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'Urgent need' to regulate sex toys, MP says

When you're the young owners of a Toronto sex shop specializing in eco-friendly vibrators and other adult toys, getting the ear of a Member of Parliament can be a challenge.

So, entrepreneurs Kim and Amy Sedgwick started off slow. The self-branded "eco-sisters" wrote a letter outlining their concerns of a "dangerous" problem hidden away in Canadian bedrooms everywhere - chemicals used in the majority of Canadian sex toys that pose a potential health risk for women.

"I can't say I'd ever thought I'd be calling Parliament," shrugs Kim, 25. "But there ya go."

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They sent the letter to Carolyn Bennett, a Liberal MP and physician who they knew once cared for one of the sisters' relatives. It impressed the MP.

"These unbelievably committed young women sent me this letter," recalls Dr. Bennett. "I thought, 'well I know nothing about this'…I went to meet with them at their store."

The Sedgwicks run Toronto's Red Tent Sisters feminist sexuality store and its online arm, . They're well spoken and unabashed about an often giggle-inducing topic - if there was any doubt, their twitter accounts are @uteruslover and @ecosexpert - and gave Dr. Bennett the full tour.

"I frankly didn't know about international orgasm day," says Dr. Bennett. (The small, relatively unknown celebration falls this Monday, one day after the MP's birthday).

"These two young women were so compelling in terms of their environmental credibility, in terms of why they were wanting to do this … I thought I should send the minister [of health]a letter."

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Her staff weren't convinced it was a smart political move.

"You can imagine the conversation in our office, saying 'Carolyn, are you sure you want to do this?' "

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But Dr. Bennett's the boss. On Tuesday, she wrote Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq about the "urgent need for responsible regulation in the adult toy industry in Canada."

The issue is over plastics such as bisphenol A, a controversial chemical in Canada, and phthalates, used to make plastic soft and flexible. Dozens of studies have shown the chemicals may cause hormonal complications at certain levels of exposure, yet both are common in sex toys, which are classified as "novelty" items in Canada and are therefore removed from almost all oversight, Ms. Sedgwick says.

So while bisphenol A can't be used in baby bottles, and phthalates can't be used in children's mouth toys, there's no rules preventing their use in a vibrator, Dr. Bennett says.

"More than anything, I would like a dialogue to be started," Ms. Sedgwick says.

At her store, she and her sister recommend their customers avoid such products, which can be identified by their squishy texture and chemical-like smell, and turn instead to silicone, metal or wooden toys.

"Wood. Yes. You'd be surprised," she says.

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Dr. Bennett thinks it's an important issue as more and more Canadians purchase sex toys.

"Sex is a pretty common activity, and these sexual toys are certainly a growing market, and I really do feel at the moment we've got a bit of a double standard in terms of what we allow and don't allow," in terms of chemicals, she says.

"I wanted to help them, because they had a good cause, in spite of the fact that it is unfortunately still a topic that makes some people uncomfortable."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More

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