPE feels a bit like real skin. It is extremely resilient and soft. When you penetrate a masturbator made of TPE with the penis, the feeling is pretty close to the penetration of a real anus, mouth, or vagina. No material matches that feeling like TPE.
Is TPE safe?
As a material, TPE is non-toxic. By this I mean that it does not contain plasticisers, or other dangerous substances. You can also tolerate TPE well if you have a latex allergy. However, it is not completely hypoallergenic either, as it contains rubber, among other things.
The main objection to TPE is that it is a porous material. That means it has tiny holes in it, where bacteria can eventually develop. Soap and toy cleaner do not help against this. So, no matter how well you clean a masturbator made of TPE, chances are that bacteria will get inside it over time. The penis is reasonably resistant to this, so if you use a toy made of TPE solo and rinse well with soap and water after each use, you can often do so for months – but no longer than 8 to 10 months – without any problems.
However, if you penetrate a vagina after using the masturbator, you can transfer the bacteria and fungi that have developed, which can lead to an infection. For this reason, you will rarely come across a dildo or vibrator for vaginal use that is made of TPE.
When using a sex toy made of TPE, always use a water-based lubricant. A silicone lubricant will corrode the material and render it unusable.
Alternatives to TPE
The best alternative to TPE is silicone. However, very few masturbators are made of silicone and this is mainly because of the price. TPE is a cheap material that is easy to mould into all kinds of shapes. Silicone is much more expensive and also more difficult to use in a manufacturing process.
Beware of products made from ‘silicone blend’, ‘silicone rubber’, or ‘SEBS Silicone’. These are marketing names for TPE and despite the designation, it is not silicone.