If you’ve ever been in the market for a sex toy, you’ve probably looked into buying it through Amazon. Amazon tends to have good prices on most things, and it’s particularly tempting if you have Prime. Sex toys are a different story, though: in fact, most of the time, it’s best to avoid Amazon altogether. Here’s why.

You May Get a Counterfeit

Amazon has a known problem with counterfeiting in certain categories, including sex toys. Of all the things in the world that can be counterfeited, sex toys may seem like a pretty strange thing to copy. It cracks me up to think of some dude in China saying, “you know what, I’m tired of all these fake Michael Kors purses. Let’s start making stainless steel butt plugs.”

Popular brands like  Magic Wand, LELO, We-Vibe, and Tenga have all had their products ripped off and sold as if they were the legit thing on Amazon. I reached out to a few people in the sex toy industry to get the inside scoop. Victoria Gutwein, founder and Marketing Director for Filthy Dirty, responded:

 I think most people think that when they make a purchase on Amazon, the product come from an Amazon warehouse and all the sales channels are sanctioned. That is simply not the case. It is very easy for anyone to open an Amazon shop and sell to the public on their site.

The issue is bad enough that many sex toy companies are starting to fight back. A sex toy exec who asked to remain anonymous said,

“[We are]... constantly combating knock off products and design theft... there [is] always a lawsuit against these low budget factories but little progress [has been] made since they would close up shop and open up somewhere else.”

Hitachi even addresses piracy in the FAQ section of their website, and has guidelines to help customers learn to identify and avoid fakes. (On a side note, my favorite review that I stumbled upon while researching this article came from this fake Magic Wand listing. “I did not receive a Hitachi massager as pictured… -2 stars for false advertising. ...I do however like the massager I was sent.”)

There are lots of ways to spot a counterfeit, but a shockingly low price is probably the biggest give-away. Sex toy manufacturers are generally strict about their price points, and don’t offer steep discounts. This supposedNjoy Pure Plug and Sliquid Lube set, for example, is selling for 66% off list price. This alleged We-Vibe 4 is 59% off.

Counterfeit Sex Toys May be Unsafe

Some people don’t mind counterfeits. After all, the worst that can happen with your counterfeited purse is that it wears down faster than the real thing, or your snobby coworker points out that it’s a fake. You only spent a fraction of the retail price, so who cares?

Sex toys, however, are more complicated. The original toys that pirates copy are usually made of high-quality materials like stainless steel, medical grade silicone, and glass. The counterfeits, on the other hand, are made with much cheaper, lower-grade materials that can cause serious harm to your body. (This horrifying story includes symptoms like “extreme headaches, nausea, lower back pain, and severe discomfort when urinating”.) You may think you’re being smart by purchasing abody-safe, phthalate-free LELO, only to get a toy that winds up making you sick.

Your Toy May Be Dead on Arrival

Some pirates are so unscrupulous (or inept at manufacturing) that they ship out completely nonfunctional toys. In a colorful review of this (also colorful) LELO Gigi Vibrator, one customer writes,

“I purchased this product 6 months ago. When I opened it and charged it, it didn’t work. I made several additional attempts, following the user manual each time... [The sellers] refuse to issue a refund. They will not take responsibility for a faulty product and show respect to a (new) customer… I’m trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare. My only recourse is to warn other potential customers.”

They’re not alone; a quick look at online reviews turned up multipleaccounts of malfunctioning sex toys.

If You Get a Bunk Product, You Have No Recourse

Even at a substantial discount, you’re still going to drop somewhere in the range of $50-$100 for a counterfeit toy. If your toy breaks, or never even works in the first place, you may be screwed out of that money. Sex toys are private purchases, which makes you particularly vulnerable to being ripped off. In fact, most people don’t realize that they were scammed until they contact the manufacturer directly to ask for a refund, only to discover that the product is a counterfeit. A company like Hitachi or njoymight be sympathetic to your situation, but the manufacturers themselves can’t be responsible for a toy you bought from a pirate. Your scumbag of a seller may leave you in the aforementioned “Kafkaesque nightmare” trying to do a return. Amazon won’t offer refunds if you’ve purchased from a third-party seller, either.

Where to Buy Sex Toys Instead

The safest way to purchase a sex toy is directly from the manufacturer, or from one of their approved sellers. My favorite online retailer is Filthy Dirty, which makes a real effort to educate their customers about sex toy safety. Good Vibrations and Smitten Kitten are also solid options. Or try supporting your local sex-positive sex shop (there are so many great retailers these days that a simple Google search of that phrase should bring up something relatively close to you). You’re not going to get that tantalizing Amazon discount, but you will be assured that you’re getting the safe, high-quality toy you originally desired. You’ll also be able to get a refund or exchange if something is wrong with your product.

If You Must Buy at Amazon

If you insist on shopping through Amazon, here are some guidelines for minimizing the chances of getting scammed:

  • Research the seller. Pirates are smart, but they can be outsmarted. One of the easiest ways to see if you’re dealing with a Blackbeard wannabe is to click through to the seller page. This aforementioned butt plug appears to be sold by njoy directly, but if you click through to the seller page, you get directed to this bunch of nonsense. Eagle-eyed readers may also notice that the seller claims to be “N’joy”, instead of properly-formatted “njoy”. Similarly, I got led to thisseller page for “We Vibe”, and this one for “Magic Wand.”
  • Attempt to communicate with the seller. Another trick is to try reaching out to the seller directly, and asking questions about the product, the return policy, and their relationship with the manufacturer. A pirate probably won’t bother to respond.
  • Read the reviews. Bless the brave souls who are willing to submit public reviews for sex toys on Amazon! You can often spot counterfeits based on bad reviews.
  • Check in with the manufacturer. Ask if Amazon is a safe place to buy their products, and if they have their own Amazon sellers page. For example, Minna Life does.
  • If it looks to good to be true, it probably is. Sorry guys, but quality sex toys are expensive.

Trust me, even if you have to save up a few more weeks for the real deal, you’ll be happy you did. Stay safe everyone!

Vanessa Marin "Why I Don't Recommend Buying Sex Toys on Amazon" 10/10/15 4:00pm http://afterhours.lifehacker.com/why-i-dont-recommend-buying-sex-toys-on-amazon-1733804821