Sex toys can be great tools to enhance pleasure, but you might wonder if it’s possible to catch an STI from using a sex toy. While the short answer is yes, you can’t technically catch an STI from the sex toy itself. You can, however, contract an STI from an infected partner who shares an uncleaned sex toy with you. Here’s what to know about STIs and sex toys and how to keep play fun and safe.
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Can you catch an STI from sharing sex toys?
It’s possible to catch an STI from sharing sex toys. If two people with different STI statuses use the same pleasure product vaginally or anally without cleaning it properly between uses, some STIs could remain on the product for up to a few hours or a few days (depending on the STI) (1). If pathogens remain on the product, it may be transmissible to the next user within that time frame. Contracting an STI from using a sex toy is easily preventable, but it’s still important to know the risks.
Can you catch an STI from your own sex toy?
You can’t give yourself an STI if the pathogens aren’t present — but it’s possible, though not likely, to reinfect yourself by using a pleasure product you used when you had the STI (2,3).
A few things would have to happen first: You’d need to have an STI, get it cleared up, and then use a pleasure product again while pathogens still remain on the product. There’s a limited time frame the pathogens that cause STIs stay on surfaces, and you’d have to use the uncleaned toy during that time.
Which STIs can you catch from using a sex toy?
Can gonorrhea live on toys? What about syphilis? HIV? Hepatitis B? Human papillomavirus (HPV)? STIs are transmissible through fomites (aka inanimate objects that can carry risk of disease) — including sex toys (4,5). A 2012 study published in Sexually Transmitted Diseases evaluated patients at an outpatient human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) clinic in the Netherlands and found that shared use of sex toys was associated with four STIs (5, 6):
Two other transmittable infections to be aware of
Shared use of pleasure products like vibrators can also increase the likelihood of other infections, like bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and urinary tract infections (UTIs):
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV): BV is an infection associated with symptoms like abnormal vaginal discharge, vaginal odor, and vaginal burning. BV is not considered an STI — but it can be passed from one person to another through shared vaginal use of pleasure products (8).
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs): UTIs are very common infections of the urinary tract, which includes the bladder and the urethra — as well as organs like the kidneys in the tract’s upper section. Pleasure products can spread bacteria from around the vagina into the urethra (9). That said, the anatomy of the female urethra makes a person prone to getting a UTI related to any sexual activity, not just sex toys.
How long can an STD stay on a sex toy?
The answer to this question varies widely depending on the pathogen. Here’s what research tells us about how long the pathogens that cause the STIs can survive outside the body and remain on inanimate surfaces (like the surface of a pleasure product):
- Chlamydia: Chlamydia trachomatis, the bacteria that causes chlamydia, survives outside the body for 2-3 hours in humidity (10).
- Gonorrhea: Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that causes gonorrhea, survives for about a minute (11).
- Syphilis: Treponema pallidum, the bacteria that causes syphilis, doesn’t survive for very long — and it dies once the fluid it’s in dries (12, 13).
- HPV: The infectiousness of HPV drops to 50% after three days, but it can survive beyond that (14)
- HIV: HIV doesn’t survive for very long outside of the body. Some research shows it dies within hours of being exposed to the air (15).
Contracting an STI from using a sex toy is easily preventable
Sex toys are generally safe and and enjoyable if you take proper measures before use. Here are some ways you can protect yourself from spreading or contracting STIs when sharing sex toys with a partner.
- Clean pleasure products between uses. Properly cleaning a sex toy between uses (even from one partner to another) will remove existing bacteria so it isn’t transmitted.
- Share pleasure products ethically and responsibly. This means being open about how often a product is being used and confirming it’s been cleaned between uses.
- Consider using condoms: Using condoms on toys when sharing pleasure products helps prevent the transmission of STIs (17).
- Don’t switch between anal and vaginal use with a sex toy. If you plan on using the same sex toy for both anal and vaginal penetration or play, be sure to clean the toy thoroughly between uses to help prevent a UTI.
- Store pleasure products in a clean and dry location. This will keep the products as bacteria-free as possible after you use them.
When it comes to STIs and sex toys, material matters
Porous pleasure products have more opportunity for bacteria and other pathogens to pass through and are more difficult to clean. Non-porous pleasure products (e.g., silicon, jelly rubber, hard plastic) don’t have the same nooks and crannies and are much easier to clean (15, 16), and allow for less chances for bacteria to get caught in nooks.
What's the likelihood of catching an STI from a sex toy?
To our knowledge, there are no studies specifically looking at the prevalence of STI transmission through pleasure products. Most of the research cited has what are called confounding factors — or additional related factors that make it hard to parse out what’s directly caused by shared pleasure product use. What we do know, however, is that most STIs don’t survive very long outside of the body — and we know that preventing transmission via pleasure products is simple with the right steps in place, and proper cleaning methods. If you think you’re experiencing symptoms, however, be sure to get an STI test.
The bottom line
While it is possible to contract an STI after sharing an uncleaned sex toy with an infected partner, it is easily preventable. Be sure to properly clean your pleasure products, and consider using barrier methods on your toys, like condoms, for extra protection. Check out our catalog of toy cleaners to keep your sex toys clean and safe for use.