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Fucking with Feministing: Dildo Extravaganza Pt. 3, The Great Glass Debate

Welcome back to another installment of Fucking with Feministing! This is Feministing’s sex advice column where we answer questions from you.

I’m Sesali and I’ll be your resident sexpert with the help of our friends at the Center for Sex & Culture (CSC) who have partnered with us to make sure that we have ‘smart’ and ‘safe’ with our sexy. We’re looking forward to helping you stay informed (and hopefully have some great sex, because my feminism wouldn’t be complete without it). Send your questions to sesali@feministing.com and we’ll pick a question to talk about here. Questions will remain anonymous. We’re so glad that you’re Fucking with Feministing!

Q: I’m about to buy my first strap-on and I have some questions. What should I know about buying one? Experimenting with it? Harnesses? Etc?

NOTE: Because the wonderful world of dildos is so vast, we have decided to answer this question in a series of posts. And because dildos are indeed wonderful, we’ve decided to name this series the ‘Dildo Extravaganza.’ So strap in (or in this case, strap on) and take notes! To get all caught up, check out Part 1, Dildos 101 and Part 2, A Guide to Materials and Care.

One of the best parts about writing this sex column are the conversations that happen via email between myself, Feministing Executive Director Jos, and our friends Marlene and Carol at the Center for Sex and Culture. These conversations are funny, honest, and informative. When we started the Dildo Extravaganza, it was no different. So imagine this: The team and I are brainstorming how to approach this vast topic. We were assessing each other’s expertise and I virtually raise my hand to gush about glass dildos. I bought one last year and my masturbation game has glo’d up as a result. But Marlene was all: “you’re going to get my spiel about the risks of glass.” And then she dropped such a huge bomb that we all collectively decided that glass as a dildo material should be its own column.

There are a bunch of reasons to love the concept of glass dildos. They are shiny and firm. They are easy to clean and non-porous, so they can be shared with partners between cleanings. But there are some technicalities that Marlene explained better than I ever could:

“Glass would be an awesome material in a perfect world. The problem is that we don’t live in a perfect world. If all glass dildos were made of borosilicate glass and properly heat treated after initial forming, we would have nearly nothing to worry about. The problem is that when we buy glass we really have no idea what we are getting. Many of us have had the experience of buying inexpensive wine glasses that all seem to break very easily after about a year of ownership; this is a heat treating problem. I could go into further detail, but I’ll just say this: the materials and procedures necessary to make glass dildos safe cost more. And we live in a world where many people are happy to risk your safety for their profit. This has become even more true as glass dildos have become more popular, bringing newcomers into the business just because there is money to be made. The possible bad outcome of an improperly made glass sex toy could be the end of someone’s sex life. It could even be the end of someone’s life. If your glass dildo isn’t made by your friend who is a very accomplished industrial glass blower, you don’t know what you’re getting. I will not put a glass sex toy in my body or the bodies of my friends and lovers. I do actually have friends who are accomplished industrial glass blowers who could perform a stress inspection, but most people don’t.”

I took the liberty of doing some Googling research on exactly what borosilicate glass is, and how it differs from other kinds of glass. Add boric acid to the formula of the regular glass that your window panes and cheap wine glasses are made of – which are usually silicate – and you have borosilicate glass, which is more durable and temperature tolerant. Consider this, if you had to insert glass into your body, would you prefer it to be made of the same stuff that makes your cheap wine glasses, or the stuff that makes the glass pan your parents have had for 20 years that can go from fridge to oven without cracking? Most glass dildo vendors will specify that their product was made from borosilicate glass, but that still doesn’t clarify what heat treatment was used on the product.

Marlene was enthusiastic enough about this topic to actually pay a visit to those industrial glass blower friends of hers. She took a few glass dildos from a reputable retailer (who was sure that their supplier was doing things properly) to Tom Adams at Adams & Chittenden Scientific Glass. He was kind enough to put the dildos under his polariscope. This is a device that makes any internal stresses in glass show up visibly as rainbow colors. Adams & Chittenden do not make dildos and do not offer polariscope inspection as a service. [Please do not ask them for these services. They are a small industrial shop and don't have time to respond to such requests.] A properly heat treated piece of glass will show no colors. And as you can see in this image, the sample that was expected to be stress free was far from it. You just never know what you’re getting. So Marlene was dead on, there is certainly a risk.

A glass dildo under a polariscope showing rainbow colors

 

But on the bright side, the thickness of the pieces of glass used for dildos are pretty strong, even when not properly heat treated. The force involved when using a glass dildo can be pretty rough depending on your (or your partner’s) preference, but it is unlikely to be strong enough to break even a compromised glass dildo. It is very important to know, however, that the tiniest of chips or scratches on the surface of a glass dildo will make it much much weaker. CSC director and Good Vibrations Staff Sexologist Carol Queen also has some safety advice regarding glass dildos:

“If you’ve even dropped your pretty precious glass toy on a hard floor or knocked it against a hard surface, retire it, even if you can’t see any visible damage. You’re still going to have the sexiest paperweight among your circle of friends.”

Can’t argue with her there. If you’re willing to risk it on a glass dildo, here is what you should know.

Lube compatibility: Any lube will work with glass dildos.
Cleaning: Mild soap and water will get the job done.
Storage: You should store your glass dildo in a soft and/or padded case or bag to avoid chips or scratches. Be gentle and mindful during usage and cleaning to avoid this as well. This isn’t the sex toy you finish using and toss into the nightstand drawer. IMPORTANT: If your glass dildo chips, cracks, or scratches, it should be discarded IMMEDIATELY!

You should now be an expert on choosing a dildo. But do you know how to use it? We’ll be talking about harnesses and techniques in the final installment of the Dildo Extravaganza! As always, thanks for checking out Fucking with Feministing! Send all of your sexy, salacious questions to sesali@feministing.com and maybe your question will be featured next!

Feministing's resident "sexpert", Sesali is a published writer and professional shit talker. She is a queer Black girl, fat girl, and trainer. She was the former Training Director at the United States Student Association and later a member of the Youth Organizing team at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She received her bachelors in Women's and Gender Studies from Depaul University in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master's in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. A self identified "trap" feminist, and trained with a reproductive justice background, her interests include the intersections of feminism and: pop culture, youth culture, social media, hip hop, girlhood, sexuality, race, gender, and Beyonce. Sesali joined the team in 2010 as one of the winners of our So You Think You Can Blog contest.

is Feministing's resident sexpert and cynic.

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