PARIS -- As the French increasingly consume organic and ethical products, they are beginning to pay similar attention to products used in the boudoir. The sex toy industry is the latest to embrace various eco-conscious products, including organic lubrication, sustainable condoms, and vibrations labeled "Made in France." A sexual appetite deserves to be well-fed, too.
Why even discuss ethical products in the bedroom? Some 70 percent of the world's sex toys are produced in China. Phthalates, a compound added to plastic to give it flexibility, is popularly used for its cheapness and availability. But the controversial chemical has been linked, albeit inconclusively, to breast cancer, obesity, diabetes, and issues with the liver and testes. With numerous negative studies surrounding the compound, the E.U. outlawed it in children's toys in 1999. The U.S. followed suit in 2008.
But for adult playtime, there is just as much, if not more concern over the materials used to make our toys -- and where they are sourced. The trend towards greener sex is just one slice of a $15 billion sex toy industry worldwide that continues to grow. According to Patrick Pruvot, founder of Passage du Désir, Paris's "love store" of reference, the market is beginning to mainstream in France, forcing it to face questions concerning product quality.
Even though ethical shopping has been big in the U.S., the French are behind -- but that's changing. According to Agence Bio, the country's agency for the development and promotion of organic agriculture, the organic market has doubled in France between 2007 and 2012. The worth reached roughly 4 billion euros ($5.27 billion) compared to over $31.5 billion in the U.S. The number of vendors has also doubled to nearly 37,000 manufacturers and sales points. Similarly, in 2012, 78 percent of French citizens surveyed said they are interested in goods "Made in France."
The French, no strangers to sexuality, are looking more critically at their sexual accessories. "We're putting these things near our intimate parts," Pruvot said, "so it seems logical that people are sensible to these issues."
The iconic La Tour est Folle (the Tower is Crazy), designed by artist Sébastien Lecca and released just seven months ago, is an example of a locally produced, phthalate-free sex toy. In the shape of the ever-phallic Eiffel Tower, the art, including the packaging, is all made in France. The makers also proudly note that it is free of all radioactive materials, genetically modified organisms, and traces of soy -- just in case.
"It was important on an ethical level that La Tour est Folle was 100 percent made in France, in order to respect our national monument," Lecca told SmartPlanet. The toy is available in around 100 boutiques in Europe, mostly in France, and will soon make an appearance at a Las Vegas trade show, hoping to penetrate the American market.
In addition to a focus on ethical materials and goods "Made in France," a few companies have further sashayed their toys into a green -- or at least greener -- territory.
Divinextase is one of the first organic French brands of sex products. Launched in 2010 by Frédéric Donnat, the cosmetics, mostly sensual oils and perfumes, are nearly 100 percent organic. The vitamin E used to preserve the products is natural, but not officially organic, according to spokesman Yann Rouzic.
Similar products line the shelves at Passage du Désir. Alongside La Tour est Folle, shoppers can chose from around 20 ethical and organic products like lubricant from Germany, anal spray from the U.S., and vaginal contraction gel from Canada. The store, however, is launching its own line of locally produced ethical products, including an organic lubricant already on the shelves for the brand's nearly 100,000 yearly customers.
Pruvot said the brand, which has stores in three French cities, focuses on phthalate-free toys, eco-friendly products like solar-powered vibrators, and locally sourced products when possible. Their toys are even tested by independent labs to maintain quality control.
He said that the French, known for their sexual liberty, are actually more conservative than foreigners make them out to be, and the image of the sex shop is still something tainted by the red lights of a once-shoddy Pigalle district in Paris. "There's no reason that sexuality needs to be taboo," he said.
By improving the quality of products available in France, be they locally sourced, organic, or other, Passage du Désir is trying to repackage sex for a newer generation. "We are looking to make sex less alarming," Pruvot said. With only a few quality love stores in Paris, it remains to be seen if toxin-free artificial genitals and other such goods will become entirely mainstream in France or not.